Reliving the Harties breakfast run
“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.