2Summers Rides Pillion

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.

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  • Reply Jerome West January 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Time to get your own bike Heather because pillion is not that thrilling. And what is this about Vespa bashing. My Sophia (Vespa ET4) has been to places André’s Aprilia can only dream of. (Take that André and why weren’t the two of you on the Alex Photowalk?)

    • Reply 2summers January 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm

      Hahaha Jerome. Don’t get me wrong – I love the Vespa. And I have much respect for the journeys you’ve taken on Sophia. But the ride I took with my friend was extremely short, on a slow-moving city street, so I don’t count that ride as legitimate.

      Sorry, I couldn’t make the Alex photowalk. Looks like it was great though.

      Pillioning was exciting enough for me this time!

    • Reply Historic District January 18, 2012 at 7:09 am

      Agreed – the Vespa totally counts!

      – Friend Bob

      • Reply 2summers January 18, 2012 at 8:38 am

        Thank you Friend Bob. I suppose you’re right. Sorry for offending all the Vespa owners of the world.

  • Reply Bing January 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    I’m glad you had a great time! I am never allowed on a motorbike. My dad would kill me if I did. =p

    Here’s how you can create a panoramic shot –


    • Reply 2summers January 17, 2012 at 9:03 pm

      Of course you would have detailed instructions on your blog about how to do this. So useful!

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough January 17, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Ah, the last time I was on a motorbike, Sare and I were in Thailand and she nearly got us killed! No, I guess I was forced to ride two motorbikes when we lived in Vietnam–the land of motorbike mania. Yikes!

    • Reply 2summers January 17, 2012 at 9:02 pm

      Haha. Maybe it seems less scary here in Africa, where the population is not quite as dense.

  • Reply Lu January 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    Hartbeespoort Dam – is ALWAYS a weird shade of green….

    • Reply 2summers January 17, 2012 at 9:00 pm

      This was the first time I’d been there. What’s up with the weird green?

  • Reply Debra Kolkka January 17, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    I rode on motorbikes in my youth, and I have the scars to prove it. What fun!

    • Reply 2summers January 18, 2012 at 8:39 am

      I hope I don’t wind up with any scars to prove it!

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish January 17, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    Where I grew up (in Harley country), it was called “riding bitch”. When I decided I didn’t want to be “bitch” anymore, but no one would let me learn on their bike, I bought one and taught myself! Luckily at the time I was living in the desert, so I just pointed it in any direction and twisted the throttle. Except for a couple deep wadis that I needed help getting back out of, if I lost it, I just dusted off and climbed back on. Man, those were the days. One group of tourers took me on as a kind of mascot and we spent weekends crossing the desert or going up into the mountains. Getting a little old now, but those are the best memories.

    • Reply 2summers January 18, 2012 at 8:40 am

      That’s a fantastic story. I glad you put a stop to the ‘riding bitch’ name and got on the road yourself 🙂

  • Reply thirdeyemom January 18, 2012 at 1:45 am

    Great Post! Sometimes you’ve got to take chances and go for it! I love the picture of you by the dam. Awesome shot! I hope you are doing ok given everything.

    • Reply 2summers January 18, 2012 at 8:39 am

      Thanks Nicole, I’m hanging in there as best I can.

  • Reply twotiretirade January 18, 2012 at 3:57 am

    A motorcycle just makes life that much better and interesting. Let the ride continue.

    • Reply 2summers January 18, 2012 at 8:38 am

      Thank you and thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Reply landofnams January 18, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Looks like a fun adventure! I can’t believe you dared to pull out your camera on the back of a motor bike!

    • Reply 2summers January 18, 2012 at 8:38 am

      I would never have believed it either but it was actually easier than you think. (Although not easy to take decent pics.)

  • Reply Jenna January 18, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Wow – this looks like so much fun! I’d even like to drive this route one morning!

    That panoramic photo is really incredible… and yes… of course Bing would have instructions on how to do this on her blog!

    Glad you had a nice time – Jon was probably taking mental photos of you from the clouds the whole time 🙂


  • Reply eremophila January 19, 2012 at 5:29 am

    So funny to read from your newbie to bikes perspective. I had my own bike in my 20’s and hooked up with a bloke who had a bigger one 🙂 Thousands of miles under the belt, some at 100 mph too! Almost as good as going over a big fence on a horse 🙂
    And you never mentioned anything about feeling the revs…… :-)) Ha! May your great adventures continue!

    • Reply 2summers January 19, 2012 at 11:45 am

      I think I was too busy holding on and looking around to feel the revs!

  • Reply Jaco January 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    It has to do with the high levels of organic waste in the water. The Jukskei and Crocodile rivers feed the dam, and unfortunately they run through places like Diepsloot and Alex, leading to extremely high levels of organic waste (mostly raw sewage). Add to this industrial pollutants, and you create an ecosystem for algea and other nasties to grow (the dam also has a water hyacinth problem). This depletes oxygen, kills fish, makes the dam smell nasty and the water turns green (thanks to the overgrowth of algea). Big problem for owners around the dam.

  • Reply lisa@notesfromafrica January 20, 2012 at 9:15 am

    This looks like such fun! Glad to hear that you had a good time. Great photos. I really like the last one where you’re relfected in the mirror. In one photo you manage to set the scene.

    • Reply 2summers January 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      Thank you, Lisa, I really like that one too.

  • Reply Lorelle January 7, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    Hartbeespoort is a favorite breakfast ride for myself and my husband, and I love riding pillion!

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