Two Wheels 1988. Desert dueler. MZ ETZ 250
11 300 km na MZ ETZ po Australii
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Would the humble MI prove itself as a serious desert traveller? Would it shame the purpose built BMW? 11,300 kilometres over some of the worst 'roads’ in Australia, RUSSELL MOYLAN reckons he’s got the answer . . .
Above: The MZ required only light maintenance . This pin: Mark found little use for the Beemer’s sidestand out in the Simpson.
IN JANUARY of 1987 I decided to complement my R80 G/S with a slightly different bike. I bought an MZ 250 because of the simplicity of its two stroke motor, its rugged build and its oddball appearance. At around the same time I read an article about a couple of guys who crossed the Canning Stock Route.I began to wonder whether I could put the MZ to a similar test. Mark Wrigley, with whom I had ridden enduros the previous year, seemed interested also, and from there the idea became a reality. We committed ourselves to the trip by sending money to the Newman Roadhouse for fuel to be 'dumped’ on the Canning Stock Route.
The huge task of preparing the MZ took six months, whereas other than fuel carrying capacity, the BMW remained fairly standard. We worked on having to carry enough fuel to ride 1000 km on one part of the trip. The MZ tank was expanded to hold 38,5 litres. Two 20 litre gerrycans were fitted to each of the two bikes, resulting in the BMW carrying 74 litres and the MZ 78.5 litres. We made provision to carry 20 litres of water each as well as small racks over each bike’s headlight for light items. Cylinder racks on the BMW were used, while the gerrycan racks on the,,MZ extended back far enough to support throwover bags and a small wooden box to store quickly-needed items.
A weekend camping tested the MZ in the dirt. It was horrible, so I fitted wider R80 G/S handlebars for greater control, added a modified steering damper from a Honda XL 350 to get rid of the twitchiness and fitted greatly oversized tyres on standard rims. With so much effort gone into preparation it was something of a relief to see our departure date, the 1st of August 1987, draw closer. We made Morvan our first day target.
From the diary
The ride out to Birdsville on the second day is a boring 14 hours. The standard gearing is unsuitable for the heavily loaded MZ and better performance is achieved by riding in fourth gear at 100 kmlh for the 943 km. The road from Betoota is rough and in the late afternoon we face directly into the sun, forcing a short stop to wait for sunset. We then travel the next 100 km of sand and dirt in darkness. At Birdsville we are entertained by the publican and a few of his friends who have recently travelled the Canning Stock Route in short-wheelbase Toyotas. Jerry and friends say that we must be suicidal, and that we should slash our wrists and beat our heads on a wall before even thinking about doing that part of the trip on bikes.
Setting up camp on the outskirts of town, we spend the next day making final checks on our equipment before hitting the deserts. I change the front MZ sprocket from a 19 to the 15 tooth
item I had planned to use and drop the carby slide needle to the leanest position. We also contact the local policeman to fill him in on our plans. He is not impressed with the possibility of having to search for a couple of mad bikers along the OAA Line, the French Line and the Colson Track we plan to take. On the 4th the temperature at 7:20 am is 0 C. With frozen hands we ride into town to fill out water containers and head off into the Simpson Desert. 40 km from Birdsville we face our first sand dunes. For the rest of the day we push and shove and heave each other’s bikes through the sand. By evening our strategies have been worked out. Taking 4 easy seems to be the way to go, there is no rush and we conserve energy this way. By sunset we’ve covered 135 km for the day — 35 km short of Poeppel’s Corner. Less water than expected has been used, and the meusli bars we carry for snacks are worth their weight.
Ice on the tent and bikes greets us in the morning. Before we set off for Poeppel’s Corner, we contact the Flying Doctor and the policeman in Birdsville on the transceiver. Afte• a further 137 km in the Simpson Desert for the day we call it quits. The wild flowers in this area are really beautiful. Our isolation and silence is broken only by the sight of a camel and a couple of friendly dingos. We notice how sore and sorry our bodies feel on this the second day, but these pains
Officer to make sure of our bearings. My self-confidence is tested as I drop the MZ twice on the Canning Stock Route before reaching Well 49. At this location we drop a billy on a rope (which we carry) 7 m to the crystal clear water below. As we continue on the horribly overgrown track we are constantly either dodging tree branches or hitting them. Somewhere back there is the rearview mirror of an MZ!
At 4 pm we exhaustedly stop for the day, without reaching Well 42, our expected destination. Unlike further back, there is little firewood in this area, which is a disappointment. From this night on we decide to do without the warmth of the tent and enjoy the fascinating, clear sky instead.
We ride a total of 169 km on the 14th. The weather is fairly hot after midday even in Spring and we consume much water. Tony proves to be an excellent rider. Whereas Mark and I have decided on a fairly consistent approach to the riding, Tony chooses a motocross style and is consequently tired at the end of each day.
On the 15th at 5 am NT time, the moon is still shining. 35 km of travelling sees us at Well 42 with its abundance of bird life. We are forced to use the poor water and add Puritabs. It seems that good well water is scarce. Tony’s new strategy for the snaking track of The Canning is to attempt to ride in a straight line while keeping the track in view. This works for a while but ends in disaster when he crashes badly, splitting his unique petrol tank, and is unable to continue. He ends up catching a lift back the way we’d come with passing 4WDs.
In three days Mark and I have covered 525 km. There are still 430 km to go to reach the fuel dump. Taking a straight detour we visit Tovin’s Grave. At Well 40 we find the water is undrinkable. Left uncovered, it contains two dead birds and a stiff lizard. When we camp 25 km further on we are not to realise until the next day that we are only two dunes from Well 39.
After finding good water at Well 36 on the next day we press on to Well 30. Why this is called a 'Well’ I don’t know — it’s completely caved in, yielding no water. Three km N/E of this well is an underground swimming hole which is reported to be worthwhile visiting. We talk to people travelling in 4WDs who can’t believe that we’re doing this track on bikes. They show their support by 'sponsoring’ us with a cold beer each on he spot! This day we cover our best iistance in one day on The Canning at ?30 km. We hope to make the fuel dump omorrow which we calculate to be 80 km away.
What a dump!
On the 17th we discover the water to be good at Well 26. The soft sand of the dunes is a problem in this area, and we need to unload the bikes in one section and push each other to make way. Just two km from the fuel dump Mark runs dry of fuel. I have plenty and give him 2 litres. We reach the fuel dump at 5 pm.
The 'dump’, organised by Bill Shepherd from Newman Roadhouse, is the saving grace of many travellers who would otherwise be unable to carry enough fuel to complete The Canning. All arrangements and payment have to be done previously as the dump is unattended. Bill has simply organised to drop off the fuel in 44 gallon drums with the name of the payer painted on the side. Occasionally there are drums left with some fuel remaining, but don’t count on it.
The most difficult day of the whole trip occurs on the 18th. I have rider’s cramp and seem to be going strange from the desert. After an 8.30 departure from Well 23 we ride the first 50 km of corrugations before I hit a tree with the handlebar protectors and am thrown over the front of the bike. The crash twists the rack above the headlight, breaks the instrument mount and a strap on the throwover bags is ripped. My ribs are badly bruised and I’m angry with myself for losing concentration. The day didn’t improve! Sand, very soft sand, more sand! When will it ever end? Mark comments that riding in this sand is like pushing a loaded shopping trolley on Moreton Island. I don’t know whether I’m imagining it but the sand seems to become softer in the heat of the early afternoon, and there is no letting up. The thought that pulls me through this psychologically rough time is that the MZ is copping all the punishment dealt to it. On this day I’ve only ridden two sand dunes without having to get off and push. It’s impossible to get a run-up to the dunes here, so I have to push from bottom to top, revving the MZ to redline, hoping not to hear any strange noises of impending doom.
Completing 193 km for the day we spend the night at Durba Springs, swimming in the rock pool — our first wash in 6 days. We 'feast’ as best we can on freeze dried food.
On the morning of the 19th we break our routine of rising, packing then riding by making a cuppa before we leave. Taking off at 10 am we set the target of reaching Wiluna and the end of the Canning by the end of the next day. During the day the road improves to a fairly hard surface, allowing us to travel slightly faster to cover 258 km for the day, without reaching our destination.
We waste time on the morning of the 20th due to the vague directions of a station owner. Much as it was a change from the endless sand, the trees in this area are short and closely spaced. We need to dodge and move slowly, at which the MZ is a handful because of its roadbike origins. Eventually we break through the thick trees and grass marking the end of the most difficult part of our trip. We are overjoyed during the final 30 km to arrive in Wiluna at 1 pm.
Much less than a celebration greets us in this town. Not only did we find it expensive but there is conflict between two aboriginal groups. On a Thursday night in the bar chairs and cans fly about. We’re disappointed to find that this town doesn’t allow us to relax after our ordeal and we decide to start the Gunbarrel Highway the next day.
On the 21st we pay $7 for breakfast at the Wiluna Pub before packing the bikes and refuelling at the town’s only garage. Mark proceeds to change the gearbox oil on the BMW while I attend to the aircleaner, chain and two stroke oil on the MZ. (I had previously sent two stroke oil to Wiluna via surface mail.).
We miss the fuel stop at Carnegie which looks like an average station house. The corrugations are unbearable from here to Warburton (and further on), with patches of deep sand. We reach Warburton at 1 pm on the 22nd to be welcomed by a crowd of aboriginal children. It feels good to be appreciated. However, we have to search for the shop owner to unlock the petrol pump. The 652 km to Ayers Rock is terribly rough. However, even over the horrible roads, we manage to cover 1421 km in 24 hours of riding.
The only mechanical troubles I encounter on the whole trip occur on the road between the Olgas and Ayres Rock which is 16 km of the worst corrugations we saw on the entire trip. A small split appears in the petrol tank right at the top. No need to worry about it. The other problem was due only to my own laziness. I had let the drive chain become too loose so that it came free of the rear sprocket cover. That night I ring Brisk Sales who agree to send out the parts that I need.
On Monday the 24th at Yulara’s only garage I change the badly worn front sprocket back to the 19 tooth one. While riding about 80 km short of Alice Springs without the chaincase, the circlip on the joining link lets go completely, but fortunately I have been carrying a spare chain. At 3.45 pm we reach Alice Springs and catch the bank before spending the night celebrating and treating ourselves to a huge meal.
The parts I’d ordered were waiting for me at the Yamaha dealer. I fit the new chaincase and an air cleaner. I also replace the rear tyre, install new points and condensor out of caution rather than necessity, and repair the front rack. Mark has been having trouble with one of the head studs on the BMW for part of the trip, and hopes a form A thread will fix it. Competitors in the Wynn’s Safari arrive on the 27th, so we spend some interesting time talking to and observing these people as they go about their repairs. At 5 am on the 28th we catch the departure of the Wynn’s bike riders before leaving the Alice. We reach Oodnadatta over well maintained roads by 4.30 pm where we stay in an old house opposite the hotel for $10 each. Country hospitality is at its best here. We eat soup, T-bones, salad and extras for only $10 at the pub.
The next day we pass the beautiful Flinders Ranges. I’ll have to get back there under different time constraints to take in more of the area. The 600 km covered that day on the way to Lyndhurst are on good roads. The pub in Lyndhurst offers good accommodation with dinner for $23 per head. The locals are really friendly and after exchanging stories we’re invited to drop in at Mt Lyndhurst Station, 38km north of town. We aim to ride the Stzelecki Track tomorrow.
I wake on Sunday the 30th suffering a sore head from the previous night. We ride the 460 km of great road to lnnamincka. Although we’ve not seen any rain on the trip the water of Cooper Creek is over the causeway near town. The next day we buy fuel at 77.4 cents per litre. Mark decides to have an early return to Brisbane, heading through Quilpie before turning east. I head through Sturt’s Stony Desert for Birdsville, via Cordillo Downs Station. Taking a wrong turn means I end up travelling an extra 120 km so that when arriving in Birdsville I’ve covered 550 km for the day. The shower at the caravan park is a welcome comfort before I set up camp outside town near the concrete bridge.
This represents the end of the trip for me. In the 31 days since we left we spent only seven days not travelling, so it is a relief to have finished. My plan is to stay here for the week while I wait for my wife and some friends to ride out to join me for the famous Birdsville Races. As my friends arrive in dribs and drabs I spend the next few days doing 'guided tours’ out to the sand dunes, the largest of which is „Big Red”. On the Sunday of the Race weekend we travel to Quilpie, on Monday we reach Miles, then we arrive back in Brisbane on Tuesday, the 7th of September. The total distance for the trip is 11,300 kilometres! Perhaps now the humble MZ will be recognised as a practical bike for Australian conditions. They may not win prizes for looks, but they are definitely strong and reliable. And besides, my little MZ still draws attention — what a poser’s bike! ra
Russell would like it known that a number of firms and individuals provided assistance for his trip. Brisk Sales, the Brisbane distributor for MZ, helped out with prepara-tion of the bike, while Castro! supplied oils for both the MZ and the BMW. Reynolds provided a drive chain and a time 7 chain, Bob Jane T-Marts came good with tyres, and Koni supplied rear shocks. Queensland BMW distributor, Morgan and Wacker, donated various bits and pieces for the Beemer and Mapac threw in an Eclipse tent. Russell would also like to thank Stuart Radford in Brisbane for modifying the MZ’s fuel tank and Kodak for chucking in some film. Kevlin Yamaha in Alice Springs and Bill Shepherd at the Newman Roadhouse also rate a mention.
These single cylinder aircooled 2 stroke motor cycles feature: • Long Travel Suspension • Efficient „Desert” Type • Superior Braking Air Filter • Fully Enclosed Chain • 12 Volt Electrics Excellent road holding and good „off road” qualities. SIMPLE TO SERVICE – EASY TO MAINTAIN MZ’s long model life ensures dependable spares back up. Over 30% of spares are interchangeable between models.
YOU WIN WITH MZ Free bonus K’s for every litre of fuel. MZ The economical solution to your transport problems. CONTACT THE FOLLOWING FOR THE LOCATION OF YOUR NEAREST DEALER, AUSTRALIAN IMPORTER: BRISK SALES PTY LTD (07) 391 6522 DISTRIBUTORS: OLD, N.S.W. & VIC.: Bric,4 Sales Pty Ltd, 170 Logan Rd, Buranda Qld 4102. Ph: (07) 391 6522. S.A.: Geo Bolton & Associates Pty Ltd, 40 West Beach Rd, Keswick S.A. 5035. Ph: (08) 297 9722. W.A.: Lloyd Chapman Motorcycles, 266 Lord St, Perth W.A. 6000. Ph: (09) 328 3400. TAS: Independent Motorcycles, 4 Florence St, Moonah, TAS 7009. Ph: (002) 28 6626.
disappear gradually from the conditioning of continual travel. We decide to limit our eating to one main meal at night, comprised of freeze dried food chosen for its light weight and ease of storage. Waking on the 6th I feel as if I’d ridden two enduros! It’s not light enough to travel until about 7.30 am when we depart with the expectation of reaching Alice Springs the next day, via Numery Station. The landscape slowly changes from dunes to flat countryside dotted with low bushes and tumbleweed the size of the MZ. A strange noise wakes us in the middle of the night — out here in the middle of nowhere. We poke our heads out from the tent to discover a pair of nosey camels have come to investigate the two odd looking machines and the plastic hump in which we sleep.
Arriving in Alice Springs we locate the Yamaha dealer to whom we had previously sent oil, tyres and tubes. At night we treat ourselves to rump steaks at Melanka Lodge and spend a late night with friendly country folk. Our first day’s rest from riding since Birdsville is taken on the 8th where we spend most of the day cleaning the air filter, changing the gearbox oil and fitting a new rear tyre — a Michelin T61. Setting out the next day, we find that the road is sealed for the first 130 km of the 600 km distance to Rabbit Flat. The fact that this is an out of the way place hits home when we find petrol to be 85 cents per litre, cans of beer $2.10 and pies at $1.80. Here we meet a young guy Tony, travelling in different parts of outback Australia on a TT 350 Yamaha, fitted with a home-made petrol tank. Hearing of our plans to ride through the Gibson Desert via the Canning Stock Route, Tony, on impulse, decides that he’ll join us.
That night we camp close to the airstrip and consume too much beer. On a sear( for firewood on the bikes I run over a large section of right-angled iron lying mostly hidden in the grass, resulting in a bent front rim. Our expanded group heads for Sturt Creek Station on the 10th over a deteriorating road which eventually turn: into soft sand. During the day we pass through Carranya Station, where petrol i $1 per litre, and visit Wolf Creek Meteor Crater. At Sturt Creek Station we catch with relatives who look after the Station. With some good food, a shower and in the company of friends, we enjoy our short stopover. We spend most of the next two days making final preparations for the most difficult section of the trip. When we set out on the 13th we hays no further rest days until arriving at Alice Springs again. Travelling back through Carranya Station for fuel, we head out t Billiluna where we talk to the Reserve
Below: Russell’s MZ has a Bex and a little lie-down on the Simpson.
Above: There’s nothing like an outback sunset, Is there. This one’s at Innamincka.