by John Benton
PHOTOGRAPHY BY COLE BENNETTS
“I AM THE MASTER OF MY FATE, I am the captain of my Soul”. And so ends Invictus by Victorian poet William Ernest Henley, in what has become a rallying cry for our latest road trip testing and photographing the most recent incarnation of the Mercury 250 motorcycle. Our ride is set to take in both the cramped urban streets and isolated winding roads in and around Newcastle, starting and finishing at our Hunter Street workshop in the centre of town.
What started as a pipe dream has become a fully fledged reality. And with each new delivery of bikes from our manufacturing plant comes the enviable road trip to test and photograph our machines.
That morning we ran through the checklist of items to cover. This is when we get to enjoy months of planning, design and preparation — that all-too-rare convergence of work and play, and a time we always look forward to. Our crew consists of Dom, Joe, Derek and I, and photographer and friend Cole.
Our first port of call is the workshop on Hunter Street. We each select a bike so as to cover a cross section. A few adjustments later, we roll out. We decide to exit town through King Edward Park, hitting the switchbacks of York Drive. The throaty note of the exhausts draws too much attention from the families gathered in the Rose Garden. Perched on a cliff face above the Bogey Hole sea baths, we are greeted by the view of a seemingly neverending view of coal and container ships waiting patiently to enter the ports. Dotting the horizon, these ships are a reminder that although Newcastle is going through a steady process of urban regeneration, it’s an industrial town through and through.
After a few more passes, and with our obligatory ride down Memorial drive complete, we’re off. I never know whether to plan a route or wing it; each has its advantages and some of the best riding happens when you are lost and trying to find your way back. You cruise down roads you never knew were there, enjoying the sounds of the bike, the smell of the bush and the feeling of isolation. I decide to wing it. As part of our mission is to road test the new range, I figure a bit of uncertainty is not a bad thing. We end up on the Pacific Highway heading south and can finally open up the bikes free from the urban congestion. Riding a bike is so different to driving a car. You’re not sitting in the vehicle, you’re part of it. Each limb has its part to play in the symphony of propulsion. It takes engagement and responsibility to a completely new level. There’s no vagueing out, no thoughts of the to-do list waiting for you. It’s just hold on and don’t fuck up.
With the late afternoon sun beating down on us I’m again drawn to the words of Henley’s Invictus: “I thank whatever gods may be, For my unconquerable soul”. We’ve done many of these trips and yet each time it feels new. There’s a purpose, which helps us all prioritise the time to make it happen, but at the same time a real feeling of freedom and direction. There’s something about the human spirit that is uniquely exposed when riding a motorcycle. Maybe it’s the vulnerability, maybe the sense of adventure. Probably both. END