Seat, tyres and boots

It’s been far too hot to ride recently – around 37°C for the entire week (and it starts getting hot too early to get a ride in).

I did get out on one great ride on the Australia Day holiday – about 11 of us spent a few hours on the back roads before settling in for a burger at Jugiong. That was fun – after saying I could probably manage 80 on gravel roads, I managed a top speed of 112 before it got a bit wobbly (my top speed on tarmac is only 124). But most importantly, I kept up with the group (of mostly big bikes) all morning.

I also got some practice in a friend’s paddock – doing slow speed stuff, learning to lean the bike right in, initiating turns with my feet and getting off the handlebars. I also channelled my inner 10 year old by riding sitting down, half off the seat, with a leg thrown forward for balance. All good practice that I can’t get while on rides.

But otherwise, (well, apart from this thing called work that I occasionally have to do), I did some playing with the bike.

Lowering the seat

I’ve been thinking about some of the things I’m still afraid of, and a lot of them revolve around falling. Well, not falling specifically, but losing balance and not being able to catch myself. I’m not bothered by the height of the bike any more for most situations, but I imagine being in the middle of a creek, and not being able to get my foot down to catch myself.

There seemed to be three options – lowering via the shock (apparently about 3/4″), getting a lowering link, or lowering the seat. I’d really prefer not to play with the clearance if I can avoid it, and I had bought a spare seat foam a while back, so thought that would be the best, first option.

I pulled the seat off and looked at the spare foam. There’s a ton of foam in there! I’m only 70kg – surely I don’t need that thickness of foam to support me.

There's a ton of foam there

There’s a ton of foam there

I drew a revision of about 1cm, and cut it down (haha, with one of my best kitchen knives). It was pretty rough, so I grabbed some sandpaper and sanded it until it was smooth enough, then glued it back to the seat base and re-stapled the cover.

This simple change dropped my heels by about 2cm. I still couldn’t flat foot it, but I don’t really need to – I just needed more grip with my toes – I could finally push back while sitting on the bike, and felt more able to get to the ground if I needed to.

Fixing the tyre

After the last ride, I looked at my tyre, and it was doing something very strange. Half of the tyre (around the circumference, not across it) was almost worn right down, and the other half still had 5-6mm on the central knobs. After a bit of asking around, I concluded that it was incredibly out of balance – it has one rimlock and it’s right near the valve stem. This combination means that one side of the tyre is heavier than the other, and results in uneven wear. I’m not sure, but it may have been made worse by a 400km tarmac ride on a 44°C day!

So I got a new tyre (a D606) and asked them to balance it. Just look at the weights they needed to balance it! No wonder it was out of shape.

Wow!

Wow!

Before I changed the tyre, the bike vibrated so much that I usually wore cycling shorts when riding any kind of distance. With the new, balanced tyre it’s beautifully smooth.

Buying the boots

I had been wearing Gaerne G-Adventures. I bought them in Italy, using my limited Italian and much hand waving, and carried them in my backpack all the way home. They’re great boots – super comfortable and easy to walk in. They are so comfortable that I rarely think about my feet at all. Except when I’m standing on the pegs for a long while – then all I think about is how much my arches hurt and how I want the ride to end. It also seemed to be getting worse – starting to hurt earlier in rides, rather than my feet getting stronger. I needed something with a stiffer sole, and something that would protect my ankles a lot better if I fall under the bike.

The incredibly hard thing about finding good boots is that I have girl-sized feet. I wear a European 39 / UK 6. Most of the boots that were recommended to me start at a Euro 40 (except Garne SG-10s, which come in a 39). The bigger problem is that retailers don’t carry boots that small. Because clearly, girls don’t ride! (BTW – there are no appropriate boots in women’s styling). I asked at my local shop and they were happy to get me in a pair of Sidi Crossfires, with no obligation to buy them if they didn’t fit. That was awesome! Then when I tried them on, they fit well enough – with an innersole to support my arches better, they are pretty much perfect. They have a reputation as a narrow boot, which was perfect for me. It took me a week of wearing them around the house to soften them up for riding, and I can’t lift my toe high enough to change gears without lifting my foot, but that’s ok.

Sidi Crossfires

Sidi Crossfires

But now I can’t touch the ground again

The combination of a higher profile tyre and a boot with a stiffer sole means I could only just touch the ground again. I couldn’t push the bike forward or back.

Lowering the seat

I only took 1cm out of the seat first time, and there was still plenty of foam where I sit, so I took to it again, this time removing another 1cm. I didn’t want to slope the back of he seat, as changing the angle of the seat could make it uncomfortable to ride, so I cut it down square.

Marking the foam before cutting

Marking the foam before cutting

The result was excellent. My heels almost touch the ground and I can push the bike around if I need. I feel safer if I need to stop, and the foam is still supportive for riding. Win!

Testing it out

I took it for a run with a friend on the weekend and it was most excellent. I missed the shifter and brake a couple of times with the new boots, but that was the only issue. I felt comfortable and happy on my bike. Here’s a pic from the top of Tinderry Rd.

Tinderry Rd

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Beating fear

After spending a lovely week in Melbourne, catching up with friends, doing a little work, hanging around, it was time for me to head home. Not directly, of course, but another 3-day adventure ride!

Our plan was to explore a bit of the coast between Orbost & Mallacoota – we had thought of going there after new year, but called that trip short.

We’d had a discussion during the week about my riding skills. Well, a long email (R), lots of sulking (me), some hard thinking about what kind of riding I want to do long term (me) and a couple of follow-up discussions. Long story short – fear is holding me back.

My fear (though a healthy one of crashing) makes me ride too cautiously, which makes the bike harder to manage. This makes the fear worse, then tires me out. This makes me slower, until I feel every rock and rut and bump in the road, and ride badly because of it.

It’s only when I push myself to focus and go faster that things start to smooth out and riding becomes a little easier. The problem is staying focused…especially with so many lovely rivers to swim in! Once I stop and relax, it’s hard to push myself again. And the less I push myself, the less I learn, and the longer I spend crappily riding. If you read between the lines in my ride reports, you’ll be able to see this pattern. To break the pattern I need the skills to be able to push myself without crashing to the ground or something similarly unpleasant.

So planning for the weekend revolved around what I really want to do with riding, and what I need to learn to do it. Riding comfortable dirt roads is a quite different thing to going exploring without knowing what’s going to happen. I really had to think about what I want to do and eventually decided that I do want the skills to be able to go exploring. I don’t want to choose a series of safe roads because I don’t know how to go up and down hills, or because there may be sand in the way. R made a rough plan that would be fewer km than previous weeks, with options for developing my skills without pushing me too hard.

But first I had to get there.

Day 1: F*** it’s hot!

Map of the route from Melbourne to Marlo

Slabbing it from Melbourne to Marlo

The whole of eastern Australia had been in a heatwave for a week. Melbourne had seen consistent 44℃ temperatures. The forecast for Friday was no different. I had about 400km to cover and hoped to get away early enough to get through some km before it started to heat up.

I had about 2 hours of OK temperatures, then they started to climb. The last 2 hours was awful. Everything was furnace-hot. I stopped every half hour, drank water and soaked my t-shirt. I was very glad I’d bought my new jacket & pants – they both have excellent venting so the air can flow through and cool me off (home-made evaporative cooling). I closed the vents in my helmet and shut my visor to reduce the hot air flowing across my face. I just rode minute to minute. It was tiring and draining. My poor tyres!

At last I reached Marlo, where the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees. We were staying at Jungle Beach campground, about 15km away & I headed there straight away.

As I turned onto the road to the campground, I noticed it was gravel, and there was sand in the corners. Immediate nervous reaction! I rode the 2km like I had never seen dirt before – I just couldn’t settle my nerves. Naturally, that made me anxious about the weekend. I had a nap and went into Marlo for dinner (but abandoned that – the pub was full and I really wasn’t up to eating alone in a full pub); bought beer and came back to cook soup instead. I was better both times on the road, but my head was still doing me in. I thought up a few excuses (blazing bushfire to the North, not far away) but knew I wasn’t actually going to wimp out.

R arrived, we talked about the plan and went to sleep. While we were asleep, the sea breeze came in, then a stronger wind, bringing cooler weather. It also brought an endless hail of noisy gumnuts on our tin-roofed caravan annex – that was one of the strangest sleeps I’ve ever had.

Day 2: Killing the sand demons

Map of Marlo to Mallacoota, via Bemm River and Cann River

Marlo to Mallacoota, via Bemm River, Cann River and Point Hicks

Our plan today was to get to Mallacoota, with a ride of about 260km (all new roads to both of us). R had said there were likely to be some stretches of sandy track, but I hoped there weren’t too many.

I led off, so I didn’t have to eat his dust, and he didn’t have to constantly watch over his shoulder. It wasn’t very long before I spotted the first sandy part of the track.

I hesitated for just a second, then remembered what I’d done last week and what we’d talked about. Weight back, throttle steady, look at where I want to go. The front wheel wobbled about for a while, then bit into firm ground and just kept going. That was OK. Then there was another bit. And another. About 20 minutes of it! At the end I was running on adrenaline, panting a bit, but hadn’t hesitated. I was shaking and needed to sit down for a bit, but felt amazing. R was just a little bit surprised – he’d thought I’d see the sand and stop. He showed me some better technique (I wasn’t moving my weight back far enough) and we continued.

I can hardly remember the next section of the ride – I think it was a fairly decent gravel road, with some corners, some sandy parts, some rocky parts. But the end result was that we ended up in Cann River (via Bemm River) and R said he had never seen me ride so well. He was right too!

After a burger, we headed out to Point Hicks Lighthouse. Again, normal gravel road. The gate on the lighthouse road was closed, and it was a 2.2km walk up. It’s quite picturesque.

Point Hicks Lighthouse

Point Hicks Lighthouse

After that, we’d planned to take the Cicada Trail. This was my first trail on this bike – everything else had been ‘road’. It started with a lumpy downhill, to a creek crossing. I am incredibly embarrassed to say that I chickened out on what was a quite shallow creek crossing. I don’t know what was going on, but even though R took my bike across and back a couple of times, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

The impossible creek (far out, I'm a wimp!)

The impossible creek (far out, I’m a wimp!)

Then on the other side of the creek I couldn’t get the bike off the side stand, and by the time I finished the ascent out of the creek, I needed a Gatorade, cool down and a rest.

Having a rest on the Cicada Trail

Having a rest on the Cicada Trail

I was enjoying the trail – there was lots of variation – dirt mounds, sand, rock, corners, ruts and branches. I do like picking my way through a trail, finding the best line, figuring out what to do next. We rode for about 12km before I realised how badly I was starting to ride. Again, my pace was way too slow for the bike and trail, and my corners were woeful (however, every time I hit sand, apparently I got some really good speed up, even around corners). We decided to cut out to the road and abandon the rest of the trail. On the way out, I had a lesson in crossing logs and did the most embarrassing thing ever by asking R to ride my bike through what turned out to be a hard-based PUDDLE! He has permission to tease me forever for that one.

We rode to the highway, then to Mallacoota, where we got the second-last campsite, right on the water.

The campsite - you can't see the neighbours, but we can hear them

The campsite – you can’t see the neighbours, but we can hear them

The trailstar, set up with 2 mozzie nets and still plenty of room for gear

The trailstar, set up with 2 mozzie nets and still plenty of room for gear

The camp ground was close-packed and relatively gross, but had HOT SHOWERS. I walked to the shop for beer & groceries, cooked completely revolting soup, went to bed at 9pm and wished people would just shut up.

Day 3: The great luggage switch

Map of route from Mallacotta to home

Mallacoota to home, via Imlay Rd and Bobeyan Rd

Sunday was just a day to get home. I planned to take Imlay Road, then some back roads across to Bobeyan Rd (the dirt road I always leave home on). R planned on finishing the track we hadn’t done yesterday, then slab home.

I wasn’t loving my new luggage, and R had wanted to try it. I had planned to buy the luggage he had, but thought I couldn’t put it on my bike without a frame, so didn’t buy it. When I looked at how it worked on his bike, I realised it could work on mine without a frame. So we switched – he went home with a Giant Loop Coyote and I came home with Andy Strapz pannierz. I’ll write a separate post comparing them. If we both are happy, we’re just going to keep them.

The wrap up

This was yet another interesting weekend. On one hand, my skills ramped up dramatically. I am no longer scared of sandy tracks (I may not be riding the Simpson Desert any time soon though). Except for when I was almost exhausted, fear didn’t rule me. On the other hand, I still am trying to control the bike (instead of letting it move around under me), am completely rubbish at cornering and am hitting exhaustion earlier than I’d like.

But I have 2 plans. Plan 1 is that two friends have offered me paddock space to practice all the low-speed manoeuvres I need to learn how to tip the bike in and balance with my feet (I need this skill to do it at speed). Plan 2 is to find a route to ride regularly, focusing on improving every single time. I will enact this plan in the next two weeks. I will probably even tell you about it…

I also have some gear sub-plans. I need to buy a tent (we fit in R’s trailstar fairly well by making a spare bedroom with the extra mozzie net, but I can’t always do that!), buy new boots (my Gaerne Adventure boots fit beautifully but the sole just isn’t stiff enough for multi-day rides – my arches hurt like mad after 10 minutes) and buy gloves that don’t rub so much (mens gloves are wide across the palm & move around too much). Ah, the never-ending search for the perfect gear.

But first I should find beer and unpack.

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First (3-day) adventure ride on my WR250R

The plan for this weekend’s ride was to ride some easy roads through the Victorian high country, this time on my small adventure bike (my WR250R). I was going to ride down by myself, then we’d ride together for a day, then I’d spend a week in Melbourne doing some work and seeing some friends.

I bought my WRR last June, as a way to get practice on the dirt with a small, light bike. But due to a whole bunch of boring excuses (not reasons), I’d only taken it out twice on the dirt. The first time was a terribly slow ride, where I spent the entire time scared of the height of the bike. The second I took the same route, telling myself the entire time that I didn’t like this, despite the fact that I was riding ok and had no mishaps (sometimes my head tells me some really stupid things).

But after a week of getting ready & getting my kit all sorted, I was really looking forward to it.

Day 1: Barry Way to Omeo

Map of route Canberra to Omeo

Canberra to Omeo

Today’s goal was to get to Omeo – riding to Jindabyne, then along the Barry Way then Limestone Road. I’d ridden all of this except the last part of Limestone the previous week, so knew what to expect. But it was on a different bike and I was going to do it in one day, not 2, so it was going to be a big day. There were also some parts that had made me nervous the previous week.

I made it all the way to Jindabyne for morning tea. The 40km of gravel on Bobeyan Rd was a good chance to get a feel for the bike – it is an easy road and one I know well already. It was a comfortable ride & was a good chance to get a feel for the bike and my body position.

Bobeyan Rd, on the ACT/NSW border

Bobeyan Rd, on the ACT/NSW border

There was going to be nowhere to stop for lunch. There’s nothing between Jindabyne & Omeo, and I was at Jindabyne too early for lunch. So I planned to eat on the road.

Last week when I rode along the Barry way on the big bike, I spent a lot of time nervous, and particularly disliked the descents (well, mostly the corners at the bottom of the descents). On the other side of the Vic border I had spent a lot of time not liking the ascents (can you see why I can’t figure out whether I like adventure riding…).

This time, on the smaller bike, I was looking for the descents that I’d disliked. I couldn’t find them. I liked it all, though I still wasn’t riding well or fast.

I stopped at the bottom of the road, ate jerky & chocolate & drank water. When I got back on the bike I felt so much better – it’s a fairly steep ascent, and last week I gave myself a bad neck ache tensing around every corner, imagining the consequences of dropping off the edge of that cliff. This time, it was good – I got a bit of a flow around some corners, didn’t worry about how to get up hills (the little bike just walks up, even at super-low speed) and didn’t once think about the fact that I was on the edge of a cliff. I just enjoyed it.

When I got to the turnoff for Limestone Rd, I still had 100km to go, and I’d been on the road for about 7 hours already. This whole stretch was tough. I was tired, hadn’t had a proper meal and just wanted it to end. The road is dead easy – it’s flat, with open corners. But I couldn’t get up any pace, and crunched around every corner. It was probably the easiest road I took all weekend, but all I did was watch the odometer & looked for the end.

And there, finally was Omeo, and the Hilltop hotel, with an ok, though squeaky bed & beer! R met me there later in the evening.

Day 2: The Birregun Rd (plus a swim & some sand)

Map of our route from Omeo to the beach

Omeo to the beach, via the Birregun Road

R had lots of plans for routes we could try, rated from grandma to challenging, but the main one was for me to ride the Birregun Rd. The first thing I did was to stop on a straight stretch & get him to ride the bike . I thought it was feeling a bit squirmy, but it turned out that it was completely fine – that’s just how light bikes feel on the gravel.

When we reached a spot with corners, I went ahead so he could watch me ride. It’s hard for me to put myself in a position where someone is assessing me (yep, 2 unfinished masters degrees). But he gives good advice so I was ok with the idea. I was riding badly though – I couldn’t get my posture right, my throttle control was all over the place, I was slow and my corners were terrible.

We stopped after not much distance and debriefed. Yes, I was as crap as I thought. R pointed out that I was taking corners wide and steering around them with the handlebars, which is just wrong. I need to keep the bike straight and lean it around corners. So it doesn’t fall over, I have to lean my body to the opposite side. He showed me how it looked on my bike. I also needed to get some pace up, to better ride across the rocks & rubbish. He suggested I try it for a while sitting down & then stand later.

So I tried it. I just focused on my bike & body position, and picking up the pace. I forgot about posture, throttle & where to position the bike in the corner. I just concentrated on leaning the bike in. I couldn’t do it sitting down as we were going uphill (& I need to stand forward to get uphills) so I did most of it on my feet.

It felt amazing. I floated around corners (well, for me), and zipped along. R had folded my mirrors down so I couldn’t see where he was. There were some long stretches of straight uphill ruts and I put on some speed to zip up them – they were lots of fun.

I saw a track off to the side & a bit after that, he zipped around me and stopped. He wanted to look at the campground we’d passed. We went back, got off the bike & he said ‘wtf just happened there?’ with a big grin. BEST PART OF THE ENTIRE WEEKEND.

You know how sometimes you can just feel your skills ramp up, and it feels amazing – yes,that!

On the Birregun Road

On the Birregun Road

Also on the Birregun Road

Also on the Birregun Road

We rode for a bit further and stopped to talk about which way to go – we could take a route with some easy hills, or one that was about the same as we’d been doing that was scenic. I chose the scenic. We stopped on the Dargo River and had a swim (in my underwear – I could strip in public & put swimmers on, or stay in my underwear. The easy option won, despite some looks from the neighbours).

Photo of the Dargo River

Had a swim in the Dargo River

After lunch in Dargo we talked about what to do next & decided on to take the tarmac for a while (we’d made much less progress than we wanted with the fiddling around with my riding). R offered me to ride the KTM. I was a bit unsure as it’s a bigger, more powerful bike than I’d ridden before, but I really should be a decent enough rider that I shouldn’t worry about that.

It was fun. It’s heavier than anything I’ve ridden, and more powerful, but not as scary as I thought. R still completely outran me while I figured it out of course!

We swapped back and continued on the tarmac. R stopped, pointed at a dirt road and asked if I wanted to go that way. I said ‘sure’ and we took off.

R had stopped ahead and I saw a patch of sand. I thought he’d set me up – we had talked about riding sand this weekend as I had convinced myself that I was scared of sand. We talked about whether I could ride across it and I said there was no way I could manage it. He pointed out that it was a perfect situation – it was quiet, the sand was a small section, I could tackle it using whatever method I want and he was there to help me if something happened. I finally agreed (there may have been some childish sighing and face pulling first). I faced it and said ‘I’m going to paddle through’, then as I moved towards it, just stood up and rode over it. Naturally it was fine. It was a short section, so by the time I realised the front wheel was moving all over the place I was out of it. My technique was rubbish, but I got through it easily. Later on the road I hit another, longer (but probably shallower) patch. All I knew was that the front wheel was gone again – I leaned back, looked where I wanted to be & just rode through. The theory does work.

We headed to where we were planning on camping, but the wind was starting to pick up. I was on a light bike, riding along a straight road with strong side winds – of all the hard things I’d done today, this was just about the hardest. I focused right down, thinking about nothing except bike and wind and staying on the road.

Fighting the wind

Fighting the wind

After a fruitless search for a shower, we got to the campsite. We went along about 5km of dirt road to the edge of the beach scrub then followed a walking path through the scrub and ended up here, all ready to set up camp.

Riding through the scrub

Riding through the scrub

Day 3: Grand Ridge Road

Map of the route from the beach to Melbourne

Beach to Melbourne, via Grand Ridge Road

We woke late, packed up, made breakfast & got ready to leave. Taking the bikes out forward meant going up the dunes. Naturally, both go bogged!

Bogged!

Bogged!

We laid them down, spun them around, and rode out down the hill (that was a good lesson). I couldn’t see the path, so tried to follow where I could see R had been. I finally go to where he was & he pointed to the path – metres and metres away – we had both missed it and gone straight through the scrub.

We took a twisty single-lane tarmac road to start. It was the kind of road I’d have hated riding with on the BMW – lots of really tight corners. The little bike was excellent for it. I still probably rode slowly, but the bike felt light and the corners were fun.

In the twisties

In the twisties

And we stopped for a quick look at a waterfall.

Going for a closer look

Going for a closer look

But the real goal today was to ride the Grand Ridge Road, or at least some of it. This is really a series of roads, running west/east across Gippsland, through very pretty, hilly country.

I can say with all honesty that I have never had a worse day’s riding. I rode like complete rubbish. I couldn’t get my throttle control right so was on and off the throttle. I couldn’t lean the bike into the corners so I crunched around them all and hit every rock, and when I had a straight stretch, all I wanted to do was rest, instead of speeding up and getting on with it. It was just an endless cycle of feeling like I was riding like crap, riding like crap, and feeling worse for riding like crap. The arches of my feet were screaming and I could feel blisters starting on this weeks callouses that we’re forming on last weeks callouses on my hands. By the time we hit the tarmac (and we didn’t actually go far – maybe 100km) I was ready to cry.

Too tired to even get off the bike

Too tired to even get off the bike

We had a late lunch at Mirboo North, said goodbye and I slabbed for an hour up the freeway to Melbourne.

Apartment, shower, beer, food!

The wrap-up

This was an interesting ride (in terms of skills, not roads). For a while I rode well. I was in the zone and not overthinking everything. But then I undid all of the good by thinking I couldn’t ride on the sand, and riding incredibly badly for a whole day. As some justification, by Sunday I was fatigued – I’d never ridden this bike before so had no bike fitness for it; and two long days had done my body in – I wasn’t sore, but I just couldn’t get my body to respond. The blisters/callouses on my hands were painful and that was causing all kinds of problems.

I learned more about my energy levels and mental fitness. And I watched myself dig my heels in and say I couldn’t possibly try something that turned out to be completely within my skills. It must be frustrating to ride with me! Even I dislike me when I’m being like that.

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Preparing for the next trip: Bike & gear

After re-discovering how much I like adventure riding, the next step was to get my bike and gear set up much better.

R and I had talked about how I could improve my skills and confidence. The initial plan was to put knobby tyres on the BMW and lighten my load. But then he made a very obvious suggestion – instead of setting up my big, heavy bike, I should start riding my small, light bike. After all, I do own a Yamaha WR250R, and I did buy it to improve my off-road skills. It’s a great bike – it’s light, agile and hugely capable. Despite the fact that it’s a 250cc, people ride these bikes long distances, over all kinds of terrain and the bikes just keep going. R was right when he wrote to me “You literally have THE BEST possible learner adventure bike you could have”.

With that decision made, I actually started to feel braver and more excited about next weekend’s ride.

But I still needed to sort out my gear.

Crap reduction

Last trip, I just threw my gear together, using what I had already (after all, I thought I didn’t like dirt riding any more). My camping gear was suited to road riding on a big bike, but was way too heavy for riding off-road. And definitely too heavy for a small bike.

When I unpacked from last week, I weighed everything. I had about 17kg of gear. I’m a bit embarrassed to tell you this, but it’s therapeutic and important. The big weights were my tent (4kg), water (1.8kg), sleeping mat (1.5kg), sleeping bag (1.1kg), paper maps (1.1kg), wet weather gear (1kg), camping lamp (1kg), toolkit (700g), first aid kit (650g), jetboil (650g), kindle (550g) and a other bits and pieces (including clothes).

This week I’ll drop the 4kg of tent just by sleeping under R’s tarp tent. That’s obviously not a long term solution so I’m researching ultra-light tents and tarps, aiming to get under 1kg if possible.

A new sleeping mat saved me 1kg. I bought a Thermarest Prolite Womens, and it weighs 460g. It takes up so much less space than the old one:

Old and new sleeping mats rolled up. The new one is less than 1/4 the size

OMG, it’s enormous!


and isn’t much smaller on the ground:
Old and new sleeping mats unrolled. The new one is only a bit smaller than the old.

Wow!

A new sleeping bag saved me 400g, and added 6 degrees of warmth (i.e I had a 4C bag, and now have a -2C bag). Thank goodness for 20% off sales!

New and old sleeping bags. The new bag is about 3/4 the length of the old

Warm, toasty, smaller and lighter

I didn’t need the paper maps I took, so there’s another 1kg gone.

Nor did I need the lamp – I threw it in by habit. I already had three blackfire LED lights. These are great – they clip on to things and can swivel. They have a good light – more than enough for camping. And they weigh about 35g each.

Old lamp - large and heavy, with new LED lamps

That was a no-brainer

My toolkit is necessary. Some of what was in there was already in my bike toolkit, but there were also some fairly important things missing. Instead of randomly throwing in a toolkit, I checked what I needed on the bike. I changed to a ratchet driver and made sure I had the right bits. I included a lightweight socket set that covered all the small sizes I needed. This went up by 100g, and will increase so when I add tyre levers and other things over time. But that’s all OK. I also put it into an old pencil case instead of a bulky zippered folder.

A first-aid kit is obviously important, but the kit I had was in a padded bag, with lots of little pockets. I removed duplicates, added a couple of things and double-ziplock bagged it. Another 400g down.

First aid kit

Much smaller

Water can be transferred to my body instead of the bike. Last week I didn’t take my backpack (with water bladder) as it was bumping into the big bag of camping gear on my seat. Without that bag, I can wear 2kg of water, plus carry snacks, maps and my wallet. I have a great Kriega backpack – it sits high on my shoulders, leaves plenty of room for arm movement, and is such a good fit that I never feel it.

I upgraded my riding suit (more below) and with that, lost 1kg of wet weather gear.

I also upgraded my luggage (I’ll post about this after I use it), but that added 450g.

Small changes, a reasonable amount of money (except for my riding suit). And I’ve just saved 9kg!!!!! That’s half of my previous gear weight! What girl doesn’t want to lose 9kg 🙂

Bike setup

I really did buy the best WR250R around. It was already set up with a load of extras – it has a carrying rack, riding lights, power outlet, some kind of massively strong handlebar and heated grips.

The first thing I did when I bought the bike last year was to have the suspension re-done. Everything had been set very soft and it kind of wallowed along. I didn’t need to re-spring it, but got the forks re-done and everything set up better for my weight.

I had also switched from a set of trials tyres to Mitas MT21s – I chose these for no reason other than D606s were likely to be a bit taller, and I was already scared of the height of the bike (I can only touch the ground with my toes, wearing my biggest boots). No doubt I will experiment with tyres just like everyone else does.

It had no mirrors, so I added doubletake mirrors – partly because they are cool, and, actually, just because they are cool.

Over Christmas, I replaced the perished grips with new ones, and fixed the heated grips at the same time (me and a soldering iron – the burn is almost healed!).

The only other thing that needs doing is to mount and wire a GPS holder. Hopefully I can figure that out in time for this weekend.

Learning to change a tyre

One of many skills I hadn’t yet learned was to change a tyre. That all changed this week when I went for a short, tarmac ride with a friend and picked up a nail. At first I couldn’t figure out why the bike was so squirmy in a 90km/hr corner. But it continued squirmy until I slowed down and found this:

Photo of a nail in my tyre

No wonder it was squirming around

Ok, this was my chance to learn to change a tyre! I removed the wheel, bought a tube, let down the tyre and popped it off the rim. That was a bit hard, and I probably scratched my rim a bit, but it was OK. I pulled the tube out, partly inflated the new one, and put it in. I put the tyre back on the rim. That was hard! One side went on well, but on the other side I got to the very last part and just couldn’t get the tyre lever under the tyre to do the last part. I ended up managing it with a small spanner! Unfortunately, when I inflated it, the air didn’t hold. So I threw the whole thing in the car, took it to the bike shop and got them to replace the tube I’d pinched. Best $15 I ever spent!

New riding suit

Last week I rode with a women’s full suit of armour, an old textile (partly mesh) jacket, and Klim Savannah women’s pants. It’s an OK combination, but only for warm, dry weather.

Photo of me in my bike gear, with my bike

Cobbled together gear, works well in summer

I needed a new suit this year anyway. The one I’ve been wearing is falling apart, has no wind resistance and little venting. It was cheap, and was fine when I started riding.

So I started researching women’s adventure gear. I’d like to rant, but it would be boring. Long story short – it’s all rubbish. I nearly cried when one of the reviews pointed out that the venting had been moved to the top of the shoulders as women sit higher as pillions. For a suit that was meant to be adventure gear!!!! I found something I liked, but the new version had replaced functional, expandable pockets with hand-warmer pockets. Because you have to keep your hands warm while posing next to your adventure bike. FFS!

So I ground my teeth and tried on a men’s Klim Latitude Suit. I thought it would be awful – I thought I would look boxy and masculine. I’d been avoiding trying it for ages for just that reason. You can imagine my surprise when I pulled the waistband in, let the hip adjusters out and discovered that it looked pretty damn good.

Klim latitude jacket, looking not masculine

It actually looks pretty good

And it just fits my armour, though is tight across the chest (I’ll have to see how this goes):

Body armour, under my jacket

Look what’s on the inside

That made me happy. So happy that I almost got lost trying to follow the GPS driving to the hotel in Sydney.

Ready to go

Last job was to figure out what I needed to pack (this weekend is a 3-day ride, followed by a work week in Melbourne, followed by a 3-day ride), do a test pack with the new luggage, load routes to the GPS, etc etc.

I’d taken the bike out for a quick run around the block after re-fitting the wheel, and the front was all flighty. I wanted to pack my gear, lower the tyre pressures and see how it felt.

Can you imagine how I felt, after all this work, when I tried to start the bike and it didn’t want to start. Then I got it started, pulled out of the driveway and it stopped. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD!!!. I pushed it home, thought about it for a bit, and dumped my mower fuel in the tank. It started. And stayed started. I’d run out of fuel. Again (the last time was the day I bought it, and luckily I found a nice farmer). I really need to figure out my range on these tanks.

Anyway, I think we’re ready to go. Here she is, with my test run of gear, which weighs about 9kg (and that’s heavy as I have to take my iPad and clothes so I can work and look like a grown-up for a week).

Wr250R, with giant loop luggage

Ready to go

Tomorrow – Omeo. Thereafter – well, you’ll have to wait for the ride report…

Posted in Riding | 1 Comment

Victoria high country adventure ride

The back story

There’s a bit of a back story to this ride, and it’s kind of important as context.

Last year I fell off my motorbike – I was riding fire trails with friends, went over an erosion mound, landed front tyre first in a puddle, lost the front end and went for a slide. I didn’t break anything, but because I landed heavily on my shoulder, stretched a bunch of stuff out, and couldn’t move my arm easily for a while. Worse than the damage to my arm was the damage to my confidence – I had been enjoying riding on the dirt, but knew I didn’t really have the skills to ride a heavy bike off-road. Coming off it pretty much broke my confidence and I found myself happy when I could find a work-based excuse to miss out on a ride.

On a friend’s advice (my friend R who comes up later in this story) I bought a littler bike – a Yamaha WR250R. I bought it in Melbourne and we were going to do some easy dirt rides on the way home. It was cold and raining and the bike was tall and I had a convenient excuse not to ride it on the dirt and come home via the tarmac instead. I then got busy with work and took months to get the bike to a roadworthy status. I eventually did it, but the registration had lapsed and I had yet another excuse not to ride it. I finally took it out for a run and spent the entire ride telling myself that this wasn’t for me and I was going to sell the bike – despite the fact that I had a completely fine ride, no scary moments, and managed a decent pace on it.

So as you can probably figure out, I was trying to convince myself that adventure riding wasn’t for me…

The ride

I’d arranged a ride with R for mid-January but when another came up on our local riding forum, I said I’d be interested but couldn’t switch to knobby tyres in time. That wasn’t a requirement so I said yes. It was going to be a 3 night ride, down through the Victorian high country, camping in camp grounds if possible, or bush camping if not. Despite my hesitation about my skills, I was excited and looking forward to it. 4 days on a bike, exploring, camping & swimming sounded pretty good.

I already had enough camping gear from previous rides, so assembled what I had & packed it into 2 bags, to be strapped to the bike (I learned my lesson last time & knew not to use my plastic panniers for off-road riding).

Day 1: Canberra to the Snowy River

Map showing the route for day 1

Day 1: From Tharwa to the Snowy River

The three of us (G, R & I) met up at Tharwa nice and early, on a clear day that had a fairly strong wind. I dropped my tyre pressures and we headed off down Bobeyan Road. Luckily the wind completely disappeared and didn’t re-appear at any point while we were on dirt roads (yes, wind and dirt roads scare me – I worry that I’ll be pushed and my tyres won’t hold).

We stopped in at a lookout, where the boys just had to take the bikes out for a photo.

The bikes on an overhanging lookout

Look out!

We then continued South. I’ve ridden this road a fair few times and usually just follow Bobeyan Road to Adaminaby. But this time we took Yaouk Road, which turned out to be a much prettier road, running through lovely farming country. This leg gave me a good chance to warm up, get accustomed to riding on my feet and get familiar with the bike again.

We stopped at Adaminaby, to find that the takeaway had been closed and the bakery (which had a ‘Burgers’ sign) was packed, so we decided on the pub for lunch. The only problem was that it wasn’t quite lunch time yet – that’s what happens with an early start. After a rest, a burger and some bike chat, we headed south again.

We took a detour to have a look at Lake Eucumbene. It was rocky, a bit nasty and had sand at the end (I’m scared of sand but I didn’t know it was there so fluked it coming into the lake). The boys went for a play in the hills, while I looked at the lake.

My bike in front of Lake Eucumbene

Lake Eucumbene

And of course, even though I theoretically know how to ride on sand (weight back, look where you want to go, keep the throttle on) I had to ask R to ride my bike out over the sand.

Then we continued to Jindabyne for an iced coffee kind of afternoon tea.

Given the time, we made a plan to ride the Barry Way and find a good campsite on the Snowy River. For months R had been telling me to ride the Barry Way and as usual, his advice was good. It’s a good-condition gravel road, winding its way down through some stunning scenery, with some fairly steep cliffside drops.

Photo of me riding a curvy road on the Barry Way

Look, that’s me, on the Barry Way

We eventually found a campsite where a friendly camper showed R a hidden site right on the river, with a little path to get the bikes down. We set up camp and went for a swim, as you do when you camp on a river.

Just in the water and I let out a BIG GIRLY SQUEAL!! No, I didn’t get in too fast or slip and fall in. Something bit me on the foot! I screeched, fell, flailed around for a bit (but didn’t drop my beer, just added some of the Snowy River to it). Looking at the bite later, we decided it was a turtle. In case you’re wondering, this is what a turtle bite looks like a day later, on disgustingly dirty feet. It must have been a big bugger to have a mouth that size.

A turtle bite, showing a triangle shaped scrape on the top of my foot, and jaw mark on the botton

A turtle bit me on the foot!

Day 2: Barry Way, Nunniong Rd to Anglers Rest

Map of route from Snowy River to Anglers Rest, via Nunniong Rd & Omeo

Snowy River to Anglers Rest, via Nunniong Rd & Omeo

We woke up when the sun rose, packed up camp and were on the road by 8am. Today’s destination was Omeo, thereafter to figure out what to. The easy way to Omeo is Limestone Road, but someone had recommended trying Nunniong Road as well.

The path South of the border on the Barry Way was stunning. The road winds around the edge of a cliff, which was mildly terrifying for me, but the view was incredible. As long as I didn’t think about what would happen if I fell down the cliff, I didn’t come near falling down. After winding down the cliff for a while, the road bursts out into long, flat grasslands. It is quite a remarkable experience to be in the hills one moment and on the flat the next.

From there, we ran across Limestone Road for a while, until Nunniong Road. According to the map, there was going to be only one small steep section (oh, did I tell you I’m not very good at steep?). This turned out to be a very mixed road – it started off as a single car-width road with grass up the middle then changed to single lane gravel road for much of the rest.

corner on Nunniong Road

Nunniong Road


There were some remarkably rocky sections, and the short uphill turned out to be within my riding skill and my tyres’ capability, with a bit of coaching from R. In the middle of it was an old winching station, which was an interesting find. Close to Omeo it opened up into a wide gravel road, on the side of open hills, with a quite remarkable view that made the rocky stuff all worthwhile (did I tell you I don’t like rocky stuff? It seems to rattle the bike and I to bits.).

We zipped into Omeo, looking forward to a burger, and weren’t disappointed by Twinkles Cafe. It was here that we learned that G had a family issue and needed to go home, so it was just R and I to continue on our own.

Our morning ride had been so long (about 6 hours, including a couple of breaks) and we didn’t want to do much more, so headed towards Angler’s rest, along the Omeo Highway. I rode this road on my Two Snowies Ride and loved it then. Now I can actually ride corners, I loved it even more – I love that it’s a single speed limit, with no corner advisory signs, so I actually have to read the road instead of reading the signs.

We were hoping there would be space at the campground near the Blue Duck Inn. Lucky for us, we found a great space. And this time there were no biting turtles in the river – we had a cold, and completely safe, swim. We (well, not me) dragged a good-sized log from the side of the river for a fire and one of the other friendly campers, with a handy chainsaw, cut it up. That was lucky – though my gear was fairly extensive, I hadn’t packed a chainsaw!

Photo of our camping space at Anglers Rest

Camping at Anglers Rest

We had a nice early night and even got a sleep in, waking as the sun topped the trees at about 8am!

Day 3: To Paynesville, via Hotham and Dargo

Anglers Rest to Dargo, via Hotham (morning only - my mapping software hates me)

Anglers Rest to Dargo, via Hotham (morning only – my mapping software hates me)

Today’s plan was to ride the Dargo High Plains Road, look at a camp ground on the way and end up somewhere near Paynesville so we could see the New Year’s fireworks.

The run from Omeo to Hotham is a classic (road) motorcyclists road – endless corners, beautiful tarmac, stunning above-the-treeline scenery. I’d only done it in the opposite direction once before, and it was great to do it in reverse. Just stunningly beautiful, but only for summer as it’s probably super-deep in snow in winter.

Photo of the view from just past Mount Hotham

What a view!

We then turned onto Dargo High Plains Road. It was summer holidays, so it was fairly well-trafficked, and the 4WDs kick up a ton of dust. The beginning was a little rocky but it eventually opened up in to wide, flat gravel, with long straights and good corners. I was actively practicing my posture here, standing on the pegs properly, steering with my knees, and I actually had a bit of speed up in some sections (the best I spotted was almost 100km/hr in 3rd gear – I’d never expected to do that).

At the beginning of Dargo High Plains Road - photo of bike, road and scenery

At the beginning of Dargo High Plains Road

We stopped briefly and found this – still not sure what was going on here:

Photo of burned up grids and metal objects

WTF?

Close to Dargo, we turned off to go down to look at a campground that R had been to before. We’d been riding for 3 hours straight and I was tired. We rode for 6km down the rockiest piece of crap road I’ve ever been on. I rode it badly – I wanted it to be easy and couldn’t be bothered standing up and riding it properly. Which meant I hit every rock and pothole and took every bump through my butt. By the time R stopped to see if I was OK and wanted to continue, I’d completely had enough. There was no way I wanted to ride another 6km to the campground (even with the promise of a swim), and the 12km back. So we turned around. On the way back, I rode my bike properly – on the pegs, using my posture to guide the bike, using my legs to steer – and it was much better, if still slow. I really should know better.

We made it to Dargo just as the pub closed lunch off, so we ate at the store. Despite being starving, there was no way I could eat all of my piece-of-crap chicken schnitzel burger. It was just about the most foul thing I’ve ever eaten.

We hoofed it out of Dargo towards Paynesville. Again, this is a beautiful piece of motorcyclists road – curvy, sweepy and nice surface. But I didn’t really notice it much.

We rode into Paynesville, where there is a large tidal lake, with a skinny spit of land running into it. We rode the length of the spit, found a potential campsite, then went back to see if there was something better. Nope – the one we’d found was about the best. We surveyed our food to see if we could manage without shopping. I had a freeze-dried meal; R had noodles, vegetables and a white hungarian salami; I had whisky and R had chocolate. We were all set for new year! We sat around doing nothing for a while, I picked his brain about posture on the bike, we set up camp and cooked dinner, then settled in and hoped we could see the kids fireworks at 9pm.

Photo of our campsite on the beach

Part of our camp on the beach

It turned out that we picked just about the best spot for fireworks. We were right at the end of the spit of land in the map below. From there we could see 4 sets of fireworks. We don’t know where they were, but I suspect there was one at Paynesville, the best on Raymond Island, and two out towards Lakes Entrance.

Map of Lake King showing where we were in relation to Paynesville and Lakes Entrance

We were at the end of the spit of land

It was pretty fantastic, and even better when it was repeated at midnight. One of us should have take a photo, but we spent most of the time saying “ooh, did you see that one?”

Day 4: Paynesville to Canberra

Map showing route from Paynesville to Canberra

Running home, all in one go

New Years Day, and the plan was to get home. We packed up camp and went into Paynesville for breakfast as we’d run out of breakfast food. Two of the funniest things on the ride happened here.

Firstly, we walked into a cafe, wearing all our gear, which happened to be covered in dirt from 3 days riding. The cafe was decorated from christmas and full of nice people in nice clothes. R said “I think we’re officially ‘those people'” – and we were. It was funny to be us – both in very decent careers – and to feel that way. It didn’t bother me – it was just a curious feeling.

Photo of me in my bike gear, with my bike

What? This isn’t appropriate cafe clothes?

The second was to watch people looking at the bikes. Well, mostly looking at R’s bike, which is an all kinds of crazy KTM with enormous tanks. This had been happening all trip of course, but was even more noticeable today. Then when we went to leave, everyone watched – I swear, there was a crowd of about 20 people watching us take off.

From there, it was just a big ride home. We said “seeya next week” and I rode from Bairnsdale to Canberra in 5 hours – stopping for one bathroom break and one fuel stop. It drizzled the entire way and was windy from Bombala to Cooma (is it ever not?). Even though I usually like the Cann River Road, this was a fairly gross, uninteresting trip, especially when my headset power cut out half way through and I was out of music. But all was made better when I jumped in the shower and washed my hair!

So, how do I feel about adventure riding?

I started this trip hoping it would convince me that adventure riding was not for me. I finished this trip back in love with adventure riding. I’m crap at it – I spend most of my time worrying how slow I am, worrying about my tyres slipping, wishing my skills were better, and imagining what would happen if I fell down the side of a cliff. But there is NOTHING like exploring a new road, not knowing what the surface will be like, whether there will be something that terrifies me, and not knowing what the scenery will be like. There is little better than finding a camp ground on a river at the end of a day. And there is nothing like doing it all over again tomorrow.

This totally is for me. I just need to set up my bike better, sort out the weight of my camping gear and get out and ride.

Today I pulled all the plastics off and washed my dirty bike inside and out. I switched the windscreen to the stock one (this was something that makes it harder on rocky ground – the damn thing was so rattly and noisy) and will buy something better. Tomorrow I put the knobby tyres back on (and they are staying there), will fix the handlebar height and the gear lever. Then I’ll start various tweaks to make this bike work well on the dirt, and fix up my camping gear and luggage so it is not as heavy and in the wrong places. Then next weekend, I’m going to do a 3-day ride (followed by a week being grown up, working in Melbourne) and ride home. Then I’ll ride as much as possible after that. And in between, I’ll ride the little bike as well to learn how to manage slopes, sand and all the things I hate.

I’m back in love with riding!

Posted in Riding | 6 Comments