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).
At 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 this place!
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 easily.
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.
Read the full story at the ‘Flames on my tank’ website Cape Town; Whale watching; Cogmans Kloof
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 Cape.
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 moving traffic.
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. What now?
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 experience.
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 trip!
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 for lunch.
Despite being winter we saw a couple of whales lazing in the deep water below the cliff. I have passed through Hermanus a few times and have never been disappointed.
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 its owners.
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 the experience.