Rides, Rallies and Events Recap

A Tale from Down Under

Written by  February 29, 2004

In February of 1999, I decided to buy my first big Harley. As a kid, I had a little Harley 90, but now I’m no longer a kid. I bought a used 1997 Fat Boy with several after-market upgrades. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great time to take delivery of my new bike, so I had the dealer hold it until I returned from a trip to Melbourne, Australia. I returned on March 31, took delivery on April 1 and was looking forward to putting on some miles, weather permitting, but it rained most of April that year so it sat in my garage.

I figured the summer would be friendlier, but on May 3, Aquila offered me a three year assignment in Melbourne, Australia which I accepted. I spent the next five and a half weeks getting my affairs in order and had little time to ride. I looked into shipping my bike there, but the hassle factor was far too great. I decided to leave the bike with my folks, and my Dad generously agreed to ride it once in a while to make sure it didn’t feel neglected! I would ride it on my visits home, but that was a hit-and-miss proposition since I was back only once or twice when the weather was nice. I decided to go ahead and sell the Fat Boy and buy a bike in Melbourne. With the strength of the US dollar against the Australian dollar, I got a pretty good deal.

In July 2000 (the middle of winter in Australia), I bought a black 2000 Heritage Classic from Harley Heaven in downtown Melbourne, and waited for riding weather to arrive. For those not familiar with the geography of Australia, Melbourne is located on Port Phillip Bay in the southeast corner of the country. It’s a beautiful city located in the scenic state of Victoria.

Riding in Australia is different in many ways than riding in the States. The biggest difference is the fact that you ride on the 'wrong' side of the road. Since I had been driving a car there for over a year, it didn’t take me too long to get used to. Fortunately, I never had an accident, but riding there takes just as much “assuming” as it does here (assume they don’t see you and assume they are going to pull out in front of you)! I didn’t change my pipes while in Melbourne, so I really never had a chance to be heard until I was right in front of someone, so the bottom line was to ride just as cautiously as possible. Melbourne is a big place, with a population of over 3 million, so at times, traffic can be pretty horrendous. I think because of this, they allow bikes to lane-split, which is something I was never comfortable with. The last thing I wanted to do was sneak up through some cager’s blind spot and have them decide to change lanes. I played it safe on that front.

The other thing that was different was the fact that I couldn’t give a passing bike a quick wave like you do in the States. Because I was riding on the wrong side of the road, my throttle hand was toward the center of the road instead of on the outside, so I couldn’t just drop my left hand off the grip for a quick biker wave. I would have had to take my right hand off the throttle every time I wanted to acknowledge another bike. Needless to say, it was awkward and wasn’t something that anyone expected anyway.

The opportunities to ride and see things that you just can’t see here in the Midwest (or the United States) are limitless. If you head southwest from Melbourne, you can ride through Geelong and either continue south toward the Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles or head back east on the Bellarine Peninsula and catch the ferry across the mouth of Port Phillip Bay and get off on the Mornington Peninsula. I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to put my bike on the ferry and trust that the boat wouldn’t rock too far the wrong way and tip my bike into a wall or a neighboring car, but it worked out well. Riding up the Mornington side can lead you through bayside vistas or if you head inland a few kilometers there are back roads that wind through one of the many wine growing areas of the state of Victoria. You can ride to the top of Arthurs Seat which is one of the highest points in southern Victoria. From there you can see the downtown buildings of Melbourne, including the Rialto Building which at 65 stories is the tallest building south of the equator – or at least it will be until a new building is completed.

I tried to ride as much as possible but work demands kept me in the office more than I liked. My favorite rides were to head out into the Yarra Valley wine growing area or through some of the National and State forests in the Dandenongs - a mountain range just outside of Melbourne. These were great rides that could take two hours or six hours depending on how far away from the city I rode. Most of the roads out there were nice two-lane highways with gas stations well within a tank full of petrol, Aussie for “gas.” I would ride everything from valley surrounded vineyards to winding mountain roads with 12 foot high ferns lining the road. It was great riding in environments that just aren’t available here in the States.

I was transferred back to Kansas City in September of 2001 and shipped my bike back along with my household goods. I had to send the bike through a certified importer which cost me $2,000. I was told they had to make modifications to the bike since it was a “grey market” bike, which meant it was built by Harley but didn’t meet US requirements. My alternative was to bypass the importer and risk the possibility of never being able to legally register and license the bike in Kansas City or to sell the bike in Melbourne before I left. Because I had made a few personal changes to the bike, such as switching out the bars for Fat Boy bars and adding a few new pieces of chrome, the bike was becoming “my bike” and I wanted to keep it. Therefore, I chose the importer route. It took about six weeks from the time the bike arrived in the Port of Chicago, where my 'stuff' cleared customs, until it was delivered to Central Harley-Davidson in Shawnee, Kansas. As far as I could tell, about the only thing they did was switch the speedometer from a KMH unit to a MPH unit; hardly worth $2,000! Since I came out ahead on the Australian/US dollar currency exchange when I bought it, I ended up spending about the same amount as if I had bought the bike here at MSRP and made my changes. All in all I think I broke even.

When I think about what Victoria and the rest of Australia have to offer as far as great riding experiences, I kick myself for not getting out more, but at the time I just couldn’t because of work. I have decided that before I die I will get back there on a Fly and Ride deal and spend a couple of weeks seeing a lot of the things I wish I had seen the first time. I highly recommend seeing Australia on a bike because it’s something you have to experience to truly appreciate.

Story and photos by Randy Miller

Editor's Note - Randy has worked in finance for Aquila since 1988. When he’s not riding, you’ll find him hunting, boating, water skiing, playing volleyball or snow skiing.