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BMW F800GS – Last ride…almost

This entry is part 11 of 17 in the series Adventure Rider Issue #20

The Beemer takes the adventure test and passes with flying colours.

The mud dribbled in over the top of my boots as I watched the BMW F800GS continue to sink into the foul-smelling ooze.

I was exhausted. After 20 minutes or so of attempting to lift, drag and secure the bike, I was no better off.

In fact, it was beginning to dawn on me that I was in a fix.

With an obscene flapping, farting noise, the stinking sludge-hole began to inexorably consume more of the bike. The slime was above the bashplate and footpegs and the bike was heading for some deep, deep, subterranean resting place.

I was too rooted to pull my own legs out of the slop, let alone a loaded 800.

I was alone and I was in big trouble.

A good start

Like so many adventures, this one had started with an overwhelming feeling of optimism and pending freedom.

BMW Motorrad had offered a 2016 F800GS for the GS Safari Enduro, and I thought I’d died and gone to adventure-riding heaven.

The event was one of my favourites, so was the destination – The Flinders – and the 800 was my BMW of choice.

I’d listened while other riders had explained to me how I was wrong, and that the 1200 was obviously my favourite BMW, even though I hadn’t realised it yet, but I politely disregarded their advice.

For me, and the riding I enjoy, the 800 is the one. Specifically, I like the F800GSA with it’s larger fuel capacity and other extras, but I’d been surprised at the new GS.

It felt very slim and agile, and it could really carve up on the road.

Unlike a lot of adventure riders, I enjoy a good bitumen strop, so that combined with the bike’s undeniable agility had me wondering whether my preference for the GSA might not be up for review.

It was with a huge sense of joyful anticipation I strapped the luggage on the bike in Adelaide and hit the road, heading for Streaky Bay, about seven hours or so to the northwest.

Scare tactics

Trundling along the A1 highway from Adelaide to my planned overnighter at Port Pirie should’ve been a holiday. No phone. No email. No computer.

Just the South Australian countryside, the bike and me.

I don’t mind a little rain.

That’s part of riding, and I was well set up to deal with it. My luggage and my riding gear were all the type of first-class equipment only bike journalists and Dakar competitors can hope for.

But as I left the city the rain became a little heavier than was comfortable and the temperature plummeted.

All smiles at the start of the GS Safari Enduro in Streaky Bay

That wasn’t so bad, but once I left the shelter of the city the wind was fairly frigging serious.

And it got seriouser.

Travelling across the open plains near Port Arthur and through to Snowtown it was difficult to stay on the road.

Twice the bike was blown across into the right-hand lane and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to stop it heading off the right-hand shoulder. In this case, the right-hand lane was oncoming traffic, so that was a bit hairy. I was lucky the long, dead-straight road was empty both times.

Visibility was poor as the rain continued to dump down, so any time I caught a semi or B-double I judged it best to twist the throttle and fang on past.

Battling the turbulence from the truck and the windblast as I emerged in front of the juggernauts had me wishing I’d worn brown undies.

The final straw came with a moderately spectacular aquaplane. The bike began to slide, the wind grabbed it, and off it went, sideways and in a very big hurry. My sphincter oscillated at an improbable frequency as I held on, wondering where the hell it was all going to end up.

That was enough for me.

I reduced speed, let the trucks go at what-ever pace they thought appropriate, and tippy-wheeled into Port Pirie and a return to a sensible world in a warm, secure motel.

Getting in front of the field was no problem for the 800, especially on the long, straight, corrugated outback roads.

Thick on the ground

The remainder of the run to Streaky Bay was chilly but uneventful. I recovered my composure and once again settled in to enjoy what the bike had to offer – which was plenty. The straight roads meant it couldn’t show the best of its handling, but for a supremely comfortable, mid-weight sight-seer it’s hard to beat.

As Streaky Bay itself approached the BMWs became thick on the ground and I caught up with some familiar faces.

The glow of the GS Safari Enduro began and my eager anticipation mounted.

I had plenty of opportunities to tag up with other groups, but while it’s not easy for people to understand, I had a week or so of work in front of me where I’d have to push the bike and myself to get to photo locations, interviews and ride to hotspots as they happened, so I was very content at my own pace and with my own company before all that started. I rolled into the incredibly beautiful Streaky Bay in the late afternoon. It was cold but sunny, and as the 800 purred its way through town it was one of those times where life seemed about as good as it could possibly be.

The result of some over-enthusiasm in the hard-edged rocks around Arkaroola.

Dodging and weaving

The Safari kicked off and I had numerous occasions to chuckle to myself as the 800 continually showed its colours. It was perfect for the terrain. On the big, long-distance stretches it could sit on ridiculous speeds in total comfort. In the slippery, slimy, wet clay and sand of the first day it was slim and light and smoothed its way through the sometimes difficult going. In the rocks around Arkaroola and Rawnsley Park it was a dancer, and I found myself chuckling as I watched the bigger bikes tackle obstacles the 800 had cleared with-out hesitation. I was even sort of looking forward to having to pick the bike up next to someone struggling to lift a 1200, but in a rare turn of events, the 800 didn’t hit the deck once during the ride.

There were only a few things that caused a minor tickle of conscience.

The first was I didn’t once check the air-filter, let alone clean it. I didn’t do the oil, either. Miles Davis of BMW just kept smiling and saying, “The bike will be fine. It’s made for these service intervals.” It turned out he was right.

The second was the fuel range. I wasn’t caught with an empty tank during the event, but a lot of that was because I did my best to manage fuel consumption.

When we were warned of the long sections I kept the speed down and stayed smooth. I seethed with envy as those on GSAs with the extra fuel capacity scorched past.

And, finally, I put several dings in the front rim.

There’s no real excuse for the last one. I was having a good time, the trails were really rocky and rough in places, and I was in a hurry to stay in front of the field.

If the other BMW riders had truly been as supportive as they seemed, a few of them would’ve dinged their rims too, just to make me feel better.

They didn’t, but.

Arkaroola’s mountain passes were perfect for the 800. It was a pleasure to ride no matter how challenging things became.

When one adventure finishes…

Soon enough I found myself in Broken Hill. The Safari Enduro was finished and the job was done. All that was left was to get home, about 2000km to the east.

And this is where things became a bit how’s-your-father.

Because I was in a hurry to be home after nine days away, I bolted down the Barrier Highway to Wilcannia. The run from Bourke to home is a well-worn track for me and could be all but dismissed.

That meant the only section left to chance was Wilcannia to Bourke. I’d studied the map and I’d spoken to a few people, so I thought it seemed a reasonable run to attempt alone. It’s only about 320km total, and there was fuel at Tilpa (I phoned and checked).

The only decision I had to make was which road to take from Wilcannia. There were two, roughly parallel, running on the eastern and western sides of the Darling River. In fact, the two roads crossed over each other, or very nearly, a few times, so I didn’t expect it would make much difference which one I took.

Still, while I was fuelling the bike in Wilcannia I saw a local hunter, complete with 4WD, dogs in cages and meathooks hanging on rails. He was drinking an iced coffee, believe it or not.

‘Who would know the country better than this guy!’ I thought. ‘Talk about lucky!’

Local knowledge

The youngish hunter answered my query with, “You want the turn down the road a bit. Head that way until you see a sign says ‘Paroo National Park’. It’s a bit rough, but you’ll be right on the bike. That’s the road you want.”

Full of confidence thanks to my local insight, I snicked the mighty Beemer into gear and headed in the direction nominated.
It was a beautiful, warm sunny day, the bike was awesome, and I once again had that feeling life was far better than I deserved it to be.

The turnoff was exactly where it should’ve been, and glad to be finally able to turn the ’bars after the impossibly straight 200km or so of the Barrier Highway, I cracked open the throttle and scooted onto one of the roughest, shittiest, bike-breakingest tracks I’d ridden in a long time.

‘What was that bloke back at the servo thinking?’ I wondered as I crashed and hammered along the rutted rock and through shitful mud wallows.

The 800, to its credit, coped well. It was tough going that demanded good decisions from the rider, a heap of help from suspension and smooth power delivery from the bike.

As I’d swept around the corner onto the track I’d thought I’d glimpsed a ‘road closed’ sign. If I’d been sure, I would never have continued, but I was having a bit of a rush at the thought of hitting the dirt and wasn’t really paying attention.

Plus, that local fella wouldn’t have sent me up there if it was closed, would he?

Of course not.

So I punted on.

Scenes like this make you realise how lucky you are to be on rides like the Safari Enduro.


It was around 55km along this crappy, rock-strewn, mud-gutted road that I was confronted with a sizable puddle. The body of water was just a little wider than the shoulders of the road, and it was perhaps 40m long.

I pulled up and contemplated the situation.

Everything about the puddle screamed ‘deathtrap to the unwary!’ I had no way of knowing the depth, the state of the bottom, or what obstacles may have been under the surface.

The alternatives were to wade in and find out those things, turn around and head back, or ride around the edge.

I could smell the putridness from where I sat on the bike, so I wasn’t keen to wade in if I didn’t have to. Who knew how many different strains of ebola were festering away in there?

It was 55km back to Wilcannia along that poxy track, and I wasn’t keen to do that, either.

Around the edge it was then, I decided.

I aimed the 800 at the side of the road, rolled on a little throttle and eased out the clutch.

Before I’d even had time to think, ‘Holy crap!’ the bike had sunk in the mud and was jammed.

This was no cause for alarm. I’ve been bogged plenty of times. It means some unpleasant heaving and hauling, but it’s not a serious situation. And I was only about two metres from the road. How tough could it be?

Then I noticed the bike’s sump guard had reached the mud, but it was still sinking.

I sprung into action and leapt off the bike, only to find I immediately sunk in the slop up to the knees, and it didn’t seem my rate of sinking was slowing either.

I heaved the bike onto its side to try and stop it disappearing completely and set about getting myself out of trouble.

This took a little while, but I finally found myself on hard ground and was able to take stock.

I have to say, I was starting to get a little alarmed.

The long, flat plains of South Australia’s iron-ore country meant the BMW could let loose. The motor is one smooth, torquey little grunt factory.

Brains over brawn

The next hour or so was covered in the opening of the story. I tried with all I had to drag the bike clear but couldn’t. Even on its side it’d sunk far enough in the mud to where I couldn’t move it any direction.

I could pick it up, but both the bike and I just plunged so far into the gloop that I ended up worse each time I did it. I’d taken a little heart-attack stop and finally remembered to take a pic or two, and now my camera bag and equipment were all slathered with stinking mud as well.

I, of course, looked like some kind of low-budget, horror-movie monster with mud covering me up to about the chest.

I accepted I wasn’t going to be able to extract the bike by main force. It was time to assess the situation: I was on what was possibly a closed road, so it was unlikely waiting would bring any help;

I was 55km from a town if I decided to hike out for assistance; if the road was closed, getting help was going to initiate a very expensive and embarrassing interview with the authorities; and finally, I was shagged. I had nothing left even if I came up with a plan.

Was it time to reach for the SPOT or PLB?

That last thought fired a mental rocket at my doughy, not-too-sharp cerebral cortex. For crying out loud. I was about two metres from riding away. Surely I could come up with something?

A muddy souvenir of an uncomfortable situation.


Obviously I did come up with something, because here I am telling the story.

There were some small rocks scattered around, so I piled a few right underneath the rear wheel. They began sinking immediately, so I quickly stood the bike up, started it, eased the clutch out and, to my inexpressible joy, it rolled forward!

It only rolled about 15cm before it was off the rocks and into the mud again, and I was once again stuck up to my thighs in the crud, but the small success showed me there was a way out.

For the next hour or I so I repeated the process, 30cm or so at a time, rocks becoming more and more scarce and further and further away until, at last, with one final slip of the clutch the bike drove forward and dragged me with it.

I sobbed with relief, inhaling a lungful of noxious swamp fumes, but I didn’t care.

I was clear. All I had to do was get the bike back on to the hard-packed dirt road and I was out of trouble.

A selfie at Tilpa. PLB and SPOT ready, but not needed.
You can even dry your laundry on it!

Never learn

With the BMW back on the track I reloaded the luggage, scraped off as much mud as I could, then faced the next question: did I continue on or go back? Are you frigging insane?Of course I went back.

Across 11 days, it was a single incident of about two-and-half hours that proved the challenge. That’s adventure riding.

After fuelling up again at Wilcannia I set off on the western road to find it was glorious. The ’roos and emus were thick on the ground, and some of the road was sandy twin-track, but the riding was excellent. Tilpa, Bourke and the well-known run through Narrabri and over Mount Kaputar came and went, the BMW seeming to love every kilometre.

It’s a great bike, and it gave me at least one adventure I’ll never forget.

When I went to return the 800 BMW Motorrad said, “Why don’t you hang onto it for a while?”

Believe me, it’s not like I wanted to give the bike back in the first place.

Where next, then?

I’ll ask a few locals and see if I can get some ideas.

Still smiling at Broken hill after 2000km of sensational riding on the F800GS.

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