Crossing the Australian Continent by Raptor
By Mike Hanlon
September 24, 2005
September 25, 2005 As we reported last week, a pair of Yamaha’s potent fuel injected YFM700R Raptor All Terrain Vehicles has just completed a trans-Australian crossing. Matt Brown and Ross Ledger left Byron Bay Lighthouse, the eastern-most point of Australia and spent two weeks in the harshest environment this side of the moon before arriving in Steep Point, WA and earning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest trip ever completed on an ATV. The pair kept a daily diary and took pics along the way. This is the diary kept by a team of Matt, Ross and the support crew, in their own words, and these are the images taken by the support crew. If you’ve ever wondered just how big Australia is, check out the image library.
The day had finally come, after months of planning the crew were in Byron Bay, the most Easterly part of the Australian continent and were about to embark on the longest recorded ATV ride in the world. The journey would see them travel across Australia from the most Eastern point in Byron Bay, New South Wales to the most Western point at Steep Point in Western Australia. The five thousand plus kilometres trip would cross through some of Australia's harshest environments and would push the machines and riders to the edge.
This day had not come fast enough for the crew but with a pair Yamaha's latest ATV weapons, the fuel injected Raptor 700's the trip was sure to be an adventure. Securing the Yamaha's as the choice of ATV's for the trip was an integral part of the trip but it did not come without its fair share of obstacles. Read on to see how the trip became a reality and what was involved in completing such a feat.
The riders Matt Brown from Bathurst and Ross Ledger from Brisbane were backed up by David McNamara, John Sherlock and John Kelly both from Brisbane in a Ford F250 which carried the supplies and spares for the grueling journey.
Matt Brown at the tender age of 34 has been riding off road motorcycles for some fifteen years and has been a long term supporter of the DSMRA attending many trail rides throughout Australia. Matt rode his Yamaha WR 400 on a Sydney to Brisbane ride consisting of some 1700Km of mainly dirt trails and tracks. Matt has also travelled to Cape York Peninsular by bike as well as several trips in his modified Ford F250 that will be the back up vehicle for the record attempt.
Ross Ledger at 38 years of age has spent most of his life with his hands wrapped around handlebars off some sort. From motocross, enduro and road bikes to jetskis he has a passion for anything with handlebars and horsepower. Ross has ridden the famous Cape York track several times as well as endless enduro rides throughout Australia.
David McNamara also 38 years of age was responsible for driving the Ford F250 support vehicle. Like Ross, David is also a keen rider of anything with handlebars and horsepower but has also done extensive travelling throughout Australia by four wheel drive and motorcycle. With seven Cape York trips, two Simpson Desert crossings, the Gibb river road and two trips around Australia David is very well experienced in trip planning, coordination and execution for such a trip.
John Kelly - well he just lifts heavy things! No, really John's experience with motorcycles was invaluable in maintaining the ATV's and the support vehicle during the trip. John has also had extensive travel overseas and his driving skills will help during the long spells in the support vehicle. John was also the official photographer for the trip and as such was responsible for capturing the adventure on both still and video footage.
John Sherlock has been involved with motorcycles for most of his life and his knowledge in ATV maintenance will be a valuable asset to the team. John was also heavily involved in preparing the ATV’s for the World Record attempt and as such has a good understanding of the new Yamaha Raptor 700’s.
The trip came about over a few rums/ales on a Birdsville Races / Simpson Desert crossing with Matt and David. The initial trip was just to cross from East to West in Matts Ford F250 but the thought of bringing along a couple of ATV's was pretty inviting as both Matt and David currently owned 660 Yamaha Raptors of their own.
As the idea progressed, Matt come up with the outrageous idea of riding his ATV the full distance rather then driving the F-Truck. David told him that he was mad and that there was no way that his butt would be sitting on an ATV for 4000 kilometres. Matt continued with the plan and after contacting Guinness World records found out that if successful, the ATV ride was worthy of a world record. This inspired Matt but the next obstacle was obtaining permission to do such a trip. "Just watch me," he shouted and to his credit his determination brought the idea to fruition.
All four crew had recently been involved with the Variety Clubs 'Jet Trek' where Matt and Ross rode Jet Ski's from North Coast Jetski's some 600 kilometres from Yeppoon to Caloundra to raise funds for sick, disabled and disadvantaged children.
The Yamaha Coast to Coast Raptor 700 world record seemed like the ideal opportunity to again raise funds for the Variety club. With this, the Variety club was endorsed as the official charity of the world record attempt. The money raised from the ATV world record attempt will be forwarded to the Variety Club to help with appeals for sick, disabled and disadvantaged children. Appeals are usually granted by way of goods and services - including the Variety Sunshine Coach Program (motor coaches) along with a vast array of grants to hospitals, schools, youth clubs and of course to individual children.
Matt was relentless in obtaining permits to undertake the record attempt. Hours were spent on the phone to FOVA, Police and local councils to get permission to traverse through their shires. The ATV's were conditionally registered in New South Wales, which formed the basis for obtaining the permits. Special thanks should be made to Constable Mick Jones from Karumba police station for his special effort in helping us obtain these permits.
Each state and many councils had there own specific regulations to obtain the permits. New South Wales and Northern Territory had limited the speed of the ATV's to 50Km per hour regardless of the roads signposted speed limit. New South Wales required escort vehicles front and rear of the ATV's while all other states only required one escort vehicle. Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia required the escort vehicle to travel behind the ATV's while South Australia required the escort vehicle in front of the ATV's.
As part of the approvals the ATV's had to be set up with indicators, mirrors, brake lights, headlight and tail lights as well as a flashing yellow light. The escort vehicle was also required to be fitted with a yellow flashing light as well as signs warning other motorists that the ATV's were using the road.
Securing the Deal
Initial planning was looking like the world record attempt was going to be possible so it was now time to arrange sponsorship to help pay for the trip and to raise money for the Variety Club Children's Charity. All major ATV manufactures were approached with Yamaha being the first to make an offer. They were about to release the all new fuel injected Raptor 700 into the country and what better way to prove its potential then by giving the crew a couple of them to traverse the continent from East to West.
Yamaha also come to the party supplying riding gear through Ficeda, an account for spares and consumables as well as 24hour technical support should it be required. Many thanks to Steven Cotterell and Cheryl Muldoon from Yamaha who spent hours with Matt Brown and Ross Ledger to secure the deal. Also thanks to Lyndon Heffernan from Detour Trail Tours for your help in securing the 700 Raptors for the record attempt.
Other Major sponsors include
Kenda Tyres, Pirelli, North Coast Jetski’s, Pro Yamaha, Whitemans Motorcycles - Bathurst, Telstra, Ride on Motorcycles – Byron Bay, and many others who all helped to support the Variety Clubs Appeal.
Testing the new 700s
At the planning stage of the adventure s there were only two 700 Raptors in the country. One of them was secured for a trial ride at Stockton Beach one month prior to the planned leave date. All was going well and initial indications were that the Raptor 700 would certainly make for a great machine for the trip. It was certainly no slouch with major improvements on the 660 Raptor including the fuel injection which made for a smother power delivery, particularly at low revs but also the wider and longer wheel base which made the 700 Raptor much more stable then its predecessor.
The raptor was put through its paces coming through with flying colours in everything that was thrown at it. The semi bald demo tyres did not provide much traction for race starts but its performance mid range and top end was astonishing. It would hunt down and pass worked YFZ450's as well as Honda's bombed TRX400. Look out Australia the Raptors are about to be let loose.
But… all fun come to a halt when the 700 Raptor came head to head with an 03 model 660 Raptor. And I mean head to head. On one of Stockton Beaches narrow trails the two ATV's met head on and considerable damage was done to both Quads. Fortunately the riders were shaken and bruised but not broken. Mental note - Look out for moving obstacles… It is a long way across Australia!
The next dilemma was that there were only two of these weapons in the country and no spare parts! Can the machine be fixed before our 29th August leave date! Quick call Yamaha and get things rolling. Thanks to Sean Hawker from Yamaha for your help in making this happen.
Just days before the leave date the last parts for the damaged Raptor arrived in Australia and were rapidly fitted to the ATV for final testing before heading off to Byron Bay.
Day one would see them leave Byron Bay in New South Wales and head East on Bitumen road for some 490Km before reaching the Queensland border at Goondiwindi. The 6.00am start from the Light House at the most Eastern Point of Australia was hampered by rain, wind and cold weather. Fortunately the excellent riding gear provided from the sponsors ensured that the riders were protected from the poor conditions and day one was completed with smiles and beers all round.
The riding included a mix of tight mountain roads and open straights with very little traffic. The NSW police were a great support to the event providing local knowledge and assistance during the trip.
Quads fuelled and the chains lubed and it was time for another long day in the saddle with 800kms of bitumen before reaching the nights stop at Thargomindah. The route took us through Cunnamulla and St George where we had our first taste of the true outback with kangaroos, cattle and road trains. Both Matt and Ross had some close encouters with Kangaroos. Matt was thankful for his saftey gear after recieving a rock to the chest from a 50 meter long road train. The Yamaha Raptor 700's perfumed brilliantly only requiring a quick fuel stop every 100 to 130kms. The Kenda Knarly tyres where also holding up well showing only minimal signs of wear with over 1200 kms of harsh road use and some playing in the table drains. The ATV's gained heaps of attention wherever they went drawing attention from all walks of life. All were amazed with attempt ahead of us.
With still another 200km of bitumen before the first taste of dirt roads the group left Thargomindah at daylight for another long day in the saddle. Many thanks to Constable Regan and his wife from the Thargomindah police station for the accommodation. It was a good start to the day with Ross's bag falling off the support vehicle only a few kilometers out of town. Fortunately for Ross it was spotted rolling down the road and after retrieving it it was all OK as the bottle of after shave had broken and deodorised his clothes but the bottle of Bourben was still in tact. It was decided that this time we would tie on the bag - Ross was OK with that! Soon after hitting the dirt roads for the first time the setup on the ATV's was soon changed to make them softer to deal with the rough conditions. The dirt was a welcome change for the riders and a whole new burst of enthuasim was found in the loose conditions. Innaminka was the stop for lunch and the Raptors were still getting heaps of attention with people always inquisitive to find out more about the machines and the world record attempt. After lunch the group took the back way across Walkers Crossing through tight twisty tracks before reaching the Birdsville Track and heading north into Birdsville. Another faultless day for the Yamaha Raptor 700's with more then 2000Km of high reving, fast ridding now behind them they were truly being tested beyond what they were originally built for. Their reliability to date was exceptional. Day 4 and 5 were rest days to rehydrate the crew at the Birdsville races, promote the new Raptors and to raise money for Variety before the adventure continues across the Simpson Desert.
After some long days aboard the Raptors it was time for a little rest and relaxation at The Birdsville races, but with the Birdsville races what it is the boys found themselves answering questions about the world record attempt while rehydrating over a few ales. The pictures tell the story. The boys also took the day to raise funds for the Variety club children's charity and to promote the new Yamaha Raptors. Many thanks to all the generous and intoxicated people that donated funds for the Variety club. Many thanks to Matt Brown who managed to raise $300 in five minutes by doing some things that can only be done with enough alcohol. A bloke called Bulldog will never be the same! A race was also staged in the campgrounds with some 1944 Ferguson tractors that had crossed the Simpson Desert prior to the races. Unfortunately the tractors won because the Raptor riders were momentarily distracted by some female talent passing by. As night fell and the temperatures dropped the true spirit of Birdsville come alive with characters from all over the world. Tales were told, stories were passed and lengths were measured. Not sure what happened after that but thankfully the camera's batteries went flat. That's our story and we are sticking to it.
Sometime during the Bu#$%* of the night before Matt had arranged to meet Channel Seven's Getaway and the Courier Mail at Big Red for some publicity shots at 8.00am. Big Red is the most Eastern and the largest Sand dune of the Desert crossing. By the time that the boys got themselves together and travelled the 45km out to the dune it was well past 9.00 and they were greeted with hundreds of people all waiting to see how the Raptors would perform in the dunes. The crowd was not disappointed as the boys tore up the dunes sending 20 foot roosts off the top of the dunes and soaring through the sky leaving the crowd astonished by the Raptors performance. Many Four wheel drives struggle to make it to the top of Big Red and some opted to walk to the top after many attempts. The Ford F250 support vehicle also tore up Big Red. Jumping the four tonne of F250 off the top of Big Red on a track that very few 4x4 can even get up left other four wheel drivers impressed by its ability. Even the local Police were impressed as they got a great view of the bottom of the truck heading straight for them. Although, after many attempts to get the big F truck up one of the rough, narrow, winding tracks made by the Raptors it was conceded that the Raptors can definitely go places that the F truck can not. Soon after that it was discovered that two of the four rear shocks had been torn off the F-truck. Not quite sure how this happened!!! After the photo shoot it was back to Birdsville for a few hours before packing up and heading back across Big Red and into the Desert for a quite night and a good sleep.
After a great nights sleep in the Simpson Desert the crew was woken by thousands of flies trying hard to get into their swags. It was a matter of throwing everything into the truck getting the bike gear on and making tracks. The flies made stopping unbearable and the day saw the crew going without breakfast and lunch because it was impossible to eat without chewing on flies. The first stop was Popernell Corner where the Queensland, New South Wales and South Australian borders all meet. The day was spent crossing hundreds of sand dunes and dry salt lakes in 40 degree heat with 30 knots Westerly winds. The riders struggled with the heat and were consistently using their camel backs to keep rehydrated. During refuelling Matt and Ross would briefly sit in the F Truck with the Air conditioning on full for some serious relief from the heat. Just for the fun of it the support crew locked the riders out of the truck for a while but they did not see the funny side of it. Half way across the Desert the riders came across someone crazier then themselves. A guy called Frank Walker who was walking across the desert self supported, carrying his supplies in a motorised trolley. Frank had a crazy spirit for adventure and had previously ridden a 125cc motorcycle unsupported around Australia in 21 days averaging 800km per day. The F250 done the trip easy crossing the desert in 2wd without spinning the wheels. The big 300hp Ford turbo diesel drives the huge 315/75R15 tyres through the sand without digging holes or corrugating the sand like most 4wd's. Purnie Bore was a great spot for a refuel before the final 70km through to Dalhousie Springs. The entrance to Dalhousie Springs was a welcome site for the riders. A quick cook up before diving into the warm waters which worked wonders to sooth the weary riders.
Another quick swim in the warm water before packing up and hitting the dirt roads through Mt Dare Station, and Finke. About 2km short of reaching the half way point of the trip, the geographical centre of Australia Ross lost concerntration on a slow, tight rutted corner and hit a tree. Ross was fine but the Raptor had suffered some damage bending the upper A-arm and bending a front rim. Fortunately there were spares in the suppurt vehicle which allowed John to do a quick repair on it while the rest of the team took time out for a great BBQ lunch and some publicity shots for Yamaha at the Geographical centre of Australia. The journey then continued on to Kulgera before the short run up the Stuart Highway to the nights stay at the Erlgunda Roadhouse. John was again called into action for a quick oil change on both Raptors to prepare them for the next leg of the journey.
The plan for Day eight was thrown out the door and it turned out to be a day for repairs on the F250 and the Raptors. Steve and Beck from Curtin Springs Homestead offered their workshop and facilities to fix the broken shock mounts on the F250 and to repair the bent A-arm of the Raptor should needed it again. They then offered their tavern and front gate for more Yamaha pictures and cold ales to finish off the afternoon. Curtain Springs is a 1,000,000 plus acre cattle property that offers free camping and hot shows while providing travellers with a great dose of country comfort and hospitality about 80 km from Ayers rock. They also provide a hotel with take away alcohol at reasonable prices, a restaurant that serves great Camel steaks, accommodation and fuel. They also offer great camping at Mt Conner which is also on their property. Both Steve and Beck are avid dirt bike riders and were only too happy to meet any of our needs to ensure the world record attempt was successful. Make sure you call in and have a drink or two with them on your way to the Rock. Thanks Beck and Steve your help was truly appreciated.
After leaving Curtin Springs the group headed for Ayers Rock for a food restock and to pick up the new shocks for the F250 that were flown in from Sydney. The two Jonnies took the opportunity to take a quick dash up and down the Rock before heading west towards Docker River and into Western Australia. Camels were plentiful in this part of the country and the riders had to take evasive actions on a number of occasions to avoid hitting them. At Warakurna the trip turned right onto the Old Gunbarrel Highway, the sign at the start of the Gunbarrel said "Road unsafe (Abandoned) - Continue at your own risk". The road was overgrown and rough but still passable. The group made camp not far into the Gunbarrel and had barely set up camp before Earl came along. Errol was a bit of a loner and spent weeks alone in the bush photographing camels and looking for rock holes. For someone that was a loner he certainly could talk and shared many of his adventures with us. It cost the adventures a few beers and a mixed grill for Earl's stories but apparently it was well worth it!
Day Ten - The Gunbarrel Highway
With still over 2000km to Steep Point the crew was up before daylight to cover as many kilometres as possible before dark. About 10km from the previous nights camp Ross drifted wide on a rutted corner spearing a stick through the oil reservoir on his Raptor. The look on Ross's face was priceless when he saw the Raptor was parked in a pool of oil. 'Johnie - We can fix it' leaped into action to get the Raptor mobile again using 3 year needit to bung up the hole. A quick dry with the blow torch to speed up the curing process and it was back on the road. The rest of the day was spent with an average speed of 40 - 50Km per hour on the unmaintained Gunbarrel. It was just on dark when Matt radioed through to the support vehicle to say that he had found a campsite. It turned out that the balljoint on Ross's Raptor had separated allowing the front suspension to collapse and dig into the sand sending Ross over the hangers as the Raptor made its own path through the scrub. The picture shows the crash zone. Ross jumped up and apart from a twisted thumb was unhurt. After two mishaps in the one day Ross was happy to make camp for the night while ''Johnnie - We can fix it' again spent time on the tired Raptor. Over a few drinks it was determined that the ball joint had been damaged in the previous altercation with the tree and the corrugations on the Gunbarrel had finally taken its toll on the damaged component.
Day Eleven - West of Wiluna
Another pre daylight start saw the group arrive at Mt Beadell on the Gunbarrel Highway. Mt Beadell was a great opportunity to get a good look at the countryside and provided some excellent photo opportunities. West of Carnegie the Gunbarrel Highway is maintained and it was time to open the throttle and reduce the kilometres to Steep Point but as fate would have it the F 250 blew out a tyre costing time and daylight. A quick tyre change and it was on with the trip to catch the Raptors. As part of the Guinness World Record attempt the crew had to have Police from each town sign an official register verifying that Matt and Ross were infact riding the complete trip. The Wiluna Police were the only ones that gave any grief greeting Matt with "I hope your not riding that thing on the road". After showing the folders full of permits he changed his attitude and was happy to have a chat. This was the only place across Australia that wanted to see the permits and overall the police help on the trip was excellent. The damaged oil reservoir on Ross's Raptor continued to be a problem but with the end in sight and a late night repair from 'Johnnie - We can fix it' it should make it to Steep Point. Matts Raptor was still running faultlessly with nothing but a holed sidewall that was easily repaired. For a couple of ATV's straight out of the crate the Raptors were proving to be the ultimate in performance and reliability. The Kenda Tyres were showing signs of wear but with more then 4000km already completed they should easily last the remaining 1000 plus kilometres to Steep Point. Even the road crew was showing signs of exhaustion. Stumbling out of the air conditioned F truck to refill the Raptors every 100km was taking its toll. The riders just glared and bared the support crews comments and got on with the job.
Day Twelve - Steep point
With 800km of unpaved country roads to Steep Point the final day was going to be a fitting end to a marathon trip. It should be the last day for getting up in the dark and putting on two week old riding gear. It had been five days since any one had showered so everyone smelt the same. Rolling into Meekatharra (the famous town in Kevin Bloody Wilson's song - Living next door to Alan) the support crew come up with a new song about a worn out white F truck. From Meekatharra the adventure continued across station roads which as a welcome surprise for the riders were very well maintained. The boys made a quick stop at the remains of the old Mt Gould lockup for some happy snaps before continuing onto the Overlander Roadhouse. The last 180km to Steep Point seemed to take ages but with the final 30km on tight sandy tracks it made for a great race to the finish. The final photo's were taken as whales swam past and the sun went down over Steep Point. It would be the final night sleeping in swags and the location could not be more perfect. Steep Point is a beautiful location and well worth a visit. Camping is available on the beach and the Rangers could not be friendlier. It cannot be expressed in words how well the new 700 fuel injected Raptors performed. Both Raptors were unmodified except for the Kenda tyres and RTA requirements. Matt's Raptor was run in on the first leg of the adventure and never missed a beat across the entire 5000km plus trip. Ross's Raptor was one of the Australian pre-production models which had been crashed and repaired prior to the trip, it twice crashed through tree's, it's oil reservoir was split open on a stick but it still managed to finish the entire trip. The Kenda Tyres fitted to both Raptors made the entire 5000km plus trip with out a change. They tackled some of the harshest terrain in Australia from the Stony, Simpson and Gibson deserts to the bitumen and dirt roads across the country. Between the two Raptors they travelled more then 10,000km and with only one flat tyre that is impressive! Other sponsors that made the Yamaha Coast to Coast Raptor 700 World Record possible include Pro Yamaha, Pirelli, Whiteman's Motorcycles, Telstra, North Coast Jetski's, Ledger Financial Services, Aussie Pooch Mobile, Geraldton Tyre Power, MJB Corporation, Matt Murphy from Ficeda and Steve Embelton from Major Events Queensland Police. The New World record longest ever ATV ride has now been set by Matt Brown at 5710 kilometers.
Ross Ledger rode 5526 kilometers with Matt to allow him to achieve the World Record.