I am reflecting on this journey as a ‘lifer’, someone who the motorcycle bug bit early in life and who has carried the infection ever since. In fact, the degree of ‘infection’ has got even worse over the years as my affordability improved. For those who indulge in motorcycling as a sport, I totally get it. Like any sport that gets under your skin and that you develop a passion for, it is, at times, all-pervasive. You eat, sleep and breathe your passion. It is the same for a ‘lifer’, only worse because this is not something that is only pursued on a weekend, but rather a total lifestyle. The passion for motorcycles of a ‘lifer’ remains an enigma.
I can only try to explain it by recounting my own journey. I have a brother who is a couple of years older than me. As boys, we played soccer, cricket, and rugby with the enthusiasm of your typical sports-mad South African kid. Somehow, during this sporting frenzy, I started to take note of motorcycles. I was 14 years old when I eventually coerced my dad into parting with some of his hard-earned loot for a second-hand Honda S50, a bit of a hybrid in that it was a C110 frame with a 4-speed Honda Fury OHC engine. It was slower than a slow thing, but it was instrumental in cementing a relationship with bikes that has lasted a lifetime. Now here is the thing, my brother totally dodged the bug. My dad had ridden bikes in his youth and during the war but had seen bikes more as sensible transport than anything else. For me, bikes were a blank tapestry which I could embroider in the most amazing way.
This period in motorcycle history saw the advent of bikes which forever changed the motorcycling landscape. The iconic Honda CB750 K0 Four and Kawasaki’s all-conquering Z1 are two of the most noteworthy. As a 50cc riding schoolboy in the late ‘60s and into the early ‘70s, my dream was to own a Honda CB750 Four and a genuine Bell Star helmet. Looking back on the ownership of around 350 bikes and 55 years of riding as daily transportation by preference, my motorcycling flame burns brighter than ever. I spent around 10 years in the motorcycle industry with Club Motors, the then importers of both BMW and Kawasaki motorcycles. I worked at their Honda dealership as my blood was totally Honda red. Those were heady days in the motorcycle industry. SA endured an ‘energy crisis’ with fuel being scarce, so people bought economical bikes by the score. At Club Motors we sold an average of 50 bikes a month from one dealership.
In the early ‘80s, I started racing Super Singles on the short circuits as well as competing in the 6-hour endurance races with reasonable success. Trying to juggle racing, a career, and raising two youngsters meant something had to give, so the flirtation with racing ended. Soon after this, I built a career outside of the motorcycle industry which had become too much of a barometer of the economy. But the passion for bikes burned ever brighter. They provided me with an escape from the predictability and grind of everyday life. Every single time I threw a leg over the saddle I was totally engrossed in the ride. I have some mechanical awareness and the desire to understand what makes bikes work and why. This opens a whole other aspect of biking. Learning how to tweak your bike to improve handling and performance became part of the journey, a colourful thread on my motorcycling tapestry.
The freedom that bikes have introduced into my life is next level. When life presses in on you, as it does at some time, getting on your bike and riding has an uncanny way of elevating your mood. Total concentration on the job of riding and applying situational awareness to stay safe on the road subtly replaces worries and woes and you start to live in the moment. Your helmet cuts you off from the outside world with its constant intrusions and gives you time in your own head. The Bible says “Be still and know that I am God”, but the world we live in is everything but still. There is more ‘noise’ than ever out there.
We have experienced a serious heat wave of late. I was up early on Sunday, so I got my kit on and rode out my gate just after 6 AM. The cool of the morning washed over me like a salve as the Ducati DesertX, thoroughbred that it is, responded to my every input. Cruising out to the Cradle and sharing the road with the cyclists, who habitually enjoy riding there on the weekends, was a truly sublime experience. It totally set up my mood for the day. What do people do who don’t own bikes?
And then there are the trips. 2023 has been a stressful year on many fronts. The world is in turmoil. A war in Europe that just doesn’t seem like ending any time soon. Terrorism in Israel on a magnitude and level of brutality that was last probably seen hundreds of years ago, before ‘civilisation’ as we know it. South Africans have been exposed to crime, load-shedding, corruption, and government bungling that has us with our heads in our hands.
How do you call time out, and pull the plug on all the madness? Ride your bike, that’s how! When we close for the year, my son and I are getting on our bikes and heading north to the vast plains of Botswana. Tents will be pitched, campfires lit, and steak will be braai’d, as bug bespattered bikes look silently on. We will ride in the early morning cool, transitioning into the inescapable African heat. We will perspire bullets, but when the day’s riding is done, showered and pleasantly weary, we will sip on a bitterly cold beer or two. Life will be back in perspective, and all will once again be well with the world.
Bikes are hot. Bikes are cold. Bikes can be uncomfortable. Bikes are tiring. Bikes are real! Somehow every trip brings a sense of occasion. The hotter, colder, wetter, whatever, it just heightens the sense of achievement and occasion. You may arrive home exhausted, yet give it a day or two and the lure of the open road looms large again. Nothing else gives me quite the same feeling. 4×4 trips through remote areas are cool, yet an indefinable something is missing when compared to bike trips. Perhaps it’s the vulnerability of a bike?
It is no longer about the out-and-out performance either. Early in my motorcycling days, it was all about speed and ego. Thank God that is no longer the case. Now it is the harmony of man and machine. It no longer needs to be at hyperspeed. I can enjoy a ‘Tiddler Tour’ on a 180cc bike as much as a blast over a mountain pass on a crotch rocket. Maybe I’ve just got over myself…
The fact is, for me, motorcycles have added incredible spice to my life. My life’s tapestry would have looked sparse and threadbare were it not for bikes. So, whilst I can still not put my finger on what it is in our make-up that predisposes us to bikes, I am just very grateful that ‘the bug’ bit me. I cannot imagine a world without the intrigue of motorcycles in it. Add to that the myriads of friends that I have made over the ages through our mutual involvement in motorcycles. The brotherhood that exists between riders. A gloved hand raised in salute to one another in passing. That gesture that, irrespective of the bike you ride, recognises a kindred spirit.
Pitch your tent in some remote location and you can be sure that someone will come and strike up a conversation with you. It is that mystique, that element of daredevil, that just strikes a chord with people. I sometimes recognise a fleeting, almost primaeval glimpse of longing in the eyes of such people. An unspoken “if only”…Deep in the recesses of the heart of man lurks a spirit of adventure that is not often satisfied in the modern world in which we live. Motorcycles have satisfied that longing in my soul. Long may that continue.