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Yarra Ranges Council instructed motorcycle ride day | NEWS

School is cool when the classrooms are some of the best riding roads in the state

Just after 8am on a glorious Sunday morning I pulled our long-term 650NK into the Yarra Ranges Council carpark. The reason for my visit? No, it wasn’t a citizen’s protest against parking fines, or a composting workshop – it was a supervised ride day, part of an initiative the council has been running for over a decade now with help from a dedicated team of volunteers and Honda Australia Rider Training (HART).

While the hot water urn boiled and the carpark filled up with bikes, I chatted with the council’s Community Safety Coordinator, Luke Roy. The Yarra Ranges municipality is a scratchers’ mecca with famous roads like the Reefton and Black Spurs, but as Luke pointed out, this has had an unwanted side-effect: for around 20 years, the region has been among the top three areas for motorcycle fatality and serious injury rates within Victoria.

So in 2001 the Yarra Ranges Council started the Instructed Motorcycle Rides as a response. The events usually run four times a year between September and April – two novice/intermediate rides to Toolangi and two intermediate-advanced rides to Reefton – with 10-25 participants on each day.

“We’ve put more than 800 riders through,” says Luke, “and many have come back with new rider friends, or ridden both our programs. We’ve seen a dad register himself and his daughter, a son register himself and his dad, a worried mother who, after her son had two accidents on his bike, talked him into coming on the course and paid for it (instead of trying to talk him out of riding). We’ve also seen a huge shift in recent years in the numbers of female riders jumping on board. We’ve had riders travelling the Reefton Spur in the snow, and heavy rainfall, and the instructors from HART have turned it into a conversation about how to adjust and adapt to the conditions.”

I was signed up for the Toolangi run, and by this time most of the riders had arrived and were enjoying a cuppa. There were 22 of us, slightly more women than men. The HART trainers were also there. They got us talking about different aspects of roadcraft and explained the plan for the day: groups of five or six with one trainer each, marshals at roundabouts and turns to make sure we didn’t get lost, a couple of stops to talk about what we’d seen and done, and lunch at the Toolangi Tavern. And, of course, 130km of awesome riding.

The weather was superb, and the roads were dry and amazingly clear of traffic (after 10 years, the marshals know their routes). It was one of those days when you’re grateful to be on two wheels and able to drink in the world – the movement of bike on road, but also the trees turning autumn yellow and red, and the spectacular valleys and hills.

When we stopped for lunch at Toolangi after the best twisty stretch of the day, everyone was buzzing, and we swapped stories over steak sandwiches and chicken parmas. I met Ben, a relatively experienced rider on a Fireblade, who was keen to do some scratching but realistic about his limitations and his need for training. There was Dani, who after bringing up her kids and seeing them off from the nest decided it was time to explore her long-term fascination with bikes. She was on a Harley Street 500. And then there was Ann-Maree, a skilled rider who had done superbike trackdays in the past, but was looking to get her mojo back after a tin top had taken her out last year. She had a super-cool Moto Guzzi Grisso.

I’ll admit, I did get a few blank stares when I said I was on a CFMoto, and no one stood around my bike asking questions or nudging me to start it up so they could hear the exhaust note. But the more I ride the NK, the more I appreciate its unassuming competence, and it was fantastic at canting through the bends and blasting through the longer straights.

Over the day I picked up some top tips from the trainers, and from the other participants. My favourite: always choose one thing to work on each time you go out to ride. It’s easy to do all the right things when you’re part of a day like this and have a trainer looking over your shoulder, the real challenge is transferring the habits to everyday road riding.

The other participants obviously enjoyed the day too. At the de-briefing I saw a couple of people exchanging numbers to go for another ride some time, and others grabbing copies of our day’s route map. The smiles might have had something to do with the price – $95 per person, slap-up lunch included.

But if you’re wondering where to sign up, I’ve got some bad news. The future of the initiative is uncertain. Until now it has survived largely thanks to the efforts of volunteers, with occasional financial support from TAC and VicRoads, and of course the council.

“We believe the program is of great value to our community but feel it could be better still if it was driven by a provider with more expertise than the council. We’d be keen to support an organisation that would like to pick up the program and build on the great work that’s already been done.”

Luke says VicRoads has changed its road support grants funds programs so that groups, organisations and businesses can directly apply for grant funding, and motorcycle safety initiatives are specifically considered. This could be one way forward.

“I’d like to see Yarra Ranges Council advocate on behalf of any other business trying to take something like this on within our municipality, or anywhere else across the state, to keep the initiative going, and keep riders safe.”

Anyone keen?

By Mark Vender