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Gordo on the road to Phillip Island via the Great Ocean Road | Rides | Tested

Gordo made the pilgrimage that many of us followed a couple of weeks ago for the MotoGP – down to the GOR and on to Phillip Island

It was a simple plan for a simple man. Pick up a bike from the discrete design studio/military bunker complex that is the latest AMCN headquarters in Oakleigh, do the Great Ocean Road and explore all the little nooks, crannies and sleepy hollows that I have somehow overlooked during my many previous visits to Phillip Island for WSBK or MotoGP.

Half-a-night in the cheapest hotel at Melbourne airport after 24 hours in the steel tube from the McMother Country, a quick spin on the Melbourne Skybus/Metrolink cattle wagons and I was regurgitated onto the station platform in Oakleigh. Lift to the office from AMCN’s Mark Vender. Cheers mate!

One slow jet-lag blunted re-pack and change into superhero protective equipment (basically a 15-year-old textile jacket and new Arai) and I was off on a Triumph Tiger Sport into the badlands of country Victoria.

There was a deep sense of excitement dulled by the fact that this whole Aussie riding thing was taking place in the middle of my brain’s sleep cycle. With a speed-cop twitch turned to 11, exacerbated by a smidge of exhaustion and caffeine-fuelled paranoia, it was off inland on the M1 to some place called Warrnambool. At least I think that is what it’s called, as I never quite managed to remember how to say it properly for my whole 10-day trip.

Warmoffwool is obviously the Aussie equivalent of Scotland’s most extravagantly named village, Achaglachgach.

Nice wee hotel found, I ordered the mixed seafood platter and got every white fish, crustacean and small whale landed that day in Warrensbowels, extravagantly ranged out in a piscatorial periodic table across a metre-square plate. I wobbled out distended, defeated and delighted – and soooo sleepy.

2.30am. Bing! WIDE awake and nowhere to go until the alarm at 7am.

Early-ish start, Great Ocean Road here I come.

Apparently, Warmhandful is where the Great Ocean Road officially begins or ends. I was glad to see the back of Wornoutfools, if only because I was embarrassed getting the name wrong every time.

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The GOR was a must-do, not only for bucket list reasons but also because I had failed get to the famous Twelve Apostles (or however many there are left at time of press) a few years before, in company with Gareth ‘Spider Man’ Harford from photo agency Gold & Goose. It was a sad tale of dodgy hire cars, unscheduled tyre changes, injured koalas and seaside arachnophobia – on an epic Pommie scale of phuckuppery.

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This time I was going to see those bloody aquatic rocky pillars if it was the last thing I did. And given the impetuosity of many of the tourists in tin boxes suddenly captivated by some or other panorama and hooking off the road without signalling, it actually threatened to be my last-ever thing a couple of times.

If you get a chance to do the GOR on a weekday, take it. On summer weekends, both local and overseas visitor numbers go off the scale. When I got to Apollo Bay, for example, I genuinely could not squeeze the bike and panniers into any gaps between the cars and vans on main street, even to just get a coffee. My caffeine lust would have to wait. Weekend GOR-ing also made the roads all the way from start to finish clogged and sometimes slow, but still fabulous. An overcast Tuesday seems the ideal time to have maximum on-bike fun.

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The reduced pace and staggering number of solid centre lines that prevented legal overtakes meant I could soak in the vista almost too often. And I was in a steam bath of joy at the views. Brought up near the tidal Clyde estuary, with nothing but hectares of now defunct shipyards between me and the salt water, the seaside was and still is my natural habitat. With only the guardrails and rocks between you and the water for large parts of the GOR, it is bike-tastic at any speed. Drink it all in but don’t get too distracted.

I did the mythical Highway One in California by bike before the Laguna Seca WSBK round last year. Although shorter and less globally famous, the GOR is up there with the old coast road from Los Angeles to nearly Canada. You guys should be proud of it,  even if viewing the Twelve Apostles was a weirdly Disneyfied experience. Turning away from the sea to park the bike, I then had to go under the main road on foot to get a view. Confusing.

Then there was the added tourist attraction of watching a septuagenarian gentleman of Aussie/old European extraction push and shove and generally try to start a fist fight with semi-hipster/semi-bogan young dude who had cut him and his car off earlier. This was a sight you don’t get to see that often. Even in Scotland. My money was on the old bloke, so riled up and sweary as he was, but the young guy finally slunk off unharmed.

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Back to the absolute sanity of the Trumpy triple. This particular British metal export was humming away as fast as I liked, as easily as I liked, and as conspiratorially as I liked underneath me. Life was good, improved all the more by stopping at a little café in the bushfire-ravaged town of Wye River for some top Aussie coffee.

The summer coastal fire had been big news even in my part of the world, where the only bush fires you get are if a hirsute lady sits too close to the wood burner on Hogmanay. The hillside full of ghost gums – green at the top, with dazzlingly white trunks below turning as carbon black as the destroyed forest floor below them for the bottom couple of metres – was a sight I will never forget. No pictures of them, sorry, nowhere to stop, even for a bike, as in many places on the GOR.

Finally cruising into the Queenscliff ferry terminal I took the boat to cross to Sorrento and the Mornington Peninsula, chased for much of the way by a massive pod of dolphins that were clearly in the pay of the Aussie tourist board. A wee magic moment, and one that could never have been planned on anybody’s travel roster.

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Time was starting to work against me and the friendly prospect of adopting a horizontal attitude in bed on Phillip Island was looming large in my thoughts. I got off the Queenscliff to Sorrento boat, eventually found the Gippy Highway and began my 20-somethingth visit to Phillip Island.

Eventually, darkness having fallen like blackout curtain into my exhausted headspace, I was at San Remo, ready to cross the PI bridge. Arrived in utter darkness. Sleep before midnight came easy – waking at 3.30 was also surprisingly effortless. White lines and three-cylinder noises thrumming still through my sleep-deprived mind, the GOR was finally, joyously, ticked off my bucket list.

A Good Sport

Last time I rode a Triumph it was the whale-sized 2.3-litre in-line triple thing – the touring version as if the ‘normal’ one wasn’t over-the-top enough. For the GOR, or any other form of riding, the Triumph Tiger Sport I had this time was a massively more useable, practical and fun prospect.

Not as exciting or simply gorgeous as a Ducati, not as performance-oriented as a big KTM, and not as clichéd or odd as a BMW. It is nonetheless much more funky than a Japanese four, more sporty than most harder-core adventure bikes and more practical than most. You could even give your sliders and scrapers a decent skim on a trackday, I’ll wager.

The bright red Tiger Sport, thanks to its phenomenally wide swing-mounted panniers the size of land-train fuel tanks, swallowed all my outsize undercrackers and smuggled haggis fritters no bother, but (almost inevitably) got some gas station barrier paint scraped onto them. And badly enough that I had to borrow some T-Cut from one of the WSBK race teams, which fixed them up
a treat.

Remember not to filter in cities with the panniers on and remember you are in Victoria in terms of overall speed attenuation. The Tiger was a soothing beast to play with for my jetlagged sense of space and time. From day one, to the very last afternoon in my care.

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The Alternative TT

I had a bizarre idea after the GOR expedition. I would do a lap of PI. Not the race circuit. Some other blokes were using it while I was there. I mean, around the real roads outside, on every little asphalt and coast trail I could find. Every cove and beach, man!

As it turns out, beaches are off limits and usually unreachable (because of access platforms and steps) for any motorised maniacs. But if you find yourself at PI for a race weekend and have some time to kill, it’s a whole new and pleasing perspective.

I picked a starting place – Cowes seafront – and went for an anti-clockwise run around. The full lap plan meant I would finally see Pyramid Rock and the Nobbies. They were fine, if you like that sort of surprisingly small triangular rocky outcrop, and there was also an aquarium next to a bigger mound in the surf at the Nobbies.

I saw no penguins in the reeking flesh. If I ever go to see the penguin parade tourist-athon at PI please locate my travel insurance and look up the medical repatriation section, Clause 13, ‘Psychiatric Breakdown’. The rest of the place is more or less a delight of man-made amenities and pure Aussie nature. Even on a busy weekend you can find your own spot. You’d never know there was a bike race on sometimes, and that is a bizarre parallel to the Isle of Man TT – where even at the height of the action you can find places where life carries on at slow island pace, oblivious to what’s going on in the adjacent valleys and hills.

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By Gordon Ritchie