Offroad adventure has new meaning on two wheels
The spirit of adventure is not something defined by what vehicle you drive, but the reason you drive it. And while driving a track in day or night can change your experience, swapping out your means of transport can make a track you've driven time and time again a whole new adventure.
So we're swapping four wheels for two and looking at the ins and outs of taking that trip of a lifetime on a bike.
Loading up the 4WD and going bush for a month at a time is the stuff dreams are made of for most of us, but swap out the air conditioning and 800kg worth of gear for a trail bike with a swag strapped to the handle bars and most men turn weak at the knees - some with nerves, others with excitement.
In this article we're taking a closer look at what gear you need and what can be left at home; what safety gear you should be strapping to yourself (without turning you into a ball of sweat) and how to ensure you're never left stranded on the side of the tracks.
Step 1: Know your bike!
Spend some time in the saddle on day and even overnighter trips before even thinking about the big ride.
Ride it in every condition you can find. Low speed, high speed, sand, rocks, dirt, rain, cold, stinking heat, black top and thick mud and look for what causes you grief and what doesn't. Gearing that works perfectly at low speeds might have you red-lining at 80kmh for hours on end.
Shift levers can be too high with one style of boot, and too low for another leading to missed gear changes and a lot of embarrassment taking off from the line. The factory seat might soften up the more time you spend on it, or it could feel like you're getting smacked in the backside with a plank of wood all day and trying to pass it off as fun.
The inner gearhead in all of us wants to throw modifications around left right and centre, but a few careful tweaks, some adjustments where possible and tuning the factory suspension to suit your weight and riding style will make a bigger difference to your trip than the biggest aftermarket exhaust or anodised wheels.
Step 2: Fix the darn thing
Let's get one thing straight: A brand new set of wheel bearings is going to be a lot more useful in your wheels than in your backpack with the other spare parts.
Bike parts are cheap, so if you're heading off on a big trip replace everything. You'll spend a few hundred bucks doing it but a minor service in a 4WD would easily cost the same, and you'll effectively have a brand new bike out of it.
The simple rule is if it stops, steers or keeps you off the ground, it's worth spending money on. Wheel bearings are a must, brake pads and fluid should get the nod as well. Steering head bearings and swing arm bushes should all make the shortlist too. Things can and do go wrong with new parts too, so plan a ride day a few weeks in advance to iron out any bugs.
Know the service intervals for your bike and plan to work around them. A fresh oil filter and oil are easier to do in a roadhouse than the side of a river crossing, even if it means short changing yourself a couple of hundred Ks out of your service.
Step 3: Be prepared
If you were to chuck open a tool box and start piling in all the tools you'll need, you'd just about have to have a Mack truck as a chase rig. Believe it or not but bike manufacturers are actually pretty switched on and you can pull a bike apart with a surprisingly small amount of tools; the trick is knowing what you can get away with.
Put your bike on a stand and set aside absolutely no tools at all and start pulling things apart. Every time you come across something that needs a tool go and grab the smallest tool you can use and start building a small tool kit.
When you've got your kit together, go through it again and figure out what you can cull - ditch the 12mm and 14mm spanners and go buy a two-in-one spanner. Things like ratchets and extensions can often be swapped out for thin tube spanners as well.
The end result should just about fit in a fender-mounted tool pouch. Anything larger like tyre irons can be secured with hose clamps in out of the way places like inside the air box and under the seat.
Take a second look at the spare parts you'll need and not just your tools. You can ditch the spare 18" inner tube for the rear tyre, a 21" spare for the front will do both size tyres in a pinch. Multiple air filters can be ditched in favour of a small pack of disposable filter covers as well.
Step 4A: The gear you need
- Small auxiliary fuel tanks - smaller, more clearance and safer than storing your fuel in one location should you stake a tank
- Lightweight helmets - protects your noggin without straining your neck due to excessive weight
- Mesh jackets with in-built armour - most of the protection of a full armour suit and twice as cool
- Hydration pack - water is king in the bush and a handy place for a few extra spare parts and a fresh pair of underwear and socks
- Lightweight camping gear - ditch the double gas burner barbecue and pick yourself up a handheld cooker - it's just enough to cook for yourself and it'll fit in your backpack
- Knowing your surroundings - campers and 4WDers don't want to hear your 2-stroke animal revving at 8am, idle out of camp and stick to the main tracks. It only takes one peanut to ruin it for all of us
- Rec rego - Only a nupty would ride an un-rego'd bike in the bush
What you can leave at home
- Long range fuel tanks - they stick out massively, get hang up on tight tracks and it's a dangerous way to store it, springs a leak and you're in strife. If you're doing big distances, bolt one up, but they're a big commitment
- Jeans and a T-shirt - You might be more comfortable in casual gear but one face plant at 80kmh and you'll be reaching for the safety gear
- Aftermarket exhausts - They sound great, look great and add performance, but only a little bit. Save the money and put it in your fuel tank for the next adventure
Step 5: Get out there
Here are the top five dirtbike trips in Australia:
Fraser offers the perfect introduction to adventure riding. You can spend all day riding below the low tide mark, camp on the beach front with a bunch of mates and explore the whole island in just a matter of days. The best part is that, if a bike plays up or you're waiting for a part, there's no shortage of pubs to keep you fed.
Victorian High Country
If hundreds of kilometres of rocky hill climbs and views that'd put the Swiss Alps to shame are more your kind of thing, the Victorian High Country offers all that and more.
The Cape needs to be on every rider's bucket list. If you're chasing adventure it offers the most bang for buck and with a huge biggest safety net with so many roadhouses along the way. Rocky river crossings, soft sandy tracks and pristine beach camping - what more could you want.
Here's one for the serious adventurers out there. The Simpson Desert will test your riding skills, equipment and stamina more than just about any place on earth. But when you're a hundred kilometres from the nearest person, watching the sun set over the red dunes with nothing more than a campfire crackling, a swag and your bike to keep you company, it'll all be worth it.
Byron Bay to Steep Point
The Tele' Track just a whole heap of rivers on a dirt road? The High Country just a few hills? Without a doubt the ultimate bike adventure in Australia is Byron Bay to Steep Point, the eastern most point in Australia to the western, the biggest ride you can do.
It'll take you through outback towns, deserts, the most remote parts of Australia and give you ultimate bragging rights when you're done.
Just make sure you've got a comfy seat - you'll be doing over 4000km of riding through mud, sand, beach and desert.