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2 Blokes, 2 days days and 2 bikes on the Triumph Tiger 800 XCA and BMW F800GS Adventure | Rides | Tested

When the daily grind became too much, we escape the rat race, for aweekend getaway on a BMW F800GS Adventure and a Triumph Tiger 800 XCA.

Life gets more complicated as you grow older. In your teens it’s all so simple – you don’t seem to have a care in the world. The 20s you still want to have fun but fending for yourself starts to become a reality; you move out of home, get your first loan and need a steady income to pay for it. The 30s bring kids, a mortgage and responsibility. As the years pass your own passions fade to a distant memory and there’s less time spent in the shed…

My 40s have been spent driving my kids to karate and dancing; basically I feel like a bus service going from one activity to the next. The truth is I love it and wouldn’t change it for the world. Do I miss spending endless hours on my bike tearing up Australia? Well, yes I do, but life is a balance and you can’t have everything without consequence… or can you?

I got talking to Paul McCann at AMCN and found he was in a similar situation. Although he’s younger and doesn’t have kids, work deadlines and life’s everyday chores takes their toll. I think most people go through not having the time to do what they want as the distractions creep in. PMac and I needed a plan to put things right and came up with the catchphrase, ‘Two blokes, two days and two bikes’.

Most people can manage to find a free weekend in a year if they play their cards right, and with our time allocated we just needed to find some suitable bikes. Not any old bikes, though – we needed a couple of the best mid-size adventure bikes money could buy, the perfect machines for our weekend getaway: a BMW F800GS Adventure and a Triumph Tiger 800 XCA.

This was to be a serious head-clearing session. No hotels, no fancy restaurants, just a cheap, justifiable weekend away without breaking the bank. We didn’t want to mix with people, we didn’t want police interference, we just wanted
to get away from the routine.

We decided on an overnight jaunt, heading off at sparrow’s fart on a Saturday morning and getting home on Sunday night, ready for the Monday grind. It didn’t take much conversation to get the ball rolling and a quick plan was mapped out. We would start off from the AMCN office and make our way to the Alpine trout farm near Noojee, where we’d catch our dinner before twisting and carving our way to Fumina to make camp and tell some stories.

I woke on the Saturday morning to the sound of rain, which dampened my enthusiasm, but weather is no longer an excuse for cancelling riding plans. I’m amazed at how far the latest wet weather and textile suits have come, so I suited up and headed off to meet PMac. He rocked up on a nice and shiny Beemer with a massive smile on his face, though the GS was looking pretty naked with just a tank bag to store his gear. After a bit of banter he talked me into filling my panniers with our camping equipment and supplies; it’s amazing how much stuff you can fit into Triumph’s hard panniers, and they’d be sure to keep our equipment dry.

The whole idea of this trip was to prove that you don’t need to stick to a rigid timeline or do a thousand kays in a day to have fun. We filled up with juice (or at least I did as Paul kept on telling me about the Beemer’s long-range capability)
and then took the M1 to get out of suburbia as quickly as possible.

There’s something comforting about cruising down the freeway CHIPS-style and knowing you have everything you need to survive if World War III breaks out. Unusually, I found myself just happy sitting on the speed limit, so this weekend experiment was already off to a good start.

Our dirtbikes were fitted with big knobbies though, so we wanted to get dirty at the first opportunity. Jacksons Track took us up into the Latrobe Valley forest and we meandered our way through a maze of decent dirt roads, not really paying too much attention to our direction but generally heading east.

One thing we did learn was that all roads in this part of Victoria lead to heaven. Hitting the dirt for the first time and still being so close to Melbourne makes you realise how lucky we are to live in such an open country.

But what really stood out was just how capable both bikes were. I was loaded to the hilt but still the XCA was taking everything in its stride. PMac was in my slipstream and by the time we had our first stop at The Toolshed in Noojee his new BMW wasn’t looking so shiny anymore.

It’s funny how when you ride a bike enough you can become at one with that machine. At lunch we discussed intently the difference between the bikes, him arguing why the GS was the best enduro adventure bike in the world and me the Triumph. We never did find a clear winner but our lunch went down well and, after a little more sightseeing and dirt-spraying, attention turned to the serious business of catching dinner. We needed to find a little town called Piedmont,
just east of Noojee.

The Alpine Trout Farm has been operating for 40 years and is renowned for its plentiful supply of Golden and Rainbow Trout. It sounded pretty easy – just cast your line into a lake filled with 2000 fish and catch dinner. But PMac wasn’t having much luck. He caught the bank three times, then a dog, and his final reward was a tiddler. I felt bad for him, but not enough to tell him I have a bit of experience so perhaps had the upper hand. Dinner was sorted when I pulled out a huge Rainbow Trout on my second cast. Fish gutted and cleaned, it was put on ice and squeezed into the pannier; we were off to make camp. An important part about being a weekend warrior is keeping it real, and for us that meant eating what we had caught around a campfire we had made.

I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of Paul’s choice of camping destination and it looked pretty bare when we arrived, but we found a great spot in Fumina. We soon set up our tents and got a fire started from wood we found lying around. We had no phone reception, just the elements. Once again the Triumph’s hard luggage came in handy, making a great topbox table and the panniers a couple of seats. The fish cooked up beautifully, accompanied by asparagus and green beans. Honestly, the meal tasted so good it could have been served in a restaurant.

We settled down to bed after more bike banter – I still couldn’t make Paul see the light on adventure bikes – and falling asleep next to Icy Creek in my one-man tent was quite a moment for me, definitely a time of reflection and, somehow, accomplishment.

Packing up next morning was a cinch because we didn’t have much gear. The plan was to make our way back towards the big smoke, but not the simple way. We had acquired a taste for the dirt and wilderness so it was the back roads that took our fancy. Even these short trips need to involve a bit of exploring, so explore we would. We just pointed our noses west…

Before we headed off up into the middle of Gembrook Forest, I stopped to fill up the Triumph. PMac once again told me how amazing the BMW was on fuel so he declined, but in the heart of the forest I could see him sweating a little more than usual and he eventually confessed he was running on empty. Luckily we limped into town, he filled up with juice, and we still had time for a Sunday afternoon contemplation session before touring back home feeling content.

As it turned out, we both took something away from the weekend. It wasn’t just mates hanging out together, it was adding that element of roughing it, catching our dinner and cooking it on a hand-built fire that really made it special. I know I slept well on Sunday night and felt more ready than usual to face the Monday shenanigans. 

Triumph Tiger 800 XCA

This mid-capacity Adventure bike combines comfort, performance and, importantly, ease of use that is top level. The WP suspension works incredibly well, allowing a composed ride on the tarmac – but it’s still a very capable machine when the going gets tough.

The engine has that beautiful growl associated with its triple in-line mill that also helps to keep the overall width down. Fitted with all manner of crash bars, alloy pegs, spotlights and luggage racks as standard, it’s a good choice if you want to buy a bike and just go.

What I like most about this bike though, is how Triumph has fitted heated rider and pillion seats, heated grips and cruise control. It really does make a difference to the rider’s freshness at the end of the day.

WHAT I LIKE BEST
  • Brilliant motor
  • Ease of mounting/dismounting
  • Cruise control
  • Heated seat

BMW F800GS Adventure

The F800GS in its latest incarnation is the sportiest GS that BMW has made to date. The twin-cylinder Rotax motor has a similar firing order to its big brother, the 1200GS, giving it that unmistakable BMW bark.

The big plastic fuel tank is placed towards the back of the bike, keeping weight off the front end and helping when the going gets slippery.

At standstill the BMW feels like a lot of motorcycle, but one thing the Bavarians have done well is disguise that weight when the bike is in motion.

WHAT I LIKE BEST
  • Balance at slow speed
  • 24-litre tank
  • Narrowness
  • Three standard rider modes

Prepare for the worst

The first essential thing to do before heading out on any trip is make sure you tell someone your plan. The most important aspect is your ETA as it can alert your loved ones if something goes amiss. Heading off the beaten track sometimes means no mobile reception, so leaving a rough route plan at home can be a big help in times of emergency.

Spend some time learning the area you are heading to because you can’t always rely on that Garmin GPS or Google Maps.

Staying warm is critical, even in our sunburnt country. I’ve yet to encounter a 100 per cent accurate weather report so its imperative to wear a good waterproof jacket with liners that come out if need be. Good adventure-style boots are also important because they’re very comfortable yet give great protection to your lower leg and ankles.

The usual stuff like a small tent, mattress and sleeping bag are essential, and it’s important to pack them in a way they don’t get wet on the journey; there’s nothing worse than sleeping in wet gear.

A first-aid kit with all the usual items is a must, and I like to add a few saline solution squirt packs and an eyewash cup because it’s vital to see when you’re in the middle of nowhere.

A few fire-lighters and a lighter are vital, while a Leatherman or good Swiss army knife and a couple of garbage bags take practically no room but can come in handy. A 12-volt phone charger and adapter will keep you in contact with the world, so make sure you pack that.

Importantly, take some tools to be able to fix a puncture. Modern tyres are very good but a puncture in the wrong spot with no means of fixing it can cause a great deal of trouble.

To knobby or not to knobby

One of the biggest choices at tyre-fitting time is finding the right rubber for your use. No point fitting a soft racing slick if you intend crossing the Nullarbor.

If you are an adventure bike rider the choice is even harder. Not only do you have all the different brands to contend with, but there’s also the road-to-dirt ratio to consider. Tyre manufacturers give you a choice of on/off road ratio mix.

If you’re using your bike to ride to work you might consider a tyre with an 80-90 per cent road-oriented pattern, whereas a weekend dirt warrior might go for a much more aggressive knobby tyre to give better feel off the beaten track.

There is no right or wrong choice, but the more you swing away from the designed use the more careful you
have to be.

By STEVE MARTIN   PHOTOGRAPHY MARK DADSWELL