There are some brand icons one cannot ignore
e.g. Cola Cola, Microsoft, Nike and Harley-Davidson,
to name a few. I have intimate knowledge of the
first three but have never ridden a Harley. Fact is,
I will probably never own one, as our first love is
trail riding, far from the well-established network
of tar and hardtop. But who says that 'ownership' is
the only option?
A recent special offer in a magazine had us
polishing up the old credit card and jetting down to
Cape Town to rent a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide
1450cc for an extended winter weekend of three days.
For the uninitiated, the Electra Glide is a top
of the range, super smooth Harley touring bike. It
is comfortable, spacious and mild mannered.
Observatory - Cape Town
We arrived in Cape Town a day early; call it
good preparation or just overwhelming excitement. I
have always had a thing for "Grunge", an alternative
lifestyle that has always fascinated me. So to start
the holiday off, we booked into "The Green Elephant"
- a backpacker's establishment in Observatory, (a
suburb referred to as Obs by its locals).
The exceptionally friendly staff welcomed us and
showed us around the double storey house with its
well-worn creaky floorboards and pressed steel
ceilings. We queried where we could park the hired
car, "You have a car?!" (This is a student joint and
luxuries are appreciated here.) She then asked if we
had driven all the way from Johannesburg to which we
explained that we flown in an hour ago. This threw
her, "You flew here?!". (It seems another luxury
reserved for the rich in this establishment).
this point, we realised that to mention our imminent
Harley rental would probably have us kicked out and
sent to the Holiday Inn on the other side of town
and we changed the subject!
Lunch in Obs was a bohemian affair at the Red
Lounge - also one of those wooden-floored houses on
the main street. The thick old-fashioned velvet
curtains and wooden panelling complemented the
French 'Brel-type' music issuing out of an old
wooden radiogram in the corner. It reminded me of
those plush Parisian clubs depicted in movies during
the German occupation during the Second World War.
After a good nights rest we went off in search
of breakfast. One of the staff was busy baking
muffins in the communal kitchen but unfortunately
they would not be ready for 20 minutes. Therefore we
tried the local bakery, which also served as a
well-stocked second hand bookstore. Boy, I just love
The journey starts...
Back in the city we were introduced to our
shiny-chrome cruiser complete with hard panniers and
high touring screen. It was big, heavy and
beautiful. The staff patiently introduced us to its
instruments, features and idiosyncrasies. We were
then politely left alone to get more acquainted with
it. The was greatly appreciated as getting onto such
a large, heavy bike and driving off without looking
a little unstable was difficult.
I felt unsure for the first few kilometres.
After my BMW F650 trail motorbike this was something
else. We immediately headed for the motorway out of
the city where I could cruise along in a straight
line and get used to the ride, handling and layout.
At speed the weight of the bike just melted away
but now I was confronted with something new. Its
long wheelbase gave it straight line touring comfort
but getting it to drop into a sweeping bend at speed
was not easy! I quickly learnt that my counter
steering was not as clean and decisive as I thought.
Getting this baby over required a firm hand!
The distinctive Harley 'potato' sound always
deserves a mention. Our BMW motorbike at home is
very quiet but we made the transition to the Harley
sound easily. With its gallons of torque you could
change gears early and its cruising fifth gear made
the bike relaxing to ride for hours on end. I found
it useful to 'gas it' when we pulled off which
ensured that the bike remained stable and upright
during those initial few metres - and it sounded
great as well and people would look, and young girls
would wave and . . .. (you get the picture!!)
We left Cape Town on the N1 and headed for
Worcester. We stopped off at a small coffee shop
where we ate during out West Cape tour last year. It
was a wonderful reminder of other adventures. We sat
chatting to the owner, an old Afrikaans lady who
wanted to know where we were off to, (even though
she hated motorbikes.) We told her of our previous
trip to Calvinia and the ghost we had encountered in
the guesthouse. The old lady knew the owners of the
establishment well and we were sure she would be on
the phone with this news before the roar of the
engine had disappeared down the main street.
Our rental package included two nights
accommodation in the Klein Karoo town of Montagu
roughly three hours from Cape Town. This was an
excellent choice! Montagu recently won a national
competition as South Africa's favourite small town.
It lies in the shadow of impressive mountains well
known for their hot springs and spas. The main
street has fourteen beautifully restored buildings
that are national monuments, many now used as
restaurants. The route there by this less used R318
was deserted and allowed us to stop and take photos
Our accommodation was the Montagu Country Lodge
- a three star hotel that greeted us on arrival with
the speciality of the area i.e. a glass of Montagu
Muscadel - a sweet red desert wine that has now
become a firm favourite with Carole!
While sipping the delicious wine, we looked
around the beautifully restored and decorated hotel.
It's art deco style boasted unusual pieces of
antique furniture in an otherwise modern look. The
restaurant offered an exceptional menu for
breakfast, lunch and dinner so we ended our first
evening sitting by the open fire in the large dining
room, treating ourselves to the tastes of delicious
soups, fish and Karoo lamb dishes.
One thing is for sure. When it comes to culinary
skills Cape Town is far ahead of Johannesburg and in
my opinion, is world class. Their menus are
imaginative, South African, beautifully presented
and excellent value for money.
Their restaurant staff are
professional and accommodating. Sure you
can get an excellent 750g steak and
chips in Johannesburg but after that you
have to resort to Italian, Thai,
Portuguese, French and other
international cuisines. Beyond steaks
and other meats South African cooking is
difficult to find outside the Western
Montagu and all the towns in the
area are on the longest wine route in
the world i.e. Route 62, an alternative
to the more famous coastal Garden Route
along the N2. In every town wineries
offer wine tasting and will arrange to
have a case of the 'best' shipped back
home for no extra cost (the Harley
panniers were not that big!).
The Harley rental special was made
possible by the fact that the Western
Cape is a winter rain fall area and
being summer in the northern hemisphere
does not attract the same amount of
tourists during this period. This
potentially could have resulted in a
miserably cold and wet weekend on two
wheels. Our weekend however was perfect.
The near zero temperatures overnight
were dispelled by 10am in the morning
and we would tour in glorious sunshine
tell sunset at 5pm.
Our route the next day included
Ashton, Bonnievale, Swellendam,
Heidelberg, Barrydale and back to
Montagu. A visit to 'Lys se Kombuis'
near Bonnievale was a lot of fun. Lys, a
retired coloured housekeeper runs a
small tearoom in her village next to the
main road. She also gave us a tour of
her 'Tokkalossie Museum'. Now this is
not the thing . . . it is Lys herself
who is the attraction. She is a warm and
charismatic character with lots of
stories about local life in the valley
and is well worth a visit.
Later on that day we jumped onto the
N2 highway and headed East. I rolled the
throttle open to keep ahead of the fast
At Heidelberg we turn North again
and headed for Barrydale along a more
sedate and twisty country road. Touring
lesson number 37. "Never consult one map
only". Touring lesson number 38. "If you
consult a second map and the two do not
agree believe the more conservative
version". I poured the power on as I
leaned the bike through yet another
magnificent bend when I saw IT 100m
ahead of us . . . the end of the tar and
the beginning of a dirt road heading
into the mountains! I eased right off
the throttle and let the big bike coast
easily along off the tar and onto the
dirt. We gradually lost speed and
finally stopped 200m along the dirt.
I estimated the dirt to be roughly
25km. At this point the surface was hard
and had embedded stones, all of which
offer excellent traction. I had recently
read in a Harley magazine about a dude
who had travelled around the world on a
Harley. Inspired we ventured forward.
The deviation was very pleasant. I
played by the rules and gently powered
the cruiser through anything that looked
even remotely loose and less than an
hour later we were back on the hard
stuff again and heading for Barrydale
via Tradouws Pass.
If you live in South Africa you have
to add Tradouws Pass to you 'must ride'
list. Many passes just cut up the side
of the mountains and over the other
side. This is not possible here and so
the road clings to the side of a deep
valley cut by a river that goes right
through the mountain range from the
coastal plain in the south to the Klein
Karoo on the other side.
The road was in magnificent
condition and almost deserted. Many
times I was able to open the throttle
for a few seconds and hear the engine's
powerful throb echo off the steep
mountain cliffs on both sides of the
valley. The pass (like so many in the
Cape) had umpteen blind bends to the
right. With a big bike and such a narrow
road there was the constant worry about
oncoming vehicles crossing the double
barrier lines onto our side, as we would
have very little real estate to spare.
This was the time that I was acutely
aware of my lack of 'Harley' riding
By this time I was very comfortable
with the different approach to braking
on a Harley. I had been advised that the
correct way to brake was 70% on the rear
and 30% on the front. This is contrary
to what one does on all other bikes
where the stopping power comes mainly
from the front.
Once over Tradouws Pass we flew
along Route 62 back to Montagu to yet
another awesome dinner in one of the
many restaurants along the main road.
Sunday morning we had a strange
encounter. We were just leaving the town
travelling in a Westerly direction. We
approached the cutting that is the
entrance to the town when the Tachometer
needle (rev counter) dropped like a
stone and pointed directly downwards
(-2000rpm if the dial was marked). The
actual revs of the bike remained
unchanged (3000rpm) as we continued
along the road. (Cogman's Kloof just
outside Montagu was the scene of our
Bermuda Triangle experience!) I did not
have to worry however as without warning
the needle whipped back up on the
positive side and indicated the revs
correctly. The instrument never gave a
moments trouble for the rest of the
The rest of Sunday went by without
incident and saw us travelling through
Bonnievale, Stormsvlei, Riviersonderend,
Springerskuil, Stanford and onto the
famous whale sighting town of Hermanus
Despite being winter we saw a
whales lazing in the deep water
below the cliff. I have passed through
Hermanus a few times and have never been
We then continued along the R44 to
Betty' Bay, Pringle Bay and arrived at
Gordon's Bay where we found a beautiful
B+B with a huge fireplace overlooking
the peninsula. We drank in the
magnificent view and watched the sun set
over the water while sitting on our
balcony eating the town's best take-aways
i.e. fish and chips!
The next day we took a slow ride
back into the City just 70kms away,
collected a rental car at the airport
and sadly returned the big cruiser to
What an awesome weekend, what a
privilege to have had such a holiday.
Yes, we have happily returned to our
F650's but we are definitely richer for