I ONCE knew a chap (let’s call him Colin, since that was his name) who collected foreign motorcyclists. If he spotted someone on a motorbike who looked like they were a long way from home, he would chase them down and engage them in a roadside chat. Then he would take them home and give them a good feed from the barbecue, a beer or wine or six from the fridge and, more often than not, a spot on the floor to lay a swag for the night. Or the week. Or the month.
To be honest, I thought Colin’s behaviour very odd. I sometimes wondered whether he would come to a grisly end at the hands of some BMW-riding psychopath. Or that maybe he was the psychopath and his collected foreigners were the ones in grave danger.
Come to think of it, I never did hear what happened to that nice Norwegian couple …
Colin’s behaviour seemed no less odd but a lot more clever when, after more than a decade of exhibiting his slightly creepy foreign-biker-stalking habits, he jumped on a BMW of his own and went for a nice long ride — around the world. The way I’ve heard the story, he explored almost every corner of the planet over a two-year period and never paid for accommodation anywhere — he had amassed a huge network of friends who were more than willing to return the favour of international hospitality. Smart guy, Colin.
I’ve never had Colin’s love for flagging down strangers, much less inviting them to sleep in my lounge room, but I have long envied his global network of bike-loving friends.
As most of us know, bike riders are a friendly lot. And most of us don’t mind spinning a yarn. Our common interest in things with two wheels and one or more pistons provides a remarkably mobile and universal starting point for conversation. We can choose to stay on topic (gosh, I can talk uninterrupted for a week before I even get past my teenage motocross period), or we can wander onto any subject from panda bears to politics — with wheels and pistons always available as a fall-back topic if the others start to get a bit hairy. (Oh, so you voted One Nation? … pause … Do you reckon Wayne Gardner would have been able to keep up with Casey Stoner?)
Colin knew all this, of course. He knew that if you put a bunch of bike riders into one room at one time, before you knew what was happening there would be loud conversation, much mirth, and a general jolly good time. Even if half of them couldn’t speak english. (And then, suddenly, there’d be an engine dismantled on the floor, and all the beer would be gone.)
So it comes as no surprise that a bright idea more than 30 years ago turned out to be a raging success — why not turn the unofficial motorbike network into an official motorbike network, focusing on the ‘more mature’ (over 40) rider?
And thus, the Ulysses movement was born.
Nowadays, Ulysses is said to be one of the biggest social clubs in Australia. Membership has hit 30,000. There are more than 130 branches in Australia, and the idea has spilled into the ocean and washed ashore in New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, Great Britain, Vietnam, Norway, Namibia, The Netherlands, Thailand, Switzerland, Cambodia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. (I wonder if Colin’s ever been to Botswana?)
Club rules allow for any member of any branch to attend meetings of another branch. So if you and the missus happen to be nosing around Namibia on your GoldWing, there’s a fair chance you’ll be able to hook up with some Namibian Ulyssian GoldWingians. How cool.
If you paid attention during Ancient Greek classes at high school, you’ll know that Ulysses was one of the great Gods of Greek mythology, and the mastermind behind the creation of the Trojan horse to rescue Helen of Troy. He had a bugger of a time finding his way home after the Trojan war, too.
If you paid attention during English Literature, you’ll know that, in 1833, Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a poem which pondered Ulysses after his great conquests; as a bored and ageing King who wanted to set sail again and recapture the adventurous spirit of his youth.
That tale does conjure up the romantic side of many a biker who’s nudged passed the half way mark but continues to pull on a helmet and a jacket … especially those who like to fill the tank and aim at the horizon.
Now, Kurt Mueller is not old enough to be a Greek god, but he is nearer 70 than 60 and he does have an exotic-enough name to sound like he’s arrived from a distant land. Which he has. German-born Kurt is a former president of the Perth branch of Ulysses. He remembers when the Perth branch was the only branch in WA. Now there’s thirteen. His head does not see the inside of a helmet very often these days (not since some twit reversed out of his driveway and collected Kurt and his Honda SilverWing in suburban Belmont).
But bikes are in his blood. He decided that he needed to own a motorbike when he was a young boy, riding his pushbike to the beach, surfboard strapped on, and was overtaken by a group of young men on their motorbikes. He was instantly hooked. Fortunately for him, his dad was into bikes too.
“I can still remember sitting on the tank of my father’s Ardie 250, holding onto the handlebars, back in Germany,” he says. (Go ahead and Google an image — the Ardie looks way cool).
Kurt has worked in the industry too, working in spare parts for Kawasaki in Melbourne, before moving to Perth almost 20 years ago.
There’s a GSX1100 with a sidecar attached in his backyard, as well as the SilverWing with its road-sliding battle scar, and his MZ660 which he rates as his all-time favourite bike.
“I once hit a torn up piece of pavement, at speed, on the MZ and I honestly thought I was going to die,” he says. “The bike just wobbled, straightened up, and kept going. It honestly saved my life.”
Kurt has been a member of Ulysses for 16 years. He says it gives members immediate access to a network of like-minded souls across Australia, and across the world.
“There are three types of members, really,” he says. “There are meeting goers, coffee drinkers, and bike riders. It’s almost like three different clubs within a club. And it works.”
Work it does.
The coffee drinkers get together every week for a cappuccino or a latte and a chat about bikes and stuff.
Meeting-goers get together every month to take minutes and such, and talk about bikes and stuff.
And bike riders get to go for a ride every week, stopping every now and again to talk about bikes and stuff. Sometimes it’s just a short squirt up and down the metropolitan coast, along the river, and maybe into the hills. Other times they head for the horizon. Wongan. Dongara. Hyden. The longer rides can include an overnight stop, but a day trip running 550km is not unusual. (Clearly, getting old isn’t for pussies.) And occasionally they get all King Ulysses-like and ponder distant shores, pulling together trips to foreign lands.
Which brings us neatly back to King Ulysses.
You can find Lord Tennyson’s poem of Ulysses on the ‘net, but the language is very olde worlde soe ite’s ae’ bite ofe ae’ grinde toe reade. I came across this ‘translation’, if you like, into modern language. It doesn’t have the purposeful poetic parlance as Freddy’s perfect piece of Victorian prose, but it’s a dang sight easier to follow …
(slightly clunky modern translation)
It is of little use for a king to remain idle, bored out of his bracket, and ruling a people who simply are unable to appreciate me. Indeed, many don’t even know me! I can no longer rest from the excitement of travelling. I intend to live life to the full. I have enjoyed my life immensely thus far, even though there has often been hardship, both on shore and upon the stormy seas. I am a legend for what I have seen and done, for the strange peoples, lands and governments I have visited. I have been everyone’s equal, and have delighted in fighting alongside my fellow soldiers, even far away from home on the battfields of Troy. Adventure runs in my blood, but my life is now pathetically boring. And yet, despite my advancing age, I still feel I can hold death at bay for just a little bit more by undertaking further exciting adventures and fulfilling my passionate thirst for knowledge.
I shall therefore abdicate my throne in favour of my son, Telemachus. He’s a trustworthy fellow who will rule wisely, slowly civilizing these boorish people so as to make them industrious and useful. He knows what he must do, and I can rely on him. He will also make sure to keep my household gods satisfied so that they won’t get angry in my absence and sink my ship while I’m not looking.
There below me is the harbour. The ship has all her sails ready for departure. My sailors are trustworthy folk who have delighted in sharing my previous adventures, who love fun and excitement, and who are also capable of tough work and hardship. It’s true we are all old, but we are still capable of a bit more from life. After all, death brings an end to everything, so we must live it up now while we still have the chance. The night is approaching, the moon is rising slowly into the sky, the lights of the harbour are beginning to twinkle.
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