South Africa: The Cape Crusader

South Africa: The Cape Crusader
It doesn’t get better than this. I’m on the pegs, piloting the Honda Africa Twin up a steep, rocky climb in the middle of the vast Cederberg Wilderness Area. Ahead of me, a troop of baboons scatters away from the track and up into the deep red cliffs, the alpha male hanging back long enough to make me suitably nervous. Farther down the track, my riding companion Laurie follows on the BMW, and Toby, on the KTM 690, is nowhere to be seen. But no matter: I’m riding one of the most iconic adventure bikes ever made in the very country that inspired it some 30 years earlier. I could not be happier.

The chain of events that has brought me to this somewhat enviable position perhaps needs explaining. Toby, the KTM pilot, runs a tour company called Ride Expeditions, which I’ve ridden with quite a few times in India, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Apropos of just about nothing, he had recently decided to relocate his head office to sunny Cape Town in South Africa. Now apart from the obvious problem of the region being in the grip of the worst drought in the country’s recent history, it seemed like a smart move: great weather, fantastic beaches, and more importantly, the prospect of some incredible riding.

So, with little more than a month’s notice, Toby fairly easily twisted my arm and roped me into an exploratory ride to test the terrain, check which bikes might be most suitable, and generally get the feel for the riding possibilities in his new home country. The planned bikes were at both ends of the adventure spectrum, with a rented Africa Twin pitted against Toby’s recently purchased KTM 690 Enduro, so two very different riding experiences were guaranteed. When a few weeks later Toby’s older brother, Laurie, was drafted into the ride, the addition meant we could extend to a third option in the form of a BMW F 800 GS Adventure. This was becoming not only an exploratory ride, but also a three-way fight between some of the most popular adventure machines. That’s my kind of trip.

Setting Out

With Laurie arriving just after me, and Toby at the airport on fraternal collection duties, I grab the keys for the KTM and head off to explore the area to the south of Cape Town. Outside the city and away from the sprawling townships, I head down the south coast. It’s a strange mix of familiar sights and even more familiar names. The towns look unsettlingly British, and a vast proportion of the people are British. In the course of an hour I pass through Scarborough, Polperro, and Llandudno, towns bearing little resemblance to their namesakes in the UK. It’s a journey that would have taken the better part of a day back home in the UK. The KTM is a joy to ride, and even on off-road rubber I’m grinning all the way to the Cape of Good Hope, popularly known as the point at which the Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet (Cape Agulhas, about 100 miles to the southeast, is actually the official geographic divide between the two oceans). I take my turn for the obligatory selfies with the sign, hardly believing that I’m at the tip of Africa on a dirt bike!

Monday morning comes, and with the brothers off to fetch the BMW, I take an Uber to grab the Honda from Somerset West, a town about 25 miles out of Cape Town. With the paperwork signed and with a certain disappointment as to the fitted Mitas E-07 tires’ potential off-road abilities, I take my life in my hands to tackle the horrendous rush-hour traffic and the homicidal minibus taxi drivers. Arriving at Toby’s, there’s a palpable sense of excitement as we set up our bikes and attach our luggage. We all keep it central and sensible, Laurie with a suitably small case on the KTM, me with an SW-Motech drybag on the AT, and Toby using the freebie top box we managed to convince the rental company to include.

At just after 10 a.m., much to my obsessive-compulsive-disorderlike “leave on the hour” annoyance, we hit the road, blasting through central Cape Town and heading due north toward Table View. The irony of the name is not missed as the decidedly British weather means that Table Mountain is all but invisible. The road soon becomes pencil-straight and temptingly smooth, but with the 690 dictating the pace, the Honda and BMW are kept to sensible speeds, a theme that will continue all week, albeit reversed on the off-road sections!