Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Finding the quiet roads between Joburg and Clarens

"There's this motorbike museum in Deneysville", Hardy said.
And since Deneysville is, by some stretch of the imagination, halfway to Clarens, we might as well just go sleep over there the Saturday night.

This time it was going to be a 'light' tour - no tents or sleeping bags or braai grids or giant Tbones. Just the bikes, a toothbrush, a change of clothes and a credit card. And the jerry can to compensate for the TW's lack of range. Over a Saturday and Sunday - no leave required.

The journey was the destination. We would see if we can find quiet back roads. Although the TW can go almost anywhere, it doesn't get there fast. It was going to be around 450 kms or there-abouts of mostly dirt, so we left Randburg just after daybreak on Saturday morning.

Great breakfast and a very interesting museum in Deneysville.

When the R716 turned off towards Oranjeville, we kept straight on the first bit of dirt for the day towards Heilbron (fuel stop) Tweeling (fuel stop).

Between Heilbron and Tweeling. 
Is why we have motorbikes.
That can go offroad.

From Tweeling to Reitz was a bit of tar road on the R26 partially to make up time, and partially because it was the straightest line. From Reitz it was dirt road to Kransfontein again. Sand road and some loose gravel that made for interesting riding.  At Kransfontein we stopped to check the map. While discussing route options (mainly Hardy discussing while I was listening) a farmer stopped to ask where we are from. "Then you must be on the way to Clarens", he responded upon hearing we are from Jozi. "You're obviously going to take the scenic pass into Golden Gate". We weren't, because we weren't sure it was a public road. But apparently it was. So we were. Obviously.

This is a road every cyclist and every biker should ride at least once in his life.
This is why our bikes can go off road.
And why roadies should get bikes that can.

Could not get enough of that road. Have to go back.

From Golden gate on (familiar) tar to Clarens for coffee, pizza and wine.

Sleep, eat and repeat. 

It took us 10 hours to ride about 450 the previous day (ride, breakfast, pictures, museums, fuel-stops, map checks). Sunday was going to be another +-450km so it maybe was a bit unwise to only leave Clarens way after 9. Closer to 10, maybe. 
After a late breakfast in Fouriesburg we took the very scenic back roads behind the mountains that make up the Four Peaks trail run (It's so much easier on a bike!) 

More very scenic dirt roads past places on a map: Slabberts, Paul Roux, Petrus Steyn, Frankfort.

The whole day was dirt roads, back roads and almost no traffic.

By the time we crossed the Vaal river back to Gauteng, we realized we're chasing the sun. We decided to stay on the R59 rather than the dirt-tracks of the 'South'.

It was way after dark when we arrived back in Jozi. Tanks empty, but spirits and minds recharged.


Should have broken a collarbone. At least.

Was riding around 70 or 80 on dirt roads the last bit back - partly because we were chasing the sun. But mainly because of the Helmet Itch. Was incredibly stupid to try to scratch my head while riding. A guardian angel had to work some overtime ...

I googled the helmet itch and it can be various things, from dry air, static build-up due to too dry hair, to allergies. Buff didn't work because as I was moving the helmet round to try to scratch the itch, the buff was riding down over my eyes. Got myself two balaclavas from different fabric, and a third of silk on order. Hope that relives the problem!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Woman's day ride: Blockhouse/Circus

The TW stayed at home while we explored Botswana with the Jimny. By the time we got back, this and then that happened, and before we knew it, the TW was parked for a month and the battery flat. We started it once and let it idle outside the house to let the battery charge a bit. And when it died, we figured that was enough battery charging anyway. So when we finally wanted to take the bikes out, the TW just would not start. We ran up and down and up and down the complex with it to coax the engine, but nothing. Finally looked into the tank - to realise it's completely empty. Siphoned some fuel from Hardy's Honda, then filtered it through an (aeropress-sized) coffee-filter because the siphon-pipe was dirty. By now the battery was not even pretending to be alive - but the running-start worked first time. 

So the idea for Woman's day was just to do a long ride to give the battery chance to charge.

But after Monday evening's incident of having a gun pointed at me and the handler of the gun demanding my cell phone, I spent Women's day morning in a police station instead of finding new trails on my bike. The officer was more interested in the election results and possible effect that might have on his work.

Long story short:
Anyway - so it was lunchtime on the public holiday by the time we got onto the bikes. Hardy's folks stay close to Klipriviersberg, a most excellent base to explore the dirt roads of the South from. 

It was late, so we decided to ride some of our Joberg2C Training routes with the bikes. Some of our favourite 'strava segments' were even more fun on bikes with engines :)

Since we had engines (albeit in my case a rather small one), it was a bit easier to see where this hill goes to or if that track will connect to where we think it does, and we didn't have to be quite as aware of possible mountainbike-hijack areas.

We rode to the blockhouse and then explored the empty building next to it.

We stopped at the circus for a late lunch. BEST pizza EVER.  And a pink cupcake with the coffee because it was women's day.

Back on sometimes the same, sometimes different routes. Here's Kiss-your-handlebar tunnel.

LOTS of playground - have to go ride there often before it gets built up.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mountain Sanctuary Park / Breedtsnek birthday weekend

It was Hardy's birthday weekend and he suggested we go braai at Mountain SanctuaryPark. We didn't want to go over Breedts Nek in the dark, so we took half a day's leave on Friday. But things happened (like they always do), so by the time we got the bikes packed, it was closer to 4 than to 3.

We headed out on Malibongwe towards van Gaalens, and then followed the tar road to Hekpoort. The Garmin said sunset would be before 6, so the TW was going at maximum speed (which is about 90 km/h). Loved the quiet roads through Skeerpoort. By the time we reached the Bird store at the start of the dirt road, the sun was already low-ish. 

The short side up Breedts Nek wasn't too intimidating (and way faster than by mountain bike), and we stopped briefly at the top. Going down was more difficult - it's way easier and faster to navigate a mountain bike over the gnarly bits than to get a motorbike over it - but it was much faster than the time we drove over there with the Jimny.

The last bit of road to Mountain Sanctuary Park had some sandy bits, but the TW's fat wheels handled it well.

We set up camp, and got down to the business of braaiing some steaks.

On Saturday morning we explored (on foot) the rocks and pools around the park, and in the afternoon we took the bikes to go ride Breedts Nek again so that I could get some practice on the gnarly bits. Like the previous evening, I found that going up over the loose rocky bits was much easier than having to negotiate the same rocky bits on the way down. I felt more in control on the way up - the only thing you have to focus on is the throttle, and it helps that the handlebars are closer. Going down, however, there's a throttle, 2 breaks and a lot of weight to manage. And the handle bars are further away.

But man, does this bike have nice suspension!! For a mountain biker, getting onto a real motorbike changes the whole concept of 'suspension'. If the bike chose a bad line over some rocky steps, the only thing I had to do was to stay balanced on the bike - the bike did all the rest. Way easier than mountain biking ... but still a lot scarier on the downhills over the rocky bits.

After Breedts Nek, we rode to Mooinooi's Spar to get something to braai and some birthday-chips, and then lazed around the campsite.


Hardy's Honda doing hammock-anchor duty.

There wasn't much space to pack luxuries like big camping chairs - but the TW worked perfectly well as a back-rest.

Sunday morning we swam in the rock-pools, and after a late brunch packed up. Even though we had less luggage (we braaied the steaks, fried the bacon and eggs, drank the wine, retired the old Salomons that we hiked in, and ate the birthday cake), getting everything back on the bikes was more difficult than when we came.

We rode over Breedts Nek again. The technical bits were still scary, but I had enough confidence by now to choose the second-best line I could find, and at times deliberately picked (short) bad lines to see how the suspension would handle it. Once on tar we took quiet tar roads through the cradle of humankind and back home. 

Any weekend out is a good weekend. But combine a bike, a braai, a tent and some mountains and it is near perfect :)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Lesotho Adventure: Epilogue

1. If you're new to motorbiking, I can't think of a better place to go ride (once you know how the gears and brakes work, obviously). The roads are in good condition and with not a lot of traffic (except close to the border posts.)  

2. The Drakensberg and Maluti are very green in March / April. If you can fit it in, plan to go in autumn.

3.It was great having a 'backup' bakkie with. Not only because Eisbein and Rogue documented the whole tour for us through their camera lens, but also because of all the luxuries that we could pack, and the different perspectives of the same experiences at the end of each day.

And it's nice to have pictures of both bikes and from a different perspective than what we've seen from the bike - thank you Eisbein and Rogue!

4. When I did the ADA DP1 course 2 weeks before this trip, I was a bit baffled about the huge number of 'adventure bikers' out there with their 'dual purpose' bikes. I got that they wanted to have some adventure, see the world ... but why would you get a 1200cc bike and then want to go do singletrack and technical things with it? 

And then I remembered ... a long time ago I cycled (old-school, mountain bike 'peddle' cycle with panniers) around Ireland, and then across Scotland. I put slicks on, because that was more efficient. And it was a hardtail, because that's what people rode those days. (In South Africa, at least)
And then I got to the Great Glen Way, which was some of the best singletrack I've seen at the time ... and arguably still some of the best I've seen. And knobblies and no luggage (and some suspension) would have been better, and if I ever go back, I'll leave the luggage at an Inn for the day and go play - but at the time, I rode it with slicks and the panniers - because that's what I had.

That must have been what 'dual purpose' riders are after: The ability to cover the distance around Ireland, but when it gets to really pretty stuff, the ability to ride that as well. I think I now 'get' adventure riders a bit better :)

5. The TW's tank is really small. And it really is not fast. But is it fun!

When I got the bike, it was going to be the bike that I learn on, a 'meanwhile' bike while I decide if I actually do like this adventure thing, and what type of bike I really would want once I can ride. 
But I think this bike has a good few tours still left for me to do ... 

Until the next adventure...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lesotho Adventure 5: Semonkong-Golden Gate

From Semonkong back to Golden Gate is just over 300 km. We went back towards Roma on the same twisty tar road and over the same hills that we came in on.

In Roma we didn't stop at the Vatican ... but we did stop at the bottle store next door to get some Malutis to take home.

The closer we got to Maseru, the more the traffic picked up ... closer to the border post it got really busy with lots of trucks and holidaymakers on their way in. I much prefer the smaller border posts - quicker to get through, and less chance for road blocks with traffic officers looking for bribes.

In Ladybrand we stopped to stretch our legs, fill up and get some coffee.There were no more sheep or donkey carts on the roads, and the road between Ladybrand and Fouriesburg was in good condition with little traffic, so the TW could go maximum speed ... which is 80 on the uphills, and 115 or so on the downhills. 

I  doubt the TW was built for long distances on straight tar. It took 1 hour 20 to ride the 120km from Ladybrand to Fouriesburg. I had to slow down every now and again to 80 km/h so that I could see what's going on in my mirrors - they start rattling at 90 km/h and then you see 3 cars for every one car behind you ...

In Fouriesburg we stopped at the Plaasstoep for lunch, and then it was just the 55km to Golden Gate left.

3 kms out of Golden Gate the TW ran out of fuel again. It was only 170 from where we filled up in Ladybrand ... clearly the TW didn't appreciate me trying to go faster than 90 km/h ... or maybe it was enjoying the adventure so much that it didn't want it to end ...

Anyway, so we arrived back in Golden Gate, fetched the Jimny, rearranged luggage, packed the bikes, and we were off on our way to Gauteng.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Lesotho Adventure 4: Semonkong

Riding: 26 km
Hiking: 8.4 km

Semonkong lodge is on the up-river side of the falls, and on the opposite side of the canyon into which it falls. You can either ride around the canyon to view the falls from the opposite side, or hike along the river to see it from the top. The lodge also arrange donkey-tours to the falls if you're tired of your bike by now.

 If you feel adventurous, you can take on the world's highest commercial abseil just next to the falls (which includes a hike out of the gorge.)

We took the bikes on the dirt-road around. It is 13 km one-way on interesting gravel road with shallow water crossings and some steep up- and downhills. 

The Lesotho sky (mountain bike event) had a stage in this area last year, and it's easy to see why event organisers would want to include this in the route. The thin air together with the hills would make this a very tough event, though ... Lesotho is not flat.

The afternoon Hardy and I hiked along the river to the waterfall. It's an 8.4 km round-trip, a bit over 2 hours. Follow the river from the lodge all the way down to the falls, or stay on the higher ground inland (an easier route). Cross the river at the bridge about a km upstream from the falls, so that you can get a clearer view of the falls where they drop.

The waterfall looks a lot higher if you view it from right next to where it falls.

You could swim in the river (just next to the campsite) after your hike ... or just go for a hot shower if the March air is too nippy and the sun is already down.

The Duck & Donkey (the lodge's tavern) has excellent lunches. The dinner menu has fewer options (2 options per night, but a new choice each day) and you have to book otherwise you wont get space - the restaurant was fully booked and a bit squeezed the night that we were there. Eating there felt a bit like the 'youth hostels' that I used when I bicycle-toured in Europe many years ago: travelers from all over Southern Africa and indeed from around the world, all on their own adventures and with different tales of the places where they've been to and where they want to go next.

If you braai or make a potjie, be careful of the ducks - they tried to steal food off our plates while we were eating. (and please don't feed them ... at least not while you're eating ...)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Lesotho Adventure 3: Ramabantha to Semonkong

Lesotho Long weekend adventure 3: Ramabantha to Semonkong
49 km
1452m vertical ascent

After yesterday's long day, it was just a short distance from Ramabantha to Semonking. The road is in great condition - recently tarred, very little traffic and no potholes.

I love the Drakensberg in Autumn - everything is green, but the bulk of the summer thundershowers is over and it's not too cold yet. Same must be true for Lesotho - everything is green, with patches of pink cosmos scattered inbetween.

There's only one 'hill' between Ramabantha and Semonkong - as far as a 1468m ascent can be considered a 'hill'.

The last bit of uphill on the only climb for the day was so steep that the taxi had to engage 'low range' to get up there - zig-zagging his way up the hill. I was glad I was on the TW and not on a mountain bike.

We would have time to explore the waterfall the next day, so we ignored the signs pointing to the waterfall and went straight for Semonkong. Hardy was disappointed that the old bridge over the Maletsunyane river (that becomes the falls a few km downstream) was replaced by a shiny new one. The old one looked more interesting ...

To get to the lodge, you go through Semonkong's 'CBD' and then an interesting little road shared with donkeys and horse-riders.

The campsite at Semonkong is way more rustic than the one at Ramabanta. It was also a lot busier - while we were the only campers at Ramabanta, Semonkong's campsite was full. This was the only campsite where we booked in advance, and we were glad we did so.

If you're ever in Semonkong, ask at the Lodge's restaurant for Elizabeth, the blanket lady, and see if you can arrange a blanket tour (R65-100 pp, depending on how many people). She's a great source of info about Basotho blankets, but even more so about the history, stories and culture. The local store has tuna, cheese sauce, rice and pasta and basic vegetables, but if you're planning to braai, maybe consider bringing your own meat. If you're braaiing, ask at the restaurant if you could buy a flat round bread to go with supper.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Lesotho Adventure 2: Katse to Ramabanta

Katse to Ramabantha: 241 km
Vertical ascent: 5787
Mountain passes: Many
Views: unlimited

From Katse it's a magnificent dirt road to Thaba Tseka. It's about 60 kms, and took us about 2 hours. There are no major mountain passes, just mile upon mile of dirt road, very green grass, green hills, green fields and a taxi or donkey cart every now and again. Parts of this road reminded me of that dirt road that goes into Vuvu when you do Ride2Rhodes (mountain bike); some of it reminded me (probably more accurately) of some of the roads we mountain biked on the Trans Lesotho

We filled up at Thaba Tseka, and then continued on tar, mountain pass after mountain pass. 

Quiet road, the odd truck, donkey cart or a few sheep. You're either on the way up a mountain, or down it. On one of the passes (Mokhoabong Pass?) we stopped for droewors and Easter eggs (Happy Birthday Rogue!) 

After that, more mountain passes. Think Franshoek pass, and when you get to the bottom, another Franschoek pass, and then another one. All day long. 

Then there were more mountain passes. Cheche pass, Likalaneng, Past Nazareth, over Blue Mountain pass, Bushman's pass (not sure about the order?). 

On 'God Help Me' pass we stopped for more droewors, to top up the TW's fuel, and to check distances to the next fuel station. 

Doesn't matter how pretty the roads, if you're not used to travelling by bike, you'll be tired after 210 kms - which was roughly when we arrived in Roma. Hardy filled the Honda's tank, and then it was another 30 km or so to Ramabantha. The road to Ramabantha is a bit ... more rural, shall we say, than the lovely tar road that we've been on - but then you enter the colonial lawns of Ramabantha - wow! Lovely campsite, friendly staff, cold beer, beautiful lawns and oh, those showers!

We set up camp, enjoyed the local beer, and then got the braai going. 

I haven't been a biker for all too long (it's about 4 months since I got the learner's and learnt where the gears are and how to work them) ... and I haven't bike-toured all that much ... but this was easily one of the best days I've had on my bike.