Riding with Superstars


BMW invited Cycle Torque along for a GS adventure tour with Troy Corser and Leon Haslam…

“I HAD to stick the engine in the ground, you know, for the extra brakes.” Troy Corser’s sense of humour extends to describing his minor crash – which really was more of a walking pace topple over by the time it happened – was a reflection of the non-stop good-natured sledging between the journos, racers and BMW staff during a two day Adventure tour right after the opening Superbike World Championship round at Phillip Island recently. “I got to push a little bit in the muddy off road sections and found the limit of the braking, had to try to pull it up pretty fast in one of the hairpins, had to lay it down on its side. I just picked it up, it was all good, I loved it,” Corser told me, referring to both the bike – he spent most of his time on an R 1200 GS Adventure – and the ride. BMW’s Miles Davis organised the ride, made possible by the four-week gap between the first two rounds of the championship and both Corser and his new team-mate Leon Haslam’s passion for riding off-road. Davis, who rode his personal GS Adventure, plotted a challenging dirt and bitumen road adventure ride through Victoria’s high country.

We left Phillip Island the morning after the SWC races and made our way to Mount Baw Baw for lunch, riding through thick fog and drizzle on the way – a far cry from the hot and dusty February weather I’d been expecting. The weather forced some slight tweaks to the route, as muddy clay and road-biased dual purpose tyres on many of the bikes weren’t really up to the task of multiple creek crossings and steep conditions, but the route was still challenging and lots of fun.

Spectacular scenery and awesome roads – both sealed and dirt – were making the trip a whole lot of fun. Haslam rode the 1200 Adventure and F 800 GS, which he preferred. “The smaller, lighter bike was a bit easier to flick around, a little bit smother power, it gave me a bit more confidence.” This came down to tyres: the F 800 GS was wearing the more dirt-oriented knobbies. On the bitumen, however, Haslam wasn’t fussed – he ripped a hole in his BMW pants knee scraping, on knobbies. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t photographed the evidence.

He was blown away by the countryside. “It’s unbelievable, setting off from Phillip Island in gorgeous sunshine, heading up to a ski slope then going through lakes and rivers and creeks… it’s just fantastic. You never get a chance to do that when you’re travelling around so to have a day to just play around and have fun is great.”

It was Haslam’s first ride on the GS BMWs, and he was impressed with the way they handled the different conditions. “It really surprised me, [dual purpose] are sometimes OK on the dirt and not so good on the tarmac, but [the GS machines] seemed to transfer unbelievable. We were passing 1000 superbikes one minute and going through big creeks and gravel and doing pretty good speeds the next. I absolutely loved it. The weather side of things I’m pretty used to it, it’s the weather we get in England with the fog and cold and damp.” I asked Haslam if he was having a problem with his front wheel: he seemed to be having trouble keeping it on the ground. “It’s got a lot of power [the 1200 GS], we were playing around with wheelies and Miles [Davis] and Troy [Corser] have the wheelies, so we had to keep up with them, it was great. To be able to do great wheelies, put it on your knee, then you’d be on the gravel sliding around, that’s what’s fun. To be able to get out in the countryside and just chill it’s not often I get the chance to do that, especially in a country I don’t know so well, it’s even more fun.”

His major plan for day two’s riding was to not crash. “I want to ‘Stop On’ today,” he told me, using an English colloquialism I’d never heard before. “Stop on the bike, as in don’t crash, it’s an English term. Yesterday I scared myself a few times but I had a ball, absolutely loved it.” His plan – which he succeeded at – was to “try a few different types of bikes, try the knobbies, get it lose, do some wheelies and have a bit of fun. “A bit of off roading on a bike of this size [1200 GS] is quite exciting, because the limits are a lot earlier [than on the road].” From Mt Baw Baw we headed north, hitting the dirt roads built for the logging trucks which carry huge trees out of the forests north-east of Melbourne. It was here I saw first-hand the reactions and skills of a world-class racer, as Haslam, coming up on my right to overtake as we entered a right-hand bend, got the shock of our lives when a log truck appeared taking up the bulk of the road. I dived to the left and was never in any real danger. Haslam, looking for the best way out, went right, into the spoon drain beside the truck, where he rode the 800 GS like it was an enduro bike and popped out back onto the road behind the 18-wheeler. The truckie wasn’t impressed but I was. Haslam also has a penchant for locking his rear tyre – maybe he likes the smell of burning rubber. I don’t know how many times he left long black lines on the tarmac, but I’m glad I don’t have his tyre bill.

Given we were spending so much time on the dirt Haslam had turned off the ABS, but he usually rides on the road with it switched on. “ABS, electronics, all that sort of stuff is unbelievable for a road bike, because it’s about safety and we race to provide a better, safer bike for the public. That’s why BMW pay us money. It’s not to win races, it’s to sell their product and when we’re doing development of ABS I think it’s fantastic, because I wouldn’t ride a bike on the road without ABS. Situations you can be put in on the road… you need as many safety aids as possible.”

Corser, however, didn’t run the ABS, because he preferred the feel of the GS without traction control and ABS. Corser has done heaps of off road riding, but not so much on Adventure bikes, especially off road. “It was great being off road on knobby tyres, on road on knobby tyres was a bit exciting at times, but it’s been really good. “I like to ride bikes with full power, as you used to ride bikes. It gives good feel through the brakes and throttle. I did try different settings at different times and to be honest I just don’t feel comfortable riding with it.” Corser was comfortable on the GS Adventure and didn’t want to downsize. “Once I get on something like that I like to stick on the one bike. I get used to what it does and I can start playing around and having some fun. I’m pretty comfy on the big bike. I just enjoy riding that size of bike.” Corser was enthusiastic about the terrain. “It’s fantastic. It’s a part of the country I’ve never seen before. My father used to come down here many years ago and ride up through these trails and creeks. I’ve always wanted to, it’s beautiful. We’ve had a bit of rainfall so all the rivers are running pretty high and everything’s pretty green. “A little bit of rain is always good on a ride, it’s better than being dusty and hot. We’ve got all the right gear, the BMW boots and jackets work pretty well actually, so I didn’t get cold at all.”

The wet conditions made travel a little slower than planned, so it was a little later than expected by the time we arrived at Jamieson, a small town near the huge Lake Eildon. Although the group comprised working professional motorcyclists, you’d have been hard-pressed to tell the difference between us and any other group of riders at the pub at the end of a great days’ riding – stories of near misses abound, discussions about who did the biggest wheelie, talk of the fantastic scenery, terrain and roads. Then Haslam started with his card tricks while Davis taught us Canadian rules at the Pool table, Corser chatted to the locals, alcohol was consumed and (I’m sure) lies were told. I suppose the MXTV camera and iPhone recording conversations may have been a bit unusual, but they are an essential part of our tools.

The next day was one of incredible riding. Davis took us just a few kilometres to the lookout over Lake Eildon, a massive storage reservoir of fresh water, before we sampled the now fully sealed bitumen road around the dam. This road feels like a never-ending series of switchbacks with barely a straight to be found between them. For corner after corner I was waiting for the road to open up, but it never did… simply awesome. It was on this road Haslam got his knee down – riding an adventure bike equipped with knobbies. Anyone who tells you they don’t grip is wrong… Before we made the town of Eildon we turned of the bitumen and were back on the footpegs as we headed into the bush and down to a fast-flowing creek for a break and some photos before taking in the rocky roads and forests toward Marysville, one of the towns which suffered greatly in the bushfires of 2009 for lunch. If you’re in town, check out the photo and video tribute display, which will hopefully become part of a permanent museum depicting the tragedy which was those awful bushfires. For us the eerie sights and smells of blackened trees surrounded by fog and mist gave the area an aura I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. I couldn’t capture with a camera the scent of the burnt trees, but I wished I could. We skipped the police-infested roads of the Reefton and Black Spur and headed back onto the dirt for the ride to Warburton and the Meccanica Cafe.

This motorcycle-themed coffee shop treated us to friendly service, enthusiastic riders and some great shots of Corser on a vintage Manchurian Special restored a few years ago. We were headed toward Melbourne by now, through giant forests and along flowing rivers. It was here somewhere Corser had his moment, charging into a corner a bit to hot… A bit later a journo would go down too, sliding out on wet clay. That there were only two minor slips surprises me somehow: the speeds, especially off road, were high. It all wound up at BMW’s Melbourne HQ, where we packed up and headed our separate ways – the racers had a few more days before heading to Europe and the journos headed for home. I’ve been on many a bike launch, many an Adventure ride. This one, however, was pretty special, taking in many places I’d never been, riding with guys I could learn a lot from, at speeds which could take the breath away. When can I do it again?