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Overlanding Down Under: An Adventure Motorcycle Trip Across Australia

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By ACLIM8 co-founder, Yaniv Bar


Twenty years ago, my friend Nir entered my office with exciting news, he was issued his motorcycle license. Even though I had stopped riding after an accident that almost took my life, I was filled with longing. Though I don't remember which of us said the words, "Let's do a motorcycle trip around Australia," I do remember that we found ourselves in Australia just a few weeks later. Equipped with helmets, coats, camping gear, tools*, and a map, we set off. 

 

* I had no way of knowing, at the time, just how much this adventure motorcycle trip would influence my perspective on ADV gear and overlanding gear—and outdoor gear in general. Versatile, reliable gear was everything in Australia. My experience on the trip would ultimately help inform the launch of ACLIM8 and the engineering of the COMBAR.

 

Finding Our ADV Bikes. 

We started our journey in Brisbane, a large city on the east coast of Australia. From the airport, we went straight to the hostel, left the bags in the room, and continued to the spot we were told we could find second-hand motorcycles for sale. A few hours later, I was a proud owner of a Yamaha Tenere 660 cc, and Nir, a Kawasaki KLR 650 cc.


First Stop, Fraser Island. 

adjusting our loadout on the adv motorcycles
(Image 1)

 

En route to our first destination, we had encountered a challenge—tying all our motorcycle equipment safely. Every few miles, we found ourselves stopping to tighten gear on the rear end of the motorcycle (see image 1). Unfortunately, the motorcycles weren't equipped with mission-specific bags, and we both had a large duffel with all our equipment inside. We quickly realized we needed an elastic mesh for our duffels to find their natural shape on the motorcycle. Once we had that sorted, we were able to continue on our way.

 

riding the ferry to fraser island
(Image 2)

 

Eventually, with our gear spilling over the rear ends of our bikes, we reached Fraser Island and found what can only be described as an off-road paradise. The island is solely reachable by a ferry from Harvey Bay (see image 2). On the ferry, we noticed we were the only two motorcycles. Everyone else? Heavily equipped four-wheel-drives. 


We noticed that the drivers of the 4x4’s had significantly reduced their tire pressure. "Why so low?" I asked one of them in regards to his tires. He advised us that almost all the island's roads were sand—adding a "You're brave." as he pointed to our motorcycles. 


Nir, who had never ridden a motorcycle before this trip, looked at me and laughed. "We won't need to let any air out. Everything will be fine," he said. It was, in fact, not fine.


I'm not sure what it's like today, but in those days, the only paved road on that island was a strip of asphalt, no more than 100 meters in length. All of the other roads, sand and dirt. If you're unfamiliar with sand roads, let me tell you, they are a nightmare—especially on a motorcycle.


Having taken the advice of my fellow passengers, I lowered my tire pressure and departed the ferry first, standing to maintain stability. Nir followed swiftly. 


But as soon as his wheels met the first patch of sand, he lost control and overturned his motorcycle. At that point, he had no other option but to swallow his pride and reduce his air pressure. It was the first of many lessons the road would teach us.


Even with the reduced tire pressure, a few hundred meters later, he lost control again. This time it was more severe, and he took a solid blow to the knee. After he dusted off and uprighted his motorcycle, we went on our way. Even I, a more experienced rider, was not exempt from the sand's powerful pull. I also fell a few times, quickly realizing that this island would not be as straightforward as I’d once thought. 


Check Engine.

Further down the road, Nir's engine light went on, indicating a high temperature. We knew it wasn't good. On Fraser Island, far from an auto shop, engine failure would mean the end of the road for us both.

dealing with mechanical issues while adving in australia
(Image 3)

As evening fell, we knew we needed to find legal camping, away from the dangerous wild dingos (see image 3). So we persisted—riding, stopping, riding, stopping—careful not to warm the engine too much. Finally, we reached the camping area (see image 4), and after settling in, we got to work.

campsite while adving in australia
(Image 4)

When we finally had a chance to take a closer look at his bike, we realized that the culprit was an airflow propeller stuck inside the frame due to one of the falls (see image 5). We took out our tools, disassembled the damaged parts, straightened the contorted propeller with a hammer*, and cut the tip of the propeller blade that had collided with the ring. After we glued the propeller back to the electric motor shaft with epoxy, we reassembled everything and started the motorcycle.

 

* We borrowed the hammer from a nice Toyota owner. Otherwise we would have been stuck using a rock or wood stick. Today, I'd reach immediately for the hammer on the COMBAR. 

 

fixing our adventure motorycle on Fraser Island, Australia
(Image 5)

We waited nervously, hoping we wouldn't see the warning light flash again. It didn't. We rejoiced in our triumph and slept like stones that night in what would prove to be a dingo-free camp. 

 

Road Rules: ADV Lessons Learned the Hard Way.

Road Rule #1:

The first lesson our “check engine” issue taught us is modesty. Off-roading can be very dangerous, even more so on a motorcycle. Stay humble, stay safe, and respect the road. 

Road Rule #2:

The second is that you must take, at minimum, the necessary tools you might need on the road. You never know when they might save you. 

Road Rule #3:

And last but not least, maintain optimism. There is always a way out—you just need to find it.


After we fixed Nir’s airflow prop, the ride was generally smooth, until we found ourselves on the side of a shoreline cliff. Also working against us—the tide. Inching closer and closer, the road grew more narrow by the minute. As we tried to move away from the water line, the ride became difficult. The road was covered in sand, causing our motorcycle's wheels to spin—resulting in quite a few falls. After one fall in particular, Nir's motorcycle wouldn't start. There appeared to be a malfunction in the electrical system. The tide continued to move towards us, narrowing our perch the cliff's edge. 


In the nick of time, a Suzuki Samurai passed by, and the person behind the wheel was kind enough to tow Nir's motorcycle further up the shore. Once we reached safety, we got to work on the bike. We humbly unpacked our tools and tried to maintain optimism.


While diagnosing the malfunction, I recalled a similar situation from a few years back, where the fuse in my bike’s ignition system burned out. We didn't have replacement fuses. So we improvised and replaced the burned one with the horn fuse. We tried it on Nir's bike, and as luck would have it, it worked! 

adventure motorcycle riding on the Australian coast
(Image 6)

We spent three days on Fraser Island, a true paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. It had hiking, fishing, and plenty of overlanding (see image 6). The ride was fun, and the scenery spectacular. It was arguably the most challenging part of the trip. Everything that came after was easy by comparison. But the trials we went through on Fraser are what made it easier—we had our riding legs under us, we’d gotten (very) familiar with the inner workings of our bikes, and we’d begun to internalize the lessons of the road. 


What’s the expression? Oh yes: "It's all downhill from here." 


The Rhythm of the Journey.

waiting for the sheep to cross on an Australian highway
(Image 7)

We established something like a ritual in the days that followed. Wake up in the morning, open the map, decide on the next destination, and start riding—each day, trying to get off the main roads and onto some dirt to enjoy Australia's stunning nature (see image 7)

adventure motorcycle riding in blue mountains national park australia
(Image 8)

For about six weeks, we drove to national parks, like the Blue Mountains (see image 8), being sure to incorporate hiking trails that looked interesting. Sometimes we stayed in a campground, sometimes we took shelter in a nearby hostel.  

 

The Kind of Gesture You Never Forget.

Australians are amazing people—happy, friendly, and always happy to lend a hand. I remember one particular time, my motorcycle's kickstand had broken, and for a few days, I had to lean the motorcycle on a nearby pole or wall any time I wanted to get off*. It's safe to say, this was not an ideal solution. As soon as we could track down a locksmith, we asked if he would help us repair the kickstand. The man we approached was very busy and could have easily waved us off, instead, he dropped everything, disassembled the leg, and welded the broken piece. After he finished, he refused to accept payment. "You are guests here," he told us.

 

* I couldn't always find a place to lean my bike. If I'd had a COMBAR, I could have used this lesser known hack: deploy the spade 180 degrees and stock it in the ground as an impromptu kickstand.

 

From time to time, we were lucky enough to stay for a day or two in a village or a town—a respite from riding and a chance to get to know the locals. We relished these chances, as they never failed to reinforce the Aussies’ welcoming ways.

dealing with motorcycle mechanical issues while adving
(Image 9)

Once, when driving an extremely long road, far from a settlement point—heavy rain started pouring. My motorcycle shut down and refused to start up again. We sat out in the rain for hours, helpless, until a local with a pickup passed by. The man offered to help us and loaded our motorcycles into the back of his truck. But his kindness didn't stop there. He offered us a guest cabin on his farm (see image 9). Without hesitation, we took him up on his generous offer and thanked him profusely (see image 10)—just another example of the kindness we were shown by the Australians we met on the road. 

taking refuge at a stranger's farm house
(Image 10)

 

In that particular instance, I discovered that the air filter sponge was soaked—probably why the engine refused to start. But this was just one of many repairs along the way—ceiling repairs, weekly cleanings, chain, brake, clutch cable lubrication, etc., but we were sure to end most days with an ice-cold beer as a reward for our hard work (this helped with Road Rule #3: Maintain Optimism). 


The End of the Road (For Now).

We spent a few days in Sydney (see image 11) and ended our trip in Melbourne, where we sold the motorcycles before returning to Israel to finish our service in the army. Although this wasn't my last motorcycle trip (I did a few seven-day trips in other countries, mainly Europe), Australia was undoubtedly the wildest and most immersive ADV experience.

in front of the sydney opera house
(Image 11)

 

An adventure motorcycle trip, even in a pair, provides you with much alone time while riding. The sounds of wind and engine noise filtered through a helmet become a soundtrack to which you can meditate. I learned a lot about myself on the road. But it's also a physical journey—tiring, challenging, and dangerous. On a motorcycle, one moment of carelessness can cost you your life.  


In Australia I also learned a lot about gear, tools, and the pricelessness of reliable equipment. Gear that serves multiple functions is invaluable. This education-by-ADV helped me realize the need for a rugged, do-it-all multitool and inspired, in part, our design for the COMBAR Pro.


When expeditions like this come to an end, the joy they provide doesn’t. While reminiscing with friends or writing an article like this, the trip lives on. The memory of the journey seems to get sweeter and more nostalgic with age. And the question always lingers, like the smell of clutch cable lubrication on your fingers, “Where to next?”

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Want to learn how the COMBAR Pro can assist you on your next ADV adventure? Check out Why the COMBAR Pro Is an Essential Piece of ADV Gear (Explained by an ADVer).


And check out Overland Expo’s 2022 Ultimate Overlanding Motorcycle Build, which features the COMBAR Pro Titanium as part of its loadout.

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Shop the gear from this article:

COMBAR™ PRO TITANIUM
ADVing multi-tool Overlanding Packing + Prep

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