The annual Rickaby trail ride is an event that I have been meaning to do for years, one of those bucket list rides, that for some reason I had just never found the time to do.
I have had mates remind me about the event for years, and the fact that I have only ridden MX bikes has not been an excuse not to do this event, as a not so well-known fact in South Australia is that you can actually get a 24 or 48hr permit to ride and unregistered bike on public roads in events such as this one!
In 2021 that all changed with good mate Shane Carpenter not only sending me the direct link to the entry form, but also offered up a bike for me to ride if I did not have one, though sitting here after the ride I am not sure if he was keen to just have me there, or just to watch me suffer trying to ride for two full days straight after taking the past four and a half months away from swinging off a set of bars.
With my entry in for the 39th running of this and knowing the new GASGAS range of motorcycles has just started to land in the country, I made contact with GASGAS Australian Marketing manager to see if there was any possibility of seeing what the all new RED bike on the market was all about.
Luckily enough for myself, the Australian media launch was set to take place the week prior to the Rickaby event, and the good people at GASGAS Australia offered me the choice of their EC Range for the weekend.
There was certainly a strong temptation to take hold of either the EC250 or EC300 two strokes, and they were not easy bikes to pass up, but with my longest stint away from riding since I started riding as an adult nearly 20 years ago, they smart option was to take hold of either the EC250F or EC350F and being that I am currently hovering over the 110kg mark, the extra power of the 350F was the sensible choice, and what would turn out to be a great choice in bike.
The bike itself arrived at my daytime workplace on the Thursday morning prior to the ride, freshly crated after being ridden a total of 112kmâ€™s at the press launch. The moment my workday was over on Thursday, the tools came out and I went to work to de-crate and re-assemble my steed for the weekend ahead.
The following 24 hours could not pass quick enough, and with an early exit already planned for Friday, a checked out of my day job, jumped in the car, raced home, loaded up the trailer and set sail on the 150km trip to Port Broughton to meet up with our crew of 12 riders and back up driver who would show me the ropes of this ride, a ride I thought was roughly 80kms of riding each day! I have no idea why that number was stuck in my head, but it turned out to be wrong, very very wrong.
Rolling up to the Zerna residence at 7.30pm I was greeted by our host for the night, the lovely Elaine, mother of Billy and Adrian and grandmother of Josh along with Carps (Shane Carpenter) who had made sure I was riding this weekend, Painter Peter Rossi who would become the target for trash talk across the weekend, the Kitchen maker Troy Stephens, Guy the Sherriff who would be driving our back up vehicle for the weekend and maybe the unluckiest man at the table Simmo (Simon Brombal), who was missing this yearâ€™s ride, due to a wedding, but was kind enough to stay around to Saturday morning and cook our breakfast before shooting through.
Now it was a little disappointing to rock up to realise while I had spent my day working flat out just to get away in time, these guys had spent the morning on a fishing charter catching fish and doing some crabbing.
The upside, after they returned they spend the afternoon (After a short snooze) cooking up crabs and gutting the fish ready for a seafood feast for dinner, with the cooking underway, and the rest of our crew rolling in, we downed a few beers, talked a heap of trash, bantered about our previous rides and races together, along with a lot of talk about Finke as most of this crew had just managed to get their entries in for the 2021 event, an all but two of us had raced the event in the past, including Ian Butler who has a class win to his name and Adrian Zerna who has a best finish of 8th outright!
After a restless nightâ€™s sleep in the back of the car after forgetting to throw in the mattress, the smell of Simmo cooking up bacon and eggs soon had a smile back on my face and ready to gear up for the first day of riding.
With the bikes ready and everyone in their newly acquired shirts thanks to Carps, we took the short ride down to the end of the street and around the corner to a petrol station in Port Broughton to meet up with the remainder of the 80-100 rides and support crew that would be joining us on the ride.
The event itself actually starts 50km down the road at the Port Pirie motocross track, and if you plan on having your swag on the truck that heads to the final destination for that night just outside of Port Rickaby, this is where you start the 250km each way trip, yes over three times the 80kmâ€™s I had pictured in my head.
The fuel stop at Pt Broughton also serves as the place for the official riders brief, quite a number of riders actually join the ride at this point with the first part of the ride being pretty much a straight road from what I am told.It was also the first spot I ran into some long time moto friends, in Disco ( Paul Neighbour) and Toby Connor a Pirie local who I raced against early on in my dirt biking life.
One of the eventâ€™s organisers Josh Murdoch who was Helicoptered out of the ride two years ago after doing himself quite a lot of damage ironically gave the safety talk and after having another rider taken away by chopper last year, we were well advised to ride well within our limits!
With the riders brief out of the way, it was time to get this ride started, with the large gathering of fellow riders on every make and model of bike imaginable rolling out of the Perryâ€™s petrol station behind our lead rider, taking a tour through the back streets of the local town, onto the Highway, before taking a right hand turn onto a dry and dusty dirt track that lead to the first bit of fun for the day.
Making our way through off the dirt road and through a short section of single track, we popped out onto the beach front for the first of many times during this ride, it was actually the first time I had ever ridden on any beach on a dirt bike; and it was fair to say I was a little excited.
It did not take long for the majority of riders to grab a handful of throttle and disappear off into the distance, for myself I was just happy to have some clear vision after the struggling to see past the front guard on the dirt road, and enjoyed the opening leg that took us along the beach front, across the occasional clay pan and in and out of some sandy scrub. It gave me a chance to get a bit more of a feel for the GASGAS EC350F and more importantly get a feel for riding again.
Rolling into Tickera, the first of many beautiful small coastal towns, located less than two hoursâ€™ drive my house that I had never visited in my 43 years of existence on this earth, I looked up to see the majority of riders in the group already gathered having their first re-group. I parked up, thinking I was one of the last to roll in, however there was still of steady stream of riders rolling in behind me and It was a good 10 minutes or so until our sweep rider Dave Footner ( who I still remember as one of the fastest riders in South Australia when I was a kid) rolled in followed by the support vehicles.
I used the opportunity at the first stop to make a slight adjustment to the Nekken bars with a little assistance from Dan Kessner, who was one of the last to roll in to camp on Friday night along with Butler and John White and his DRZ400 with handle bar mounted fuel tank!
Apart from a quick squirt in the car park at work after putting the EC350 together out of the crate, I had not swung a leg over the GASGAS until the morning of the ride. Despite this I was feeling quite comfortable.
Prior to the ride I had already wound the compression up on the fork to six clicks from as hard as the XACT Explore fork would go, my 114kg frame was a fair wack over what the desired rider weight of the spring rate that comes stock on this bike.
With the bars rolled back to the stock neutral position, it was again time to hit the electric start button and make our way from Tickera to Wallaroo, this time taking in a mixture of flowing and undulating gravel tracks, and a little more sand, before once again re-grouping on the South side of the mining town.
From Wallaroo the riding started to get a little more intense, with a nice long run of deep sand whoops awaiting us as we got back into the swing of things. I am not going to lie, between my lack of bike time and getting a feel for the super plush suspension on the EC350, the long whoop sections certainly took it out of me and even with another long dirt road transport section heading into Moonta, I was glad to roll into town, top up the 8.5L fuel tank and kick back at the Moonta pub and enjoy a Beef Snitty.
It was a pretty cool site seeing close to 100 bikes lined up in a row stretching as far as the eye could see down the main street of Moonta, with the local pub doing an amazing job to pump out everyoneâ€™s meal in short time.
With a belly full of food, we rolled out of Moonta, made our way a couple of kilometres down the highway before turning off for what was probably the most enjoyable sections of the ride to Rickaby. The first section of trail ran alongside a dirt road, ducking in and out of trees, over small rises taking us through to Port Hughes, for some more sandy beach fun.
The open stretch of beach outside of Port Hughes allowed me the opportunity to really see what the GASGAS EC350F was like for gathering speed with the stock gearing. From a standstill I clicked up to second gear, took off down the beach and clicked through the six-speed gear box.
The top speed on this bike with stock gearing is still an unknown to myself, I was well short of hitting the limiter in 6th gear, but what I will say is if you were planning on running this bike at say Hattah or Finke, I am more than confident that hitting the 140kph mark would be very achievable, and would not be surprised if you could push close to 160 before running out of legs!
From Port Hughes, we made our way onto Balgowan again crossing a variety of trails, including plenty of rolling sand whoops between the endless saltbushes, a little more beach front riding, a few more clay pans and finished off some epic cliff top riding, which included some of the most amazing views of the coast line. I am still not 100% sure how we ended up on this section of trail, but we did.
From Balgowan we headed a little more inland, cutting through some winding, but fast flowing 4WD tracks that were a lot of fun to ride, offering up a little more hard pack dirt, some rock sections before ending with another long sandy whooped section at what I thought was the last stop for the day. Turns out I was wrong; we had just rolled into Port Victoria and still had a short distance to go before the nights lay over.
After a quick stop on yet another majestic looking beach filled with the whitest sand I had ever seen; it was time for the last 20km blast down to our stop over for the night at the Port Rickaby camp grounds which for good measure included one last section of deep sandy whoops, to really finish off the body for the day.
In total we had travelled bang on 200km, taken in some unreal scenery, stopped off at a handful of towns that I knew existed but had never taken the time to venture to and explore.
With the riding done and dusted for the day, and most riders accounted for, the support crew rolled in and started the massive unpack of swags, bbqâ€™s, food and beer for the nightâ€™s festivities.
Gearing down, there was no doubt I was feeling it, 200km of riding, leaving at 830am and arriving at our overnight stop some 8 hours later, it was fair to say I was spent.
I changed into a pair of shorts, had a chat with the two Ianâ€™s Butler, and Haylock then joined the rest of our group for a quiet beer while sitting in the shallows of the sea. With a refreshing lay down in the water over, I grabbed the swag, heading back over the sand hill and set up on the beach front for the night.
Unfortunately for myself I was not feeling the best, so I grabbed a perfectly cooked steak sandwich fresh from the BBQ, before retiring to my swag for the evening, watching the sun set before getting a good nightâ€™s sleep.
While I had an early night the majority of riders had set up in the campgrounds and spent the night sharing stories and looking back over the days ride.
With a good nightâ€™s sleep under the belt I awoke as the sun rose early on Sunday morning, again greeted with an amazing view overlooking the Spencer Gulf and was ready for the return leg back to Port Broughton.
As they have done for the past couple of years, the group I was riding with needed to return home early, so we departed from the main group early on, with our own support vehicle in tow.
While the majority of the ride back was a reverse replica of the ride the day prior, we did stumble across a couple of different single trails that certainly made the ride back a little more intense.
Traveling along a narrow single track, we came across a gnarly little hill climb, I sat and watched as the majority of our group rode to the bottom of a hill, hooked a sharp right hand turn that lead directly up a little ledge and continue uphill, a hill that looked a little more vertical than I was keen for.
With everyone making reasonable light work of it, I rolled down, made sure I was in second gear, turned right and opened the throttle, the Maxxis Maxx Enduro medium rear tyre hooked up and I joined the crew on top of the hill with a smile on my face. Carps looked at me and said thatâ€™s the most difficult part done, and near instantly you could see the looks on a few of the other guys faces, and I knew that would not be the case.
We rolled over the top of the hill, travelled less than a couple of kilometres where we were once again greeted by another valley, this time it was a straight run in and back out, however the ledge coming out of the valley was a little steeper. I watched on as just about everyone in front of me spun the rear wheel as they started the climb, watching the small ledge get chewed out and every rider in line struggle more and more with the first part of the climb.
I lined myself up, this time clicking down to first, lofted the front wheel a little to get over the ledge then felt the back end spin, despite a lot clutch work, this one was not going to happen for me, I jumped to the side of the bike as I stalled. Thankfully the 350 has electric start, so I proceeded to try and walk the bike up the hill in first gear, with the help of Carps I eventually made it to the top, completely out of breath, but I was there and we could continue on.
If things were a little breathless for myself, I am not sure exactly how you would describe what our mate Wazza then went through moments later.
Taking back off, the group all followed the track over a small rise that headed to the right, I was near the back of the group with Wazza on his KTM 450SX just in front of me. Now Warren Carrol in his prime was a more than handy supercross and motocross racer at a national level, even as a veteran now he can still run at the pointy end of a state championship and raced a handful of Australian Supercross races in recent years.
While everyone headed to the right over what looked to be a small rise, Wazza went straight, opening the throttle with a little clutch and seat bounced up the small rise. From my vantage point it looked so sweet as he effortlessly launched into the air, taking off from what was barely any form of lip and disappeared out of my sight.
I continued to follow the path and as I reached the top crest noticed a little commotion on the proceeding downside. There was a downed bike, which I quickly realised was Warren, with a couple of people stopped nearby. I was not sure what had happened until I looked to my left.
The line Warren had chosen certainly went up to a ledge, but beyond that ledge was a straight drop, it would have been at least 4m straight to the ground where the ledge ended. Somehow he managed to keep a level head, gassed it a little off the drop, landed between some rocks below and was bounced off his bike upon landing. He had somehow managed to get away with it injury free and some minor scratches to the bike!
With luck on our side we continued on, coming up to one last drop in and out of a valley, this time despite being as hard as the last climb, I made it through cleanly and we continued our way back to Wallaroo for what would be our lunch stop for the day.
After devouring four seafood treasure chests at the Boat Shed at Wallaroo, we headed across town for a slow ride across North Beach before making the quick trip back to Port Broughton to conclude two big day of riding, with another 200km travelled on the way back.
After two days of riding, we kicked back for a well-deserved beverage and started the clean-up. It had been an epic trip, catching up with people I had met over the past 20 years of riding dirt bikes, hanging out with our crew and meeting new people along the way.
Apart from a handful of bike launches it was the first organised trail ride I had ventured on, in fact apart from media launches and one adventure ride on a Suzuki V-strom which was more dirt roads than trail, it was the first time I had really been on a trail ride at all!
One thing for sure is it wonâ€™t be my last, itâ€™s fair to say it was one of the most enjoyable weekends I have had riding in a long time. No start gate, no race to be to the first to a finish line as quick as possible, just the chance to jump on two wheels, ride some amazing trails on a great bike and take in some scenery that I would probably have never seen if I had not finally got around to doing this event.
If you are looking for a great way to explore just a small part of South Australia and what it has to offer, keep an eye out for the 2021 Port Rickaby trail ride, 2022 will mark the 40th anniversary of this great event, and from what I have been told, the Anniversary rides are not to be missed!