KTM Adventure Rallye
High Country Edition, Australia
With Wayne Vickers, Images by Wilko Photo
Ooooooooohhhhh where to start with this one. Some of you will know by now that my time at the KTM Australia Rally didn’t quite go to plan. There’s some footage floating around of me hobbling up a hill with what I didn’t know at the time was a broken Tibia.
Just a case of me putting my foot down awkwardly (with a straight leg) on the low side of a hill at less than walking speed. Yep. One of those.
Despite that, in fact probably because of it, I have an even higher regard for the event and the whole support crew.
I want to start by saying that when Trev initially asked if I would be interested in having a crack at writing some reviews, the one and only thing we were both steadfast on was that it had to be genuine. No click bait. No hiding any downsides to a bike or only mentioning the good bits. (Trev “Wayne has seemed to not recall the bit about not falling over…”)
I’m not about to hide the fact that I got hurt. Let’s keep it real. We get hurt occasionally. And if we’re all honest, that risk component is part of the thrill of riding.
That’s not about to stop me from doing what I love. My mindset is one for being a bit adventurous and making memories, not wrapping myself in cotton wool and avoiding potential risk.
That’s also not to say I’m reckless. This is the first time I’ve stepped off a press bike. The last time I dropped a bike that wasn’t my dirt bike was more than five years ago. That was when I clipped a wallaby coming down Hotham.
The only other time I’ve dropped a bike on the road was my 08 Blade when I didn’t notice some spilt coolant in the wet and tipped in a bit more enthusiastically than what the tyres could handle. But it can happen.
Ok, indulgence done – let’s talk a little about the event.
It’s a pretty impressive thing. 150 riders plus 30 or more support staff. A bunch of medics, support vehicles, video and photo snappers recording the event, luggage trucks, mobile workshops for each night to give bikes a touch up and repair any battle scars.
Tyre truck on hand to swap out for fresh rubber. Motorex were there doing air filter cleans after each day (surprising amount of dust in those filters after just one day by the way when you’re riding in groups!). It’s a bit more than just a small handful of bikes with a support vehicle… It’s a big deal!
As part of entry, each rider had to get their bike tech inspected well before the event to ensure it was up to the task of five days and around 1,500 km of some of the best tracks and trails the Victorian High Country has to offer.
Each rider was GPS tracked to make sure no one was left behind. Even if they did ride off a cliff. Looking at you Rod – hope the hand is healing up ok!
I didn’t have to worry about that prep side of things as us media princesses were supplied with shiny new 2023 890 Adventure Rs to get a feel for… I’ll come back to that in a bit.
Mornings were a busy but orderly affair with scheduled departure times to try and spread the dust out.
Each night we’d have a full recap over dinner of the day’s highlights, special shoot-outs of worthy deeds and trail tales. Then a briefing of the next day’s riding options, maps and GPS files distributed and any special notes gone over. And then a frothy or three.
Riding options ranged from the main line which was normally rated to two chillies (out of five), but break-outs offered options all the way to fives depending on how adventurous and capable the rider felt.
Of course the recommendation was that for tracks above a three you’d wanna know what you’re doing. And probably be on a 690. But there were plenty who tackled the really tough stuff on bigger machines. Well played.
I arrived on the evening of day two, taking over from another journo who couldn’t do the full five days either so it worked out nicely. Bright is one of my favourite places so it wasn’t a bad starting point for day three.
The next morning’s break-out was going to be a tough gig with about 40 river crossings and the media group didn’t take much convincing to take the slightly easier route. Despite what you might think we don’t go full nutter on other people’s bikes…
We had barely left town the next morning and were straight onto a terrific gravel forest track that winded its way up and over a bunch of hilltops. Some really nice trails. Nothing too gnarly but enough to keep you on your toes for sure, eventually coming out at Harrietville for the run up towards Hotham on the black stuff.
A quick stop up at the lookout near the top then we ducked back down towards the Blue Rag track. I’d not done the full length of the track to the tower before but the new 890 handled it without any fuss. Up hill, downhill, jumps, nothing a problem.
I love the new frontal styling. Love it. It now matches up with the 1290SA and no longer looks a bit praying mantis, with the new headlight and screen area being fully integrated with the front side panels. Much nicer wind protection too. Nicely done. The other main updates are in the dash and some electronic and suspension tweaks.
We were running 30 psi to try and avoid punctures and over particularly rocky sections of Blue Rag I did find the front deflecting a little more than I’d liked on that first day, but backing it off a touch for day two had it sorted, without looking remotely like bottoming out on anything I was prepared to throw at it.
It’s still out of this world that suspension set-up. Easily the class leader.
Despite other electronic updates, the one that I noticed the most was that in Rally mode (the one with traction control adjustable on the fly) setting 1 is now ‘off’. Or it is as far as wheelies are concerned anyway. Giggedy. When I rode last year’s model it would still juuuuussst retard things a little which was annoying. So that’s a big win as far as I’m concerned.
From the Blue Rag we headed off towards Dargo, the last leg being on tarmac – and even on knobbies (Dunlop 606s) I found the run down a lot of fun. Black lines were laid apparently. And they held up well too. I wasn’t getting on the gas hard out of turns but it was holding plenty of corner speed and just walking around on the knobbies nicely.
We were having a cracker of a time. Plenty of shenanigans, both on the trail and of the evening. Met a bunch of great guys, plenty of good steerers with one particular couple charging hard two-up on an 890 and some beginning their journey too. Even had a few 390 Adventure riders along!
Day 4 started out nicely, another great trail heading towards Bairnsdale that was tight enough to keep you on your toes before it opened up a bit for us to either get a bit stuck in, or take a breather. Or both in that order.
Then we hit the day’s first break-out which was awesome. Challenging enough without being risky. Some great little jumps on descents into little creeks and then steep pinches out. Towards the end of that breakout we came onto the hill that I came unstuck on.
As a hill itself it was no tougher than anything we’d already done. Should have been a walk in the park for me. The only complication came about three-quarters of the way up at a dip that turned into a pinch where another rider had stopped on the left on what would have been the line.
No biggie, I figured just take the other line on the right and give him plenty of space in case I bounce off-line a bit.
Turned out the right line was pretty loose and soft. I lost all drive in a big hurry. So much so that my GoPro decided to abandon ship when it clipped the top of the front screen. After that I was just rolling the bike back downhill to reposition for another crack when the bike overbalanced, I stepped off the downhill side to try and support it and landed with a straight leg.
Doofus. Shoulda just let the bike go! It didn’t get a scratch on it anyway… From that point it was pretty obvious that I’d damaged my knee as I couldn’t bear any weight on that leg at all – I actually thought it might have been ACL damage.
And it was here that the whole event crew did their thing. Troy from Gas Moto who’d been riding with us media muppets and was following me at the time helped me lift the bike up. I’ve known Troy since Gas Racing days and it was nice to catch up, though I didn’t exactly put on a show for him…
Then Beefa rode my bike up the hill for me as I tried to scramble/hobble up in slow motion. Hence the footage Damo has of me limping up a hill like a cripple.
Once up the top, Sam – one of the medics riding amongst everyone, soon did a quick assessment and threw some pain killers my way, as a cast of about half a dozen helpers spent time checking GPS locations and liaising with the 4WD support vehicle figuring out the nearest extraction point for us.
I should mention that they were doing that while simultaneously helping the rest of the riders up the hill. Everybody was pitching in. Absolute legends.
Five or ten minutes later we had a plan. Beefa had done a quick sweep up and back of the next section and declared it easy enough to do sitting down, so I managed to swing the leg back over the bike and we rode out.
Shifting gears was um… interesting! Probably 20 minutes later we met up with Peter and Co in the support 4WD and they shuttled me to Bairnsdale Hospital.
That’s where I bumped into the aforementioned Rod who’d managed to overshoot a cliff edge and absolutely bury his 890 in the blackberries 10 metres below. While the initial assessment for him was no broken bones, we’ve chatted since and it turns out that he cracked the Trapezium in his throttle hand which could take a while to heal up. Bugger.
My assessment was pretty quick. Doc took one look at all the swelling around my knee and raised his eyebrow when I told him I thought it was just a twinged ligament.
“See all that swelling… that’s blood that is,” he said. And after a bit of discussion and prodding suggested it probably wasn’t ligament damage and may well be a broken bone which would actually be a significantly better outcome than a wrecked ACL anyway. X-rays confirmed a compression break in the top of my Tibial plateau.
After we’d been summarily dismissed by the good folks at the Hospital we made our way across the road to Bairnsdale RSL, who were pretty ace to welcome in two bent up and frankly pretty dusty looking motorbike riders.
We found a quiet corner, tucked in to some liquid pain killers and a pretty awesome steak before Huffy made the five hour return drive from Dinner plain to come pick us up and shuttle us back to our accommodation for the night. A five hour drive. After a full day on bikes helping blokes ride up hills. Did I mention the crew were legends? Deadset.
That next morning I waved the main crew farewell and the boys dropped Rod and I back to my vehicle in Bright on their way back through to Lake Hume and we cruised on home to Melbourne. Rod drove the first leg back to Melbourne to his place and then I shuffled off home to Anglesea from there. Grateful my new wheels has an auto…
Some special shout-outs. Rosie – apologies that I didn’t follow the script and caused a few headaches for you all. Not what I had in mind. As ever, you and the crew handled it with nothing but professionalism, care and a smile.
Harry – the go to man. Our concierge if you will. Absolute champion. Couldn’t do enough. Was being pulled in eleventy-seven directions and still managed to bring it all home. And as always – Aussie Ron, Lewie and Robbo were legends. Robbo didn’t even have to pull me out of a bog this time for a change. Nice work Guy for stepping up there in my absence.
So I’ve got some unfinished business here.
I need to spend some more time on the new updated 890 and do a full review when my leg is back in business which I’m told will be six to eight-weeks.
I need to finish a KTM Rallye event for the final night party shenanigans.
I need to catch up with Birchy properly and get some side by side wheelie shots or something. I only got a chance to briefly say G’day and was planning on getting some shots on the afternoon that went pear shaped… Next time.
I’m looking forward to all three. In the meantime I’ve got some couch time and will then need to rebuild some fitness.
There’s no 2023 KTM Adventure Rally Australia currently planned but keep an eye on the KTM Adventure Rally webpage (link)for current and future events, with the 2023 KTM Adventure Rally New Zealand booked out.
Wayne loves all things motorsport, but lives for two wheels. Mountain bikes, dirt bikes, adventure bikes, road bikes, race bikes, the lot.
An ex riding coach and road racer wannabe who simultaneously ran out of talent and money.
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