Friday, 18 September 2009

When three wheels are better than two

Each year the Ulysses Adventure riders have a rally. It was held on the 18th  – 19th September in Tibooburra, far western NSW. As the Ural distributor it seemed like a good idea to run some Ural outfits there to find out how they handled outback travel and put a few kilometres up to get to know their personalities and quirks better.

We took three outfits, a green and a white Tourist plus a black limited edition Ranger model. They were all less than a year old and the Tourist models were only recently broken in. Phil and myself were joined by my daughter Katherine with her camera and red handbag riding the Urals and friends John and David came for the adventure on a GS800 and 650 Dakar BMW. John brought his daughter Mandy on pillion. Phil brought a dummy passenger ‘Polly’ in his outfit. She never left her seat or complained the whole trip!

We gave ourselves three days to cover the 1400kms out at a steady pace and the same to return. The sidecars carried a load of gear including 20ltr of extra fuel each and some gear for the BMW riders. A bit of a load was good ballast in the sidecar too. Our route took us through Bingara to Moree and Collarenebri. Polly entertained her first crowd in Bingara as she was wearing a plastic bag over her head to keep her wig fresh for Tibooburra.

From Colly we went north on a gravel road and scored the first of several rear tyre punctures straight away. A tek screw started the rot, but was followed daily by a nail, a stone bruise and finally a puncture from a loose spoke rubbing on the tube. We had two trunk mounted spare wheels among the three bikes and these made for easy replacement on the road.
The Russian tyres are 2 ply and whilst supple and easy to change were more susceptible to these punctures. The Duro tyres we stock for replacement are 6 plies and a much harder compound. They should stand the outback treatment much better and wear longer.
We were headed for Lightning Ridge the first day and were there for a good soak in the hot bore water in the evening. We started the trip cruising at 80-85km hour, but had soon settled to an easy 95km hour even on the gravel roads. We stopped for a chat every 50km while we were getting accustomed to the ride.

The second day we rode over the border at Hebel and up to Bollon on the Adventure Highway. From there we were going west to Thargomindah for the night. We maintained a steady pace with ease, changing our second flat as we went, although the BMW riders were still inclined to burn past us and wait ahead.

Out of Cunnamulla our easy run was interrupted when the 650 Dakar stopped. Our investigation indicated a fuel injection problem and we called an RACQ truck out to return it to Cunnamulla. Between Rock Motorcycles on the phone and a very Savvy RACQ man the fault was traced to a broken wire on the in-tank fuel pump.

We repaired it that night in their workshop and set off early next day to complete nearly 600km to Tibooburra. A dust storm early belted us head on and made some upwind sections a bit of a slog at 80km hour.  While we ate a late breakfast in Thargomindah the visibility got down to less than 50m. Gradually it cleared again and conditions improved as we pressed on to Noccundra pub for lunch.

From there we were onto gravel roads in earnest. The presence of a lot of stone on the road gave us a third puncture and had us watching carefully on particularly stony sections to avoid further stone bruise punctures. We were now staying with the BMW riders as they had to steady up also.

The 220km leg turned sandy about half way to Tibooburra and the tables turned to favour the Urals. Sections of the sand were up to 100mm deep and causing the road bikes some anguish. The sidecars were squirming a little, but were quite stable to continue at 90kmh while the bikes had to catch up to us for a change. Mandy who was riding pillion with John joined me on the outfit to make it safer and easier for him in the sand.skid in red sand tibooburra

We arrived in Tibooburra in good shape and took up residence in a great granny flat set up by The Granites Caravan Park. There were lots of serious bike tourers in town for the rally and we enjoyed meeting with them. Some 120 bikes came in and included about 5 outfits that rode up 800km from Adelaide. They were surprised to see Urals in town and especially a couple of riders who rode past Noccundra while we were there and commented to each other when battling with the sand later that “it was lucky those sidecars didn’t try and come down this way”!

Friday there was a ride on through Milparinka and Phil took his outfit for the run while Katherine and I hung around the main street answering questions and allowing some test rides. This is always a bit tricky because you have trouble knowing who can ride an outfit and who thinks they can because it looks easy!
Tibooburra Hotel

The Saturday ride was longer and we left the bikes and all piled into the outfits after removing gear to make room for the passengers. There were about 40 bikes plus one other outfit on this tour and it traversed some very stony tracks as we visited some of the historic settlement which are now included in the Sturt National Park.

Saturday night was the big dinner, raffle and speeches at the showground. We thoroughly enjoyed the well organised event and the people we met there. Phil clipped a roo in the main street as we went home but no drama, Polly doesn’t frighten easily. Sunday we were off home and rode with a steady stream of bikes returning via Wanaaring. I found that section of road much more interesting and enjoyable this time compared to several runs along there in a car. You get to be more involved with the surrounding landscape on a bike.
Roadside Tibooburra
At Wanaaring Café, we heard another round of horror stories about dualsport bike crashes in the area before departing to Hungerford where the cop congratulated us on getting there without crashing! It seems the long straight roads and overconfident expectations of dualsport bike capabilities are causing some concern among the locals who have to mop up the odd mess!
red bulldust tibooburra

After refuelling ourselves and bikes we headed down to Yantabulla where a very nice couple had offered us an on farm stay in their huts. There was quite a bit of sand in that area and Urals were loving it while the solos developed a mind of their own with their less than knobby tyres. Both David and John took a low speed tumble, David clearing some scrub as he went.
Overnight it rained and the 5 to 8mm changed the game again as we got back on the main road and made our way back through Engonia to the tar road and Bourke. The first 100km put the solos through it big time as the sand was now firmer, but some of the clay had turned to slime without warning. John is the hardest guy to tip off a bike, but he had a surprise get-off on a deceptive slippery patch. David was down to 30km an hour at times and was cramping from over tense grip of the bars. I offered  to give him a break with a swap on the Ural and he was on board and away with his first smile all day. His BMW had lowered tyre pressure, but still had snaky handling characteristics and we were all glad to see those bikes back on tar with no serious bruising on the riders.

All this was an eye opener to the superior stability of three wheels. The narrow 4.00 x 19” Ural tyres have higher ground pressure and combined with 3 wheel stability made for excellent road holding in the dry sand or wet clay!
donuts tibooburra

A good feed in Bourke and a repack with our wet gear on now saw us arrive in Walgett after changing our final puncture.  The wet conditions had allowed the spokes on one of the previously unused spare wheels to come loose enough to wear a hole in the tube where the ribbon liner was sitting a bit skewed. That night I adjusted and tightened the spokes and fixed the flat in Walgett.

The last day home from Walgett was a blast with the wind behind us and dampened roads. Polly was welcomed back in Bingara and as she sat in the sidecar while the rain washed the dust from her lipstick, we ate lunch under a café awning nearby.

The Ural ergonomics and bench seats proved comfortable for a long distance ride and we used a litre for every 13km on a 2860km round trip. We changed 4 flat tyres and tightened a set of spokes being the only attention required. We found 95kmh was a good cruising speed which left us all with a bit of spare throttle and not too much breeze on the unfaired Tourist models. Carrying capacity was great and the white bike stayed cleanest looking in the dust and mud!
Bingara to home Tibooburra
We have many long distance Ural tourers reporting back to us at Ural Australia about their great rides and it was good to see it first hand.

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