with Charley

The Weekend Post - Motoring - - Front Page -

THERE he goes, be­ing a right Charley. Or rather do­ing a Charley, his trade­mark rolling wheel­stand on the BMW R1200GS as we thun­der up the hill to­ward the Rex Look­out north of Cairns on the Cap­tain Cook High­way.

Charley Boor­man’s busi­ness card says “Ad­ven­turer and Au­thor”. The co-star of the Long Way Round tele­vi­sion se­ries is well up on the back wheel as I fol­low on the smaller BMW F800R, try­ing to do my best Ewan McGre­gor im­per­son­ation.

I have al­ready pulled it off once, a gob­s­macked Kawasaki rider we drew along­side in traf­fic on Sheri­dan St spot­ting Charley’s trade­mark wild-eyed grin and wav­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally at us both as we took off.

Charley is in Cairns to pro­mote his lat­est book and TV se­ries On the Edge – By Any Means, in which he trav­els from Syd­ney to Tokyo by, as the ti­tle im­plies, what­ever trans­port he can scrounge up along the way. But to­day he is happy to be back in the sad­dle of the same model BMW he and Ewan cir­cum­nav­i­gated the globe on in Long Way Round.

And he can ride that bike. For a non-lo­cal he sets a crack­ing pace along the twists and turns of the Cap­tain Cook Hwy as it snakes be­tween the rain­for­est moun­tains and the sandy beaches of the coast­line.

It’s a good thing I am on the very light and very nim­ble F800R. For an 800 it feels very light in­deed and the han­dling is im­pec­ca­ble and in­stantly user-friendly.

Its high, wide-ish han­dle­bars com­bined with nar­row petrol tank and tucked-up foot­pegs give an al­most mo­tard­like rid­ing po­si­tion, which gives great con­trol in both city traf­fic and through the twisties.

But the petrol tank is not re­ally a petrol tank. The filler cap is back next to the passenger seat and the tank lurks be­low, keep­ing the fuel weight low and giv­ing that lovely light feel around the cor­ners. The “tank” be­tween my knees is re­ally an air­box – from which a glo­ri­ous twocylin­der growl emerges to match the ex­haust note when I rap the throt­tle on to keep up with Charley. It is all part of that “ur­ban” styling BMW has given the F800R: part hitech rocket ship, part sci-fi Bladerun­ner ro­bot­ics and part ur­ban as­sault weapon.

It is all very mod­ern, yet re­minds me of those Trans­former toys my son played with.

And in­deed the F800R is a bit of a trans­former. Out in the pris­tine coun­try­side, the vertical twin’s roar takes on an al­most pri­mal tone to match the sur­rounds. It is ready to take on any­thing the road throws at us, a bit of loose gravel here, an un­ex­pected road­works stop around a blind cor­ner there, even an awe-struck tourist in a rental car not ex­actly stay­ing on their side of the dou­ble white lines where they have crested a hill and seen the Coral Sea stretched out in front of them.

All too soon, we have to stop at se­cluded Oak Beach for our quick in­ter­view be­fore we have to head back to town and hand Charley over to the wait­ing crowd at his book launch func­tion at the Blue Sky Brew­ery.

First or­der of busi­ness is I have to take a pic­ture with Charley’s mo­bile phone of him on the bike, beau­ti­ful sand and sea in the back­ground. He sends it to his mate in rainy Old Blighty. “It is some­thing we al­ways do,” he says with that trade­mark grin and the en­thu­si­asm for all things mo­tor­cy­cle, and for life it­self, that ob­vi­ously is no put-on for the cam­era. “It’ll be mis­er­able and rain­ing back there right now.”

So how does Charley rate the Cap­tain Cook Hwy as a guy who has rid­den some, if not most, of the world’s great motorcycling roads?

“Well, what’s nice is it’s tak­ing you through the moun­tains but what is re­ally beau­ti­ful is it fol­lows the coast with those beau­ti­ful white sand beaches. Yet it is not all twisty – there are some nice straights where you can have a bit of fun. It doesn’t get bet­ter than this.”

How­ever he ad­mits that per­haps his favourite coast ride was up the Pa­cific Hwy on the US west coast, rid­ing with Peter Fonda. Fonda, known mostly for his role as the Har­ley-chop­per rid­ing Cap­tain Amer­ica in the 60s biker movie Easy Rider, was mounted on an Ital­ian MV Agusta sport­bike, Charley re­counts with a laugh.

“And no in­sult meant, but the com­pany on that ride just made it the best coast ride you could do.” But he says Far North Queens­land is a mo­tor­cy­clist’s mecca with its var­ied scenery and spec­tac­u­lar roads both on the coast, up the ranges and across the pic­turesque Table­land. He has been com­ing here since he was 18, when he trained as a di­ve­mas­ter at Port Dou­glas, just a few kilo­me­tres to our north.

“It’s all about the out­doors here, about liv­ing your dreams,” Charley says. “If you like swim­ming or wa­ter ski­ing or hik­ing, you can do all that without caus­ing a fuss be­cause there is such a wealth of open space.”

Now, this is a guy who knows his out­doors bet­ter than most. Be­sides hav­ing rounded the globe once by mo­tor­cy­cle in the orig­i­nal se­ries, “do­ing” Africa in Long Way Down and then Ire­land to Syd­ney “by any means” as the show’s ti­tle says, he is al­ready plan­ning the next big ride with Ewan start­ing at the tip of South Amer­ica and head­ing north as far as their BMWs will carry them. Some­where near the North Pole pre­sum­ably. The Long Way Up ride is sched­uled for 2011, too long for Charley to wait. He is plan­ning a solo trip in the mean­time, but can’t say where un­til it is all or­gan­ised. “I am sort of su­per­sti­tious that way,” he says. Even be­fore then he is head­ing to Afghanistan to visit the troops there.

“They have told me I will have to sleep in one of th­ese metal cap­sules in be­tween rows of solid rock walls be­cause of the pos­si­ble bomb at­tacks – good thing I’m not claus­tro­pho­bic,” he says with that trade­mark wildeyed grin. He can’t wait to get there – even if he is hav­ing trou­ble find­ing travel in­sur­ance.

“I got one pol­icy for £100,000 but that would only get you back to the cap­i­tal city in Afghanistan if you got in­jured,” he says. “So I found one com­pany that will cover me for a mil­lion pounds, but it is go­ing to cost me £2500 pounds for seven days’ cov­er­age.”

The ride back to Cairns is as lively as the ride up. I am still im­pressed with the “lit­tle” F800R’s nim­ble han­dling and top-notch Brembo brakes. It uses con­ven­tional tele­scopic forks up front, not the heav­ier par­alever de­sign of the R1200GS but the re­sult is sure-footed road-hold­ing the whole way. The vertical twin en­gine is smooth. BMW have cun­ningly added a third dummy throw on the crank­shaft, driv­ing a piv­oted coun­ter­weight that irons out op­pos­ing vi­bra­tions. Ev­ery­thing on the bike is just where it should be and just as it should be – a BMW hall­mark of course.


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