Riding around Australia – Touring on the VFR1200F in 2010 – Part 4
Western Australia is big. The distance from the northern WA border to the South-West corner is longer than the distance from Perth to Melbourne.
And everything in WA is big. From the world’s longest train (up to 7.35km long and 100,000 ton), to the world’s longest trucks (A-B Quads well over 50 metres long and 200 ton), all servicing some of the world’s biggest mining operations.
The rate at which mining companies are digging up WA and sending it to China makes me wonder if it is in fact a secret plan to combat climate change, with the holes left from the mining operations to swallow the rising sea levels!
Crossing the border into Western Australia from the north required me to surrender any fruit or plant materials to quarantine, and also welcomed me back to the constraints of 110km/h speed limits. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted… At least the scenery soon took a turn for the better, which helped make the speed limit somewhat bearable.
Seven kilometres after passing through the quarantine checkpoint I turned off the Victoria Highway for the scenic 35km journey into Lake Argyle Village. I checked into a Lakeside Cabin for the evening and enjoyed the inspiring views. Proprietor Charlie Sharpe was incredibly helpful and I thoroughly recommend a stop by the lake.
The next morning I rode out to Wyndham to have a look at the Five Rivers Lookout before back tracking to Kununurra where I booked into The Kimberly Grande for a couple of nights. I was picked up from here the next morning by Triple J Tours operator Jeff for an Ord River Cruise.
Heading out through Lake Kununurra and then following the Ord River right up to the dam wall at Lake Argyle was a memorable experience. And for that trip I was not powered by a Honda engine but three of the biggest outboard engines I have ever seen. A trio of 350hp Yamaha V8s giving the 15 metre boat enough power to get out of any tricky situation.
A huge variety of bird species were easily spotted from the boat, while marveling at the awesome Kimberley rock formations that border the river.
Quite a few freshwater crocodiles were out and about and, funnily enough, one of the biggest decided to take a plunge right next to where Jeff had stopped the boat to let us out for a swim. He assured us that ‘freshies’ generally don’t bother people, we took him for his word and jumped in. Well, it was hot!
I rode out of Kununurra on Friday morning after a few great days exploring the beauty of the Ord River and Lake Argyle. Back on the bike it was hard work. The temperature hovered between 40 and 41°C all day and the radiant heat coming back from the road was even more intense than the heat coming from above.
Amazingly enough I managed to break the economy record for the trip in the stifling conditions. 291km from 13.5 litres while I sat just above the 110km/h speed limit. Amazing what that does for economy! At the rate the VFR1200F was sipping unleaded along that stretch it would have gone nearly 400km on its 18.5 litre tank.
After covering 1050km for the day I spent the night in Broome, where it ‘only’ went down to 31°C overnight. After getting underway at 7am it didn’t take too long for the 40°C barrier to be cracked again. I continued my sojourn south as far as Port Hedland before turning inland past Karijini National Park and onto Newman.
Karijini National Park is one of Australia’s best kept secrets. This magical place is only a few kilometres off the highway and you can ride your bike right to the edge of magnificent gorges before walking down some easy steps for a dip under Fortescue Falls or a soak in Fern Pool. Karijini is near the Tropic of Capricorn and south enough to be crocodile free and is about the only set of magnificent gorges easily reached by any motorcycle. Unfortunately, this time around I did not have time to revisit the wonders of Karijini and had to press on towards Newman, making it a 1070km day. Newman is a reasonably sized town serving the Pilbara mining industry, offering plenty of accommodation and watering holes.
No rest on the Sabbath for Trev! Again underway by 7am it was all systems go for the run south down to Perth. I stopped at Kumarina Roadhouse for fuel and headed through to the café to treat myself to scrambled eggs for breakfast. That scoffed over the morning paper, I walked back outside the Roadhouse to be greeted by traffic backed up either side of the Roadhouse as it had been cut off by flash flooding from both sides!
Only around half a metre deep, the flood waters depth would have been no problem for the VFR, the problem was the incredible speed of the flow across the road. Even trucks and four wheel drives decided to sit and wait it out rather than risk being swept off the road by the rampaging torrent.
After half an hour passed things didn’t seem to be getting any better, and more weather was closing in, so a few trucks decided to try their luck. I watched as the first two went through heading south, then waited for one to inch across from the south, so I could use it to break some of the strength of the flow, and cross the floodway in the opposite direction.
Plenty of steering and body language were needed to keep the VFR1200F upright but I made it through unscathed. If it was legal to do so I may have celebrated the successful crossing with a mono out the other side, as the people stood outside their cars let out a cheer, in relief that I successfully made it across.
All the excitement was not over however. The run south towards Perth means lots more native fauna, and plenty of introduced animals to keep you on your toes. Joining the normal assortment of cattle, sheep and kangaroos were goats, camels and that pea-brained most stupid bird species, the emu.
And it was an emu that provided me with my biggest chest thumping moment. I spotted a large emu out of the corner of my eye running alongside the road, heading the same direction as myself, but previous experience has taught me that emus change direction so quickly they seem to defy the laws of physics.
I performed a full emergency stop as a precaution, and the emu crossed the road about 30 metres in front of me just as I came to a complete stop. My caution proving correct, and fortuitous.
But the excitement was still not over…
Bearing down on the emu from the opposite direction was a huge Road Train, I gripped the VFR tightly between my knees at a standstill and went into full race crouch, bracing for the impact of the emu discovering the ability to fly, after being cleaned up by the massive truck.
The emu escaped the bulbar of the truck by centimetres, I breathed a sigh of relief and the truckie gave me the thumbs up out of the window, also well aware of my fortunate escape.
As I neared the northern outskirts of Perth thunder and lightning broke loose with fury. Friends had told me to bring the rain with me, as the Western Australian capital was experiencing its hottest and driest start to the year ever. They now call me a Rain God… I rode into Perth behind the storm as it continued south, before it then petered out before reaching Perth’s suburbs.
A 12,000km service for the VFR1200F, a new set of Michelin Pilot Pure tyres and a full detail was completed at The Honda Shop in Midland on Monday. And you guessed it, minutes after the detailing being finished the mother of all storms broke over Perth.
I splashed my way south to Armadale for the night in conditions that were downright ridiculous. Standing water was 100mm deep in some places on the highways, running in torrents both along and then sometimes also across roads. Hail stones added to a thunder and lightning show the likes of which Perth very rarely experiences.
Hail also smashed hundreds of car and house windows across Perth. Rain God indeed… This trip has been truly cursed in regards to weather.
No sun from Phillip Island all the way to Townsville, with virtually rain for that entire first 4500km. Extreme heat across the top end, and then record breaking storms in Perth. What will Mother Nature have in store for me on the next stretch?
In the hot conditions of the north-west the VFR1200F certainly proved its hot weather credentials. The temperate gauge on the bike never ventured beyond half way, and the 1200 shows no signs of the hot-crotch problem exhibited on the VFR 800.
It does, however, put out some heat around the feet and the back of the legs. That wasn’t much of a problem for me as I was riding in proper gear, a BMW Comfort Shell touring suit, but for riders that wear little protection, hot summers might be a little uncomfortable.
The outstanding highlights of the VFR1200F so far are comfort and balance. There is absolutely zero turbulence over the rider at any speed. No buffeting of the helmet from any direction, but clean airflow around the rider.
Even full size touring bikes sometimes suffer from buffeting problems, despite having huge screens, with that buffeting sometimes actually coming from behind due to strange airflow patterns. But my Shoei ensconced bonce has been given an easy ride throughout the 12,000km of the ride thus far on the VFR1200F.
Likewise my posterior is judging the VFR1200F as one of the best in motorcycling. Certainly no other sports-tourer cossets your buttocks like the VFR1200F, the seat is better than most full sized touring mounts.
Pillion accommodations, however, do leave a little bit to be desired. Far better than a sportsbike of course, but certainly nothing like the wonderful comfort afforded to the rider. But some reckon I just have an iron butt anyway.
One 1000km+ day in the saddle and I have no complaints from the seat, repeating it again the next day does bring on a little posterior soreness towards the latter part of the day. But what wouldn’t after 2700km in two days…
The balance and feel of the VFR1200F is superb. The bike shrinks around you like you wouldn’t believe. The bike has great front end feel, and a steering precision unmatched by any other bike close to its size. Little effort is required through the bars or the pegs to initiate changes of line and, despite its 261kg kerb mass, the VFR1200F steers much better than sportsbikes of only a few years ago.
I can’t award the same praise for the rear suspension though. I have no complaints on smooth roads, but the shock does struggle to control the reasonably soft spring once the roads turn bumpy. With only a 196kg maximum weight rating it doesn’t take too big a rider and pillion, along with luggage, to put the shock outside its comfort zone. Like most sporting motorcycles, the VFR1200F is more suited for one person duties than two. Fully loaded it is best to stick to the smooth roads, get the rear suspension re-sprung and re-valved, or replace the shock with a higher quality aftermarket unit.
The engine is getting stronger as the odometer rolls on. My seat of the pants dyno reckons there is an honest 150 horsepower at the 190mm rear Michelin. I also reckon the VFR1200F will crack 10 second quarter miles with ease, even loaded up with luggage.
From Perth I continue my journey through the south-west before heading to Esperance, up to Norseman, then the commencement of the long Nullarbor trek back towards Victoria.