posted in: KTM Rider Stories | 0

She’s over 50 and doesn’t care who knows it, owns two KTM’s, considers customisation on her bikes absolutely essential, started her own ladies ride group on the Gold Coast, ridden a 690 Duke around the Alps in Europe and considers Laia Sanz to be her heroine. Sylvia Marais is one cool chick.

The number of female motorcycle riders is definitely growing and you can be damn sure when you find one that rides a KTM – she’s going to be special!

This is definitely the case with Sylvia. It was her husband Quinton who wrote to us and suggested a RIDE KTM rider story on her, simply saying “She’s the biggest KTM fan you’ll ever meet!”  Thank you for sharing your story with us Sylvia! Your words are sure to inspire KTM riders from all roads of life to get out there and experience more of what riding a motorcycle has to offer.


As I consider what to write, I realise that my whole riding history has been on KTM’s.  I like it that way.  Orange blood maybe?
We had a neat little Duke 200 that had been used by our adult kids to get their licence and now it was time for it to go.  Last chance for me, so I immediately went for and got my L’s.  Then the “how to ride a bike” started. I wouldn’t say it went smoothly but I did at least have the advantages of good balance, a decent acquaintanceship with the clutch and a husband who has trained pilots with a reasonable amount of patience and a great deal of dedication.


I was the first woman in my family to get a motorbike licence.  On the day I passed my licence test (November 2014, and I was a little over 50 years old) my husband, Quinton, went round to our local KTM dealer to put my name on the list for an RC 390.


A month later I was the proud owner the very first RC 390 on the Gold Coast.  I had been used to the upright position on the Duke, so the first ride home on the highway was a bit hairy in strong winds.  We would regularly ride the 150kms each way to visit our son on weekends, and I joined a fairly active ladies club who had rides for novices once a month.


But it wasn’t enough.  I wanted to ride more.


I also found that customising my bike was becoming a bit of a thing – I changed the muffler to an Akropovic, added race mapping, changed the mirrors (and by necessity had to change the indicators as well),  added a drink holder (the most commented on feature of the bike), added a GPS, heated grips, tank bag etc.  After more than 21 features it truly feels like MY bike.


We live pretty pressured lives, working at the forefront of the Drone industry in Australia – designing and manufacturing – so we work crazy hours and tend to do our best thinking when most are asleep.


Late one night in July 2015 we came up with this great idea of riding in Europe – hiring bikes and just going where ever we pleased.  We had left the route for this trip purposely unplanned for weather flexing, whilst trying to cater for every situation we might encounter.  We took extra bright LED daylight running lights to fit to the bike, reflective red and fluoro yellow stickers for the rear (as seen on the Tour de France media bikes), decent GPS Garmin 590 and holder, with full Europe maps, GPS power leads (plus backup power system).


September seemed a tricky time to go – sometimes quite hot and other years snow.  We decided that rain would be a given at some stage, so opted for Rukka gear and rain boots, full height SIDI boots, Shoei helmets with Sena S20 comms.


Quinton took four GoPros with custom self-designed mounts (2 on the bike, 2 on the helmet) that he designed specifically for the trip.  Add a Macbook laptop (1TB HD), eight chargers, smart clothing, everyday changes of clothing etc and you can imagine it took some serious luggage Tetris to fit it all that into 3 small panniers!
Early September we arrived in Frankfurt, picked up the KTM 1290 Super Adventure which we used for an epic dash at speeds over 200km/hr down the Autobahn in Germany.  What a buzz! And we weren’t even in the fast lane!


Arriving the next day in Andermatt via Lichtenstein and the Oberalppass, we were already bowled over by the magnificent scenery and secretly chuffed with the flexible clear weather plan we had, ie heading for clear weather zones and away from all major cities.


We did a circuit of Sustenpass, Grimselpass and Furkapass. – of these three I enjoyed the Grimsel the most for sheer pleasure of sweeping corners and amazing scenery, although all were unbelievably impressive in a way that uses all your superlatives up in the first few minutes and then you don’t quite know how to express yourself.


I am sure that our impression of these passes was heavily skewed by that fact that there were few riders about, even less cars and the weather was clear blue skies at a cool 5°C.  We were able to stop often to just drink it all in – obviously a signal for everyone else to stop as well.


Later that day we tried to ride the Gotthardpass but low hanging cloud cutting visibility to a metre or two, and then rain, combined with a steep cobbled road made that seem like a bad way to cut a holiday short, so we headed back.


The HahntennJoch had to be the most breathtaking pass that we rode, rising up through an amazing series of tunnels, traveling through several ski villages and descending gradually on a narrow road that overhung the valley with twisties that just went on and on, each competing with the one before for best view, to arrive in Imst. Here, the rain that had been chasing us until then finally caught us, so we had a chance to rest weary bodies and “denumb” the bum.
Over the next few days we rode away from the rain taking in the Stelvio Pass – what superlatives haven’t I used – please apply here!  The views were amazing, and Quinton decided this was the place to get the ultimate Facebook banner shot. Whilst trying to get the shot for Q, I saw my glove being gusted off the bike and down the Stelvio. 10 more days in freezing conditions with one glove!  Someone must be able to help!


Desperate, I pantomimed the whole sad story with the remaining glove to some labourers who were working from scaffolding on the nearby cafe.  There was a lot of laughter.  One hardy looking bearded guy looked at the glove about 30 metres below, the slope so steep I couldn’t go near it.  It seemed like certain death as the man RAN straight over the edge, skidding on the rocks and down at at angle to the glove – a mountain goat!  He was swinging the glove about and laughingly mimicking the whole blowing down slope thing whilst trotting back up and babbling in Italian.  Amazing.


The Grossglockner is yet another pass that should not be missed.  Although a private road that attracts a toll, it is definitely worth it.  A long pass that has heaps of variation, great cambered curves and many places to stop, each with amazing views – even a glass encased viewing tower.  The glacier seems to have shrunk significantly but is still impressive.  Next time we will probably try to stay on the pass so that we can ride it several times – especially after the toll gates close and the roads are comparatively car free.


We encountered really strong winds on the way down – so strong that it was extremely difficult to actually stay on the road.  Even the 1290 SA was pushed across the road like a leaf – luckily no on coming cars in those spots.


Although the passes were the real highlights on our trip, the roads near and around the lakes were great as well with long, long tunnels, twisties and amazing views.  And then of course there was the food and the cool names – what Australian can go over there and not stop in Bad Aussee (Aussie?) just for the photo op at least!


I decided I could handle the roads and needed a bike of my own.  The dealer in Wels was very helpful, letting me change my original booking of an RC390 to a KTM Duke 690 – I thought the seating position would be better for seeing and recording the views (helmet cam).  I found the tank affected the seating position quite a bit, being a much narrower design than the RC390 and making it feel more of a prim and proper bike … that is until you throttle up, then I felt the difference of the 690.


This bike was a lot of fun, had a lot of torque and was a real pleasure to ride – we did many trips into the backroads surrounding Wolfgangsee, steep drop offs and twisties on narrow farm roads – it was great!


And the place where I had my scariest “moment” – I am, after all, a bit of a novice with as good as no offroad experience, so when I glanced down at my GPS for just a sec and found myself off-road slipping on wet grass down an incline on the side of a rather steep mountain with horrible consequences below I did not feel good about it . . . putting it mildly.


Panic, throttle on, more slipping but still upright, and then finally feeling the bike gripping again, holding it together long enough to re-intercept the road below.  Adrenalin overload and falling apart with relief.  No damage to me or bike!  Survivor euphoria!


We were able to get three angles of video for most of our trip and it is really interesting looking at the helmet cam versus the bike top or bike side cams.  Listening to the audio has brought a few laughs and a lot of good memories.  I would highly recommend a trip like this to Europe either as a couple or a small group, where you have a loose agenda which then gets refined on a daily basis by what the weather dictates.


We would stop at lunch time and try to predict where we would get to that evening, and then book our accommodation on-line.  When an area had a lot to offer we would stay another night.  We may not have seen everything on our list but we saw way more than we thought we could in 12 days.


If you are thinking about doing something like this – don’t think too long, be spontaneous . . . it ends up being a lot more fun that way!  We found people in Europe seem to treat bikers really well, showing a curtesy on the road I hadn’t experienced before, and appreciating bikers as a real tourism opportunity that they are keen to encourage.


Accommodation places would go out of their way to ensure that suitable secure parking could be easily accessed, noise was never mentioned. The self guided Alps tour was less than 50% of the cost of a group tour and totally ours!

On our return, I found that a good friend of mine (also in mid-life crisis and denying it) had quickly done her licence and acquired a bike whilst I was away.  Well obviously we needed to get our experience up so we rode almost every weekend – sometimes both days, clocking up 300 and 400 kms per day.


Posting up photos on Facebook, I found that many girls were interested in our rides so eventually I created The Meerkats with a slogan of “More Coffee, More Cake, More Kilometres”.  I thought that summed us up really well.  We are a small group of a dozen or so ladies dedicated to exploring the Northern New South Wales/Southern Queensland area, whilst having fun and discovering all the best places to stop, usually riding in very small groups, and equipped with the all essential Sena so that we can gossip on the go!


To get to most destinations of interest by bike from where we live, we have to either go over Tomewin Road (a nice 35 minutes of twisties) or up Canungra, which can involve popping up Beechmont Road (yep lot’s of twisties) or a combination of Springbrook Road and Beechmont Road.


That means every ride has a great start and end to it, but my favourite local roads are 1) the Tweed Valley Way between Murwullimbah and Mooball – full of smooth, sweeping curves of excellent ex-highway road and 2) the Gwydir Highway from Grafton to Glenn Innes – great road with giant ferns and rainforest-like scenery – really cool.


Recently I was lucky enough to find myself in the Jindabyne area in summer for a week with my RC 390.  What a pleasure that was.  Spontaneous route choices, clocking up 300 to 400 kms a day, great views – perfect. There are some seriously nice roads in that area with perfect curves and amazing surface quality – makes you feel like you’re on the GP track when you are winding up the hills there – such a huge contrast to the northern rivers area.


I did my unrestricted licence on the first day I was allowed and soon after started looking for a new bike.  I looked at the Yamaha MT-09, the Ducati Multistrada and the BMW F800GS . . . no, not right for me.


My local hero dealer Colin, from Action Motorcycles, Nerang let me take the KTM 1050 for the weekend – he specially adjusted it so I could reach the ground!  Initially I wasn’t sure – it was so much bigger and heavier than my RC 390!


We went on an overnight trip to Glenn Innes and I started to see what all the interest in the big bikes was about.  I was keen, but Quinton thought that the suspension on his KTM 1190 R was superior to the KTM 1050 and worried that, in comparison I might fatigue quicker on long, long trips.


We continued to look around – and there it was, the answer.  The beautiful metallic orange KTM 1190 Adventure bike (with electronic height control, so I can still touch the ground) and great suspension!


So now I have two KTM’s – my RC390 for nipping around the coast with the girls, and my KTM 1190 Adventure for “serious” trips.


And we are planning another trip already – this time in Australia, going down to Tasmania and having a serious look around there!


However the ultimate goal is to go to South America and tour Peru/Bolivia/Chile/Argentina – not sure if the spontaneous plan works in South America so might try that in sections instead.


Of course it would be amazing to be there whilst the Dakar is on, but we might just have to content ourselves with riding in the same areas at another time of year.


Until then, we will be avidly watching the few minutes of the Dakar daily for a fortnight every year that Australia gets, and hoping that Laia Sanz (wow – love watching her) and Toby Price do well again.


They make it look so easy, but I guess that’s just because they are so good!  Aah well, one can dream …. in orange!