Touring Cape Town on a Harley is a hoot — even if you can't ride
Sibusiso Mkwanazi loses his anti-biker prejudices with a smile as he rides pillion on a tour of the Mother City
Dear Harley-Davidson riders,
I write this open letter with my tail between my legs, as I thought I knew it all. For the past 37 years of my life, every time I heard the sound of one of your motorbikes, I'd regard the rider with contempt. I confess to thinking ill of your ilk, as you turned quiet and leafy suburbs into raucous racetracks.
I wondered how any sane person could look at that two-wheeled hunk of metal and see value.
Recently, as part of a visit to the Mother City, I reluctantly accepted a pillion ride (ie as a passenger) on a Harley. Knowing now how it feels to tour a city such as Cape Town on a motorbike, I regret just how ill-informed I was before. I regret judging riders without having experienced it myself.
The tour started at my trendy accommodation, the Capital Mirage Hotel in the city centre, where I chose a Harley-Davidson Road King, a no-nonsense vintage bike with minimal bells and whistles. It is perfect for the open road and the passenger comfort is excellent, thanks to the wide pillion (passenger seat) and reassuringly firm grab rails. This is when I discovered that a city tour is vastly different on a motorbike.
Firstly, you are at the mercy of the elements, and this morphs the way you take in your surroundings. All of a sudden, Cape Town Stadium in Green Point is not an attraction, but an engaging monument that celebrates chic African design.
Being on a motorbike also means you can downgrade traffic to junk status as you weave in and out of it, and take in iconic buildings such as the District Six Museum.
You can also literally smell the wonderfully intoxicating odours of the baked goods at the 32-year-old Charly's Bakery, and you can watch world-famous attractions such as the V&A Waterfront come alive right in front of your eyes.
Please allow me to apologise for assuming that all motorcyclists — especially Harley riders — are hooligans who just want to get ahead of the rest of us, at any cost. The group I was with actually demonstrated what it means to be considerate and safe at the same time.
In fact, as we were immersed in the beauty that is Chapman's Peak Drive, Signal Hill and both the Klein and Groot Constantias, it became all too evident that I should be more scared of the SUV-driving housewives of the southern suburbs — who insist on curling their eyelashes while driving — than of bearded men on two wheels.
Yes, as a passenger, I was a bit “unsettled” about how close I had to get with my rider, but I learnt that this really is a multisensory experience. One of the best advantages of being on a motorbike is that space is not an issue, as you can take it anywhere.
Township and rural tourism is the next big thing, and the next time you have the opportunity to take a Sho't Left, I urge you to experience Khayelitsha, Nyanga, Langa, Philippi, Mitchells Plain and any other townships on a motorbike. The smell of the bike's petrol mixed with the inviting smell of braaied meat at Mzoli's will have you looking for the nearest motorbike dealership, as well as the most delectable meat at the many shisa nyamas.
While in the various townships, I was informed of the importance of traditional healers in the Xhosa community and the role of the church in the struggle for our country's freedom. I witnessed sportsgrounds that yielded some of our most gifted sportspeople and I was able to savour local cuisine such as umleqwa (free-range, home-grown chicken), umnnqusho (samp and beans) and koesisters, borrowed from the Cape Malay descendants (see below).
As I continue to apologise, I understand that one of my major gripes against riders was that they could go as fast as they wanted to. I now know that the inverse is also true, as you can ride as slowly as you please. This is especially handy in an area such as the City Bowl, steeped in history. While riding down the smaller byways, you can read the historic buildings' placards in a jiffy, increasing your knowledge of the city's heritage.
I must say, locally made humble pie goes down well with what is touted as the best ice cream in Cape Town, courtesy of Unframed Ice Cream. Please not only accept my heartfelt apology, but be rest-assured that I am slowly seeing the light, as I am enquiring about buying a two-wheeler — though it might be a scooter, with a silencer.
One of the advantages of being on two wheels is being able to park in the smallest of spaces, which is typically where amagqirha (traditional healers) tend to operate in Cape Town's townships.
Unlike some Western doctors, amagqirha also consider the spiritual side of a person's health, as they see a connection between the body, mind and soul. Ubuntu is also brought into these consultations, as these practitioners believe that illnesses and diseases are often caused by relationships.
The involvement of township Christian churches in the fight against apartheid is one of the topics that some of the township tour guides delve into. It is fascinating not only for international tourists but for local guests as well, as he likes of Allan Boesak are mentioned. This is when you realise that a church is not just a building but rather a part of many a community.
On the back of a motorbike you also get to learn that dusty township football fields have yielded talents such as Moeneeb Josephs and the up-and-coming 17-year-old Tafelsig maestro Shakur Hector.
Never to be outdone, the arts and culture industry in these neighbourhoods is alive and well, offering some innovative ways to take in their offerings. Before Covid-19, one of the areas — Langa, Cape Town's oldest black African township — was known for turning a number of houses on Rubisana Street into public art galleries.
Cuisine plays an integral part of township life and a tour would not be complete without savouring the Cape Malay- inspired dishes on offer in the Bo-Kaap. Situated at the bottom of Signal Hill, the Bo-Kaap is the Mother City's most distinct neighbourhood, with its mix of colourful Cape Dutch and Georgian huurhuisjes (rental houses that were built and leased to slaves).
The numerous restaurants offer recipes that can be traced back centuries, and most include a combination of fruits, meat, vegetables and, of course, copious amounts of spices and herbs. Even if you do not have time for a sit-down meal, local cafe and shops sell delectable samosas, half-moons and daltjies (chilli bites).
Whatever you do, do not confuse koeksisters with koesisters, like I did. Bo-Kaap residents are some of the most hospitable in the city, but they will instantly turn on you. A koeksister is twisty and sugary dough, deep-fried and dunked in tooth-decaying syrup. A koesister is also deep-fried but takes the shape of a roughly hand-formed ball, and it contains yeast. It is essentially a doughnut (without the hole) infused with various spices and generously coated with desiccated coconut. Be very careful with your enunciation!
• The writer toured with Cape Bike Travel. Tours are R800 for one hour; R1,200 for two, R1,600 for a half day and R2,500 for a full day. More info at capebiketravel.com.