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peteg's blog - travels - Motorcycle

New bike, new Ventura rack.

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I had one of these on Betts. This time around I got a pack-rack (and not the sport-rack) as I saw it working very well with a milk crate on a Vespa. I ordered it last Friday, and picked it up from Close Motorcycles in Redfern yesterday. Installation was easy (it essentially replaces the grab bar) once one has the requisite Allen/hex keys, which I procured from Bunnings this morning. For reasons unknown the Kiwis decided to supply four bolts, two of size 6 and the other pair size 8, all for the uniform purpose of attaching the lugs to the bike.

You don't get a lot for your $350; the fittings for this CB400 are dinky. I think I would have preferred the rack to go straight up from the mount points, and may yet spin it around to face forward. As it stands a bag attached to the frame ends up sitting on the plastic beyond the pillion seat.

Next up, I need to fit the milk crate and see if I can wire up a USB outlet. The challenge is figuring out which circuit to use.

When you can't get a Honda CB400A new ...

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A 2012 CB400<something> in Glebe.

... you get a 2012 model with reasonable kilometres (about 8800km) for reasonable money ($7,000), and find yourself once again the third owner of a bike in good nick. The second owner lives in West Ryde for now, soon to move to London, and was keen to offload it. The first bought it in Sydney and took it to Newcastle. Dave gave me a lift there, and the ride back to Glebe was uneventful. There's not much traffic on this Australia Day, and what there was was placid.

The market for these is thinning out now that Honda has decided that Australia is unworthy of Japanese-built small motorcycles. I called quite a few dealers trying to scare one up, and it seems I'm 6-12 months too late — the last model sold new is from 2015. It was always a bit of a strange arrangement as apparently the (modern) CB400 is not available anywhere but Japan and Australia, though the web suggests there are new ones to be had in Singapore presently. Perhaps Honda wanted to compete with Ducati and others at higher end of the LAMS market, and ended up flooding it between 2008 and 2015.

The model numbers for these things are weird. The compliance plate says it's a CB400. It has ABS, which I would have thought made it a CB400A. The rego says it's a CB400C, about which the internet knows little. The appeal was four cylinders, so she'll go on the highway. It's a tad low but otherwise what I had in mind.

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I sold Betts today to a lady learner from Earlwood. She was accompanied by her vintage-Harley-restoring bloke, who makes his money building electrical substations when he can, and as a general electrician when he can't. "Runs as advertised," he said, after taking her for a short ride. "Does it come with the milk crate?" she asked.

It's not the time to sell, being the end of summer, and the weather is crap, and the market seems to be flooded with CB250s of all vintages, and I was and am in a hurry, and so I had to take a haircut on what I was hoping for: I got $2500 cash on the spot. Very sad to see her go.

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Soon lane splitting will be legal in New South Wales. About time — but I think that 30kph is a bit on the fast side.

Wombeyan Caves

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Betts strikes a pose at the famous sandstone tunnel.

Most of the way there.

I'd been eyeing off this journey into the deep inaccessible south of the Blue Mountains / Sydney's water supply since my ride down to Kangaroo Valley; Dad surprised me when he said he'd never been there. I set off at 11:30am and hightailed it down the Hume in perfect conditions. Perhaps there was less wind, but Betts had no trouble doing upwards of 90kph this time, excepting the hills. Things got decidedly slower when I got to Wombeyan Caves Road, west of Mittagong.

I kept her in second gear most of the way along the 40km or so of unsealed dirt, and was fortunate that there was no traffic. (I honked on all corners, and not just the blind ones.) The moon surface was easier to handle than the loose stuff, and Betts showed she's a real city girl, tottering on her heels as she picked her way through the gravel. About halfway along some Herefords lined me up: a bull, a cow and calf, some hangers-on. The whole track was hot and almost entirely exposed. I got to the Caves around 4pm, with some breaks. (A 4WD website led me to believe the whole thing would take more like six hours.) The creek was dry, which is unsurprising to those in the know as the whole area is sandstone, so no cool down / clean up for me.


View Randwick to Wombeyan Caves in a larger map

Scenes from Kangaroo Shit Park.

Camping next to the Wombeyan Creek.

I aimlessly cruised around the Wombeyan campsite for a bit until a ranger set me straight: the kiosk was closed for the day, and I could setup wherever I felt like it. It's a huge area with quite a few fireplaces and water taps. Over the picket fence is Kangaroo Shit Park, and yes, the roos are tame, as are the magpies. I pitched the tent up and had dinner, all ready to go to sleep by about 6pm, so I took a stroll over to the caves and other facilities. I think it's a little lame that they close so early in summer. After a pleasant early-evening doze on the thermarest Alison gifted me (far superior to the Kathmandu one I bought years ago), I was all set for a restless night of tossing and turning until the dawn chorus got me moving.

The Knapsack? Lennox? Bridge on Mitchells Pass at Blaxland.

I figured it wasn't worth hanging around for another couple of hours until the kiosk opened, so I hit the road going west around 7.15am. "Can't be too far to the Maccas at Blaxland," I thought. Yeah right. After about 90 minutes, including 20km of dirt, I made it to the little general store at Black Springs where a chatty Kiwi lass made me a very welcome coffee. The road from there to Oberon and on to Hartley was pretty cruisy, with Victoria Pass and so forth so very familiar. I did stop at the Blaxland Maccas for another coffee and to check my email.

As I'd been meaning to find the Lennox Bridge for ages, I pushed on further down the road running next to the Maccas, which becomes Mitchell's Pass at some point. It dumped me in Penrith on the old Great Western Highway. After that I took a break in Parramatta, figured out how to get onto Victoria Road, and ran into some hideous traffic in the south and east of the CBD due to the eastern distributor being closed. Apparently a tip-truck's tray came unstuck in one of feeder tunnels.

Tallowa Dam, Kangaroo Valley

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Camping in the Tallowa Dam picnic area.

The idea was to ride down to Kangaroo Valley via the Old Hume, and back along the Princes Highway / Grand Pacific Drive. I had lunch with JAS and Andrew T out front of the OMB at UNSW and got moving around 2.30pm. It turned out to be pretty dumb to take the Hume from its wellspring at Ashfield, as it is tremendously slow; I should instead have gone via Henry Lawson Drive or Canterbury Road and so forth. Oh well.

I headed down Campbelltown Road for old times' sake, and then across to Narellan and the Camden bypass. From there it was pretty cruisy down to Picton, where I got a snack at the local Vietnamese bakery. The Old Hume fuses with the motorway for perhaps 10km, and I got Betts up to 100kph for some of that. The roads down to Kangaroo Valley from Moss Vale are quite windy as they hug the hills constituting the Great Divide. There's not much to the town itself, and from there to Tallowa Dam is easy, but riding into the sunset spoilt it somewhat. I got there around 7pm and while rumour had it that there is a campground nearby, I didn't find it, so I ended up camping in the picnic area, which seemed semi-legit as the signs were quite specific about what was not allowed. (I wasn't keen on the large campsite at Bendeela due to reports of noisy party animals.) Dinner was a klutzfest of instant Hokkien Noodles and a banana, chased by some Twinings Green Tea (which is far more palatable than their other one mixed with ginger and lemongrass). While pitching the tend I got bossed around by a willie wagtail while some small Eastern Greys looked on from the safety of the dam side of the fence. One had a tiny joey that ducked back into the pouch when it got too much. Around 11pm a large wombat was noisily rooting around nearby.

The dam itself is not large, and to my chagrin the much feted fish lift was not in operation; I guess it's not the spawning season. The water seemed not too cold but I didn't take my swimming gear.


View Kangaroo Valley / Tallowa Dam in a larger map

Next morning I hurriedly packed up, had a banana for breakfast and headed to the Maccas in South Nowra for a second breakfast. (Actually given the energy content of their hotcakes it was more a case of the one meal for the day.) They still have free wifi, though I don't see them advertising it so much. Upon refuelling Betts, I found she only needed about eight litres to do 266km, and is clearly happier with these longer rides than the short city hops she usually has to put up with. She's a bit too small for comfort though; every time I stopped my sore bum and lower back complained more than I typically do.

The ride back was pretty windy. There is a massive duplication of the Pacific Highway at Gerringong that goes on for more than ten kilometres, I guess. I stuck to the highway until I got to Kiama, and then headed for the coast, and up through the Royal National Park, stopping for a ginger beer at the Scarborough Hotel, again for old times' sake. The traffic was a lot more placid than on the Pacific Highway or Hume. I got home around 2pm on Thursday.

Netrider Learners' Session

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Met up with Pete Kirievsky at what he called the "Price Waterhouse Coopers bike parking" spot on Sussex Street in the CBD, and rode out to Homebush along Victoria Road. As he predicted, it has fewer lights and maybe less traffic than Parramatta Road. I met a mate of his from Azerbaijan, and a microbiologist from UNSW, but didn't want to embarass myself by attempting the course. I intended to ride up to Windsor with them, but bailed as Yoda wasn't there and there were a huge number of learners (~ 26). I headed back to Bondi Junction with Pete Kirievsky and his mate, again along Victoria Road and through the CBD. Nice day for riding.

Marramarra Creek Camping Ground

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The last two things I wanted to do with Betts was to take her across the Harbour Bridge and go camping, which had me looking for a campsite somewhere north, but not too far north; initially I thought the Basin on Pittwater would be a goer, but they charge something like $30 a night just for the site. The Marramarra Creek Camping Ground is probably the closest (legit) free spot to where I live. Its main drawback is that it is a 3.5km walk from the end of a dirt road.

I went with not much gear: sleeping mat, bag, tent, sandwich, three pieces of fruit, half a block of chocolate and only 1.8L of water. In particular, I took no cooking gear. The idea was to strap the old underused Kathmandu hiking pack flat on the pillion seat, but as that protruded too far, I attached it vertically to the milk crate. This worked out fine — the extra 10-15kg made no difference to how she handled.

I set off around 4pm, which by good fortune turned out to be ideal. Here's the route I took, there and back:


View Randwick to Marramarra National Park in a larger map

The traffic on the bridge was more considerate than I expected, apart from one or two pushy types. I also wanted to cross the Long Gully Bridge at Northbridge, so I tried (and succeeded!) to get on to Miller Street. From there to Hornsby was pretty straightforward. Galston Gorge (thanks Pete R. for the introduction to it) was fun, apart from the impatient cars, presumably locals. I bought a double-espresso Dare at the IGA in Galston, which seemed to be the only place selling these flavoured milks. Near as I can tell Fiddletown does not exist. Fortunately most roads off Cobah are signposted dead-ends, and Bloodwood follows on directly. The dirt-road turnoff to the national park is clearly signposted, and the remainder implied by signs pointing to other places. The Open Street Map data that backs City Maps 2GO lacks loads of details, but so does Google Maps; it can't have been too hard, though, as I got by with just my poor sense of direction.

I left Betts at the locked horse-proof gate (also effective against motorcycles). The walk seemed interminable; the first 2km or so is not too bad, mostly flat or easy downhill along an access road for the high-tension power towers, until the final descent to the creek, which is quite steep. From the bottom to the campsite is perhaps a very easy kilometre on the flood plain. The area is quite pretty, nestled next to the creek. I failed to get a fire going: my geriatric lighter gave up its flint before it ran out of gas, so it wasn't for a lack of persisting with poor technique. I slept OK, using the pack as a semi-decent pillow. The morning chorus was quite loud, and the walk out about as bad as I feared; I was damn happy to see Betts again, even though my legs cramped up a bit on the ride back to Maccas Dural for breakfast. Some black cockatoos put in an appearance at some point, and a wallaby attempted suicide in the early evening, apparently not realising that Betts is not a lethal instrument. I headed back to Randwick via Macquarie Park and Victoria Road, just to tick off a few more bridges. The traffic there was thick but placid. I'd hate to be doing that every day.

Next, if I can screw up the time, nerve and crotch muscles, is Kangaroo Valley.

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I promised Betts a service after getting my provisionals, and so today was the day to head back to Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket and do business with Phil. I think he (or her previous owner) told me that I'd need a new rear tyre, and after 4,000kms certainly an oil change. Phil didn't have the former in stock so I had to wait until Tuesday to pick her up, which was too windy (and I too disorganised), meaning I didn't get her back until Wednesday. Apart from a few days without a motorcycle, the exercise cost me $419: two hours of labour, about $200 for the tyre, and the rest on oil and spark plugs. "Go easy on the corners, slippery when new", he tells me. She certainly feels better at low revs after a tune-up.

I spent the rest of the day at Sydney Uni in Fisher, and later met Dave in Glebe for a coffee. I probably should go back to Motorcycle Accessories Supermarket and see what they have to say about my disintegrating safety gear.

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It took a bit of blood under the bridge for me to face up to the MOST again. Today I prepared by going to Dave's croissant shop in Banksmeadow (pricey but tasty) and eating a couple of bananas, one just before attempting the test at Botany.

Yet again I had Laurie (from Ride It Right), who while entirely capable makes me think it's a one-woman operation. (I've gotten good advice from a variety of people, and would have preferred someone else purely for that reason.) I was five of six, the first of the MOST-only people. Being far less nervous, and much more aware of my speed, I lost only three points: two for going too far on the short stop, and one for failing to do the head check immediately before doing so. I was off like a shot to get my red P plates, which have the same conditions as the learner's, but now I just wait a year to get the open licence.

Laurie was super happy that everyone passed; most impressively, a Thai bloke did it perfectly on his mate's Harley straight after me. (He needed to convert his licence to an Australian one now that he has PR. I later found out that he works at Chao Praya.) There was a nice old Suzuki Betts-equivalent whose rider works at a bar near the Hollywood. An Indian bloke had a scooter, and is looking for IT work.

Netrider Learners' Session

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The u-turn takes some doing.

Rode out to Homebush once again in some fairly heavy traffic. A beautiful day for doing so. The idea was to get enough practice to pass the MOST (and hence get my Ps) next Wednesday. To that end I did about ten circuits and only fluffed the swerve, and maybe the short-stop, and that was due to trying too hard. Everything else was fine. (Thanks to tunafi2h for the photo.)

When not practicing, I got talking to a Hungarian bloke who's living at Annandale, and doing IT. He'd been to see Félix Lajkó a few times in concert, to my chagrin. Previously he'd been working in Cork, Ireland, where the weather is dire and the pubs violent. He rode a Honda CBF 125, with the same intention I had with Betts, but without the risk of buying something second-hand. I also chatted to Sean from Campbelltown.

Afterwards I tried to buy a hat or something from DFO (Direct Factory Outlet), which is something of a ritzy downmarket Westfield. As Dave observes, it is there that they flog what cannot flog itself in the normal shops. No joy at all.

Free motorcycle parking at Sydney Airport.

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I can confirm that there are indeed loads of motorcycles parked illicitly at Sydney Airport. Betty survived a couple of nights there unscathed. Certainly beat waiting around for the 400 at 11pm on a cold Sunday night.

Netrider Learners' Session

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Going for my Ps tomorrow, so one last chance to practice. I overdid the swerve once, and tried to weave too tightly through the cones also once, and jammed the brakes on too quickly on the stop. My u-turn now seems dependably adequate. Everyone was reassuring and positive; it's funny-strange being amongst such a supportive crowd. I talked at length with a Russian bloke (Atom?) working at Fairfax Digital.

... and on Sunday I bombed the test by locking the brakes up on the pass-or-fail quick stop, after doing 3-4 adequate ones in practice immediately before. The sun was in my eyes, I probably hadn't had enough lunch and certainly not enough sleep, the mostly-talk-and-little-show classes earlier in the day dulled my concentration. Bleh. I don't think there's much to learn between now and redoing it, beyond being in better physical shape when I turn up, and being more mindful at that point. $175 for the day, and it will be $50 for the resit when I get around to it.

Netrider Learners' Session

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It's time I got my motorcycle licence. I headed out to Homebush on a day made for this sort of thing. I was surprised to meet Pete Kirievsky there, riding a CB400 (2009), with a full licence. He and the other organisers gave me loads of useful advice, as always. Overall things look OK-ish, though I need yet more practice on the u-turn (head up, constant revs, use the clutch, less rear brake). I need to remember to always do the head checks on both sides.

There wasn't too much much traffic going out, but it was completely horrendous coming back, with football at the Olympic Park (and presumably Moore Park too, I guess). I was stonkered by the vast number of cars trying to park at the factory outlets at Homebush.

I tried booking a test on Sunday and found that the RTA website is down.

Netrider Learners' Session

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Given the weather and sundry other things, this was my first opportunity in six weeks to go to the learner's meetup out at Homebush. This time I took the M4 and got there in about an hour. It was a nice day for riding around the city, as evidenced by the loads of bikes.

Due to the fair weather there were loads of people. The bloke riding the CB400 goes for his test soon. Betty was the smallest thing there; the CBR250s dominated.

I got some advice about the U-turn — keep your head up and don't worry about where the bike goes. I need more revs to do it properly, but I'm getting there. The cone weave is easy now. Emergency stop was never hard, nor the dodge. I need a shirtload more reps though.

Netrider Learners' Session

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Finally I had a free Saturday and took Betty out to the Netrider learners session at Homebush. I organised to meet Joel (riding a Husqvarna) in Surry Hills at 12:15. We would have made it on time if not for me proposing we stay on Parramatta Road past the M4 turnoff; that took an age to get past all the traffic going to the markets.

I saw Simon on his bright yellow Ducatti Monster (400cc) on Anzac Parade, and guessed he was going too. The roads were a bit wet, but not too difficult to ride on. I learnt that the rear brake is a bit useless in these conditions when I locked up my wheel on Parramatta Road near Missendon.

The course itself is well setup, similar to the RTA's provisional test one. I did a few laps and stopped for lunch. Chris (BMW) was handing out some good advice, telling me not to use the front brake when cornering. I did OK on the cone weave, though I doubt I'll ever be very fluent at it. The U-turn was harder than it looked. I think the swerve and emergency brake will be easy. (Chris: just wait until the cones go out of your peripheral vision and jam on the brakes, and don't relax until they've finished measuring.) One poor bloke dropped his CB400, which is quite a nice bike, though I prefer Betty's styling.

Coming back I took the M4 with Joel, and it was a lot faster. The wind picked up and made things a bit uncomfortable.

Warragamba Dam Wall

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The CB250 at the Warragamba dam wall lookout, which is further down the road.

The dam wall from the lookout at the bottom of the stairs near the visitors' centre.

On Friday night I rode over to Pyrmont to pick up a backgammon board, and spent some time reading a book in the park on the foreshore, looking west. Afterwards I headed back to Bondi Junction for a hot chocolate with Marc at Max Brenner's. Ang told me on Saturday night I should be going somewhere else, but I forget where.

I spent Saturday at the cricket with Jacob and his father-in-law Robin, who I'd met but not really spoken with many times. Jacob got us some very expensive ($140) seats in the Churchill Stand. The game itself was predictably disappointing, with the Sri Lankans not really having the discipline to grind out the pile of runs they needed to be competitive. After that Jacob and I had four beers each and dinner at the Dolphin on Crown Street, and then I met up with mrak, Ang and their mate Craig at the Bright 'N' Up Bar on Oxford street to listen to the Mountains (and two warmups) with a bunch of hipsters.

On Sunday I finally found the time to go for a decent burn on the motorcycle, hungover, dehydrated and a bit overheated. As the NSW State Government is trialling the reopening of the Warragamba dam wall to the public, just on weekends now, and yes, during the hottest part of the year, I figured it was something to aim for. It's about 156km round from Randwick, and a good learner track: Canterbury Road, Elizabeth Road, Park Road, etc. are a mix of 60, 70, 80 kph urban arteries and highways, and as there wasn't too much traffic it was quite learner-friendly. I stopped off at Wallacia Hotel for a coffee, and soon after loads of Harleys turned up. Their machine was broken so I got Nescafe without milk, but for the price of a cappuccino. I waited for the bloke-with-guitar-and-canned-backing-band to play Khe San but only got Flame Trees. The dam itself is not much of a tourist destination despite the claims that people once got married there. (Perhaps those people were the captive workforce housed in Warragamba township.) I stopped off at Western Sydney Parklands, where many Muslims were making picnics, on the way back for some respite.

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I ducked down to NICTA on the CB250 to rescue my laptop, figuring I could head off from there to Little Bay and get some fuel at the Shell on the corner of Maroubra and Bunnerong Roads on the way. However the passing rain showers, contrary to the BOM prediction, stymied the beach part of that plan (and presumably dampened my washing). It remains warm enough that there is no water on the road of any import; and the bike handled about the same as in the dry.

Around 7:45pm I scooted down to the Clovelly carpark for a paddle off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. The water near the ramp was cold, but as always it was quite pleasant another ten metres out. I didn't last long as the light faded more quickly than I expected.

A motorcycle rack from Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket.

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My free all-day come-whenever parking spot on Barker Street, about 50m from NICTA.

I went back to Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket this morning to get a rack fitted to the CB250. Phil, the proprietor, had ordered me in a Ventura (short) sports rack, which with fitting set me back $320. It should be good for perhaps 50kg if I put the load on the pillion seat, but I can imagine the steering will really go to mush at that point, not to mention that I'd want to be certain about anchoring the load; I'm still figuring out how to do that just for my snorkeling gear.

I'm going a bit faster now, about 60kph-ish down Alison Road and keeping up with the cars. Cornering at speed is taking less courage.

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I've been riding the CB250 to work most days. Today I took it over to Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket on Botany Road for a service, the second of its life. I think this boiled down an oil change, some sort of tune-up and a tweaking of the idle revs down to about 1,200 (from around 2,500 to 3,000). The owner of the shop nattered on with me for perhaps 40 minutes, until well past his closing time. It cost $158.

The ride over and back to NICTA was less painful than taking the buses; two 370s in the morning failed to show up and the traffic in the afternoon was horrendous. After work I took it for a burn down to La Perouse via Matraville, back via Maroubra and Coogee beaches. The port looks fantastic at night.