Ride Report Canberra -Warwick National Rally – Canberra (by Glen Jones)
2-11 April 2022
“All the Way There and Half-way Back”
Map – ACT to Warwick & Return
Tim, Adrian and I had come up with a rough plan for the ride to Warwick which was necessarily flexible but did specify which route we would take and where we would stay overnight. We left Saturday 2 April which would give us two days to ride up in time for rally check in on Monday 4th. Individual commitments meant that we would all have to leave Canberra at different times but it was expected we’d all catch up somewhere on the way to the first night’s stop in Coonabarabran.
Being the slowest, I resolved to leave as early as possible and rolled out of my driveway at 0-dark-hundred, watching anxiously through my visor for pre-dawn wildlife activity. I made it safely to Boorowa just as the sun came up to reveal a clear, cool morning. The Ural was buzzing along quite comfortably at 90 kays despite being loaded up with camping gear, full jerry can, clothes and spare riding gear. There’s always a risk in a slow moving side-car that you will get hassled by faster vehicles coming up from behind. My Ural is a 2011 model but the engine technology pre-dates Sputnik and doesn’t rate high on the performance scale. Unlike that pioneering space craft, I doubt the Ural is fast enough to kill any dogs.
At that time of the day there wasn’t much traffic around anyway but when it did show up they all passed calmly without frustration. Maybe the sign on the back of my bike helped to calm everybody down.
Bulldog and bike soon settled into the rhythm of the road, alternating between progress and p-stops as we trundled through Cowra and Molong. There is no vaccine for numbumitis and I was squirming uncomfortably by the time I pulled up at Wellington for brunch in the park. It was here that I started seeing other groups of Ulysses riders making their way north. They all waved and thumbs-upped as they went by.
The temperature climbed as I hit Dubbo so I changed to a lighter jacket, sucked eagerly from my Camelback, and pushed on for the day’s final leg to Coonabarabran. The Newell highway was rumbling with the usual host of B-doubles and I spent almost as much time looking behind me as I did looking forward. Carefully and adroitly, the little camo sidecar kept the hell out of the bloody way and it wasn’t too long before we coasted down the big hill into Coonabarabran. The cops were out flashing their lights and raising revenue so I made sure to keep under the limit. I amused myself by thinking how ironic it would have been to cop a speeding ticket on a sidecar that had just been overtaken by 20 heavy trucks.
I checked in at the Wagon Wheel hotel and had just lugged my bags inside when Tim arrived. He’d left Canberra a couple of hours after me and had almost caught me up. We went into town for dinner at the Chinese restaurant while we waited for Adrian who wasn’t expected until 9 or 10pm. The meal was excellent and we chatted with other Ulysses riders from Victoria and WA who were also resting for the night.
I pushed off early the next morning just ahead of Tim and Adrian with a vague plan to meet in Moree for brunch. They soon caught up and effortlessly sailed by with cheeky waves and helmet-shrouded grins. We didn’t know it at the time, but the country north of us was about to be hit with a squillionty millimetres of rain that would throw travel plans and the national rally time table into confusion.
Happily ignorant of the impending drama, I was captivated by the flat, expansive plains around Narrabri and stopped for a couple of photos. This is Big Sky country and was looking unusually lush and abundant after the wet summer. I was totally enjoying myself and living that mantra about the ride being just as enjoyable as the destination. The freedom, the wide open spaces, the blending of man and machine: I laughed uproariously into the wind, wound on more throttle and rocketed up to 93!
We all stopped at Moree for a break, but at different times and at different places. It wasn’t until Goondiwindi that Adrian, Tim and I managed to find each other again.
We’d finally arrived in Quanetoadland and I took advantage of another photo op as Adrian and Tim disappeared into the mirage. There had obviously been a lot of weather already and water was everywhere. The road had been totally rainsacked and there was some good sport to be had trying to steer three wheels through the pothole clusters.
Tim and Adrian were staying off site and both planned to go all the way to Warwick and be ready to check in on the Monday morning. I decided I’d go as far as Inglewood, stay the night and make the final jump into Warwick showground in time for check in. At Inglewood, it rained. A lot. Animals were lining up two-by-two as I splashed through the puddles to find beer and food at the pub. It wasn’t just Inglewood, Warwick and a lot of other places in south east Queensland were slowly going under.
The rain had eased up the next morning and I excitedly packed the bike and headed off to the rally site despite warnings from the locals that Warwick would be cut off by flood water before I got there. I was contemplating having to spend another night on the road when I was presented with a more immediate problem: the tube in the back tyre suffered one too many pothole strikes and literally expired. Oh great. A flat tyre.
My Ural is equipped with a spare tyre carried under the rack but a tyre change by the side of the road on a sloping, muddy shoulder is a bit of a challenge. I’ve done it a few times in the shed with a full tool board but this time I’d have to manage with just the bike tool roll. With the help of a friendly motorist, – and encouragement from Jen and Leo who happened be passing by – we got the flat tyre off and wrestled the spare up under the fender. A lot of swearing and sweat followed as we tried to fit the wheel hub over the brake shoes.
Eventually the brake shoes dislodged and fell out, prompting another round of swearing. In the end we gave up and left the shoes out, and easily fitted the wheel without them. There are brakes on the sidecar and the front wheel and I was willing to settle for 66% braking capacity just to get going again. It’s not like I go that fast anyway.
About this time, messages from the rally committee started arriving explaining that the camp ground was under water and that nobody would be checked in until they’d set up another site. When I reached the Karara pub I was waved in by other bikers who advised that the road ahead was cut by flood waters. Throughout the day the number of bikers and grey nomads grew and there was no alternative other than to sit it out. The pub had field day selling chicken burgers and beers to the stranded travellers.
Rumours began circulating that the road would open at 5pm once the Leslie Dam had released enough water but as the day wore on, I became less enthusiastic about driving into Warwick in the roo-infested twilight hours with reduced braking capability. I decided to make use of the free camp area not far from the pub and set up camp for the night.
The waters had definitely receded by the time I headed for Warwick the following morning. The rally site had similarly resurfaced but was in a very muddy state, particularly on the flats where everyone was supposed to have camped. After check in, I was directed to the high ground by volunteers and quickly found the Canberra Ulysses Banner marking Tony’s tent site. The amount of space on the hill was far less expansive which meant pitching your tent wherever you could find a space. There simply wasn’t enough real estate to allocate the 6x6m camp sites we’d all paid for. But nobody complained, everybody had been mucked around by the floods one way or another and just got on with enjoying the rally.
The local motorbike shop in Warwick is called Top Two motorcycles and they did a roaring trade tendering to the needs of the visiting Ulysses contingent. They very generously found time to fit a new tube to my flat tyre and re-fit the brake pads. I am very happy to give them a plug for their great service and very reasonable prices. Although we all lost a day due to the floods, the rest of the rally went off really well. There were a few organisational glitches but the Warwick branch and the army of volunteers quickly re-adjusted as required and provided the full range of rally experiences. The Ulysses presence was also warmly welcomed by local townsfolk and businesses. Suzy arrived on site on Thursday and took the opportunity to do some sidecar joy riding and check out a few of the local attractions. She then became my official co-pilot for the grand parade through Warwick on Saturday morning.
All too quickly, the rally concluded and it was time to pack up. The three-man gang who had road up together would again form a loose clot of bikes for the two-day trip home. Suzy set off separately for the coast and tracked via Maitland to see her parents. At Tim’s request, us three riders would make for Quirindi on the first day, stay overnight, then head for home via Coolah, Dunedoo, Wellington and Molong. As it turned out, the number of bikes that got home – and the route they took to get there – would deviate substantially from the initial plan . . . . .
It took me until mid-morning Sunday to pack up but was on the road an hour before Tim and Adrian. We crossed paths a few times on the trip south but their faster machines meant they were in Quirindi an hour ahead of me. On the way, I just HAD to stop for a photo at Uralla. It’s where my Ural and I first became a pair 11 years ago. A bit further on, we negotiated the Moonbi Ranges which is also photo-stop-worthy. We stayed at Henry’s hotel in Quirindi which was a former aged care facility. The chapel bears a plaque honouring one of Tim’s female ancestors (great grandmother, I think). We solemnly acknowledged Tim’s family connection then enjoyed a very pleasant meal in the pub. Monday 11th April. Our last day on the road. One big seven hour ride, or thereabouts, between us and home. We followed the usual pattern of staggered departure times with me leaving at dawn to get ahead of the faster folks. It was a beautiful morning as I headed west to link up with the Black Stump Way and follow it in to Coolah. The Ural was humming along nicely until it suddenly wasn’t: suddenly the engine note changed to something resembling engine braking on a truck. The bike started back-firing, lost power and speed, and I was still 40km from Coolah in the middle of nowhere.
I could only make about 20-30kph but I was still moving. I didn’t really want to stop the engine to see what was going on in case it didn’t start again, and end up stranded in the bush. So, slowly and laboriously, I crept along the side of the road and finally got into Coolah 90 minutes later. I pulled up beside the park and began my diagnoses. The left hand carburettor had been blown of the inlet manifold but reconnecting it didn’t help. The engine still backfired and wouldn’t rev. Crook fuel? Unlikely, when I removed the plug lead from the left hand cylinder, the right one idled normally. So at least, we now knew where the problem was. I really wanted to see if the exhaust valve was working properly but had no tools to get at it. Tim and Adrian had both caught up by this time and hung around while I tried to get things sorted.
The two local mechanic workshops “don’t do bikes” and were booked out anyway. My roadside assist service unhelpfully advised that they could pick up my bike and deliver it to Dunedoo – which has less auto mechanics than Coolah. The problem was beyond my capacity to fix without more tools and I definitely wasn’t going to continue on to Canberra at 20kph! My previously reliable Russian ride was clearly having its own Ukraine moment and would advance no further.
If you’re ever in Coolah, drop in to the Black Stump Inn and have a chat to the old fella who runs the pub. His name is Greg and he has a passion for old bikes, particularly BSAs and Nortons. He generously allowed me to park the Ural behind the pub in a sheltered little alcove beside the cool room. He promised to keep an eye on it until I could come back and retrieve it. I sent Tim and Adrian on their way (thanks for hanging around guys), called Suzy in Maitland and sheepishly advised that she’d have to come and pick me up.
And that is where my grand motorcycle road trip ended: having to be rescued by my wife and arriving home without my bike. It took Suzy three hours to come west from Maitland and it was a six hour trip home but somehow we managed to get back to Canberra just a half-hour behind Tim and Adrian. I can only assume they wanted to stretch out the last day’s ride and took in Mendooran, Yeoval and Orange on their way back to Cowra. I’m not sure it was all totally on purpose.
Two weekends later I hitched up a car trailer and travelled back to Coolah to pick up the bike. I stayed at the Black Stump overnight in a very plain $50 room and finally got my bike home safely the next day.