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Ténéré Tragics: Tasmanian devils

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This entry is part 6 of 17 in the series Adventure Rider Issue #23

The Ténéré Tragics run isn’t simply a group ride. Owners are committed to what they ride and are proud of it.

Graeme Baker was living the dream riding up Jacob’s Ladder.Five days in one of the world’s premium adventure-riding destinations.

For the 2017 event around 75 Ténéré Tragics riders from every mainland state of Australia converged on the Spirit Of Tasmania to head across Bass Strait. Some Tragics arrived with family weeks in advance to get an early start and the last Tragic arrived at Tasmania Country Club resort in Launceston a touch after lunch on Sunday.

Rockhampton-based Tragic Graeme Baker picked up a classic fat-tanked 1983 XT600ZL gem from rural Victoria on the way down and had his Super T sitting on the trailer, just in case the mighty ’83 was unrideable. He slipped a new Dunlop on the rear of the ol’ girl and quickly made the decision to ride the glorious old beasty for the entire week.

Ride organisers, Andrew ‘Clubby’ Clubb and wife Tania were on hand to greet riders and present them with a showbag bursting with sponsor goodies and an optional ADV skills session was offered by Stephen Gall.

During the skills session, Matt Parker-Charlton’s newly refurbished 1983 Ténéré decided to expel huge amounts of oil from the upper-cylinder area. Rescued by the Launceston Yamaha crew, the boys transported Matt’s mighty ’83 to their workshop for some urgent open-heart surgery. Matt was back at the motel before day’s end with a fully functioning ol’ banger.

Other Tragics took advantage of the Launceston Yamaha workshop being briefly manned on a Sunday to correct some Tragic preparation. Those spanner twirlers really know their stuff.

The 2017 Ténéré Tragics lapped Tasmania with a 100-per-cent finish rate.

The Captain and Tania

The formal start of proceedings is the Ténéré Tragics welcome dinner.

Bike displays from Yamaha Motor Australia – all Ténérés, of course – were spread throughout Launceston’s Country Club casino. Between classic courses, ‘Captain Tragic’ (Clubby), also on behalf of ‘Madame Tragic’ (Tania), introduced everyone and gave a rough course outline, some specific advice on what to expect and a gentle reminder the event wasn’t a race, but more a touring group with like-minded individuals.

Logging roads covered in slippery gravel offered surprise viewings of timber-truck bullbars.

Madame Tragic rules

Everyone was on their bike and away early on the first morning and stationary groups were scattered across the first few kilometres, adjusting tyre pressures, re-attaching errant luggage and making final adjustments.

About 10km along the first dirt section Mike Ruoso had overcooked a 90-degree left hander while blinded by the dust and morning sun. He low-sided at the entry to the concrete bridge, fortunately missing all the solid bits, and ended up nursing a severely sprained right thumb. He cursed himself, determined to ride on.

The climb toward Legges Tor in Ben Lomond National Park is stunning.

Known as Jacobs Ladder, the half-dozen steep switchbacks wouldn’t look out of place on a Swiss postcard. Visitors were rewarded with eye-popping views back across the North Esk valley.

Heading north meant the welcome challenge of active logging roads covered in slippery gravel and many had surprise viewings of timber-truck bullbars. Entry-speed errors into some corners left clear evidence of long brake lock-ups with exit paths headed off-road toward fencelines.

Few discussed these adventures, but many acknowledged the experiences of others.

Lunch was at Pyengana Dairy before a quick refuel in St. Helens, then a run through forestry roads around the back of Scamander offered stunning views of the ultra-clear blue waters both north and south of Henderson Lagoon. There was very little time to look while riding as the slippery surface demanded full attention.

Frequent stops to take it all in, and to grab a few photos, were necessary.

The long, black ribbon guided us to the Bicheno Motorcycle Museum, where a reasonable entry fee allowed everyone to recall machines from yesterday and admire current equipment – they even had a mid-80s Ténéré in sparkling condition.

Strong crosswinds hammered the group on the final blacktop into Swansea, where for the first time the required last tasks of each day were performed. In order of importance these were

• Check-in with Madame Tragic and grab the next day’s route sheets
• Refuel at the local servo
• Head to our chosen accommodation Reports of a quality feast at Swansea’s Bark Mill Tavern made those too lazy to walk the extra 100m jealous, but the evening views out over Great Oyster Bay to the Freycinet Peninsula and Schouten Island easily justified a short walk along the beach-front before turning in.

An optional ADV skills session was offered by Stephen Gall.

High spirits

The second day had everyone headed south by 7:00am, aiming for Little Swanport and through forest to Campbell Town and later Ross, a superbly presented heritage town that’s well worth a stop for a vanilla slice and latté.

Lengthy sections of what was now a familiar style of dirt road took us inland to Interlaken, then back to the coast at Orford.

Temperatures climbed and many stripped liners from jackets during lunch before heading south again on the shortcut route via Bream Creek to Dunalley. A lengthy stretch of blacktop skimmed through Eaglehawk Neck to Port Arthur.

Early arrival allowed a tour of the historic buildings of Port Arthur, including the Memorial Garden to victims of the massacre in April 1996. At check in Madame Tragic reminded everyone of the required timing of the next day’s ride – including the need to be at the Pedder Wilderness Lodge before 5:30pm for a special, ‘don’t-miss-it-or-you-will-kick-yourselves’ event.

During the afternoon, Keiron Jeffrey from Queensland lost third gear in his ’09 XT660Z. He started to limp the last 70km in second before realising fourth and fifth gear were still intact.

On arrival, the message went out on the Tragics Facebook page that another bike was needed for loan, hire or purchase.

A willing Ténéré enthusiast in Launceston stepped forward with a loaner. After phone negotiations the next morning, Keiron headed up to Launceston. He swapped gear across bikes and met the Tragics at Lake Pedder to continue the run. Keiron swapped back Friday night before catching his scheduled ferry to the mainland early Saturday morning. That’s true Ténéré spirit!

There was a lot of mechanical action in the motel carpark that evening. It looked like the pits at the local vinduro races. Several ’83s were in pieces with either fuel or electrical issues, but there were always smiles, lots of advice on offer and every-one was ready to go by next morning.

Matt Parker-Charlton’s XT600ZL went back to Launceston Yamaha for open-heart surgery and was back on the pace in no time.

Rod the god

An early departure had everyone through Nubeena and on to Sorell for brekky.

The local cafés were a good option but, with 70-odd Tragics hitting all at once, service took forever. An engaging ride around the Hobart environs, via Tasman Bridge, to a stop atop Mt. Wellington was a reasonable option, and the view across Hobart from about 1.2 km above was incredible.

A café stop at Horizon Motorcycles allowed Tragics a workshop visit to execute needed repairs and adjustments while they sipped on caffeine concoctions, while Captain Tragic and some of the crew were interviewed by WIN TV News and The Mercury newspaper in Hobart.

A tight, steep and tough little section of dirt around Collins Gap brought everyone into New Norfolk for fuel and lunch. The afternoon was a ripper stretch of bitumen for over 150km out to the Gordon Dam wall and offered an opportunity to use the tyre’s side blocks.

Along the way views of Mt Wedge and the Sentinel Range in its barebacked beauty had everyone gobsmacked before reaching the amazing Gordon Dam. After photos, it was back to the Pedder Wilderness Lodge to check in with Madame Tragic and prepare for the special event.

With all Tragics eagerly awaiting the presentation, Stephen Gall invited Yamaha Yamalube Factory Racing Team Dakar racer Rod Faggotter on to the dais for a lengthy Q&A session with the Tragics. Nobody was disappointed with Rod’s presence and many insights into preparing for, and riding, Dakar were offered, along with some insights into Rod’s issues during this year’s event.

Rocket Rod joined the ride for the next few days before flying back to his home in Longreach, Queensland. It was great to appreciate his style as he flew past aboard YMA’s slightly modded XT660Z along the dusty run to Marrawah.

Ténéré Tragics isn’t a race, but more a touring group with like-minded individuals.

Booked out

Although only about 80km as-the-crow-flies, Strathgordon and Queenstown are separated by the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Area. The consequence was a 370km detour starting with the same twisty bitumen we rode in on.

Wide-but-slippery forestry roads beyond Westerway through Ouse ended at the historic Waddamana hydro power station museum. All Tragics enjoyed the interesting self-guided tour of this 100-year-old facility, one of the earliest hydroelectric plants in Tasmania.

A flowing strip of good gravel stretched from Miena to Bronte Park, followed by entertaining blacktop to Derwent Bridge. The road entry into Queenstown is tight and twisty bitumen, but gave us an early arrival. Madame Tragic had yet more complicated instructions for timing of the next day’s stage as she handed out route sheets at check in.

The locals must have wondered what the hell was going on as Tragics bedded down at motels across the entire town.

There was plenty of time to stop for a chat and to enjoy the scenery.

All good

It was cool and foggy as Queenstown was left behind and everyone headed for Strahan the next morning. Was this the day the weather gods were not going to shine upon us?

At Strahan all questions were answered – glorious sunshine welcomed everyone and raised the mood over breakfast.

After coffee at Zeehan a tricky little road wound its way to the ferry crossing at Corinna. The ferry was small – about 10 bikes a run – and the queue long, which created a nice photo opportunity and the chance for a good chat.

Getting to lunch at Marrawah was hard work. Over 60km of thick, granite gravel, blinding dust and a few too many SUVs with campers made it difficult to choose a good line or overtake. The terrain changed after lunch to fast, well-formed farm roads for the run through Montague into Smithton.

It was a great way to finalise the most enjoyable Tragics run yet.

After the required final check-in with a visibly more relaxed Madame T, Tragics took advantage of the local car wash to avoid quarantine issues on the return to the mainland. Everyone was relieved when the sweeps arrived, showing the week had concluded with 100 per cent of Tragics as finishers.

A Tragic trail tale.

More next year

The Ténéré Tragics farewell dinner is typically a fun time of reflection, thanks-giving and anticipation. The injury list was short – a swollen hand and a few gammy knees and bruised feet and some new, pronounced limps. There’d been very few mechanicals or flat tyres so the bike toll was far better than anyone looking at the road conditions might have expected. Tragics unanimously declared this the best run ever.

Again, between dinner courses, The Captain thanked all participants, media and sponsors, then presented the traditional ‘special awards’.

The awards list a lengthy one, supported by an equally long list of sponsors, but the pinnacle is probably The Truly Tragic Award for the rider who best displayed the Ténéré spirit during the course of the run.

For 2017 it was shared between Melbourne’s Matt Parker-Charlton and Colin Hayden from Dubbo in NSW.

Congratulations to all Tragics.

Planning for 2018 is underway.

It’s time to begin preparation.

Andrew Dawson and Maryann Eime were obviously happy to finish.

Meet Beak

His real name is David Murray, but everyone calls him ‘Beak’.

Born and bred in Geelong, Victoria, Beak is a stalwart of motorcycling in the area. He’s as classic a character as the ’83 Ténéré he rides. The Tragicness of this pairing isn’t just the massive swag perched out the back, or the $10-swap-meet trials universal rear tyre. There’s a bit of a miracle in the back story.

Because of a beer-infused deal between a bunch of mates, Beak rode the inaugural 1985 Wynns Safari on this Tén after buying it second-hand with high kilometres and a broken third gear. Surviving the torture of the opening days, Beak rode on to place eighth – 54th overall – among only 15 motorcycle finishers. It sat in his shed virtually unused for 10 years, then got traded at a Geelong dealer for a shiny new road bike.

Years later, a mate called to say he’d bought the Ténéré.

They confirmed it by the presence of an additional 37mm on the swingarm, added to give tyre clearance during the Safari. Beak insisted he buy it from his mate. The guy flatly refused to sell as the bike was in such poor condition. As the offers became pleading, his mate insisted that Beak could not buy the bike – because he was going to be given the historic Ténéré as a gift!

Since being re-united they’ve ridden the annual Tragics runs, the Ténéré fitted with the original panniers, tank bag and map reader from the 1985 Wynn’s Safari.

Between runs, this magic bike literally sits on a pedestal in Beak’s shed.

That’s truly Tragic.

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