There are certain quintessential bike/trip pairings that are on a lot of people’s bucket lists:
Ride a Royal Enfield around the Himalayas, take a Guzzi around Lake Como, rip through The Tail of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap on … well, almost anything. This is the stuff of deep winter daydreams that thaw our frozen riding hearts.
I present, for your consideration, another important box to get checked: Ride an Africa Twin in Africa. A combo so obvious and perfect it’s shocking I hadn’t thought of it earlier.
Photos by Scott Wilson and Viktor Radics
I had been trying to get my hands on Honda’s new Africa Twin for some time now, but the opportunity came in a strange way. Late one night, while scouring the Internet for detailed specs of Honda’s newest generation of the storied Africa Twin, I stumbled onto the site of a company renting them. My interest was piqued, so I had to find out where they were located: Capetown, South Africa. A mere hop, skip and 21 hours of flying away – so why not?
I knew that renting a motorcycle could be easy and highly rewarding after my recent adventure on a dirt bike through Laos, and I had a couple of friends headed to South Africa already for a moto event. It was easy to convince myself this was a good way to blow my flight-points – about as easy as it was to convince them that renting two more Africa Twins was a good idea.
After a long and uneventful flight to the bottom of the African continent, and a very good sleep, I found myself standing in front of the very moto-rental shop I’d found online just a few weeks earlier. A surreal feeling. It turns out their recent addition of the Africa Twin to the rental fleet has been a very popular one. BMW GSs have long dominated African moto-tourism in the past, but Honda’s Africa Twin brings a breath of fresh air.
Riding through Cape Town
I can’t say that my first ride in Africa was how I pictured it. I left the rental shop’s strip-mall and promptly got my bearings on the left side of the road, while negotiating several multi-lane roundabouts and merging onto the six-lane carriageway.
Within 10 kilometres of heading back toward downtown Cape Town, my friends and I found ourselves in a Toronto-level traffic jam. As we sat there in traffic, soaking in our new surrounds and fiddling with all the little nuances of the bike’s computer, a noise caught my attention – the swift and steady sound of a motorbike at speed!
The bike rode happily past us, unencumbered by the sea of four-wheeled roadblocks. What sorcery was at play here? The mystical art of lane-filtering!
The warm glow of an “oh yeah…of course” moment flooded over me as I navigated the bike between the rows of cars and adopted the “when in Rome” philosophy. I must admit I was smiling and laughing (and perhaps woo-hoo-ing) to myself as I reveled in the experience of feeling like I was leading a motorcade of important dignitaries or royalty. What a foreign, yet wondrous feeling it was.
As we reached our AirBnB in Cape Town and dismounted, my friends and I giggled in disbelief at how easy it was and how much sense it made to have a system set up like this. Local motorists not only didn’t get angry by our inter-lane motorcycling, but actually made room for us. Combine that with a Southern California-like climate, and breathtaking coastline roads, and this place could easily be moto-heaven!
We also had to check for ourselves to make sure that the Africa Twin was, in fact, a parallel and not a V-twin as its low-end grunt and power delivery was a welcome surprise.
This first short ride on well-maintained city streets and highways was a great start for me to familiarize myself with a bike that is much heavier and taller than perhaps a man of my Stallone-esque inseam should be handling. Luckily, the Africa Twin offers two positions to its stock saddle, allowing me to lower it to a setting of 85 cm versus the higher option of 87-and-change. Every millimetre helps lessen the ballerina effect at stop lights.
Into the Wild
The next morning, we rode around to collect a few last provisions and packed our bikes for our multi-day ride into the wild side of South Africa. We arrived at Woodstock Moto Co., run by Cape Town local Devin Paisley and business partner Archie Leeming, shortly after lunch.
The shop is a moto-hangout, coffee shop and lunch counter as well as a co-op style garage where people can work on and store their bikes. These locals agreed to take us under their moto-wings for the next few days to give us a look at a backcountry moto-camping experience in South Africa. A typical weekend out with friends, for them.
Slowly a posse of moto-heads amassed in front of the shop geared for a weekend of mixed terrain, though not your usual suspects: a wild mix of everything from BMW R100s to Triumph Bonnevilles. I figured this was a sign we’d be sticking to paved roads.
Boy, was I wrong!
As a crew, we totalled about 15 in all and we ripped off to escape the city. We used The Force (aka lane-filtering) to exit the Greater Cape Town area’s crippling Friday afternoon traffic and worked our way north toward the first of many concentric rings of mountain range, each with a more awe-inspiring view than the last.
As the light waned, it only intensified the beauty of Bainskloof Pass, which made it hard to keep your attention on the road in front of you. A few appropriately-placed viewpoints allowed us all to regroup and soak in the views safely. By now, we had put about three hours of riding behind us and because of our late start (letting our local friends finish work for the day), we were just about out of sun.
With the last bit of light, we made our way onto the first of the unpaved roads: a dusty gravel road that dissolved down into a cattle path, leading us to our campsite for the night.
Our moto-posse jumped into military-like action to ensure everyone’s tent was built, a fire was started and dinner prep was under way. Our hosts’ preparedness and hospitality was miraculous. No creature comfort was left behind despite everyone being on two wheels, and before long we were all tucking into a wonderful meal, fire-side.
In the morning, breaking camp was just as efficient as it was building it. Not long after first light, people emerged from their tents and broke them down to pack away on their bikes. After some campfire eggs, bacon and even a coffee from a portable coffee press, we were all set for Day 2.
We rode north-east passing road-side baboons, through the Ceres Mountains toward the aptly named town of Ceres where we had our last chance to load up on fuel and provisions before disappearing from the pavement. Led by our well-experienced local hosts, we followed dirt roads, farm paths and trails for the next few hours through a baking hot valley of fruit farms that somehow flourished in the otherwise dusty and gravelly earth. The Africa Twin was now starting to feel at home.
From jagged gravel that clinked like iron marbles as we rode over it, to packed dusty paths that clouded the valley and the unfortunate riders behind, the bike carved surely and without any sense of slowing, slipping or faltering. The combination of appropriate tires and a ton of power made short work of the terrain, and even on the dry sandy river beds, the bike pressed on admirably without needing much skill (just as well, since mine is limited). Much more skill was required from my new local friends to navigate their R100s and Bonnevilles through the same terrain.
By the afternoon we had made our way to the next pass and across the southern frontier of the Cederberg Wilderness Reserve. The beauty and the heat were both relentless. As we descended off the back end of the Tankwa mountains, the land sprawled out into a wide open desert plateau.
It felt as though I’d been fitted with fish-eye goggles as the vertigo-inducing vista allowed us to see for what looked like eternity. In the distance I could see a single structure breaking the desolation. Like a tiny oasis, the Tankwa Padstal provided hot meals, cold beverages and a place to sit under shade. It also allowed the crew of 12 or so bikes to regroup once more before our final afternoon push north to our camp.
For the next hour or so we would ride Route 355, which is essentially a dirt highway. It was bizarre to rip along at highway speeds on dirt without worry of losing control, since the road itself is very well-packed and groomed gravel. The final run into our camp needed much more care and awareness as the surface would change, in some cases to sand, in an instant.
We managed to make camp with a few hours of daylight remaining, and made good use of the nearby river to cool off and rinse away a few kilos of dust from our bodies. With still an hour or so left, I just had to get back out into the vastness of the landscape and ride.
African sunsets are notoriously spectacular and even the golden glow after the sun had set warmed the breezy desert landscape. The bike and I seemed to float through the landscape rather than ride along it. The Africa Twin gave me such comfort and confidence for my limited abilities that I felt I could ride through the night. Instead, I rode back to camp with little to no light and joined the crew by the braai (what South Africans call a BBQ).
In the morning light we gathered our things and started a new route back home toward Cape Town. The hours of mixed off-road terrain was eaten by the African Twin like a hearty breakfast, and when we reconnected with the pavement later that afternoon, both the bike and I seemed to let out a combined disappointed noise.
48 hrs into the wild had barely whetted my appetite for the possibilities of what this continent has to offer and what this bike can do here. Africa is synonymous with epic adventure, and I can’t think of a better or more deserving name for this bike. It seems to have earned it.
QUICK TRIP FACTS:
The Bike: 2017 Honda Africa Twin CRF1000L Manual (although the DCT option is available), rented from “RIDERS Motorcycle” in Somerset West (just 20 min. east of Cape Town proper)
The Cost: Not cheap – approx. $200 CDN a day, though the longer you rent, the cheaper the rate. Also, if you visit on the shoulder seasons (after April but before November), you will get a discount.
The Requirements: Your local motorcycle license and a credit card. I chose to bring some gear of my own (helmet, and some riding gear), but they can provide you with it all, for additional costs, of course.