50CC Group Ride – Melbourne to Darwin 48hrs

For those who aren’t familiar with Ironbutt ride names a 50CC means 50 hours coast to coast. 50 hours is the time limit, It doesn’t mean riding a 50cc motorcycle.

The first Australia 50CC was done in 2003 by four riders, Bill Thweatt from Plano, Texas; John McCrindle, Derrick Sutton and Bernard Petherbridge, the latter three all Aussies and IBA legends. I’ve done the Australia 50CC ride between Melbourne (or Bells Beach) to Darwin twice before. Once as part of a multi-day ride where I used an unusual schedule that saw me complete a Centreline 24 (Port Augusta to Darwin in less than 24hrs) and the other a slog on my CBR125R which took 49 hours.

As the 20th Anniversary of the first ride approached some current IBA legends cooked up a plan for a group ride to mark the occasion. I was slow to sign up, I never commit until I’m absolutely committed. It’s a tough gig and my Ironbutt rides have been few and far between in the last few years. However, from the moment I heard about it I was keen, it was something different. There were the usual “I’m in – I’m out” but nine riders, one with a pillion, turned up early for the 2am start at the United Westgate South in Port Melbourne for a 2am start. I was riding my BMW R1250GS with the panniers on and a 10 litre plastic jerry strapped to the rear rack. Based on my SS1600K test run a couple of weeks before I reckoned that there’d be only one stretch I might need the jerry as a result of opening hours of various servos along the way.

I’m not very relaxed at group ride starts, for me every minute out of bed before the start should be used getting on your way as soon as you can. I get a bit preoccupied and focussed. That said, it was nice to catch up with the other riders and visitors wishing us farewell. I fuelled up as soon as I arrived at the servo and discarded the docket, I’d be getting another as close to the start time as possible – 1.45am ODO 29552kms.

One of the original 50CC riders, Derrick Sutton, was repeating his ride and led all of us out of the servo after the festivities and photographs. I was nice to leave as a group however unlike, lets say “normal” group rides there was no expectation that we’d be riding together. Riders differ in their riding routines, blue risk profile, fuel capacity, bladder capacity and fatigue management strategies. By the time we’d left the outskirts of Melbourne the riders had spread out, I was somewhere in the middle of the group kicking back and enjoying the darkness made light by some 90’s dance tunes including Black Box’s Ride on Time (from Dreamland) which seemed appropriate.

My first stop for fuel was Horsham (288kms) and while I didn’t intend stopping for many photos this ride the silos at Coonalpyn took my fancy.

This ride is all about crunching kilometres and enjoying the view. I stopped next at The Bend Motorsport Park (609kms) at Tailem Bend. As I arrived some of the group were leaving and others arrived as I was leaving. Nods and g’days were all that was given and received. Ironbutt riders are a serious bunch when on the clock and often in service stations where other more casual riders want to chat that focus is mistaken for rudeness. I decided to ride through Adelaide this time rather than skirting north around it as some others did. It doesn’t matter what route you take to complete the ride but I haven’t been in Adelaide for a while and I’ve taken the more northerly route a few times.

My next stop for fuel and a ham and cheese toastie was Warnertown (924kms at 11.50am South Australian time 12.20pm Melbourne time). As a side note, you have to manage your timezones on these rides. There’s 30 minutes difference between Melbourne and SA/NT time and if you plan to use the full 50 hours and forget that your phone clock has gone back half an hour the mistake is a big one. I’ll use SA/NT times from here.

I topped up in Port Augusta (1011kms) then Glendambo (1297kms) and stopped for a sunset pic somewhere north of there.

Coober Pedy (1547kms) was next on the agenda and I arrived at 6.30pm. It’s illegal to pass the Coober Pedy Blower Truck and not take a pic btw.

A little lapse of focus at Coober Pedy was almost a big issue for me. I parked my bike where I could see it from the take-away food counter at the Shell servo and left my helmet on the bike. I had to step out of view of the bike for a short time to grab the coffee from the barista and as I I turned I saw, let’s say a “local”, looking through the glass doors at me. I walked towards the door (and him) and saw three other “locals” walking directly towards the bike. The first on one shouted when he saw me heading that way and the others turned on their heels and scurried away like cockroaches. I don’t know if it might have been the helmet, tank bag and/or the 10 litres of nose candy in the jerry they were after but FFS, really.

From Coober Pedy it was a short 235km run up to Marla arriving about 9.20pm for a total of 1782kms for the day. The distances quoted are by the BMW’s odometer that actually reads low, it was a shade over 1800kms by the GPS. Some riders had already arrived some arrived later. Unfortunately the roadhouse cafe was closed so dinner consisted of a pre made chicken wrap (risky!) and an ice cream, magnum of course.

I slept well, woke up at 4.00am, had a cup of hotel Blend 43 and some muesli on soy that I packed for the trip. I left Marla with Derrick and another rider at 5.00am (remembering 5.30am relative to the start time). Some had left before us, some were still sleeping. For me it was a good long rest and one of the reasons for that is that I’d need fuel at Erldunda and it made no sense to arrive there before it opened. There was still plenty of time to get to the finish. Naturally we stopped at the SA/NT Border for a snap.

I was in and out of Erldunda pretty quickly, once again on my own. My next stop was Alice Springs (2226kms) and the day was starting to warm up. I bounced off the BP there with the next stop planned for Ti Tree. I’ve had some interesting stops there in the past that’s for sure. Thankfully this one wasn’t eventful. The day continued to warm up and my next stop for fuel was Tennant Creek (2727kms). The BP there was relatively busy with people fuelling up and others just lurking around looking for opportunities to upset someone’s day. After my experience at Coober Pedy the previous evening I just wanted to get out of that town as soon as I could.

I made a mistake right there. I should have taken some time to ditch a couple of layers and make myself more comfortable in the heat, have a Powerade and cool off. I stopped for a quick pic and drink at the Devils Marbles, no shade there.

I had planned my next stop to be Elliott but I needed to stop earlier at Renner Springs. The heat and unnecessary layers caught up with me and despite having my camel back I was a little dehydrated. I knew it for what it was, it’s been quite some years since I made that rookie error. Water, Powerade, a coffee and some food taken in the shade while some other riders, one by one, rode past. On these rides it’s always better to stop and do whatever it takes to make yourself comfortable as soon as you need to. Not doing so increases fatigue and you usually end up losing more time recovering than you would have making simple, timely adjustments. I also topped up the bike up deciding to roll through Elliott hoping to make it to Daley Waters on one tank to claw back a little of the time lost. It wasn’t critical that I did so, I was just annoyed at myself.

I made it to Daley Waters and was suddenly reminded that last time I did this ride I made a decision not to use it again for fuel. Half the pumps were out of order, they had no premium unleaded and the only unleaded pump they had was covered in dirt, cobwebs with straw stuck to it around the filler nozzle. Oh well, with fingers crossed I topped the BMW up not entirely confident it was actually fuel I was putting into it. Fortunately it was.

The drama was just getting started for the day though. Feeling refreshed and having a nice time rolling north I saw a bushfire in the distance.

A few kilometres north of Larrimah I reached it. It was burning on one side of the highway and appeared to be burning north. It was a bit smoky and there were still some logs smouldering but nothing too concerning. Another rider took this pic

When I reached the fire front it was still only burning on my right so I decided to blast past it. Unfortunately at that time a big gust of wind came from my right and the fire jumped over the road and over/around me. I had no visibility, there was thick smoke and embers everywhere and I rushed to turn back.

It crossed my mind that there were 10 litres of flammable hydrocarbons wrapped in plastic just behind me and as I turned around a dozen off so kangaroos bounded across my path fleeing the fire. I could see their eyes as they mindlessly crossed in front of me and thought mine probably looked the same.

My high opinion of KLIM riding gear is now much higher. The heat burnt off some of the coating on my helmet visor some ember marks were on the windshield. But there wasn’t a mark on the KLIM, nor on me. The jerry was swollen but I made it out OK and returned to Larrimah making the decision to pull the pin on the ride and stay there the night. I stopped another rider to warn him of what was up ahead and for a short while he decided to stop too. Another rider passed us and decided to have a look for himself and come back if he couldn’t get through. Yet another rider stopped at Larrimah and I had a chat with him by the side of the road. At the same time a truck came from the north who reported that things were now OK and the other riders hadn’t come back. I decided to head off with the other rider but if things got ugly again I was happy to turn around and stay in Larrimah. I wasn’t in a truck.

We passed through the area where the fire had jumped the road and reached the fire front again. The fire on the left was burning away from the road and once again it was only on our right. I slowed right down some distance from the front and while I was assessing it a bus appeared out of nowhere from the smoke and embers driving towards us on our side of the road. I could see through the front and after a nod from the other rider we rode through it. Here’s how it looked (another rider’s photo).

A little further up the road we saw NT Fire and Rescue personnel lighting up the bush here and there along the highway. It would appear that the fires we were riding through were caused by that activity. After my recent experience I had my own opinion about how safe this was and it’s worth noting that in the coming days the Sturt Highway was completely closed because of the serious fires in the area.

Anyhow, with the fires behind us we arrived at Katherine (3426kms) there were a few riders chatting and having their last snack, coffee, fuel stop getting ready for the last push into Darwin and the end of the ride. Everyone had their own stories of making their way through the fires and no-one seemed to be in a hurry to leave. There was plenty of time unless something else went wrong.

As was the way with the ride, despite leaving Katherine with the other riders, each rode at their own pace and took their own time to the get to the end. During that leg the GS was throwing low beam errors on the screen and the headlight had a mind of its own but it fortunately didn’t upset too many oncoming trucks. There’s not many cars on the road in the NT at night.

I arrived at the Shell, Daly St Darwin at 1am NT Time (1.30am VIC time). 3738kms by the ODO in just under 48 hours. Some riders arrived before me others after. One of the riders I met up with at Katherine had stopped for a power nap and arrived later. A couple of locals were at the Servo to welcome us to Darwin, take photos and the five or six of us that were there at the time bought ice creams a Cherry Ripes to celebrate completing the ride. We were there for a while chatting, the adrenaline spike when you finish a ride like this keeps you going for a while. I found out there that the rider and pillion (Fatman and Lynne) had a mechanical at Marla which ended their attempt. Everyone else made it.

I stayed at the Mantra on the Esplanade at Darwin for the next few nights, there was a conference in town I went to. I shipped the bike back and flew home. Not because I wasn’t in the mood to ride for three more days back to Newcastle, it was because I was flying to Europe the following week to go riding in Italy, Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia which I expected was going to be nothing like a trip up the centre of Australia! I had to get home and pack, which included washing all the bushfire smoke out of my riding gear.

All in all this ride had everything, it was long, had some challenges, touching base with others along the way was different and the debrief meal the following night was a hoot!

3 thoughts on “50CC Group Ride – Melbourne to Darwin 48hrs”

  1. Indeed, awesome detailed ride report Wom! I’ve spotted those same dodgy lurkers too at the Shell in Coober…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *