A new Ducati, a trip to Canberra and a 900km ride

I have always been interested in motorcycle touring, but as I quickly found out, my Streetfighter is not really a bike for longer trips. Everything longer than a day trip isn’t very comfortable, and there’s hardly any space for carrying luggage. Not even a compartment for storing a wallet or glasses.

Of course there is the option of buying a tail-bag (like I did, painful to fit) and a set of after-market pannier bags. But really, pannier bags on a Streetfighter? That’s just not right.

If I wanted to become serious about long distance riding and overnight touring, I realised it would make the most sense to get a different bike. ‘Different bike’ kind of implies replacing the Streetfighter, but I had a feeling that wasn’t going to happen. As crazy and unpractical as the bike is, it’s way too much fun to ride, and I put so much effort (and money) into perfecting it with accessories. It’s so loud it scares the hell out of my neighbours’ dog, and everywhere I go the bike draws all the attention, so it’s something very special to me. The plan then was to get a second bike, nothing wrong with having two bikes.

The choice was fairly easy. It had to be a Ducati, that narrowed it down to two: the Multistrada and the Hyperstrada. I never liked the Multistrada because it’s large, heavy, expensive, usually ridden by people aged 50+ and test riders have described the experience as ‘riding an armchair’. As fantastic and capable as the Multistrada is without a doubt, it’s just not the bike for me I believe. I wanted something as lightweight as possible, with capacity for carrying a week’s worth of luggage, and possibly some light off-road capabilities. But it should also suit me as an all-weather commuting bike that is fun to ride. The Hyperstrada seemed like the better option, although far from perfect. But at least it has a comfortable seating position, wind screen, usable pannier bags, 12V-outlets, and it’s not much larger or heavier than the Streetfighter 848.

Shortly after Ducati announced the new model range in November 2015, I placed a pre-order and paid a deposit for the new Hyperstrada 939. It was meant to arrive in February and that seemed ideal for me. I was hoping to quickly get past the 1.000km service and then go on a trip around Tasmania before the cold winter months.

Around mid-February I noticed the 939 Hypers started to pop up at dealers all over Europe and the US. I contacted my local dealer, who contacted Ducati Australia, and they revised the estimated delivery time back to ‘possibly end of April’. The bike hadn’t even left the factory apparently. Suffice to say I was pretty annoyed.

I started contemplating alternatives and for a couple of days I was fancying an MV Agusta Stradale 800 instead. The MV 800cc engine gets a lot of praise and feature-wise the Stradale is ahead of the Hyperstrada, with smooth clutch-less up-and-down shifting whereas the 939 Hyper family is more or less a rebadged 2013 Hyper with a new engine and larger exhaust to meet Euro 4 standards without losing horse power. But feature-wise, the only improvement I can see over the old ones is a new oil cooler. Oh, and the display now has a gear indicator. Impressive. Quick shifter? Nope. Not even as an accessory. Clearly the Hyper family doesn’t have a high priority within Ducati’s model range.

The Stradale would have been cheaper than the Hyperstrada, and available straight away. In the end, I decided to wait for the Hyperstrada. One reason was, that the look of the Stradale is fairly, uhm, let’s say unusual. Also, the pannier bags are too small to be of any real use. Something that also scared me off was the ongoing ownership costs of having an MV Agusta. They see themselves as a premium manufacturer and then believe they can charge premium for accessories too. A tidy tail for the Stradale would cost around AU$950 which is completely insane. Compared to MV Agusta, Ducati accessories suddenly felt reasonably priced. I also wasn’t entirely happy with the manufacturing quality of the MV bikes I inspected – way too much plastic that looked really cheap.

But what put me firmly back into Ducati’s camp in the end was that just on the weekend when I wanted to make a decision on which bike to get, I joined a DOCV club ride, and one of the guys was riding a white 821 Hyperstrada. It looked and sounded amazing. I think once you fall in love with the Ducati V-twin sound, it’s love for life. So I decided to wait for the Hyper even if it seemed overpriced, didn’t really impress with features, and would arrive two months late.

Around the end of March I noticed there were brand new 2014 Hyperstradas for sale online, from interstate dealers. They were significantly under list price, so I got interested. I asked my dealer if there was any news regarding my 939. To my surprise, the new delivery estimate was ‘April to June’ and the bike still hadn’t left the factory in Italy. I had enough. It seemed the Australian Ducati importer didn’t care at all for the fact I ordered my bike back in November, they just continued to fill their shipping containers with Panigales because they are easier to sell in Australia. The Panigale is quickly becoming the most annoying Ducati in history, just because every dick has one. It’s like a fashion accessory.

I’ve never been interested in the Panigale myself, due to the hideous underbody exhaust, the even more hideous heat shield underneath the seat as a result of the clunky exhaust design, and the lack of a single-side swing-arm on the smaller bike. If I was in the market for a superbike, I would look for a 1098 with low kms.

I started negotiating a transfer of a white 821 Hyperstrada from a dealer in Canberra to a local dealer in Victoria, but due to dealer vanities and financial circumstances it turned out unpractical. The Canberra dealer however was happy to sell it to me directly.

Long story short, I purchased a brand-new white 2014 Hyperstrada 821 over the phone from the dealer in Canberra. I had the choice between shipping it to my home address, or picking it up myself. I sought advice from other Ducati club members and some suggested the (roughly) 900km from Canberra to Portarlington would be an almost ideal way of breaking in a new engine, so I decided to travel to Canberra and ride it back.

One Thursday after work I took an overnight Greyhound bus to Canberra. It left Melbourne at 10pm and arrived at 6am. The reason I took a bus instead of a flight was mostly costs. But also that I always have a puncture repair kit in my riding backpack, and this kit includes high pressure air cartridges, I was worried they wouldn’t let me take in onto the airplane.

The Greyhound also dropped me off not far from a Canberra Connect office, where I purchased a permit for an unregistered vehicle, so I could ride the bike unregistered from ACT to VIC. I wasn’t able to register it in Canberra because I don’t have an address there.

With a taxi I drove to the dealership and after signing a few papers and handing over a cheque the bike was mine. Before I headed off however, I spent some time installing an Evotech radiator guard and engine protector which I had brought with me. I also removed the ugly oversized rear fender which Ducati Australia adds to any new bikes due to stupid local regulations.

Preparing for departure
Preparing for departure

The first few kilometres on the new bike were funny. I was looking forward to a second bike just for having a comparison to the Streetfighter. In comparison, riding the Hyperstrada feels like riding a children’s bike. Or put it this way, compared to how agile and light the Hyperstrada is, riding the Streetfighter feels like riding an oil tanker. Clutch and gear box are significantly easier on the Hyperstrada, and the front of the bike feels so light that it tips into corners without effort. What the Hyper is lacking though, is the brutal power and torque the Streetfighter has, which allows to zip past other vehicles with a twist of the throttle.

I left Canberra and soon I was on the highway towards Cooma, where I stopped for brunch and petrol. It felt strange riding without a number plate, and I kind of expected to be pulled over by police occasionally. Slowly I got used to the upright seating position, and having a wind screen is great, although I still got a lot of wind around my helmet because I tend to sit fairly close to the front. I may need to get a larger touring wind screen which Ducati sells as accessory.

In Bombala I topped up my tank again. Since I was riding on a permit for an unregistered vehicle, I was required to take the most direct route to my destination. What exactly most direct means however is not clear: least amount of time, or least amount of kilometres? I decided to leave the highway in Bombala and take the much more interesting Bonang Highway to Orbost via Delegate and Bonang, which is the same distance as the other route according to Wikipedia, but takes longer to ride. It’s an incredible road, more than 100km of pure motorcycling goodness, with curve after curve after curve, uphill downhill and all through beautiful forest. I had heard legends about this road, and seen pictures of motorcyclists posing in front of the warning signs that mark the start and finish of this memorable experience.

Bonang Highway
Bonang Highway

I was not disappointed, it was the greatest road I ever had the pleasure of riding. And I had the perfect bike for it, it was a terrific experience riding this on the Hyperstrada, such a smooth ride around corners, easy to use the engine brake. Later I noticed that the centre stand and even my boots had scratch marks from sliding on the asphalt going through corners. Clearly I had a lot of fun. And there was no traffic, I counted only 7 cars over the entire distance – 5 of which were going the other way.

In the middle there was a section of gravel road over several kilometres, but the Hyperstrada handled it really well. With the ABS brakes and Pirelli Scorpion tyres I felt really confident riding on gravel. With the Streetfighter and its Diablo Rosso Corsa tyres, gravel road sections always scare me, there’s simply no grip on the front wheel and without ABS it’s difficult using the massive front brake on gravel without blocking the wheel.

Bonang Highway gravel section
Bonang Highway gravel section

Just before sunset, I arrived in Orbost. In my planning I pretty much expected I would need to spend the night there, it’s about half distance between Canberra and home. Unfortunately the campground in Orbost had no cabins left, but they advised me to ride to Marlo, a small coastal town some 15km further South. So I went there, and witnessed a beautiful sunset over the Snowy River on my way there.

I checked in at the Marlo Caravan Park and met the very friendly owner. He booked me into one of their motel rooms, gave me a voucher for a drink at the pub across the street, and he told me that back in the days he even used to ride a Ducati himself. Wonderful place to stay.

Marlo motel and caravan park
Marlo motel and caravan park

After taking a shower I went to the pub for dinner. It was really crowded and seems to attract a lot of people from surrounding towns, but probably not unusual for a Friday night. The food was good. Overall the place was a little too noisy for my taste though.

The next morning I got up just after sunrise and went for a walk around town, checking out the waterfront and looking for a place to have breakfast. I walked down to the jetty where I saw pelicans, and also a seal playing in the water. I was hoping to get a closer look at the seal, when I heard strange sounds coming from down below the jetty. I went to check it out and found another seal. So great to see these animals up close.

Later at the caravan park I was told the seals were ‘local residents’ who spend the summer months in Marlo before travelling across Bass Strait to North Tasmania. Some of them have GPS trackers fitted apparently.

I found a small café next to a fishing shop not far from the caravan park, where I spoilt myself with banana bread, muesli and fruit, hot chocolate and tea for breakfast. It was delicious and wonderful to sit outside on this sunny day.

I ran a little late with checking out and slowly realised I better hurry up. I had a long distance still to ride, and I was supposed to pick up some Ducati accessories at a shop along the way before heading to Sorrento for the Queenscliff ferry.

Lakes Entrance
Lakes Entrance

The first part of the day’s ride was absolutely beautiful, until about Lakes Entrance. What a stunning coastal area. And some great forest roads too. After Lakes Entrance it was a lot of boring highway riding, but it allowed me to make good some time, and in the end I managed to pick up my Ducati parts, only minutes before the dealership closed.

I continued on to Sorrento and treated myself to a ferry ride across the bay, rather than heading to Melbourne and taking the long way around.

I thoroughly enjoyed the ride from Canberra and can’t wait to take the Hyperstrada on some even longer trips soon.

More photos in the album Ride from Canberra to Portarlington.