Posted On 05 Apr 2024
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This entry is part 31 of 26 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#27


“Independence is happiness.”
Susan B. Anthony

1. Puckapunyal

Royal Australian Armoured Corps Memorial & Army Tank Museum Hopkins Barracks, Puckapunyal Military Area, VIC 3662 03 5735 7285 Open: Tues to Fri 10am to 5pm. Last weekend of each month and VIC public holiday weekends (Saturday – Monday) 10am to 4pm. VIC school holidays commencing on the first Sunday 10am to 4pm. Closed: 22 December to 1st January inclusive and ANZAC Day.

About 10km off the Hume Freeway, the museum is (forgive the implied sexism) a bloke’s techy paradise. It’s not so much about war as about fascinating war machines, including representation from Russia.

2. Glenrowan

Tourist information: Kate’s Cottage, Old Hume Highway. 03 5766 2448, Just off the Hume Freeway on a tourist loop, Glenrowan is dominated in every way by Ned Kelly. Rather kitschy museums and walks are all over the place.

There is even a Big Ned looking ready to stand off the traps again with his armour and his rifle.

Wine and other local produce is available; relatively expensive coffee shops abound. Consider a loop through the Warby Ranges, where you have the option of tar or good, graded dirt.

3. Chiltern

Tourist information: 30 Main Street, 03 5726 1611. The road through Chiltern makes a nice shortcut up to the Murray and to Rutherglen. The town itself is very pretty in a Colonial way with some nice things to look at including (little) museums like Stephen’s Motor Museum. There is a good café, but only 91 fuel is available, and the petrol station only takes cash.

4. Rutherglen

Tourist information: 57 Main Street, 1800 622 871 or 02 6033 6300, Rutherglen is all about wine, but it has a couple of nice pubs as well, including the Victoria. There are lots of vineyards in the area, including Gehrig Estate, Victoria’s oldest continually operating vineyard and Bullers Calliope Vineyard has an interesting bird park.

5. Howlong

A small town just on the NSW side of the Murray, Howlong offers the usual services including the pretty Court House Hotel and a caravan park recommended by one of our readers. Ride right down to the Murray and step into the water across the border – it runs on the southern edge of the main stream.

6. Lockhart

Tourist information: 65 Green Street, 02 6920 5305, The first thing I really noticed about Lockhart was that it doesn’t have much “drop”. Steve Johnson, who was standing under the veranda of the Commercial Hotel (02 6920 5109) sheltering from a staggering thunderstorm, told me about this. “Ah, hello Bear,” he said, “this is nothing compared to the floods we’ve had with three feet of water through the shops. The land is flat, so there is no ‘drop’ to let the water run off.” He was right, too. I wasn’t going any further in the bucketing rain so I checked into the pleasant and affordable Lockhart Motel (02 6920 5357) after discovering that the pub was being refurbished. Lockhart is known as the “veranda town”, which is very useful in the rain.

Just outside town to the east there are a couple of huge and kind of touching corrugated iron statues – a kangaroo with a joey and an emu. Take them as a warning for motorcyclists!

7. Temora

Tourist information: 294- 296 Hoskins Street, 02 6977 1511, This is a good keen town, here. They even managed to snaffle Don Bradman’s first home from Cootamundra! The slab cottage is now in the grounds of the interesting Rural Museum which is open from 1.30 to 5pm on Sundays and public holidays and from 2 to 5pm the rest of the time.

My favourite place is the Aviation Museum ( which has all kinds of aircraft, mainly if not all military, and keeps them flying. It’s at the airport in Menzies Street and is closed Monday and Tuesday; 02 6977 1088.

8. Young

Tourist information: 2 Short Street, 1800 628 233 or 02 6382 3394, It’s more than just cherries! There are other stone fruit orchards around Young, and wine and gourmet food are also produced in the area. There is a good restaurant on the corner of Lovell Street and the Olympic Highway called Café de (sic) Jour; John “The Ghost” Miller and I ate there one night and were impressed. While I’m on the subject, this is where I joined the Olympic Highway to continue north.

9. Cowra

Tourist information: Olympic Park, Mid Western Highway, 02 6342 4333, Probably still best known for the Cowra Breakout, the suicidal break by Japanese prisoners of war, Cowra is now very much at peace with Japan and has the beautiful Japanese Garden off Binni Creek Road to prove it. Well worth a visit, along with the war, rail and rural museums all in one complex on Sydney Road. In fact, Cowra has a lot to offer including wineries, other museums and even the World Peace Bell, awarded to Cowra in recognition of the town’s efforts for peace.

I usually stop at the café next to the tourist office, park the bike in the shade and have a coffee on the veranda.

10. Bathurst

Tourist information: Kendall Avenue, 1800 681 000 or 02 6332 1444, There’s far too much in Bathurst for me to describe here; let’s just go with Mount Panorama – you can ride The Mountain because the racetrack becomes an ordinary road when it’s not being used for fire-breathing machinery – and the National Motor Racing Museum on Murray’s Corner. The museum has a lot of motorcycle racing displays and is open every day from 9am to 4.30pm except for Christmas Day and some other holidays. Call 02 6332 1872 or see for more information.

What’s behind the brown door? A pretty good café in Chiltern.

I have a standing offer to any of the motorcycle distributors: when you want a bike moved between Sydney and Melbourne, or possibly even Sydney and Brisbane, I’ll happily ride it for you.

All you need to do is fl y me the other leg of the trip.

Why do I do this? Because it’s fun.

The thought of getting out there on a bike for a couple of days (I don’t hurry) and just taking whatever road interests me is really liberating. I’ve had some of my most enjoyable journeys on these delivery trips, and I invariably manage to find a road I haven’t ridden or, at the very least, a road I haven’t ridden under the same circumstances. It’s very different taking the Snowy Mountains Highway in summer or winter, believe me!

I can also find out things about the towns I pass through, and pass them on to you. On this trip I discovered a couple of huge corrugated iron statues just near Lockhart; weird but quite appealing in a… corrugated kind of way.

Don’t count on getting 95 everywhere; sometimes it’s 91 or nothing.

Congratulations to whoever put them up; stop and take a look as you ride past.

Hang on. Can you stop as you ride past? Maybe stop if you ride past… no…

But never mind. I took an early flight down to Tullamarine, although I was tempted to check out the Jetstar service to Avalon – Suzuki Australia, who were the people with the bike that needed moving, are almost halfway between the two airports at Laverton North. At the last minute I decided against it, though… the thought of getting off the plane and having to hitchhike the 50km didn’t really work for me.

Suzuki’s Lewis had the bike ready for me – the new V-Strom 650 XT, and after a quick cup of coffee I took off. I was also equipped with a Suzuki tour bag for me to test, which proved to be just what I needed on the trip. You’ll read about its convenience and waterproof qualities in Used and Reviewed soon.

The hardwood forests south of the Murray are regenerating after much felling.

A quick stop at Iron Head Customs in nearby Hoppers Crossing – Alistair is working on my Sportster for me – and I hit the freeway north. I wanted to get a bit of distance under my wheels before lunch, and anyway it’s messy getting out of Melbourne to Puckapunyal, my first stop, any other way.

I just ducked in to have a quick look at the Tank Museum, because I hadn’t seen it for a long time. Nothing much outside has changed that I could see, which is fine with me. Inside displays look refreshed, which is good too. This is a wonderful museum if you’re interested in highly unusual vehicles; they’ve even swapped one of their Australian tanks with an overseas museum for a Russian job!

Lockhart isn’t called the “veranda town” for nothing.

The Wee Strom handles the freeway with just as much aplomb as it deals with back roads, easy and stable. The wire wheels have made handling more nimble without reducing stability. I finally left the freeway at Chiltern, filled up with 91 which was all the servo offered, and then headed north. Lunch at Rutherglen – I won’t tell you where, because I didn’t think it was very good, as well as being overpriced, and I hate to bad-mouth businesses*. Maybe they’ll have better food another day – but not for me. A carton of milk from the pleasant everything-shop (newsagent, milk bar, grocer…) in Howlong filled me up where lunch hadn’t. I like riding the bridges between Victoria and New South Wales, and it’s nice that you can get down to the Murray and even camp there.

Lockhart’s seven metre high emu; wouldn’t want this one jumping out in front of you!

“Yeah, there’s a bit of weather forming in the west,” said the bloke in the shop.

“Shouldn’t be a worry if you’re going north.” A good thing, because I was and Temora, where I’d planned to spend the night. Actually I was beginning to think that I might not make Temora with the time running on, but that was okay.

There would be somewhere else to stay along the way.

There was certainly no shortage of gravel back roads along the way, although I suffered for the lack of detailed maps – twice I ended up in a dead end as the road, err, dead ended at a property.

Never mind, no hurry. Although maybe there was a bit of a hurry after all – that weather in the west was now heading for the north, and there was quite a bit of it. Clouds that began as white cumulus started to shade into darker and darker hues before letting down those straight, slightly angled lines that say “rain”, and plenty of it. I donned my old two piece Harley-Davidson wet weather suit, somewhat the worse for wear with a hole burnt in it by an exhaust but still one of the best rain suits I’ve ever owned.

You know, once upon a time I navigated this area entirely by the weather, on my way south from Sydney. There were thunderstorms all over the place and when I seemed to be headed towards one I’d take the next turnoff in a different direction – it worked, although my track would have looked like that of some kind of seriously deranged rabbit. I got to the Murray dry – eventually!

Things didn’t look quite so accommodating this time. I was coming up on Lockhart, and the rain which by now was looking pretty substantial was nearly all the way around me. Throttle to the stop – and I almost made the town before it started to pour. And pour it did.

I later found out that Lockhart had had more than an inch of rain in less than an hour… I rode around like a fool through the thunderstorm looking for the motel which, it turned out some time later, I had passed as I came into town, and was fortunately waved over to park under the pub’s awning. Almost the first person I saw was Steve Johnson, who sometimes works with Johann at OzTrikes. We had a couple of beers. After a light dinner I rode off through the flooded streets to the motel, checked in – the storm had blown their computer, so that was manual – and sat reading outside my room for a while before I went to bed.

Breakfast in town in the morning and then I was back on the road. I stuck to the tar for quite a while; the idea of coping with dirt that had had an inch of rain dumped on it didn’t appeal. That’s how I saw those amazing statues – see photos. I have to write a few words about the V-Strom’s tyres at this point.

The Bridgestone Trailwing radials coped beautifully with dry concrete on the freeway; wet and dry tar of varying quality; and (mostly) dry gravel. Oh, and some sticky mud on the way down to the Big River. A good OEM choice by Suzuki.

A short stop in Temora to check out the aircraft museum, and then I just bumbled along to Young and Cowra.

It didn’t seem to matter much that I was now on the Olympic Highway; the traffic was still pretty thin and anyway, the V-Strom offered plenty of grunt for overtaking. Oops, that was a mobile speed camera – well, I probably wasn’t speeding… the mailman will tell.

I like the Mid Western Highway from Cowra to Bathurst a lot; the scenery is pleasant and in season you can see vast fields of purple where the Patterson’s Curse (or Salvation Jane) covers the paddocks.

I stopped for a while in Bathurst to say hello to a mate and then it was the highway to Lithgow and Bells Line of Road to the Sydney plain – which welcomed me with another sharp but not so short shower as I came down Bell bird Hill. I was dry by the time I got home, except for my gloves. A wonderful couple of days, and top marks for the V-Strom 650XT as a tourer. What would I change on the bike? Nothing, I think – although an Air Hawk for the seat would form part of my touring equipment if I was heading out for more than a day.

Stuart took the XT out in the dirt for a day to see what difference the new wire wheels made. See his breakout at the end of the story.

And that touring bag of Suzuki’s was a winner too – easy to fit to the bike, and not a drop of water in it despite that thunderstorm in Lockhart and the rain on the plain.

Stuart on the Strom

So, The Bear had his leisurely cruise back from Melbourne on the new XT,but what are the differences over the previous V-Strom 650? Visually there is the new beak and for protection you get handguards and engine bars – even though the bars are different from the ones you could get for the 2014 model. There is a plastic sump shroud and of course the main difference are the new wire wheels.

The way in which the new wheels change the Strom is just like having a totally different model – I guess that’s the point! Handling is light, turn in has much more feel in the front and acceleration is much stronger now, too.

I did take the new XT out into the dirt for a day to really test out how much toughness the Strom can handle. I took it on the same route as the V-Strom 1000 we tested with knobby tyres back in issue #20, even though the XT was fitted with the very road biased Bridge stones. On well-maintained dirt and at under 80km/h the tyres were okay, go any faster and they slipped about a bit too much – an easy fix with a set of knobbies. The track I rode has been potholed a bit more than the last time I’d been through there by a lot of rain.

The wire wheels handled some swift pace very well, whereas a set of cast wheels would probably be bent. I was also very impressed at how light the XT felt through some difficult terrain for a relatively big bike.

If I was to be riding the XT off-road through tough terrain quite often I’d certainly do three things: Knobby tyres, alloy (instead of plastic) bash plate and pivot pegs and have a blast! The XT would be a bike to see all parts of our big brown land quite comfortably. SW

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