How to circumnavigate Australia on a Harley-Davidson
Two mates, two Harley-Davidson motorcycles with a spare two weeks … so they did One Hot Lap around the Australian continent.
It was around the bar at the Forrest Beach Hotel, North Queensland, that Maarten “Zuey” Zuhorn first hinted he’d like to ride his Road King around Australia to a few of his mates. That was 18 months ago. He had little idea that, that journey would one day be noted in Australian Motorcycle history.
One of the guys around the bar that night was Marc Storey – Dealer Principal of Suncity Harley-Davidson Townsville who promptly said, “I wouldn’t mind doing that with you Zuey.”
“That’s great but I don’t want to muck around on this trip I want to do at least 1000 kilometers each day as I can only spare a few weeks off work,” Zuey recalled.
“A thousand kilometers a day won’t be a problem,” Marc replied with a smile. “But realistically I think we’ll need cover at least 1500 kilometers to get around Australia in couple of weeks.”
“At that point, I didn’t know what tree I was barking up,” Zuey reminisced. “I didn’t realise that Marc was a seasoned endurance rider and had come second in the gruelling Hoka Hey ride across America in 2009, and third place in 2010. I knew it would be a hard ride, but here I was thinking that we’d do our 1000 kilometres each day then book into motel have a shower, sleep and be up at the crack of dawn and on the road. After all, how hard could that be?”
Coastline of the Continent
A few months later, back in Townsville the pair set about planning their trip in earnest. They’d sketched out a rough route and were estimating how far they’d get each day. Their plan was to follow the coastline of the continent as close as possible.
“It quickly became apparent that we would have to camp by our bikes if we were to achieve the distances we’d hoped each day,” Marc revealed. “That’s what I had to do when I rode the ‘Hoka Hey’ in 2009 and 2010. Although, we set ourselves one rule,” Marc added. “We had to do it at the legal speed limit.”
“Sticking to the legal speed limit was important for a number of reasons apart from the safety aspect and the fact neither of us could afford to lose our licenses endurance riding is all about being consistent and keeping the wheels turning,” Marc explained. “We needed to conserve our fuel economy on the long remote stretches across the top end, preserve our tyres and of course manage our fatigue.”
“We also wanted to visit every state,” Zuey added. “This proved to be a bit more of a logistical challenge than we first envisaged, as we had to coordinate our schedule to catch the ferry to Tasmania in Melbourne.”
Over the next few months the preparations continued and the pair fitted H-D LED Daymaker headlights to their bikes along with additional driving lights. They also invested in the Scala-Rider bike-to-bike intercom, which also allowed them to use their IPods and phones via the Bluetooth connection.
Marc is a big fan of fuel tank bags. He covered the tank of his new Electra Glide with contact adhesive to ensure the magnetic strips that secure the bag to the tank didn’t scratch the tank. Then he removed the locking console cover so he could fill his ride quickly.
The week before they were about to set off the bikes were given a fresh fill of Screamin’ Eagle SYN3 throughout, which if everything went well would get them the all the way around country. Siting on each of their pillion seats was 10-litre plastic jerry can for additional fuel on the long night stretches.
The pair decided that they would start each day at one minute past midnight and it would conclude at the following midnight. So, a little before midnight on Saturday the 19th of February a small group of well-wishers gathered at Suncity Harley-Davidson Townsville to cheer Marc and Zuey on their ‘One Hot Lap’ journey around Australia.
Day One – Townsville to the NT Border 1770 km:
12.01am ‘One Hot Lap’ begins. Marc and Zuey head north up the Bruce Highway towards Ingham; it was a cloudless sky with good visibility. Their journal entry noted that the road was quite all the way on the four-hour run to Cairns and their first fuel stop and also that they loved the new LED Daymaker headlights!
Road to Georgetown!! Good to see our taxes at work
By mid morning they pulled into the Travellers Rest at Georgetown after clocking 770kms. They noted the bikes are running perfect although the piercing sun was taking its toll on their hydration.
A little after midday Zuey called a lunch break at Croydon, then it was off to Normanton to check out the big croc which is an exact size replica of one caught in the area some years back. So far they’d travelled 1081 km.
It was still stifling hot as they turned south towards Cloncurry, as darkness fell it finally cooled a little and the hour and a half run to Mt Isa was much more pleasant.
“We made it to the NT border sign and took a photo then collapsed beside our bikes,” Zuey said. “I was exhausted, I’d had hardy slept the night before.”
Day Two – NT Boarder to Darwin 1705 km:
With only four hours sleep Marc and Zuey rolled up their bedrolls, climbed on their bikes and headed west towards the Barkly Homestead. They arrived there a little before six and pulled up next to the fuel bowser. They had to wait an hour before it opened.
“Marc pulled up beside the petrol bowser, had his bedroll out next to his bike and was asleep before I had taken off my helmet,” Zuey said. “I ended up talking these guys heading to the Gulf on a fishing trip. In hindsight I probably should have grabbed a few minutes sleep as well.”
With full tanks of fuel – incidentally fuel was $2.09/lit yet back on the coast fuel is $1.42/lit – they took a right turn up the Tablelands Highway for the 386 km trek to Cape Crawford and the infamous Heartbreak Hotel. Their journal notes from Cape Crawford; Just 280 km to Daly Waters and we can get back on a proper road. As predicted it is hot, damn hot, with a copious amount of road-kill to avoid, the boringly straight and bumpy road makes this an unpleasant Sunday ride. Nevertheless their spirits were still good.
“Oh well, thankfully it wasn’t raining and the good road is coming so can’t complain,” Marc sighed.
“We made Daly Waters at last!” Zuey said, “We’d travelled 902 km so far today, and still had 700 km to go.
“On the last stretch of road a new hazard appeared-traffic,” Marc added. “Road trains, grey nomads and fisherman. We spent more time pulling off the road to avoid a shower of stones than riding the skinny black top. Nevertheless Zuey still copped one decent shower of stones and red dirt.”
The run from Daly Waters to Pine Creek on the good road was appreciated, as darkness loomed fatigue was starting to take its toll. Their journal entry; Unfortunately we will be riding through Kakadu National Park tonight. The roaming animals will have our speed down. Darwin is still the target before midnight.
At Jabiru they fuelled then grabbed a couple of hours sleep before heading towards Darwin.
“Unfortunately, we fell short of our target by 25 minutes,” Marc said. “We passed through Humpty Doo at midnight having clocked 1705 km for the day.”
Day Three – Darwin to Broome 1836 km:
“We found an appropriate photo opportunity in front the NT Motorcycle Centre however we didn’t think our mate Garth the owner would appreciate a call at 1am,” Marc smiled.
“It was a mild evening, we felt good and we pushed on towards Katherine,” Zuey informed. “Even though we were making good time, we weren’t in sync, by this I mean when I was totally exhausted Marc was still keen to push on and visa versa. Along with that it probably didn’t help that I didn’t sleep the night before we left. However by the time we made it to Katherine we had a few words – we were both pretty tired – I said to Marc I have to have a sleep.”
“After that decent sleep we got into a routine and had strategic breaks, similar to long distance truck drivers,” Zuey continued. “We rode from midnight through to about 3am then slept till 6am when the sun was up. During the day we’d ride a few hours then have a short break and continue this till around seven at night when we’d have an hour’s sleep before riding through to around 11 before having another break.”
Their journal entry read; it’s been a good start to Day 3. Hit the WA border at 10.24am (WA time). Have travelled 832 kms since leaving Darwin in the early hours. The Kimberly’s sun is a scorcher, at present we’re resting in a cool spot at Kununurra and summoning the courage to get back out there.
By 4pm (WA time) they’d made Halls Creek and where they sheltered in the shade of a huge Boab tree for half an hour. However, it was when they stripped down and got under garden hose that they finally got some relief.
It was 7.40pm (WA Time) when they rolled into Fitzroy Crossing, and they wanted to make the most of the cool night air so they pushed on. Broome was still four hours away.
“We had a nap at Fitzroy Crossing and had to run about 10 kph below the speed limit to give wildlife a chance which meant we didn’t quite make Broome before midnight,” Marc said. “We fell 97km short, but still managed 1836 km for the day which is our best yet. The trip is now 5409 km according to Electra Glide odometer.”
Day Four – Broome to Canarvon 1621 km:
“After we went through Broome we hit this blanket of fog which was that thick we couldn’t see,” Zuey explained. “It was that thick it was like rain, so we pulled up rolled out our bedrolls and slept till daylight.”
Today was Marc’s birthday and its one he won’t forget for sometime. The nice roads through the wide-open spaces in the Kimberly’s made for a pleasant day’s ride. They pushed on through the heart of the iron ore export hub at Port Hedland heading south.
“Talking to each other over the bike-to-bike Scarla Riders was a big deal, Zuey explained. Just being able to communicate and chat helped us more than just pass the miles especially through the top and down the west coast, it was instrumental in helping manage our fatigue.”
It was late in the afternoon when they finally pulled into the Minilya Roadhouse, where they fuelled the bikes and had their first shower for the trip.
“As we’d been in and out of bags over the past few days we made a bit of time to clean and tidy up our gear,” Marc added. “But that shower certainly revitalised us. We’d still had a lot of heat and intense sun today. We’re south of the Tropic of Capricorn so the weather should be kinder to us now.”
“We made Canarvon by the end of day four,” Zuey said. “Another 1355 km.”
Day Five – Carnarvon to Albany 1355 km:
“When I saw Marc’s simple foam bedroll, it made me feel that I’d over packed,” Zuey revealed. “However the night we camped near the ocean at Canarvon I was more than grateful I’d packed my fly screen. The mosquitos were incredible. We woke early and made good use of the cool morning air. The riding was sensational, even the freshness of the dawn air was invigorating, there was just us, our bikes and the long open road.”
“One of the best investments we made was the installation of LED Daymaker headlights, they are fantastic and really helped keep us moving at night,” Zuey admitted. Last night we encountered roos, sheep, goats, rabbits and cats. “Thank god for those headlights.”
They had a good run through Perth, but discovered that Zuey needed a new rear tyre. “Admittedly there was a little bit of tread left on it,” Zuey explained, “But not enough to get all the way to Tasmania where we’d scheduled a maintenance day for that sort of thing. So we dropped into Southwest Harley-Davidson, Bunbury, and had a new one fitted”
It was well after dark when we arrived at the tiny town of Denmark and took the opportunity to fuel our bikes. Zuey grabbed his camp stove and cooked up a ‘Gourmet’ feed on the lawn in front of the local tyre store.
“We pushed on for another hour however this thick fog rolled in near Albany and reduced our visibility to zero,” Marc said. “It was freezing too, definitely no place for a north Queenslander, needless to say it really wasn’t a hard decision to call it quits for the night.”
Day Six – Albany to Nullarbor 1435 km:
They rose early and in the brisk morning air that whipped up from the depths of the Indian Ocean they headed east towards Esperance. As the sun rose so to did the fog. Marc’s Ipod failed, but thankfully Zuey had a spare his daughter had given him.
From the bottom of Australia at Esperance they headed north towards Norseman, but not before paying their respects to our Diggers, as it was ANCAC Day after all. The sun was out and with virtually minimal breeze it made the two-hour run towards the right hand turn on the Nullarbor a great ride.
The good times were short lived, Zuey’s bike had lost power. Under the shade of the huge sign at the junction of the highway 94 and highway 1 they set about finding the problem. Thankfully it didn’t take long to find the problematic wire and the Road King was firing once more.
“I’d seen Marc eating chips from his tank bag as we were cruising along,” Zuey recalled. “Back in Esperance I’d purchased a pack of salt and vinegar chips remembering how Marc had been enjoying his snack on the long straight stretches. An hour or so out on the Nullarbor I thought I’d open my chips. The pack wasn’t even fully opened when the chips just flew out of the bag in a steady stream. It goes to show that windscreen’s do have a few advantages.”
“Even though the highway across the Nullarbor is all bitumen these days, it is still a long lonely stretch of road,” Marc said. “We didn’t encounter any problems, however we did spare a thought for some of those riders who’d ridden around Australia back when the road was barely more than two wheel tracks carved through the sand.”
Day Seven – Nullarbor to Kingston 1540 km:
Their journal entry read; It was surprising how cold it was during our rest last night and this continued into the morning.
“Our first fuel stop did not go so well as we waited 30 minutes for the store attendant to try and get his computer for the pumps working,” Marc recalled. “In frustration of the time we were losing we just squeezed every drop out of the plastic jerry cans and limped out slowly towards the next station. We were pretty much running on vapour. But thankfully, we just made it.”
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, the South Australian scenery and gentle rolling hills as they cruised on to Port Augusta created an enjoyable ride. Zuey recollected how a guy in Port Augusta still owed him money, nevertheless it was decided there was not enough time to play Debt Collector, so off and on through Adelaide they rolled with a full moon rising to setup a clear and comfortable ride into the night.
A roadside stop just out of Kingston provided our resting ground for tonight, and their thoughts turned towards tomorrow night on the ferry. A few beers, a steak and comfortable mattress were an appealing prospect
Day Eight – Kingston to Spirit of Tasmania Ferry Melbourne 679 km:
“With Mt Gambier dialled in as our breakfast stop we calculated we had time today to sit down at a café for breakfast,” Marc smiled. “Subsequently, after a quick deviation to check out the Blue Lake in an old crater we sat down to eat for the first time since leaving Townsville. Man it was good.”
For the rest of the day a wind blew in from the north west which created some interesting cross winds and some dust issues. Although once they turned right onto the Great Ocean Road all of that was forgotten with the prospect of riding along one of the most popular and scenic roads in Australia.
“The Great Ocean Road did not disappoint,” Zuey recalled. “With a clear blue sky above we had a relaxing ride even though we were among the other tourists which made the road quite a busy.”
“What can I say, the sight of that Ferry at Port Melbourne, then tying the bike down before getting a beer in our hands felt like we had really achieved something, Marc added. “However, we knew there was more to come.”
Day Nine – Devonport to Scottsdale 857 km:
6.25am, Marc and Zuey rode down the ramp and off the Spirit of Tasmania in Devonport. The air had a brisk bite to it. Thankfully they were at the front of the queue and cleared Tasmanian customs quickly. Ten minutes after arriving they were heading west towards Burnie where they’d planned to stop for fuel and breakfast.
From Burnie they headed south towards Zeehan then on into Strahan before turning east to Queenstown. Their journal entry read: Tasmania lives up to all of its promise of natural beauty, but unfortunately also the cold and wet. But I guess you have to take the good with the bad.
From the old copper mining town of Queenstown the road winds its way up into the mountains and the 87 km run up the Lyell Highway through to Derwent Bridge is known as the road with 99 bends.
“The scenery is beautiful and roads are great,” Marc smiled. “Even though the air was cool we were more than comfortable in our full wet weather riding gear, in parts it reminds me of picturesque North Wisconsin.”
It was close to midday when they stopped in the quaint village of Ouse where they rested for half an hour. Then they pushed on through Hobart and took a left turn over the spectacular Tasman Bridge crossing the Derwent River and the run up the east coast to St Helens.
“By the time we got to St Helens it was dark,” Marc recalled. “We were booked into our mate Shanksie’s place, he’d promised us a big home cooked Tasmanian feed and offered us his shed to park our bikes so we could maintain our rule of sleeping by our bikes. I rang him and said we were leaving and he said he’d see us in an hour and half.”
An hour and half later the two LED Daymaker headlights lit up the deserted main street of Scottsdale. Sure enough Shanksie was waiting where he’d said to guide the two riders to his place.
That’s when disaster struck. Roughly one hundred yards from his place Zuey’s Road King stopped. The engine would wind over but it wouldn’t start. It was too dark and far too cold so muck around outside, so they all pushed the bike back to his shed. For the next few hours they checked over the bike searching for a loose or broken wire, by midnight they made the decision to load the Road King onto Shanksie’s ute and take it to Richardson’s H-D in the morning. Meantime Shanksie offered Zuey his trusty old FXR to continue the ride the next morning.
Day Ten – Scottsdale to Devonport 188 km:
A little before seven after a great night’s sleep and piping hot coffee the trio headed into Launceston. Richardson’s service manager Michael Knight had agreed to meet them a little before opening time to make an early start on Zuey’s bike as they had a to be back on the boat that evening.
With Zuey’s bike in good hands, Shanksie took the North Queenslanders into Launceston’s CBD to do the tourist thing for few hours.
“Tasmania is spectacular place,” Marc mused. “I’d love to come back with my wife Kerry and spend more time absorbing the beauty of this island.”
“Yes I’d like to come back with Deb my wife as well,” Zuey added.
A few hours later back at Richardson’s H-D, Michael found Marc and Zuey perusing their upstairs motorcycle museum. The news wasn’t good. In his hand he held a chewed up crank position sensor. “We found a lot of metal in the oil when we drained it out,” Michael explained.
Zuey was shattered. No one spoke for a long time. His dream ride around the continent had all but ended. Due to the tight schedule with the boat and other work commitments, the decision was made to freight Zuey’s bike back to Townsville. Meanwhile after a few phone calls, Marc had secured an Electra Glide for Zuey to continue the journey. The only thing was, it was in located in Sale, two and half hours east of Melbourne.
Day Eleven – Port Melbourne to Nowra 1370 km:
The ‘Spirit of Tasmania’ arrived on time and it was still dark when Zuey climbed on the back Marc’s Electra Glide for the run to Sale. This time of the day getting out of Melbourne was a breeze.
At Sale a few hours later, Zuey was all smiles as he threw his leg over the Electra Glide and they pushed on northward.
“I really noticed the added protection of the windscreen,” Zuey volunteered when asked his first impression of the Electra Glide.
At Merimbula, they decided to drop into Zuey’s parents for a quick cuppa and commemorative photo. There was little time to waste as they’d only travelled 582 kms for the day and Townsville was still 2800 kms away. Nevertheless two hours later at Batemans Bay they decided to turn west and ride up over the Mountains and through the ACT.
“It was an exciting idea not only to have circumnavigated the continent but also to have visited every State and Territory,” Zuey explained.
“We estimated it would only add three hours to the trip if we doubled back to Bateman’s Bay,” Marc said. “It didn’t. It took a little longer the Kings Highway from the coast through to Braidwood has a few more, tighter bends and twists than we’d anticipated. Although our biggest concern was encountering fog, but thankfully we didn’t.”
By the end of day eleven they had made Nowra.
Day Twelve – Nowra to Childers 1485 km:
After a short rest at Nowra, they pushed on hoping to get through Sydney in the small hours of the morning and up the Newcastle Expressway well before daylight. In a tiny park on the side of the Princess Highway shortly before the sun came up they climbed from their bikes exhausted, rolled out their bed rolls, laid down and slept to daylight.
“By this stage I’d really gotten use to sleeping with my helmet on,” Zuey said. “I must admit I wasn’t keen at first but it is surprising how much support it gives your neck, when you don’t have a pillow.”
By lunchtime they’d made Coffs Harbour, and noted in their journal, “we hear a cyclone is coming. Does this mean a wet finish for us?”
Five hours later they were making their last border crossing before stopping at Nerang for fuel.
Unfortunately, earlier in the afternoon a truck accident further north on the Bruce Highway had brought all north bound traffic out of Brisbane to a stand still. They lost several hours in the congestion. Thankfully a few friends, Bruce and Maria, met them with refreshments at the Ettamogah pub on the Sunshine Coast which lifted their spirits.
At Gympie an hour or so later their journal read: Too tired to continue, stopped at Gympie for sleep. The traffic today really took its toll on us. The Northern Rivers of NSW and Brisbane section was not fun. The problems we encountered really hurt our schedule. Zuey is struggling with his night vision and it is now apparent we are going to struggle to make midday completion target, but we will keep trying!
Day Thirteen – Childers to Townsville 1097 km:
By midnight they had made Childers. The day was finally over and they’d covered a remarkable 1484 kms even with the setbacks caused by traffic.
It was time for a well-earned rest, albeit a short one, before continuing on to Gin Gin for fuel. The Bruce Highway is currently littered with road works and thankfully on the next leg to Rockhampton they had a great run with little hold ups.
A quick journal note from Rockhampton revealed how the long miles were beginning to take their toll; WOW this is getting extremely hard, just fuelled at Rocky after lying down for a rest near Mt Larcom. Now Marc is struggling. We are determined to finish this by midday but won’t risk ourselves. We may need another rest, but will dig deep and try our best.
By daybreak they’d fuelled at Carmila, with still over five hours riding ahead of them they continued to push onward. Proserpine was the next fuel stop where they’d received news that few friends were riding down to Ayr to meet up with them and ride the last 100 kms into Townsville.
At 1.35pm on Friday March 1st, they rode back into Suncity Harley-Davidson from the south. They had completely circumnavigated the Australian continent and visited every State and Territory in 12 days, 13 hours and 35 minutes on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The trip meter on Marc’s Electra Glide read 16,938 km and his total fuel cost $1937.
Circumnavigating the Australian Continent on Motorcycles (History)
Arthur Grady was the self reliant adventurer who rode a 350 cc Douglas twin from Perth across the top of Australia to Brisbane and back down the east coast capitals during the summer of 1924-25 becoming the first person to circumnavigate the country by motorised transport. Grady’s exploits, a publicity stunt organised by the West Australian Douglas agent Armstrong, achieved worldwide recognition for the reliability of the new chain drive bike.
It took Jack Bowers and Frank Smith seven weeks to ride their FD Harley-Davidson and sidecar around the coast of Australia, a total of 15,000 kms, the quickest circumnavigation of the country up until that point. History records their budget was 60 pounds and they lived on damper and tea.
In the Spring of 1953, Renold Chain engineer, Vern Train and Mike Lockyer rode around Australia on a 1953 500 Speed Twin Triumph and a 1953 500 BSA A7 to test the durability of Renold’s new 0.625 inch pitch “Transmar” chain that was made in their Benalla Factory. Their journey was dubbed “Operation Transmatilda”.
Vern set up the bikes with long-range fuel tanks and extra boxes for the spares, they set off from Melbourne on the 1st of September 1953, with Mike keeping a daily log of adventures, falls and daily miles. They arrived back in Melbourne on the 11th November with over 11,000 miles on their speedo’s. The trial was conducted under the supervision of the Auto Cycle Union of Victoria, and the chains and the bikes were successful in making a complete circuit of the Australian Continent. Conditions for much of the journey were extremely arduous with roads often no more than rocks or loose sand.
In the early 70’s a Californian named Frank Wheeler reportedly set a world record by circumnavigating Australia in 21 days covering 10,000 miles on a Hadaka 125cc dirt bike.
Early in 1974 English motorcycle racer Julian Grant raced around our great southern land for a wager. The bet was that he could not complete the 10,000 mile round Australia trek in less than 22 days, he did it in 19 days and collected the $20,000 winnings. He rode a Honda 750 and during 1975 Honda ran double page adds telling his story.
Later in October 1974, two Americans, Rich Willey – a Kawasaki dealer – and Don Kerr flew into Sydney purchased two brand new 900 cc Z1 Kawasaki bikes. That night in the hotel car park they fitted them with 15-litre auxiliary fuel tanks and tool kits. Early on October 24th a friendly police office signed their logbook and they rode north out of town at 4.15 am. Sixteen days and ten hours later they arrived back in Sydney from the south.
In the summer of 1976 a little known Melbourne rider, Barry Renton rode the same route as Willey and Kerr in 10 days and 10 hours.
Again during October Willey and Kerr returned to Australia and at 12.01 on October 27th headed north out of Sydney. Ten days, seven hours and 54 minutes later Willey rode back into Sydney, setting a new record for the 10,000-mile round Australia distance, Don Kerr was hospitalised in Derby after an accident at Fitzroy Crossing Western Australia.
Sometime during 1982 a police officer, Ross Atkin set what’s been dubbed the last “Official” record for riding a motorcycle around Australia on a Kawasaki Z1300. His time was an incredible six days, 23 hours and 51 minutes.