Last April I posted about a weekend trip to Magaliesburg, a small town about an hour from Joburg that is frequented by hoards of motorcyclists on Sunday mornings. In that post I wrote:

I was looking forward to hanging with with hundreds of tattooed, leather-clad guys on Harleys. What a great blog post that would have been!

Little did I know that less than a year later, I myself would be a tattooed, leather-clad motorcyclist rolling from Jozi to Magaliesburg on a Sunday morning.

Well, sort of. The only leather items I had on were my hiking boots. Close enough. (Photo: André Harmse)

Three years ago, if someone had invited me to ride a motorcycle, I would have laughed and said, ‘Never.’ I wasn’t interested in motorcycles and found the idea of riding one quite terrifying. I did ride on the back of my friend Bob’s Vespa once, for about five blocks. Not sure that counts.

These days, the word ‘never’ has pretty much disappeared from my vocabulary. What have I got to lose at this point? So when André, a fellow Joburg Photowalker who organized our Diepsloot photo-share, invited me to ride with him on a Magaliesburg ‘breakfast run’, I didn’t say never. I said why not.

Our breakfast run route. Pretty ambitious for my first time on a bike.

When my alarm went off at 5:15 on Sunday morning, I thought I must be out of my mind. I got dressed and waited.  André pulled up at 6:00 on his red Aprilia Pegaso 650 Trail. (I have no idea what that means but I’m sure the bike enthusiasts will want to know.)

I would be ‘riding pillion’ — a fancy term for sitting on the back of the bike and holding on for dear life. Riding pillion is not like being a passenger in a car. You can’t just sit there and watch the world go by; you need to follow a few rules to prevent yourself from falling off or causing the the driver to crash. For instance, hold yourself still when the driver is shifting or braking, so you don’t bump helmets. Don’t try to put your feet down at stoplights. Lean in to turns and curves. And — the hardest instruction for me to follow — don’t talk to the driver while the bike is in motion. Fortunately André sent me several internet links about riding pillion the night before the ride. I read carefully.

I felt pretty nervous as André helped me put my jacket and helmet on. I also felt pretty sad. Jon would not have been thrilled with the idea of me riding off at the crack of dawn on another man’s motorcycle, even with a nice man like André. But Jon would have loved photographing the preparations. I’m sure I looked ridiculous climbing awkwardly onto that bike for the first time. There was no one there to capture it.

There was no one around to record the initial preparations but here’s a picture from our first stop. (Photo: Carel Nel)

I struggled onto the bike, found the foot rests, put my helmet visor down, and grabbed the small metal handles behind me. We moved slowly off down the quiet Melville street.

My first thought was that my nose itched. I couldn’t scratch it. My second thought was that there was nothing holding me to this vehicle except for my own body. I clutched the handles tighter and squeezed my knees together.

Once we got going, I realized riding pillion wasn’t as hard or as terrifying as I expected. It actually felt quite natural. I started to watch the scenery.

The sky turned bright pink behind the hills to the east. I cried silently inside my helmet. I think we rode for an hour but it felt like 15 minutes.

Our first stop was the resort town of Hartbeespoort, home of the Hartbeespoort Dam, to meet André’s sister and some other biking friends. The group lingered in the driveway in the early morning light, putting on gear and chatting easily in Afrikaans (with a smattering of English for my benefit). Nice people.

Left to right: Sanette, Alta, André, Lodewikus, and Carel.

We took off and headed for the dam. The sluice gates were open and we stopped for a photo-op.

Hartbeespoort Dam. The water was a weird shade of green.

Standing on the dam building-thingy. (Photo: André Harmse)

Look at this awesome panoramic! (Click to enlarge.) I need to learn how to do this. (Photo: André Harmse)

Back on the bikes, and another half hour to breakfast at the Magaliesburg Hotel. There were indeed lots of bikers there, although the atmosphere was tamer than I had envisioned. (It was only 8:30 a.m., after all. We did see a few people downing shots at their breakfast tables, and some others jumping into the pool with their clothes on.)

We feasted on massive omelettes smothered in cooking oil, fried potatoes, pap (corn porridge) with meat sauce, bacon, fried tomatoes, toast, and coffee. I passed on the calves liver in gravy.

Magaliesburg parking lot. 

By 10:00 a.m. we were ready to head home. I said goodbye to my new friends and hopped (much more gracefully this time) back onto the back of the Aprilia.

Photo: Alta Coetzee

At this point, André deemed me to be an excellent pillion and gave me permission to use my camera on the ride back. Taking quality photographs from the back of a moving motorcycle is challenging, but I managed one decent shot.

Check out my cool red gloves.

We were back in Melville before 11:30. I’d seen and done enough for two full days and it wasn’t even lunch time yet.

Another life experience to check off the list. I have a feeling I’ll be riding pillion (pillioning?) again in the near future.

%d bloggers like this: