The above is part of a poem by Bob Williams of Bossley Park, written in response to what has become known as “Black Saturday.” On that day, Saturday 7th February 2009, bushfires that had been raging in the south and south-east of Victoria were whipped into a furious and devastating frenzy by searing temperatures and wild winds. The fires surged uncontrollably through the Victorian bush, attacking and destroying anything and everything in their wake. Native bushland was razed, and quiet towns that nestled within its beauty were almost totally destroyed. People lost their lives; suffocated by choking smoke, or burned alive by the fierce flames.
The official death-toll stands at 173, with a further 500 injured. At least 2,029 homes were destroyed. Thousands more were damaged. Towns that sustained most damage included Kinglake, Marysville, Narbethong, Strathewen and Flowerdale.
In early April one of our readers, Tony, did a two-day trip through the area on his near-new Suzuki Bandit. But no, this wasn’t some kind of two-wheeled voyeurism. Tony had planned to do a trip through this region, which has some well-loved biking roads, before the fires began. The fires meant the trip had to be postponed. But when he did do it, the devastation caused by the fires gave the trip a very different perspective. He enjoyed the new bike and enjoyed riding the roads, but was also very moved by the blackened bush and destruction he saw. This is his story of the trip.
I have always wanted to do a ride to the hills in Victoria, Kinglake, Healesville, Marysville and travel the Black and Reefton Spurs. I had planned to do the ride earlier this year, until the Black Saturday fires devastated most of these areas. Only recently have these areas re-opened their roads to the public, so as I had some holidays owing to me, I decided to head across there just before Easter.
I wanted to travel light. I had a tank bag that I purchased from Aldi late last year (quite a good bag, I must say, for $49); but I modified it to sit on the pillion seat of the bike. I used a strap to run underneath the seat with quick release clasps for easy removal, and a couple of ocky-straps to make sure it didn’t move whilst I was riding.
I packed lightly, only taking one change of clothes. I also packed a temporary puncture repair kit (cheap insurance I thought!), a multi function knife tool, cable ties, tape, torch and some allen-keys.
As I was traveling by myself, I had planned my route and given a copy to my wife to let her know where I would be and when I would be there. I also said I would SMS her at key points throughout the trip to let her know I had made it to my next destination safely. I had performed all the regular checks on the bike before departure ensuring she was in top condition for the ride.
I departed my home in Bendigo at about 11am on the 7th April 2009. The day was overcast and cool, but not cold. I headed south along the Calder Hwy for approximately 70km and turned off at Carlsruhe to fill up with fuel at the BP servo. Seeing as I had left home with only half a tank of fuel, I thought this a wise time to fill up.
After filling up I headed toward Lancefield, then on to Kilmore and Broadford. This part of the journey was uneventful. I sat on 95kph to 100kph, just enjoying the ride. There was very little traffic, which is always a good thing.
After Broadford I headed over the Hume Hwy toward Strath Creek. About 20km out of Broadford there is a lookout that overlooks Strath Creek. I stopped here to stretch the legs and have a look at the fantastic view. (See the photo below). This is where I caught my first glimpse of where the bushfires had been on Black Saturday.
After 15 minutes admiring the view I set off toward Strath Creek, which was not more than 10km away. From Strath Creek I headed toward Flowerdale and Kinglake West. This is where I started to see the full impact of the Black Saturday fires. It was one of those moments in your life where you are just lost for words, it was quite an eerie feeling. Seeing the loss that fires cause is quite upsetting, and to see it first-hand really puts a different perspective on it.
From Kinglake West I rode toward Kinglake Central. Most of these roads had been speed-limited to 80kph or less, as there were a lot of trucks and excavators still clearing properties.
The real shock came when I turned right at the roundabout in Kinglake Central to head toward Hurtsbridge. The road is narrow and winding, but the surface is smooth. This area had been absolutely scorched! There was nothing here but dirt, and charcoal sticks that were once trees protruding from the ground. The speed-limit was 40kph here as there were a number of road works going on. At one stage we were stopped for 15minutes while some resurfacing was carried out. This was a good chance to hop off the bike for a bit of a stretch. From this point I headed towards my friends place near Eltham, who were kind enough to put me up for the night.
So what did I think of the first day of my short tour on the 2008 Suzuki Bandit? I loved it! The big sports-tourer performed extremely well. I never pushed her hard during the day, as I just wanted a relaxing ride; and that was just what I got, never getting her over 4000rpm. The torque on this bike is just huge. Rarely needing to change gears, she would pull away with no strange noises from 2000 rpm in top gear. If I had one gripe it would be that the seat is a little hard and slightly narrow, as I had gotten a sore posterior!
I awoke the next morning to a heavily overcast sky, and it was quite cool. I packed my gear, dressed warmly and headed for the hills (literally!). It was just after 9am and the Melbourne traffic had settled from peak hour.
I headed back the way I came the night before, going back through Hurtsbridge and St Andrews and on to Kinglake Central.
From Kinglake Central I rode east, heading for the Melba Hwy. As I mentioned earlier, there were trucks in the area clearing the debris left over from the fires.
I came across a semi doing about 90kph. The road is not too bad through here, but still quite twisty. I found a straight part of road that was safe to pass on and opened up the throttle. The torque factor is awesome! No need to change down, and by the time I had passed the truck I was traveling at…well, faster than I should have been anyway!
I crossed the Melba Hwy and headed for Toolangi, Chum Creek and then on to Healesville. Now this is where the roads start to get quite tight and twisty. I was content to keep the Bandit in 4th gear and power out of the turns; the Bandit really does this quite effortlessly.
By the time I reached Healesville I was ready for fuel, so I pulled into the Caltex and filled up. I also grabbed a bite to eat and a chocolate milk; good healthy morning-tea! By this time the day had actually cleared up and the sky was free from cloud, great! On to the Black Spur!
I was told that the Black Spur was heavily policed, so I was very conscious of my speed. Not long after I had left Healesville I had an oncoming car flash their headlights; I checked my speed and yep, under 80kph. Over the next 2km I must have had 10 cars flash their lights at me. I thought “Do I really look like I’m going that fast?” Soon enough I found out what the hazard was. A truck had rolled after its front tyre blew-out going around a sharp corner. It had dug a deep grove in the otherwise smooth tar and ended up in amongst the trees.
I was really enjoying the twisty roads, nice smooth tar and not a great deal of traffic; blasting past the odd truck that was going slowly. I must say that most of the truck drivers I came across were helpful, letting me pass as soon as an opportunity arose.
After a very enjoyable 30 minutes in the Black Spur I turned off toward Marysville. Up to 100kph for the short run to Marysville. This was a good chance to lean into a few of the corners and see how good the “sports” side of the sports-tourer really was.
I stayed in Marysville about 15 years ago for a weekend and hadn’t been back there until now. It was a scene of devastation. (See the photo on the left). It was like something you see in the movies.
The Tower Motel was there, and the bakery near FJ Barton Bridge was still there, but everything else had gone. I parked right beside the bridge (photo below left) and had a break for 30 minutes.
I removed a jumper, as it was warming up, and took a couple of pics. Soon it was time to leave and head toward Lake Mountain and the Reefton spur.
About half way up to Lake Mountain I stopped and took a couple more pictures.
As far as the eye could see had been burnt. You can see this in the photo at the bottom left. The photo at the top of the page was also taken in this area.
Another thing I noticed was the smell. For most of the trip the air had been fresh and crisp and had that fresh forestry type smell, even in the areas affected by the fires. But at this particular spot it smelt like a well burnt camp fire.
The roads leading to the Reefton Spur were in quite good condition, apart from the odd bit of re-surfacing and road works, but this only accounted for 2% of the trip.
The Reefton Spur was all but devoid of traffic. I only saw two cars and a Ducati rider – who was going a fair bit quicker than I was!
Along here, 4th gear was the order of the day. It was the perfect gear that allowed me to slow enough to get around corners safely and speed up enough in the straights. The torque of this bike is fantastic (have I said that already?). Finally, on this road, a chance to wear some rubber of the sides of the tyres!
I had a toilet stop in Warburton, then cut back across to Healesville and had a late Lunch. From here I decided to head for home, heading back to Toolangi via Myers Creek Road, which is quite a good bit of road. I would probably go this way next time rather than go via Chum Creek.
I rode back through Kinglake, Flowerdale, Strath Creek, Broadford, got fuel at Kilmore, then on to Lancefield, Carlsruhe, and onto the freeway back to Bendigo.
All I can say about the ride home is that the day was perfect – no wind, sunny skies, 24 degrees; perfect for riding! I was in a state of euphoria! Having ridden in perfect weather on a great bike and on great roads, what more could one ask for?
So how did the Bandit perform?
The Bandit was able to carry my small amount of luggage with ease. I didn’t have panniers or a Ventura rack; all I had was the pillion seat, some ocky-straps and a slightly modified tank bag. There were plenty of tie-down points to ensure the luggage didn’t wander and there was still plenty of room to sit without interference from said luggage.
The Bandit’s fuel economy was fairly consistent; returning between 19.5km per litre and 21km per litre; the lower figure being the travel through the hills.
The cornering ability of the Bandit was good. It was not difficult to throw into corners, although you couldn’t ride it as quickly as you could the ZX6R (my previous bike). Through the tight stuff the ZX6R used to fall into corners quickly and could change direction just as quickly, which is what you would expect from a light-weight sports-bike. The Bandit was by no means sloppy; as far as my ability goes it did everything I asked of it and almost certainly would have done more.
The seating position is quite good, not leaning too far forward to the bars as well as not sitting fully upright either. For my height (5’10”) the foot-pegs are ideally placed. Maybe if your legs were a little longer you may become a little cramped on extended rides.
One thing I did notice when I got home was that at some stage my cordura pants had touched the exhaust pipe just before it enters the muffler, as there was some of my pants still left on the link pipe. I thought when I purchased the bike that the exhaust was very close to the foot peg but after riding more than 3000km and not having a problem it never really entered my mind until now.
All of the instruments are easy to read all of the time (analogue tacho and digital speedo), never having trouble with reflection or sun glare. Although I did find myself constantly checking my speed to ensure I didn’t stray outside the speed limits.
Have I mentioned how much I like the torque on this bike? Peak torque occurs at 3700rpm. When cruising at 110kph you are sitting on 3600rpm, so overtaking is a breeze with no need to change down a gear – just twist the throttle and go.
As I mentioned earlier, the only real gripe I have is that I got a sore backside. I believe the seat to be too hard and a little to narrow at the front; so I may need to invest in a sheep-skin cover or perhaps an AirHawk.
Overall I am very happy with the performance of the Suzuki and even though this was only a short overnight trip (800km), I’m sure there will be plenty more to come.
Thanks for the story, Tony. The photos and description of the devastation caused by the fires is very moving. It’s also great to see Tony enjoying the new bike. (I think he likes it, don't you reckon?). A very different beast from his previous ride, but enjoying it very much.
Maybe it’s fitting to end with another excerpt from the poem by Bob Williams.
With compassion and love from the heart,
May the slow process of healing start.
No one knows what the future may bring,
Belief and understanding, the main thing.
Through adversity, Aussie spirit comes to light.
It's our tradition, our nation's might.
Click here to return to the front page. Click your BACK button to return to previous page.