Before you get your motorcycle license, the idea of setting out across the wilds of Australia on a long-distance ride is as far away as the distant horizon. But once you’ve finished your motorcycle training, that dream is within easy reach.
Of course, there are lots of things to consider before you undertake that trip, some that are obvious, and others that nobody talks about.
Before you think about anything else, you have to think about your vehicle. Is your bike up to the trip you’re planning? Those riders who still have Learner Approved Motorcycles may find that their bikes aren’t suitable for the challenging conditions of Australian roads, especially over very long distances.
It pays to chat to your mechanic about the trip you’re planning, making sure that your bike is in the best possible condition. As well as talking to your mechanic, riders should consider improving their own motorcycle knowledge so they can make minor bike repairs, like changing oils and fluids, as well as major repairs like replacing a tyre. In some places in Australia, motorcycle mechanics won’t be available, or will be prohibitively expensive, so it makes sense to improve your own know how.
Another consideration prior to planning is the gear that you’ll need. Depending on how long you’re travelling for, and the style of your trip, you may need to carry a tent or swag, cooking equipment and even food. Some riders choose to add saddlebags and other motorcycle storage, while others opt for a motorcycle trailer. Remember, additional weight can change the way your bike rides, so investigate your options before making an informed decision.
The next consideration for your motorcycle adventure is personal safety. This is not the time to skimp on equipment, and if you aren’t willing to spend the time and money properly protecting yourself, you could get into serious trouble on your trip.
A full-face helmet is a good idea in most places in Australia, as it protects from some of the elements. If you choose to go open face, remember that you’ll need to cover up with lots of sunscreen, and perhaps a bandana for dust and sand.
Remember you’ll be wearing that helmet for hours everyday, so don’t expect a budget one to do the job. Your head is literally the most important thing for you to protect, and investing in a quality helmet is never a waste of money.
Gear is the big thing. Australian highways are high-speed riding areas, and you’ll be driving through all kinds of weather, which can increase your chances of having an accident.
Obviously, no gear is going to guarantee coming out of an accident without a scratch, but a good quality jacket with Gore-Tex or Kevlar inserts could save large sections of your skin. The same goes for padded trousers, and a good quality pair of boots and gloves.
Remember, it almost always pays to purchase gear specifically made for motorcyclists. Some other types of protective clothing, such as jeans, might work for short-distance riding, but the material can be tight on your legs, and cut off blood-flow over time.
Despite the attempts of many an adventurous explorer, Australia remains something of a wild place. Once you’re out of the cities and into the forests, deserts, plains and swamps, especially as a motorcyclist, you should be ready for anything.
One of the biggest problems for motorcyclists in this regard is wildlife. If you’ve ever hit an animal in a car, you’ve seen the damage done, but striking an animal on a motorcycle is an entirely different ball game. Without the frame of a car to protect you, riders are open to the elements so a constant awareness of wildlife is a must. Avoid riding at dawn and dusk, and remember to inform someone of your route in case you encounter anything unexpected.
Less dramatic than plowing down one of Australia’s native creatures, but just as problematic for riders, are the swarms of insects. In some remote areas, locusts and grasshoppers are a plague, congregating in large numbers anywhere near food and water. These are merely an annoyance for cars, but for a rider, they can be a painful and messy road danger. The hard exoskeleton of an insect is more than enough to break the skin if you’re travelling at speed, and driving through a swarm can momentarily blind you. Anyone interested in serious long-distance riding should invest in a bike windscreen, and adequate protection, especially around the neck and face.
Riding long-distance, especially in a place as harsh as Australia, is no child’s play. In some areas of Australia’s outback, with few places to stop, riders can often clock up 500 kilometres or more in a single day, and that is hard on your body.
Medical Considerations: Exposure is the elephant in the room when it comes to riding in Australia. As well as adequate coverage for sun exposure and UV protection (including sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays) riders should be considering environmental exposure. Sand and wind blasting can literally wear the skin off your face, and that is more than enough to ruin any trip. Covering up with a bandanna or full-face helmet makes a big difference.
Another important, and rarely talked about, medical consideration for riders is the effect that long hours in the saddle can have. As well as the possibility of saddle sores, many long-distance riders (particularly men) report a general vibrational numbness in the groin area, that can last several months after the trip is complete. Prepare for this by seeing your doctor, and deal with it on the road by making regular stops, and stretching often.
Australia can be a hard place to ride, but it is also without a doubt one of the most uniquely beautiful places to experience from the saddle of a motorcycle. Cruising down the often empty outback roads, weaving through stunning National Parks and making your way down the glorious Australian coastline makes every difficulty you face more than worthwhile. But, adequate information and preparation are still necessary, no matter what your level of motorcycle training.