The New England offers some of the most beautiful and diverse scenery in the world. It’s not until you get out onto the back roads and tracks that a whole new world is opened up. We meet Tony Bennett from Adventure Riders to find out more
When and why did you return to Armidale?
I returned to Armidale in early 2008 following 14 years at Tweed Heads, prior to which I was in the Upper Hunter for a similar length of time. My reasons for returning were twofold – to escape the heat and humidity and to support my mother as she gets older. My brother, Jon, and his family also live in Armidale. In Tweed Heads I ran a large busy natural therapies clinic, and it is really nice to run my own quiet acupuncture clinic from home here in Armidale.
When did your love for riding begin?
As a teenager growing up in Guyra, my first bike was a $15 box of parts which my father helped me resurrect into a Honda 90 ex-postie bike. In my early years, I had a number of small trail and trials bikes. I remember riding my Kawasaki 175 from Guyra to school at TAS in the snow, in preference to catching the school bus.
You are a riding instructor. How would you describe a typical day?
I teach R.T.A. pre-learner and pre-provisional weekend courses, which I think are great, and I wish they were around when I got my licence. In the New England, many students have been riding on properties since before they could walk.
For them, it is a matter of converting their skills to riding safely in traffic. For those who have never ridden, it is more of a challenge and involves lots of running around followed by a good sleep that night! The pre-learner course does cater for people with absolutely no riding experience, and it is a pleasure to introduce new people to the pleasures of bike riding.
Tell us about the Adventure Riders Group and its members …
When I arrived in Armidale, I rode a big BMW sports tourer, and I soon discovered that the interesting rides were either a long distance away or the roads were dirt. I soon ended up with a BMW F800 GS adventure bike – great on the road and great on a rough track.
Having been a member of Brisbane BMW Motorcycle Owners Club, I was used to riding with a group – so I contacted one or two people whom I was told owned adventure bikes, and it has escalated from there via the modern marvel of email.
As it turned out, Will McClenaghan, whom I knew at school, bought a bike the same as mine at the same time, and he appears to know everybody.
We now have close to 50 people on our email list, aged between about 25 and 70. Initially it was just BMW GS owners, but now we welcome anyone with a dual sport adventure bike.
How does a ride come together?
An email is sent out to everyone on the list, and we meet for a ride on the 3rd Sunday of each month. So far we have managed to explore much of the New England, with an average of 6 to 12 bikes on each ride.
The advantage of a large core group is that we get to share a lot of local knowledge and have discovered some amazing rides. A normal day ride is between 200 and 400 kilometres and to keep me happy, we normally stop for lunch or morning tea at a café. It’s a great opportunity for a good coffee (not always) and to meet like minded people.
Why is the New England a special place to tour on bikes?
I have travelled as far as Vietnam looking for beautiful places to ride, and even the Tweed Hinterland offers fantastic rainforest vistas. The New England, however, offers some of the most beautiful and diverse scenery in the world.
It’s not until you get out onto the back roads and tracks that a whole new world is opened up. I must confess that, as an artist, I’m addicted to rocks – and in that regard this region has a whole lot to offer.
On a motorbike, the journey is more important than the destination.
What is your most memorable ride?
I love the spring time, when the wild flowers start and rebirth takes place. My pillion passenger was quite overwhelmed by the sight of a lamb being born and cared for by its mother on a recent ride.
My most memorable ride, however, was probably a ride on the Crow Mountain road near Barraba a couple of years ago.
There had been lots of rain and the road is made of wet red clay, which is a recipe for disaster on tyres compromised for road riding – especially when carrying a pillion passenger. The sense of satisfaction after battling and surviving close to 40 km of slippery mud was immense. If you think a car sliding unexpectedly sideways is scary, be thankful that you have four wheels.
Who can join the group?
We are not an organised club, just a group of people who choose to ride together. Everybody with a registered adventure bike and a respect for the environment is welcome to tag along.
Riders who are willing to be responsible for their own actions and respect the other members can send me an email: email@example.com and I’ll add them to the list.
What plans does the group have for the future?
Hopefully to keep riding until we are older and greyer! There is also considerable interest in advanced road and off-road rider training.
If anyone has an interest in taking part, they can send me an email and if we get sufficient numbers, I will approach the training company I work for to put on a course locally.