5 incredible days riding motorcycles in South Africa

Africa Twin Adventures has just completed another great adventure tour through the Cederberg and Karoo area of South Africa.

After collecting our two guests David and Donna Hicks at the airport in Cape Town, we dropped them off at their lodgings at the Cape Royal Hotel in central Cape Town as they had wisely chosen to spend a few days exploring the city before our trip. After having enjoyed Table Mountain, Cape Point, Robben Island, The Waterfront and Boulders beach to watch the penguins, we collected them again on Friday morning and made our way to Honda Wing Canal Walk for the start of our tour.

Kitting up and setting Go-pro cameras can take longer than expected, but with plenty of time in hand we headed out to Franschhoek, our first stop of the day. After a stop for pictures at the top of the stunning Franschhoek Pass we made our way to our lunch stop in the beautiful Slanghoek valley.

slanghoek-valley

After lunch it was Mitchel’s Pass and then Ceres, before long we were on unpaved roads twisting through the beautiful sandstone rock formations of the Cederberg. It was a very hot day, and stops for ice cold drinks from the back up vehicle were essential, and the air-conditioned lodgings at Mount Ceder  made for a good night’s sleep.

mount-ceder

Day two and the whole day would be spent off road. After a good breakfast we headed to Stadsaal Caves to marvel at the 1000 year old bushman paintings and incredible cave formations. The sandy road to the caves made Donna a little uncomfortable, so she decided to travel in the back up vehicle for this stretch.

stadsaal-caves

After the caves, a short ride brought us to Cederberg Winery, where we of course had to sample a glass of their award winning wine before making our way up Uitkyk Pass and on to Clanwilliam for lunch. Pakhuis Pass was next, before we arrived at Bushmans Kloof, a stunning wildlife reserve and resort in the Cederberg. A swim in the pool, a sunset game drive and dinner in the five star restaurant, and another memorable day came to an end.

bushmans-kloof

Day three was all unpaved road, and time to ride through a completely different ladscape, that of the Great Karoo. This desolateand stark landscape never fails to impress everybody travelling through these vast open plains.

great-karoo

Unpaved roads and plains that stretch out as far as the eye can see make for adventure motor cycle heaven, with the only frustration being that even wide angle lenses cant capture the spectacular scenes. A brisk ride across the plains and up Gannaga Pass for a traditional South African lunch and we headed to or lodgings in the Tankwa Karoo National Park.

Watching the sun setting over the plains while sitting in a pool with a glass of Champaign, followed by a traditional South African braai (barbeque) is definitely a great way to bring another  fantastic  days riding to an end. Even though I have travelled here many times before, the natural beauty and tranquility of this area still amazes me., and I did not mind being woken by the sound of Gemsbok munching on the bushes outside the cottage window.

tankwa-karoo

Day four  was all off roff road again, and riding though the Tankwa Park we spotted lots of game, including springbok, Gemsbok, Bontebok, Ostrich, Baboons and Vervet Monkeys. We had planned quick stop at the iconic Tankwa Padstal (a roadside restaurant and bar in the middle of nowhere) but this turned out to be not so quick, as the hospitability of the locals and quirky décor of the place inevitably forces you to stay longer than planned.

tankwa-padstal

Leaving the plains of the Karoo we made our way up Skittery Pass and headed to our lodgings at Kagga Kamma Private Nature Reserve, with chalets set into the rock formations and views of the sun setting over the rock formations.

katbakkies-pass

Another swim in the pool,a great meal around the fire at the boma and we were all ready for a good nights sleep.

Day five still had plenty of good riding on our jurney back to Cape Town, and after admiring the views from Katbakkies Pass we headed through Ceres and towards Bainskloof Pass, with 187 bends making this paved road spectacular to ride. A quick stop for lunch at Spice Route and then a leasurely ride back into the Mother City brought a fantastic 5 days to an end.

The following day Dave and Donna planned to visit the beautiful coastal town of Hermanus, so rather than sit in a rental car on such a nice road, they rented an Africa Twin from us, and made the most of the drive and all the attractions along the way.

While our guests thorougly enjoyed themslves and the crew of Africa Twin Adventures did too, hearing comments and being able to see the beauty of our country through the eyes of others, is always a privelage.

While we have done numerous trips through the Karoo in South Africa, there are always new roads and places to ride to and discover. While the internet can be a great source of information, before taking any of our clients to new places it is essential to have ridden the roads and stayed at the accommodation, as the adverts and images can often differ greatly from reality.

With this in mind my wife and I decided to combine our wedding anniversary with a trip through the Karoo. It always helps having a second opinion on the suitability and standard of facilities, and Janine definitely has an eye for detail when it comes to this. Having a wife who has grown up in the area and loves and appreciates the solitude and beauty of this barren but beautiful place also helped make the trip a memorable one for both of us.

Exploring the Karoo

One of Janine’s hobbies is photography, and the Karoo offers some of the most spectacular landscapes and settings to take amazing photographs. Combine this with animals in their natural habitat and spectacular sunsets, and she was in her element.

Exploring the Karoo

Exploring the Karoo

A great thing about being based in Cape Town is that the Karoo is only a two hour drive from home, yet the climate is so different, with the desert like landscapes making you feel as though you are in another country. The main dirt road from Ceres to Calvinia at 256km (159 miles) of which 44km (27 miles) is paved, is the longest road in South Africa with no filling stations or towns. Add to this the lack of cellphone reception for most of the way, high temperatures and tyre eating roads, and this can become a desolate place for a breakdown. If you are on the main road it can be hours before you see another vehicle, and being slightly off the beaten track, it can be days. Walking for help is never an option.

Exploring the Karoo

Having travelled through this area many times without issue, it is easy to become complacent, but midway down the R355 we were given a reality check when our back-up vehicle punctured both back tyres simultaneously. Carrying a spare wheel, or even two, is not sufficient, and having the equipment and ability to repair punctures is essential. Punctures repaired we were on our way again, with our last stop at Kagga Kamma in the Cederberg offering more stunning landscapes and photo opportunities. The natural rock formations and abundant wildlife in this area can only be described as breath-taking.

Exploring the Karoo

We both enjoyed the trip immensely, and it is fantastic to be married to someone that can also appreciate adventure and the beauty of nature as much as I do.

Having really impressed me on asphalt and good dirt roads during my previous review, I thought it time to put the Africa Twin through its paces on some rougher terrain, to see how the motorcycle holds up to a continuous hammering.

Issues that will usually become apparent when working a big adventure motorcycle hard over a long period are suspension fade and brake fade, and fixtures and fittings can also often develop annoying rattles or loosen. To be honest you never really know what might be a problem until you have ridden the bike hard.

The next consideration was where to put the Africa Twin through its paces. Living in the Western Cape we are blessed with some of the best adventure riding terrain in the world, but a road known and loved by probably every adventure rider in South Africa is the one into “The Hell”. This stretch of road is 50km (31 miles) long, and while having stunning scenery, it can be a bike breaker if ridden fast.  While twisting through the valley, there is a good variety of fast and slower sections, with the suspension and brakes being tested over fast whoops and rutted and rocky sections.

It did not take much convincing to get Brian Ellis to accompany me on the ride, and just out of Cape Town we were on the gravel roads and heading for the Swartberg Pass and “The Hell”

Besides fitting crash-bars, both Africa Twin were shod with slightly more aggressive tyres, one with Pirelli Scorpions front and rear, and the other with Continental TKC 80 front and Pirelli Scorpion rear. While the Scorpions are limited when it comes to very sandy or muddy conditions, over the years we have found these to be the best in terms of traction and wear on big adventure bikes when riding hard pack and shale. Tyre choice is always down to personal preference, but we decided on this combination as we have both used these tyres on this route before. Both motorcycles were loaded with about 25kg (55 pounds) of luggage, and suspension settings on standard factory. Suspension settings are another subjective issue, but I personally prefer soft suspension, as I find this more comfortable and less tiring on longer rides.

The other change to both motorcycles was the fitment of wider aftermarket foot pegs, as the standard pegs are on the small side if you intend standing for long periods.

Both motorcycles were the traction control and ABS models, and while both these features undoubtedly work very well, again it is a matter of personal preference when deciding on your settings. Brian had a small amount of traction control dialled in, and no rear ABS (the front does not switch off), while I left the ABS on, and had the traction control off.

As mentioned, the scenery on this route is stunning, so it wasn’t long before we stopped to take a few pictures, and like any true bikers, this had to include the motorcycles. A rutted single track up onto a rocky outcrop seemed like the perfect spot, and while we were both a bit nervous about dropping the bikes, we needn’t have been. With traction control on or off, the bikes climbed the hill with ease, and bouncing over rocks in first gear was a breeze, as getting your feet on the ground if you happen to stall the motor is made easy with the low seat height. While this may not seem like a big deal, who can honestly say they haven’t been embarrassed by stalling at low speed and then dropping their motorcycle?

2016 Honda Africa Twin

Photoshoot done, and time to see whether the whoop section will bottom out the suspension. It’s always fun getting air on an adventure motorcycle, but sometimes the landing can be less than fun. The first few jumps were used as testers, but we held nothing back over the last ones. Neither of us felt the suspension bottom out, but we definitely used all the travel available.

Most of our time was spent riding next to each other, and while this is definitely more fun, on a narrow road like this, it can be difficult to avoid the odd exposed rock, sometimes resulting in a nasty impact through the front end. No problems here either, with the suspension soaking up all we could throw at it.

Half way through the pass Brian dropped back a bit, and with the whole road to myself, I decided to see how aggressively the bike could be ridden and how the ABS would affect the handling. I had tested the ABS previously in a straight line, but the reality is that sometimes if you overcook a corner you do need to touch the brakes when you don’t really want to. I managed to outbreak myself into two corners, and while I could feel the ABS working, it was not intrusive, and didn’t upset the motorcycle at all. After approximately 20km (12 miles) of pushing my limits, the brakes and suspension held up perfectly.

2016 Honda Africa Twin

After photographs at the top of the descent to The Hell, we made our way down to a couple of very welcome ice cold beers and chatted about the ride. Besides all the technical aspects of the motorcycles and how well they handled the terrain, the overriding impression for both of us was that compared to other motorcycles we had ridden on the route, the Africa Twin required less effort, and neither of us felt exhausted. I would put this down to the fact that the ergonomics of the motorcycle are great, as well as the smoothness and usability of the power and brakes.

The ride out of The Hell to our overnight spot in Prince Albert only confirmed our impressions, and we arrived there having covered 650 km (403 miles) over some reasonably testing terrain still feeling fresh.

The following day we both needed to be back in Cape Town, and decided on the shortest fastest route home. The ability to cover big distances easily is very important on an adventure motorcycle, and wind protection plays an important role here. While at first glance the Africa Twin screen seems on the small side, the design that allows some air flow below the screen eliminates buffeting, making hitting long paved sections a pleasure.

Back home safely with the bikes washed and parked in the garage we both agreed it had been a great trip and that the Africa Twins performed faultlessly.

Knysna has always been known as South Africa’s favourite holiday town due to the natural beauty of the area, but lately it has also gained a reputation as being a mecca for classic car collectors and motorsport, with the Simola Hill Climb being a highlight for many fans.

The fantastic dirt and paved roads also make Knysna a motorcycle rider’s heaven, so it is no surprise that owning and riding motorcycles is hugely popular in the area, and nobody is more enthusiastic than my mate Colin Stunden. Colin started riding and racing off road motorcycles at a young age, and his passion for riding has only grown over the years. In addition to his weekly rides through the Knysna forest, when our group arranges an adventure ride, there is never any doubt about whether Colin will be able to make the trip.

Riding motorcycles naturally involves owning them too, and over the years Colin has probably ridden all there is to ride, and bought and sold countless motorcycles. As it happens with many of us, you very often see an old motorcycle that you used to own, and the memories come flooding back, and you regret having sold it. A few years ago Colin managed to buy a couple of motorcycles he had previously owned, and parked these in the garage next to his new motorcycles. The rest is history, and very soon a second garage was needed to store his bikes.

The enjoyment of owning old motorcycles is being able to share the memories with other enthusiasts, and Colin soon had people asking him to show them his motorcycles. With the number having grown considerably, space to store them and work on them soon became a problem.

The solution?

The Motorcycle Room

The Motorcycle Room

It’s never too difficult to find a reason to make a trip from Cape Town to Knysna, and attending the opening of The Motorcycle Room had my wife and myself on the Honda Africa Twin hitting the road in no time.

Having been mates for many years, I know Colin as somebody that likes to do things properly, but even I was surprised at what he has managed to put together. To describe the Motorcycle Room as a museum would not really be accurate, and I would describe it more as a living museum, or simply a meeting place for motorcycle enthusiasts. The older motorcycles are not all restored to showroom condition, with many still being ridden and there are many current models on display too. With plenty of space to walk around each of the 50 plus machines as well as a lounge and workshop area, Colin has created a relaxed atmosphere and what is probably every motorcycle lover’s ultimate “man cave”.

While Colin clearly has a love for two strokes, with his Yamaha RD 500 and Yamaha RZ 500 reflecting this, I feel trying to single out any particular model in the collection is pointless, as different models mean different things to each of us.

If you happen to be visiting Knysna, passing through the area, or are looking for a reason to head that way, The Motorcycle Room is a must see.

Facebook: The Motorcycle Room

www.themotorcycleroom.co.za

First of all I think its important to establish a point of reference for my opinions, as all riders come from differing riding backgrounds with different expectations for a particular bike. While not being brand loyal to the point of excluding any brand, as I believe they each have their strengths and particular place in the market (I own and ride Yamahas, Hondas and KTMs) most of my adventure riding over the last 13 years has been on a KTM 990.

When deciding to start an adventure touring business, the first obvious consideration is which motorcycle to use. After many long discussions, and nearly as many beers with my riding mates, it eventually looked as though the new Africa Twin would tick more boxes than anything else currently on the market. Obviously being a new model there would still be unanswered questions about reliability etc, but I decided to take a gamble on the fact that Honda in general is known as a quality brand. Price was obviously also a consideration and I think Honda got it right to release 3 different models of essentially the same bike. If you don’t want all the features available you buy the cheaper model, without having to spend money to disable ABS and traction control as with some other brands.

Having been fortunate enough to take delivery of five Africa twins in the first consignment to arrive in South Africa in April this year, I set about the “task” of running the new bikes in.

First impressions when collecting the bikes was that the images in the media do not do the Africa Twin justice, and it is a much better looking motorcycle in the flesh. All the models are well finished and nothing catches the eye as being cheap or out of place. All the controls are simple (with exception of the automatic model which takes a bit of getting used to) and the dash is clear and informative. Pressing the integrated kill switch and starter button brings the motor to life with a deep but pleasant exhaust note.

Climbing onto the bike and riding out of the showroom, the first thing that strikes me is the relatively low seat height (871mm on its highest of two settings, compared to 915mm of my KTM 990) and its manoeuvrability at low speeds. Being able to have your feet on the ground and an extremely small turning circle make it a pleasure to park.

Onto the highway and the smoothness of the engine and gear box as well as the good wind protection soon have you underestimating your speed. The stock exhaust system manages a nice balance between not being loud enough to annoy your neighbours while still being loud enough for the rider to hear at any speed through all the gears. Another nice surprise was the stability of the bike at speed, as well as the excellent brakes. Granted I was still on the asphalt, and the stock tires are quite road biased, but I couldn’t help thinking this would be an excellent commuter.

The following morning I couldn’t wait to get the stock rubbers off the footrests and hit a dirt road to test the bike on something a little more challenging. Once again still on the stock tyres, but they are more than adequate for dirt roads, and the 12km stretch to our farm is in good condition. Having ridden this road regularly it was also a good stretch to test the motorcycle. Again the stability of the bike really impressed me, and it felt really planted at speeds over 160kph, which is where things usually start getting a bit sketchy. While stability at speed is obviously a result of a number of factors, I feel the low centre of gravity achieved on this model by Honda is probably the most important. Another nice surprise is the way the small windscreen performs. While not intended to stop all the wind, the design ensures no buffeting, which is something that can really tire you out on a long trip.

The next day I took the motorcycle up into the mountains to see how it would perform on some single tracks, and again the manoeuvrability had me smiling. Low seat, small turning circle and loads of torque make slow riding a pleasure, with the suspension handling the few ditches I needed to cross with ease. While not being a small bike intended for the tight stuff, the handling does give you the confidence that if you do end up in a technical section on an adventure ride you will be glad you chose this bike. One or two short sandy sections later and again the stability had me smiling. Not an exhaustive off road test by any means, but I was more than happy with things so far, and I would anyway choose to fit more off road biased tyres to properly test the bikes capabilities.

Back on the asphalt, and my problem was to get 5 bikes run in before their first service. Surprise surprise, four of my usually busy riding mates suddenly found some free time to help me! While enjoying the company, this also gave me the opportunity to hear other opinions about the bike. My mates are all experienced adventure riders currently riding a mix of different models of bikes, so I was interested in hearing their unbiased opinions on the Africa Twin. All the feedback was positive, with the smoothness and how easy the bike is to ride probably being the most repeated comment.

Surely there must be some negatives? Well yes, the lack of a centre stand as standard (think fixing punctures in the middle of nowhere) is in my opinion an oversight, and you will have to pack your own tool kit, as the one supplied is silly. Other than that, it really is difficult to find faults on the Africa twin.

When getting off one bike onto another, it usually takes me a while to get completely comfortable with the changed ergonomics, power delivery etc, but I can truly say after only a few days on the Africa Twin I was completely at home. The proof of this is when I now walk into my garage to choose a bike to ride, whether it be for a long adventure ride or just down to the shop, the Africa Twin is the one I usually choose.