There’s a fair bit to consider when heading off, so here’s some points we’ve learnt on the trail, usually the hard way. THE FIRST THING TO DO IS TO acknowledge your mortality. Appreciating the risks involved in any activity, especially motorcycling, is the first step to reducing the odds on you coming to grief. If you’re aware of that, then you are halfway home.
It’s one thing to jump on a bike and do big skids down some lonesome track out the back of nowhere; it’s completely something else to be doing it 20 years later with no scars to prove it.
The rest of the battle comes down to experience and common sense.
This is a real killer and gets nearly everyone at some stage. Your classic case occurs early on in any ride, with the stricken rider bursting full of enthusiasm and going hammer down right from the start. If symptoms are obvious, the results are even more so. Overshot corners, near misses and heaps of wheel-spin quickly progress to crashes and a sudden rise in the rider’s common-sense level.
The cure is simple. Pace yourself at the beginning of the ride. Sure, you may be pumped up and keen to ride, but give yourself time to relax on the bike, settle in and get used to the conditions. Get the feel of things and then let the speeds build, with a much-reduced chance of injury.
Only when you want it to be. Most accidents occur when riders attempt to go faster than their skill level permits and this usually happens when one ego overtakes another. Face it, there’ll always be someone who’s faster than you, so if a rider carves by, ask yourself a few questions.
Okay, so you’re still heading off in pursuit, but keep the thought in mind that you’re there to enjoy the ride, the scenery and the company. None of which are much fun from the back of an ambulance. Enjoy yourselves, but don’t overstep your abilities.
That all depends on the skill of the rider. We like to ride at about seven-tenths — fast enough to stay alert and concentrating but slow enough not to get caught out. Set your own pace. Don’t get sucked along behind a faster rider and especially don’t wander about after a slower one. We find the latter more dangerous of the two because we start to ponder the big questions like “What’s for dinner?” and forget about what we’re doing. If you’re riding with a slower rider, give them a chance to get ahead then play catch-up.
But the main point governing speed is how far you can see. If you have a reasonable chance on stopping within your field of vision then you’re pretty safe, because nothing can get you as long as you stay alert. Nothing that is, except moving objects.
These generally come in two categories: animals, and vegetables in or on other vehicles. Both can be sudden, unpredictable and very nasty so once again, stay alert.
Wild pigs and roos are the biggest animal hazard in Cape York and while they can pop up anywhere anytime, there are a few points you can consider to reduce the chance of a collision. They’re most active around dawn and dusk, so slow down when riding at these times, and keep an eye out on both sides of the track. Most of the time they travel in twos or more so if you see one, brake hard and watch out for his mates.
They love to sleep in the shade during the day, so if you’re cruising, veer away from bushed on the edge of the track, especially around vermin fences. While we’re on the subject, try to avoid travelling parallel to vermin fences because animals of all sorts fetch up against them in big numbers.
Watch out for stock signs, being aware of the type of animals in the area and keeping your eyes open are the best ways of avoiding animal-based accidents. Treat stock with the respect they deserve. Farmers make their living from their animals and don’t want people on bikes carving, figuratively, them up. Slow down and idle through, or if you come on a mob on the road, pull over and stop while it goes past, or if it’s going your way, take a wide line.
Never think you or the group are the only ones around because even in the most remote places there’s still a chance of other vehicles using the same track. Common sense says keep left on blind corners. Don’t drift wide and don’t go full noise, because there’s the possibility that the person coming the other way may not be as sensible as you, and be taking up your bit of the track. Crests are another danger spot so keep left on them as well, with a quick up on the pegs for a preview for good measure.
If at all possible, stay out of it. There was a time when we would just go for it behind a vehicle, take a wide line and hope to come out the other side. That was before a champion racer, Dave Kruger got killed doing it in the long distance enduro race, The Australian Safari ‘91 and he wasn’t the only rider we know who’s come to grief in this way. Take your time overtaking a vehicle kicking up a big dust: five minutes is not worth the cost of your life.
If a vehicle is coming towards you pull over, slow down and if need be, stop. You’ll often find 4WDs and trucks travelling in convoy and the worst way to discover this is by wrapping your bike around a bonnet emblem. We often leave the road altogether, because it doesn’t matter what you hit on a bike, it still hurts.
Bike tyres throw stones like you wouldn’t believe, so if you are overtaking a slower vehicle give it plenty of space. Roll the throttle on steadily, move to the right as far as practicable and pass cleanly. Allow as big a gap as possible before returning to the left, because pulling in quickly will most likely result in the other vehicle with $5000.00 worth of duco being showered with rocks. And they will probably catch up with you at the only petrol station in the next town.
Spare a thought for the other person as well, especially if they are on a bike. Slipping past someone and throwing up a heap of dust can be dangerous for the person being overtaken – it restricts their vision and can startle them if they are off in dreamland. Don’t squeeze in a quick pass before a bad corner or entering a nasty rut.
The bigger the group, the greater the potential for disaster. The key to riding in big groups, of say twelve or more, is to spread out, with the more space between the rider the better. Never ride in another bike’s dust. Your vision is restricted, your airfilter cops a flogging, and your eyes and lungs won’t be ecstatic either.
The field tends to spread out naturally but more often than not there’s half a dozen riders hanging off the lead person’s rear guard. Drop back. You are then out of their roost, clear of dust and more likely to enjoy the ride. What’s more, dropping back a couple of hundred metres is going to make you about 20 seconds late. Big deal. There’s no question of which is the smarter move.
One of our biggest problems when travelling in groups is losing someone, the best way to avoid this is to use the Corner Man system. Your guide is the lead rider and no one is allowed to pass him. You also nominate a tail or sweep rider, and no one rides behind them. At each intersection, the Guide stops and waits for the rider directly behind him to arrive, the Guide informs that rider which direction to take and then waits for the second rider waits for the third rider, that rider then waits for then next, and so on until the whole group is heading in the right direction.
Even here there are a couple of traps. The rider on point duty should do just that, be sure the person they are handing over to, clearly understands which is the right direction to take.
The Guide will stop at regular intervals to allow everyone to regroup and do a head count, but a lot of time can be wasted backtracking looking for lost riders.
Experienced riders always help each other out. If you see an approaching vehicle on a narrow trail, raise your left hand to warn those behind you. If you come around a corner and run up against a log, or a washout looks particularly nasty, park your bike and walk back to warn the rest of the group as they come through.
Every group will have at least one rider who hasn’t developed the skill level of the others. Help them out, encourage them and make sure you consider all riders. If you have to ride someone’s bike to the top of a hill for them, do it graciously.
This whole thing about slow riders raises an interesting point. We’ve done a lot of riding in big groups and they often split into two: the fast guys and the slow guys. Guess What? The fast guys always finish last: more crashes, punctures, riders getting lost… you name it.
Slow riders don’t hold a group back; riders who crash do.
Most of what’s been mentioned here is straight common sense and many riders will read it and think. So what? We’ve been doing that stuff for years. If that’s you, sorry we’ve wasted your time, but if this manual stops one rider from going under the front of a 4WD or wrapping themselves around a tree, then it’s been worthwhile. Bike riding is great fun. Let’s keep it safe as well.
So What are we waiting for… Let’s Ride.
Cape York Motorcycle Adventures is not responsible or liable for any loss or damage to personal belongings or for personal injury, accident or illness however caused. Personal insurance is not the responsibility of Cape York Motorcycle Adventures, if you wish to have Travel insurance please arrange this prior to departure.
If you are in any doubt about anything please give us a call, we are only too happy to help you in any way.
Special thanks to the late, great Tony Kirby of Sidetrack Magazine for allowing his article ‘Staying Alive’ to be modified for our use.
© Cape York Motorcycle Adventures 2021