BIKE TRIP

Re­liv­ing the Har­ties break­fast run

Road Trip - - CONTENTS - Story & Im­ages © Jim Free­man

“Meet Cherie,” said Lit­tle John as he opened the garage door. “I orig­i­nally bought her for my wife, but she de­cided she would rather be a pro­fes­sional pillion rider.”

Not that I can blame An­nie, who can only be de­scribed as petite: Cherie is a 1690 cc Har­ley-david­son Elec­tra Glide Ul­tra Clas­sic that weighs over 400 kg, close to seven times An­nie’s weight. Her logic … why carry a couch when you can sit on it?

I was re­luc­tant to ask Lit­tle John why he named the bike as he did (hope­fully it was be­cause she was cherry-red) be­cause I was a tad ap­pre­hen­sive about not only rid­ing an­other man’s bike, but also rid­ing a Har­ley – which I only do about four times a year in be­tween a plethora of other mo­tor­cy­cles that are gen­er­ally smaller and lighter – on my first break­fast run to Har­te­beespoort Dam in more than two decades.

The ride did not get off to the best start: I botched the ig­ni­tion pro­ce­dure and was ini­tially awkward in en­gag­ing gear, which meant Lit­tle John had a very scep­ti­cal look on his face as I putt-putted out of his drive early one re­cent Sun­day morn­ing.

For those that have not rid­den a Har­ley, af­ter lift­ing your feet off the ground, you swing them for­ward and down onto foot­plates rather than up and back onto ped­als as you would with most other mo­tor­cy­cles. This feels dis­tinctly wrong at first, but it makes sense, be­cause at cruis­ing speed it be­comes much more com­fort­able.

Sit back, put your feet up and make your­self at home. It took me about a minute to re-fa­mil­iarise my­self with the rid­ing po­si­tion (and Cherie’s bulk) be­fore I was – as they say – A for Away.

I had pre­pared for the ride the pre­vi­ous even­ing at the eco-chic Peech Ho­tel in Mel­rose, just a few blocks from the famed Wan­der­ers cricket sta­dium in Jo­han­nes­burg. It is a bou­tique four-star es­tab­lish­ment but, as co-owner Vicky Peech puts it: “I would far rather have the best four-star ho­tel in Gaut­eng than an or­di­nary five-star one!”.

The Peech is quiet and per­sonal, there is a won­der­ful wine list (al­ways a plus) that com­ple­ments a very good kitchen and is also home to Pippa Peech … a lit­tle cal­ico cat that holds the world record for lov­ing guests. She wears a bell round her neck be­cause in the past she used to bring them furry or feath­ered gifts and the tin­kling alerts said “gifts” to her stalk­ing pres­ence.

The break­fast run from Pre­to­ria to “Har­ties” is a straight-for­ward non-tech­ni­cal run and it was not long be­fore I was cruis­ing down the N4 toll-high­way. It was bit­terly cold when I de­parted and I am not so ma­cho that I shy away from wear­ing ther­mal long johns on a ride. This time, they were not re­ally nec­es­sary: the sub­stan­tial fair­ing blocks out most of the wind and the en­gine (which is close to one’s legs) gen­er­ates lots of heat.

Cherie quickly got up to a cruis­ing speed that was sig­nif­i­cantly on the wrong side of the posted limit and many an un­wary car first be­came aware of her pres­ence when the loud pipes said hello and good­bye in quick suc­ces­sion. It was a lovely bum­ble down the high­way spoiled only by the nu­mer­ous toll-booths.

On a bike, pay­ing the toll en­tails inch­ing up to the booth, putting the bike in neu­tral, tak­ing off at least one glove, get­ting your wal­let out of a pocket, pay­ing, re­plac­ing wal­let and glove, then set­ting off – while the driv­ers you blew past a few min­utes ago sit wait­ing and fum­ing. I can imag­ine how they feel when they have to sit be­hind an en­tire pack of bikes!

Dam aside, Har­te­beespoort has changed hugely since my first break­fast run

40 years ago. It has grown re­mark­ably and the ob­vi­ous in­jec­tion of huge amounts of real es­tate in­vest­ment means bik­ers are no longer wel­come to con­gre­gate in num­bers op­po­site the cen­tral snake park and demon­strate their ex­hil­a­ra­tion (es­pe­cially af­ter a liquid break­fast).

The biker scene, too, has changed. Bikes are no longer a cheap al­ter­na­tive to cars, so a fair per­cent­age of those who take to the roads on two wheels are week­end rid­ers. Con­se­quently, you find any num­ber of spots where the rid­ers stop and stretch their legs; from fill­ing sta­tions to chi-chi craft beer brew­eries or, if you are a diehard, the Up­perdeck on the Rusten­burg side of the dam wall. I am not a pack an­i­mal, so I rode on to Avi­a­tors’ Par­adise at the Brits air­field where there were only a few other rid­ers.

Part two of the run fol­lowed (in re­verse) the route more fa­mil­iar to those who set out from Jo’burg – from Har­ties along the R560 to where it joins the R24, through Ma­galies­burg and on to­wards Krugers­dorp. The last time I rode the route on a break­fast run was with a pal 20 years ago. We were both on Du­cati’s and we did it fast. Very fast.

I took it a lot more slowly this time. Apart from the fact that I was en­sconced on Cherie, the road sur­face was not that great and bot­tom­ing-out on a deep pot­hole (or hitting a sleep­ing po­lice­man) on a low, heavy cruiser is not a hell of a lot of fun. It is not as if you can lift the front wheel just be­fore you hit.

My abid­ing me­mory – apart from the pot­holes – of the first part of the ride was the smell of cab­bages of which there were field af­ter field. Un­like in a car where you can wind up the win­dows and turn on the air­con, on a bike you just have to think happy thoughts.

I broke my jour­ney at Val­ley Lodge and Spa in Ma­galies­burg, not a par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive lit­tle town, but the lodge it­self is a gem. My room over­looked a steadily flow­ing stream that at­tracted gi­ant king­fisher, green wood-hoopoe and a host of other birds. The lawns on the ex­ten­sive prop­erty are trimmed by a small herd of semi-do­mes­ti­cated ze­bra.

If I had not de­cided to indulge in a bot­tle of wine, I might have taken on the scenic wood­lands trail which – ap­par­ently – is a draw­card for am­a­teur bird­watch­ers and se­ri­ous twitch­ers alike.

Val­ley Lodge is a four-star fa­cil­ity, so you would ex­pect the kitchen to be fairly de­cent and it cer­tainly did not dis­ap­point with a size­able and very tasty lamb shank of­fer­ing. And yes, I had an­other bot­tle of wine … a Dur­banville Hills cab-sav, if I re­call.

The next morn­ing, I was not in a hurry to get go­ing be­cause I wanted to miss the Mon­day morn­ing traf­fic. I had a slow break­fast, pushed check-out to the last mo­ment and climbed onto Cherie for the last time. Only to re­mem­ber that you never, ever, to­tally avoid the Gaut­eng traf­fic.

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