Bike Trip in the Fairest Cape
It might be a misnomer to say: “every cloud has a silver lining,” given to the paucity of cumulonimbus in the Western Cape these past three years. However, if there is an upside to the prolonged drought, it is that two-wheeled Roadtripers get more months of the year to explore the province.
In fact, a clear day during Winter can offer more glorious riding than one during Summer: there are generally fewer cars on the road and it is not so sticky under your leather and helmet.
I have shared some great biking adventures with my mate Paul Wren in Mauritius. As a way of saying thanks for his efforts to secure me a bike each time I visit “his” island, I asked him to come to Cape Town and see what we had to offer
My invitation was prompted in part by reading a social media listicle that ranked the top ten coastal roads in the world. Surprise, surprise ... three of those ten were in the Western Cape.
Paul and I did two of those three (because Paul was working for Harleydavidson at the time, we took them on astride Milwaukee’s finest) and, after a few days of magnificent riding, he was quick to agree.
The three roads are Chapman’s Peak Drive (Hout Bay to Noordhoek), Clarence Drive (Gordon’s Bay to Kleinmond) and the Nature’s Valley road (which goes basically nowhere but starts at The Crags just outside Plettenberg Bay).
I have ridden all three on many occasions – the first two on many, many occasions – and sometimes find it fun to do so on a bike that is eminently unsuited for the route.
“Chappies” could have been built for Harleys and BMW GS adventure bikes because it is very twisty and there is always lots of traffic. You have to take it reasonably slow, which makes the road quite challenging when you negotiate it with a 1300 cc Suzuki Hyabusa in a howling gale.
Anyone who has ever ridden a Hyabusa will tell you itis frighteningly quick, but traditionally likes driving in a straight line. Actually, they will tell you that riding it on a road like Chapman’s Peak is an utter nightmare; the thing hates corners. Not so the 2017 model I took round the mountain. It felt more like riding a Fireblade on steroids than a nitrous oxide-burning dump-truck.
When you get to the end of Chappies, you have the choice of turning left onto Red Hill Road, short-cutting into Simonstown, or going straight towards Scarborough, Misty Cliffs, Kommetjie, Cape
Point, Smitswinkel and the like, before eventually coming out at Simonstown. I chose the latter and a good choice it was, too, because the second part of the ride brought out the best in the Suzuki; there are some nice open stretches where you can explore the upper ranges of the revcounter (though not for long). Stop in at the old Viper Lounge South in Glencairn to show of your bike but, try not to do it on a day when you will get as sandblasted as I (and the Hyabusa) did.
The big Suzuki would be far more suited to Clarence Drive because its tight bends are interspersed with fast sweeps and some relative straights – especially the second section from Rooi Els to Kleinmond and beyond.
Honestly, the road is my absolute favourite to ride on just about any kind of bike (the exception being a Harley trike I tried about four years ago and the BMW Ninet, though, in the latter case, it was because I was trying to keep up with bike racer Dave Petersen ...). There are two kinds of riders that take on Clarence ... those who want to ride the hell out of it and those who want to appreciate its beauty. If you are in the second category, be on the lookout for whales during calving season. If you are in the first, look out for baboons.
You can turn around at Rooi Els (after the obligatory stop at The Drummond Arms), or continue to Arabella and return to Cape Town via Sir Lowry’s Pass and the N2. Paul and I did a two-day roadtrip, taking in both Chapman’s Peak and Clarence Drives, which are largely linked by Baden-powell Drive. Baden-powell follows the Atlantic Ocean coastline from Muizenberg to the outskirts of Somerset West. It is fast, but be weary of the Southeaster potentially having blown beach sand across the road.
The two of us did the trip on Harleys, he on an Ultra Limited and myself a Road King, and these were perfect for the whole route; we could bumble when we needed to and
blat when we could (“loud pipes save lives”). We started in the early morning from Sea Point, going against the traffic to Camps Bay and Hout Bay, following Victoria Drive. By the time we got to Hermanus – after stopping for a late-ish lunch at Antonio’s Pizza Place at the start of Clarence Drive – we had experienced the best of Table Bay and False Bay, and were knackered but jubilant. “Man, this is some of the best riding I have done anywhere in the world,” Paul enthused.
The Nature’s Valley road takes a completely different approach because you have to get there first, and it is 550 km from Cape Town, on the other side of Plettenberg Bay. This means you need a bike with panniers, so you are most likely talking about a Harley-davidson or BMW adventure bike.
The first time I tackled it was in midwinter on a hulking 1580cc H-D Street Glide I had ridden up from the Mother City en route to Port Elizabeth. I stayed over for the night at the nearby Sanparks chalet at Storms River Mouth.
It rained heavily during the night, leaving the Nature’s Valley road wet and strewn with small rocks from numerous minor rockslides. The entrance to the valley was quite harrowing because a heavy Harley does not particularly enjoy a) wet roads, b) steep downward slopes, and c) hairpin bends. It also does not have the manoeuvrability to wind around debris.
Riding up out of the valley was much more pleasant, but unless you are continuing to Port Elizabeth, you have to turn around and come back. A much more satisfying experience was riding the same road in similar conditions on my beloved BMW F650GS aka The Betsy.
Getting to Plett was not such a comfortable cruise, but the nimble and relatively light BMW handled the valley conditions with aplomb. If you are going into Nature’s Valley village, beware of bushbuck jumping out of the scrub in front of you.
Where to stay
Book your overnight stay at the Sanparks facility at De Vasselot in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park and head back up the pass to the N2 for breakfast at the Old Nick Village.