Motorcycle Classics

Travel Hints

Reader Contribution by Alison Green

My international touring experience is not extensive, but most of my touring miles have been solo, which can be interesting. My first big bike was a 1975 BMW R60/6, purchased new with every dollar that I could scrape together back then — and we are still together. I have certainly owned and ridden bigger, faster, snazzier machines, but the 600 is a fixture in my life.One doesn’t have to ride the latest and greatest to enjoy touring. Or to find yourself in a pickle and far from home.

For those of you who travel in far places, beware the sidestand. In countries where the flow of traffic is reversed from what we assume is normal ( eg. In Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand), the sidestand is still mounted on the bike’s left. This means that if the sidestand is deployed at any roadside stop, the bike will be canted away from the centre of the road rather than towards it.   Sounds very trivial until you have to pick up a fully loaded bike from the downslope side! If you must make a stop at the road’s edge,  sometimes a quick U-turn back onto your own side of the road is the best solution — obviously only in places with minimal traffic. Tour operators are generally conscientious about warning riders about every possible hazard — except this one! 

Similarly when riding in left-hand flow traffic, the usual cheerful wave to oncoming motorcyclists  results in the throttle slamming shut and the startling deceleration of your bike. A simple nod is sufficient. Waving with one’s left hand just doesn’t seem to work well in reverse-flow traffic.

Here at home, I seldom lock my motorcycle, but in far away places caution reigns and the special kryptonite tamper-proof cable lock is carefully deployed any time the bike is out of my sight. Unfortunately, even care and caution has its hazards… Locks are not part of my pre-ride mental checklist and I have discovered that any attempt to ride off into the sunset (or sunrise) with the lock in place results in an abrupt and embarrassing halt. The scenario then degenerates into a struggle to right a loaded touring bike with the cable lock bar-tight and no possibility of rocking the machine. There is some hope for me — I have never had to learn this lesson twice on any given trip — just once per tour.

When traveling, I make a very real effort to seek directions and local knowledge whenever possible. This has generally helped but I have still been caught out by not asking the right questions – or by not really listening to the answers. Situations have also been made worse when a degree of smugness at my own level of experience creeps into the mix. Consider the techniques for riding on dusty, rough, loose dirt roads… been there, done that — lots. What could be so different about the Australian outback roads —  other than the heat?

The little detail that I missed was the something that the locals call bulldust. Aussi outback dust is very, very fine! So fine in fact, that the depressions in the so-called outback tracks fill with loosely settled dust and the holes then become disguised as smooth bits. One must avoid these smooth areas at all costs. Beneath that benign surface lurks anything from a pothole to washboard to a bike-eating gully.  After or during the wet (read: rainy season) these bulldust pockets become glutinous traps. The clingy mud is so thick that I once walked away from my bike and left it standing forlornly upright in the middle of the track. This damsel in distress — and her bike, were rescued by a gallant and very amused rancher and his trusty Toyota truck. I suspect that if I had listened more closely to the campfire discussions of the conditions ahead, I might not have found myself in such an inglorious predicament.

If anything can be gleaned from my mishaps and musings, perhaps it is a reminder of the universal travel caution. It really doesn’t matter where one is riding, the details can not be ignored, and applied common sense is a rider’s best resource. The wonder and challenge of new places is best enjoyed with attention to the situation at hand and a clear head.

Bad luck when traveling can happen to anyone: Good Luck takes planning and the right attitude.Alison Green

  • Published on Sep 22, 2008
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