Sunday, June 16, 2024


HomeZA BikersBiking FeaturesA New Year Adventure!

A New Year Adventure!

Photo credit: ZA Bikers

If I’m honest, 2023 wasn’t the easiest year. Mind you, it seems we’ve all been saying that for the past two or three years but here we still are, waking up every day, trying to make the best of the hand we’ve been dealt. Yes, a lot of the movement we need is within ourselves and it’s up to us to make the difference, but you can’t always control outside influences, even if you can occasionally use them to your advantage.

Christmas and New Year are always good times to reset, reboot, reconfigure and remind yourself that no one is going to do it for you, so you’d better pull your finger out and do it yourself. Personally, a good way to trigger that is to climb on a bike and get the hell out of dodge–clear the head and fill it with new goals and inspiration after getting rid of all the old s**t that was clogging up the pathways.

Regular readers of ZA Bikers might remember an article I wrote this time last year about my trip on a Hero XPulse 200 (Going Nowhere Slowly, But Reliably, On A Hero). The idea then was to literally go nowhere slowly, wherever the road took me. In the end, it took me to Plettenberg Bay via the scenic route, where the family were holidaying before heading back to Johannesburg and arriving 3,000km later in a perfect frame of mind.

Photo Credit: Harry Fisher

This year, a similar plan was brewing but, while riding the Hero slowly (but reliably) had been an experience, it wasn’t necessarily one I was desperate to repeat. As much as I didn’t want to race by the scenery without taking any of it in, I did want the opportunity to be able to get certain bits of the journey out of the way quickly if they were particularly boring or the weather inclement. There’s a lot of difference between cruising at 100km/h and being able to cruise at 150km/h or more, fuel consumption permitting.

The new Suzuki GSX-8S had been offered by Suzuki SA and it was an interesting proposition. It’s not a touring bike by any means but a lot more competent in that role than you would think – as I was to discover – with plenty of usable power, comfort a lot better than I dared to hope and a level of practicality not normally associated with a naked sports bike. It’s also new to the market and it would be interesting to live with it over an extended mileage, albeit well out of its comfort zone.

Photo credit: ZA Bikers

The GSX-8S is light – 202kg – compact and nimble, at its best on twisty roads but surprisingly adept at long highway runs if you are misguided enough to try. On the demo bike, there is a teeny, tiny little wind deflector fitted ahead of the TFT dash: having not tried the bike without it, I can’t attest to its ultimate efficacy but there was a notable lack of wind buffeting to the head when blasting down the road and enough wind to the torso when the temperature got up into the 30s to stay tolerably ventilated.

The brand new parallel-twin engine delivers 83 horsepower and 78Nm of torque, smoothly and characterfully at any speed, in any gear which, of course, is perfect for overtaking manoeuvres, while the up-and-down quick-shifter is as good as any I’ve tried and takes a lot of mental effort out of long trips. The suspension is non-adjustable (apart from pre-load adjustment at the rear) which is fine by me: any knowledge I possess of fine-tuning suspension could be written on the back of a postage stamp, leaving room for a Tom Clancy novel, so I always leave it well alone and unfailingly trust the engineers at the factory whose job it is to dial in such things for me. I’ve never come short yet!

Photo credit: ZA Bikers

In a nutshell, the GSX-8S is capable, well-built, sharp and nimble, good-looking, with all the performance you need, wrapped up in Suzuki engineering integrity and longevity. In general, road tests from around the world have liked it so I will not go into detail here as you can read about it by writers with far more authority than I possess. Will it achieve the affection afforded to the outgoing SV650, which it directly replaces? Only time will tell but, on this lengthy acquaintance, I can think of no good reason why it shouldn’t. It’s a very honest bike and is not pretending to be any better than the competition but, taken on its own merits, it’s more than a match for its rivals and it is very, very good.

One option that is available for the GSX-8S is possibly one of the most intelligent and cleverly configured practical attachments on any bike. The 8S is a naked sports bike and, as such, has no pretensions of being anything other than what it is or will likely be used for. However, not many of us are able to afford a selection of bikes to cover every possible use, so one bike has to do a whole range of jobs, which invariably means it is worse at some jobs than others, largely because it is not configured for them.

Now, a naked sports bike should be useless for touring mainly because there is little or no provision for carrying luggage. Soft panniers are available after-market but can be a pain to fit and the act of keeping them out of the wheels or away from a hot exhaust can be insurmountable or, at the least, require the fitting of frames that can be a fiddle to fit and take off, meaning they more often than not stay there, spoiling the lines of the styling.

The route from Plett to P.E. takes you across some jaw-dropping gorges, a good 100 metres deep. Those who suffer from vertigo need not stop to have a look.

Suzuki’s solution is as ingenious as it is useful. Two rear-facing ‘prongs’ click into attachments on the rear foot peg mounts. The soft panniers have sleeves that fit over these prongs, keeping them away from the wheel, and wide velcro-equipped flaps that affix over the pillion seat. The panniers aren’t huge, but they are expandable and they fit enough clothes for me for a week away (OK, I do pack light…!) the best thing is, when you’re at your destination, or riding every day without the need for them, everything can be removed – prongs included – in seconds, leaving the bike as naked as the day it was born. It’s a neat touch.

Photo credit: ZA Bikers

There’s something about the moment when the bike is packed, you’ve checked and re-checked everything, locked the door and left the house behind: the prospect of a long journey ahead, the sun shining (hopefully!) and the open road beckoning, the thrill of adventure on the horizon.

The first 400km out of Johannesburg are a combination of anticipation and relative boredom – the highway to Bloemfontein isn’t blessed with the greatest scenery bordering the route but the thrill of being on the road puts this to one side. Once pass Bloem, however, the countryside opens up to the vast landscapes that really make you feel you are away from the rat race and that the ride – and your own journey of rejuvenation – has properly started.

An overnight stop in Colesburg gave me exactly the sort of interaction I always look for on these trips: chatting with the locals, in this case, a young couple called Elf and Izaan. The venue was the tiny Horse and Mill pub, with walls covered in visitor graffiti, the beer cold, the food great and the company friendly. We often rush through or past such small towns but to stop and talk to the residents who have, more likely than not, spent their entire lives there and have a different outlook on life, is one of the great pleasures of a trip such as this and adds yet more perspective to your own life.

The Horse and Mill in Colesburg, the only pub in town but the warmest of welcomes.

The next day dawned bright and sunny, although there was one slight cloud on the horizon and that was a rapidly disintegrating rear tyre. As this was a Sunday – and New Year’s Eve to boot – the chances of replacing it were less than nil so the only option was to push on. Around Willowmore, the rain started and didn’t let up until I reached George, which was just as well as, had I been able to ride any faster, the rear tyre might not have made it. As it was, it was down to the steel wire by the time I pulled into a filling station in George, after crawling over the Outeniqua pass in thick mist, reducing visibility to a few yards.

By the time I reached George, the rear tyre looked like this!

Now, we’re all aware of the unwritten rule of biking: see a fellow motorcyclist in trouble by the side of the road and you stop to offer help. In my case, it was a little more privileged: a quick call to Stuart Baker of Suzuki SA and a new tyre would be waiting for me at Thunder Cycles in George but only on the 2nd of January. Before that, I had to get to Plettenberg Bay – about 100km – and then back again on the 2nd and these 200km were clearly more than the rear tyre could manage. Stuart was staying in Sedgefield, about 40km from George and, in one of the most generous gestures I’ve encountered, he told me to ride slowly to Sedgies, whereupon he would lend me his car to complete the journey to Plett, returning on the 2nd to pick up the bike and get it back to George. He didn’t have to do any of that – he could have told me to sod off and get a taxi – but Stu is one of the really good guys in SA motorcycling, with oil and petrol running through his veins and Suzuki writ large through his middle. The gesture was typical of him.

Photo credit: ZA Bikers

Also, a big shout out to Thunder Cycles in George. The new tyre was fitted in no time, and one small detail impressed me. We all know the perils of a brand-new tyre in the first few kilometres before the releasing agent has burned off the surface and it occurred to me to dial up the traction control when I got back on the bike. When I turned the bike on, however, the mechanic had already done that: it’s a small detail but speaks volumes for the workshop.

Image source: Thunder Cycles

The week in Plett can be glossed over but the ride home is not so casually discarded. As is the case with holidays, the coffers had been depleted significantly and getting home in one day seemed the best way of preserving what little cash was left. Completing the journey in one hit would mean saving on an overnight stop but I would be lying if there wasn’t a sense of attempting something that would test endurance: the bike I had no worries about on this score but I was another matter.

So it was that wheels started rolling at 6:30 am on Sunday morning and finally stopped at 8:00 pm that evening, after 1,400km. It was a fantastic ride. I opted for the Plett-Port Elizabeth-Cradock-Middleburg-Colesburg-Bloem route and it was the right choice. Plett to PE is a great road and the sun came out halfway, warming everything up nicely, making even PE look attractive! Then, PE to Cradock is a fantastic road, incorporating the Olifantskop Pass and a continuation of stunning scenery. After that, it was largely a case of covering the kilometres to get home.

The Suzuki GSX-8S was a surprisingly effective touring partner, despite having no pretensions to be a touring bike.

All the way, the valiant Suzuki never missed a beat and proved to be far more comfortable than a naked sports bike has any right to be, never mind entertaining. The only reservation would be the 14-litre tank which would be on reserve approaching 200km but this also had a positive effect on the ride.

If I chose to blast along at 160km/h, the range was severely affected. So, the ride became one of balancing speed with range: I found the sweet spot was cruising at 135-140km/h which, being a naked bike, was also the sweet spot for wind blast on the rider. Being forced to stop every 170 – 200km for fuel also made the ride more bearable and very likely safer as I could stretch my legs, arms, neck and so on before they became too painful and distracting.

Image source: Suzuki

The ideal ride would, of course, have been to take a couple of days and explore new roads but once the decision to get home has been made, the need to get it over with seems to override any other consideration, even if it is only work that waits at the other end. As it was, home was reached with only the briefest storm to tide through near the Grasmere toll plaza, whiskey was poured and reflection on a day properly spent commenced in an exhausted haze. Bliss.

More importantly, the batteries were recharged and I look forward to 2024 with renewed enthusiasm. Just shy of 3,000km in total was another memorable way to start a year and my thanks go to Suzuki SA, Kyle Lawrenson, Stuart Baker and Thunder Cycles for making it all possible.

How can you not find this utterly beautiful? Even the absence of corners doesn’t matter.

Suzuki GSX-8S

For more information on the bike featured in this article, click on the link below…


Suzuki GSX-8S

Pricing From R168,950 (RRP)

Brand: Suzuki
Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
From an early age, Harry was obsessed with anything that moved under its own steam, particularly cars and motorcycles. For reasons of a financial nature, his stable of fine automobiles failed to materialise, at which point he realised that motorcycles were far more affordable and so he started his two wheel career, owning, riding, building and fixing many classic bikes. Then came the day when he converted his love of bikes into a living, writing, filming and talking about them endlessly. The passion for four wheels never left him, however, and he has now converted his writing skills into singing the praises of cars in all their infinite variety. Bikes are still his favourite means of getting around but the car in its modern form is reaching a level of perfection that is hard to resist. And they're warmer in winter....