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DUMB & DUMBER 2021 – STILL DUMB | Bike Tests

Despite Covid, despite dodgy weather and double demerits, Dumb & Dumber made a return for 2021!

Long-time readers would note that the once-annual Dumb & Dumber pilgrimage to the snow on entirely inappropriate bikes has been absent from the pages of AMCN for several years… and for good bloody reason!

After all, who the hell would want to ride to Australia’s Alpine region smack bang in the middle of winter? Kel Buckley, apparently. Or so she claimed. But it was the ‘at-home-in-front-of-the-fireplace’ Kel I was cursing from behind my visor as the ambient temperature gauge on the Tricity dropped towards zero and my hands started to go numb… again.

You see, I’d only been in the Ed’s chair for a couple of weeks when Kel suggested we needed to do something big for AMCN’s 70th anniversary issue, and that something big would be a six-bike test of LAMS bikes up in the snowies. Yep, D&D was back.

Organising a multi-bike test can be a pain in the arse at the best of times, but these days it seems to be especially so. Manufacturers and distributors are more than happy to fling us their latest and greatest bikes to test, but when we ask for models that have been around for a while, chances are they’re long-gone from test fleets. Such was the case for many of the LAMS bikes we tried to organise for D&D, and with new-bike sales going gangbusters in Oz right now, just about every LAMS bike in the country seems to have been accounted for… so no BMW, no Honda, no Kawasaki… you get the idea.

In the end we did manage to secure six LAMS-compliant bikes for what would be the 15th edition of D&D, three out of Melbourne and three out of Sydney, and we hatched a plan to meet at the halfway point between the two state capitals, which put us in Tumbarumba, a quaint little town surrounded by twisty alpine roads that would likely see us battling snow drifts before (hopefully) heading back to the warmth of a pub meal and a cosy bed.

The Melbourne crew was to be made up of three experienced D&D participants: Kel, Mark ‘Slapper’ Bracks and ex-AMCN ad man Russell ‘Fowl’ Malley, riding a CFMoto 300SR, a Benelli Leoncino and a Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 respectively. The Sydney crew was to consist of ASBK commentator Phil Harlum, himself a three-time D&D participant, AMCN’s Pete Vorst and yours truly, riding a Royal Enfield Meteor 350, KTM 390 Duke and Yamaha Tricity 300. You can read our full test on the RE Meteor here

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Then Covid reared its ugly head again, forcing another Victorian lockdown that not only disrupted the delivery and pick-up of the test bikes, but eventually meant that those south of the border would not be able to partake in the planned ride at all.

Not to worry; the Sydney riders had already picked up their sub-pint-size bikes, the rooms at the Tumba Hotel had been booked and our snappers Watto and Loz were already down at the snow on another photo shoot. And anyway, it wouldn’t be the first time that D&D would consist just three bikes.

Assistance is sometimes required when you’re in multiple layers

A couple of days prior to departure, a low-pressure weather system started to develop in Bass Strait, and it was spinning fast enough to whip the news media into a frenzy, with newspaper headlines like ‘Snow of force’ and TV reporters warning all and sundry to ‘stay off the roads!’, sounding just like Roop and Charlie from Mad Max… before Charlie copped a saucepan in the throat.

While I’m always up for a challenge, I started to think about duty-of-care and other such OH&S nonsense. Ironically, it was Woose himself who introduced me to these concepts more than a decade ago when AMCN’s then-publisher lumbered him with an OH&S role I’m sure he never wanted. A day out from departure, with snow reportedly falling in New South Wales as low as 800m, I called up Phil and Pete to make sure they were still keen to hit the road.

‘Bloody oath!’ was the resounding sentiment. This is Dumb & Dumber, so any thoughts of throwing our hands up in the air and complaining ‘it’s all too bloody hard’ were negated by the very name of the occasion.

With no plan on Day 1 other than to arrive in Tumbarumba before nightfall, we decided to meet at the Pheasants Nest servo at a very civilised 10.30am. The temperature dropped down to a chilly 4°C as the Tricity climbed out of the Illawarra and on to Picton Road, and I started to think about the icy conditions that lay ahead. Once I was off the bike (trike?), I phoned the Tumba Hotel and was assured there had only been light rain there overnight. Odd, I thought, as it was currently snowing less than a 100 kays to my west as the crow flies.

The Tumba Hotel – Provider of hot meals, cold refreshments and quaint accommodation

Pete soon rolled into the servo on the 390 Duke wearing wets over his adventure gear, followed soon after by a shivering Phil on the Meteor 350. Not only was it chilly but it was raining; nothing like soaked gear on the first day of a ride, I thought to myself, as I slipped into my own wets.

The mighty KTM 390 Duke

After a very brief briefing (“Let’s head south and fuel up at Marulan”), we re-joined the conga line down the Doom Hwy and soon discovered the top speed of our trio of bikes would be 122km/h indicated… on downhill runs. The marketing department at Royal Enfield obviously believes in truth in advertising when it states “ride unhurried” because you certainly wouldn’t want to be in a rush to get anywhere on the Meteor 350.

Harlum kept his powder and his Bitcoins dry

The trick to riding the Meteor on the open road is to pre-empt any changes in elevation and make early downshifts before even the slightest inclines. Probably just as well, really, because as well as the Victorian Covid lockdown and the crook weather, we also chose the lead up to a long weekend to run D&D, which meant riding under double-demerit conditions. Now that really is dumb.

Despite its speed deficit Harlum developed a soft spot for the Meteor

The Tricity’s engine gives away 57cc to the Meteor in capacity, but its more advanced liquid-cooled design results in enough mumbo to see it sit on close to 120km/h up hill and down dale, all day long… and that’s despite its heavier overall weight and its much larger frontal area (screen, fairing and two front wheels). As a result, I spent much of my time on the freeway looking in the mirrors to see if Phil was still with us.

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No such problems for the 390 Duke; that little beasty is well capable of 140km/h indicated, even with a big unit like Vorst astride it. Not bad for a 373cc single.

Other than fuel at Marulan, and fuel and a feed at Yass, that was it for stops on the Doom before we peeled off at Gundagai and headed for Tumut. We did a last top-up there and then pressed on to Tumbarumba.

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The run over Laurel Hill between Batlow and Tumba was damp and cold, and there was still evidence of ice from the night before, but the ambient temperature was a few clicks above freezing as we rode over the top, so we had nothing to worry about when it came to traction. Well, Pete and I had nothing to worry about, but Phil’s body temperature was causing him problems; he was still cold and shaking from his first stint in the morning. To say he was bloody happy to get off the bike when we arrived at the pub would be a massive understatement. Fortuitously, and very much unplanned, Watto and Loz pulled up in front of the Tumba Hotel (in their cosy climate-controlled Prado) just as we did.

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Not sure if Harlum is throwing down some blue steel or he’s frozen in place

If you’re after salubrious accommodation, the Tumba Hotel might not be for you; the rooms are… shall we say… basic, with heaters that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Oh, and there are no cups in the kitchen and the bathroom looks like it hasn’t been renovated since George Lynn founded AMCN. Having said that, if you are patient enough to wait for the hot water to flow through the shower head, then precise enough to balance the hot and cold taps, a warm shower can be yours. Suffice to say, Phil was up for the challenge.

Not to worry. An alpine hotel in winter is always going to be more comfortable than sleeping in an ice-covered swag, and the Tumba Hotel serves hot meals and cold beverages, of which we imbibed several that night.

It didn’t improve much

The plan for the next morning was to head south towards Mount Kosciuszko, but the heavy snowfalls a couple of days prior, as well as several road closures still in place from last year’s devastating bushfires, meant that the route would need… tweaking. Plan B would see us meet at the bike lock-up out the back of the pub at 9.30am. We reasoned that there was no point in getting a super-early start as there would be more chance of ice on the roads at an ungodly hour (that was our excuse, anyway).

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Prior to enacting Plan B, and because there were no cups in the hotel’s kitchen, I went in search of a coffee. Beanhunter led me up the garden path to a closed Café Nest at around 7am, so I went for a wander around town before happening upon the open bakery, where I woofed down a bacon-laced scroll and a flat white.

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Once everyone had a feed, we fuelled up the bikes then got away as planned and took the Old Tumbarumba Road back to Tumut. From there we took the Snowy Mountains Highway to Blowering Reservoir where we took a couple of snaps, topped up the bikes at Talbingo and waited for Pete to extricate himself from the kid-sized dunny out the back of the servo.

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Once Pete was free, we saddled up and headed for the hills… literally! It wasn’t long before we were into the twisties, winding our way up towards the snowline. With damp patches in the shadows, the extra grip of two front wheels certainly came in handy on the Tricity, but for the squirts between corners, I would’ve killed for another 100hp. But hey, at least I had a fairing and screen, unlike Phil and Pete.

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No sooner had we spotted a decent pile of snow on the side of the road than Pete decided he needed to ride the 390 Duke through it… followed by Phil on the Meteor… and then me, almost. The Tricity might look like a snow-mobile but it certainly doesn’t ride like one, with that small 14-inch rear wheel struggling to push those two small 14-inch front wheels through snow deeper than four inches. With the traction control cutting power there was no forward progress, and even with the TC switched off it didn’t fare much better. With plenty more snow shenanigans ahead of us, it appeared as though there was going to be a fair bit of bike pushing going on.

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Three wheels should work in the snow, right?

As we continued into Kosciuszko NP towards Kiandra, the temperature dropped and the ice-warning flashed on the Tricity’s LCD display. There was plenty of snow on either side of the highway but other than the odd chunk of ice and some small water flows across the road, conditions were still pretty good for riding.

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Of course, wearing decent gear is bloody important if you want to stay warm in cold conditions like these and we all sported good-quality clobber. So good, in fact, that Phil reckoned he was warmer up in the snow country that he had been on the previous day’s transport stage.

With the sun out, and not wanting to head back to lower altitudes without giving our gear a thorough workout, we decided snow angels were the order of the day… and this buffooning around in the cold white stuff soon morphed into a full-blown snow fight. I reckon I copped the biggest snowball of the trip, easily outsizing the helmet on my head.

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Not wanting to let Watto off the hook, Pete sent an almighty roost his way, spraying his face with snow and mud. Luckily he saw the funny side of it, because he still had more pictures to make.

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After all that exercise, we started feeling a bit peckish but, alas, I had forgotten to pack lunch (D’oh!) and it would be at least a two-and-a-half-hour ride back to Tumut. For a moment we considered heading 30km further on to Adaminaby, but then decided we’d be better off trying to get back to Tumba before nightfall. The fact Phil had left his clear visor back at the pub had something to do with it.

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We took a short dirt-track detour on the way back so Pete could pretend the 390 Duke was a 350 EXC-F (yes, he did get both wheels off the deck) and then we stopped for a selfie at some ruins beside the highway. It was here that a question I had long pondered was answered: what would a front-end slide feel like on a three-wheeled bi… trike like the Tricity? Not nice, I found out. And then, immediately after I had recovered from the low-speed slip, Pete found out what it was like to “inappropriately dismount” the Kato, falling flat on his arse right behind me. Phil pulled up on the Meteor like a pro, making us both look like amateurs.

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Back on the bikes, we made sure we got ahead of Watto so he couldn’t stop for any more photos and we made a beeline for Tumut, fuelling up and stopping for a bite to eat at the Tumut River Brewing Co. I could’ve killed for a pale ale, but we still had 70 clicks to ride to Tumba, so I made do with a coffee… and a serving of Amazeballs. The coffee was good; the Amazeballs were amazeballs! Think deep-fried cheese balls coated in crumbs and served with a barbecue sauce. I reckon it made up for my lunch faux pas.

It was difficult leaving the warmth of the TRB Co., but we were keen to get back to Tumba before dark. As it eventuated, Phil had to knock over the last 20 kays or so with virtually zero visibility thanks to his tinted visor, focusing on the taillight of the Tricity and hoping it didn’t veer off into the scrub, which it nearly did on one occasion when I overcooked a right-hander. It’s when you’re cold and tired that you can start making mistakes…

And we were all knackered after a big day in the snow. After a couple of bevvies and dinner, and a few laughs about what had been a cold yet successful alpine adventure, we called it a night before the hour hand hit double digits! Yep, soft.

The next morning Pete proved that one of us was dumber than the others, backtracking from Tumut across the Snowy Mountains Highway to Adaminaby and on to Cooma by himself, in significantly more atrocious weather than we experienced the day prior. While Phil and I copped plenty of rain and fog on the ride to Tumut, after that, it was pretty much dry all the way back to our respective bases in Sydney and the Gong.

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Dear NSW Traffic Office. This is Photoshopped and not a wheelie…

Over our three-day adventure, we had knocked over 1300km of freeway, highway and secondary alpine roads in the middle of winter on totally inappropriate bikes. Dumb & Dumber? You betcha! And we’re all signed on for next year…

Vorst gives the Kato a reprieve from himself

AMCN’s testers practice bike changes in case they are suddenly called upon to compete in a flag-to-flag MotoGP race

The beers were cold in Tumut

Words Dean Mellor Photography Incite Images