They said there would be noise and there was… lots of it. Quite a story in itself, actually, but I’ll leave that to last. It all centred around the Margate hotel, which was renamed the Harley-Davidson hotel for the week. Organisation was excellent and the entire project was well orchestrated by the Harley team plus sponsors Jeep SA, Hibiscus Coast municipality, South Coast Tourism, Carling Black Label and Shelly shopping centre. Entrance is free and all the performing bands are also free to the public.
The Hibiscus coast mayor, Cllr NCP Mqwebu opened the event at a ceremony on Friday with lots of energy and a warm, happy welcome to all organisers and participants. Therafter it was down to the main stage to listen the many bands playing including Just Jinger, Dilana, Clint and Ghapi and Jack Parow, amongst many others. Jeep had a great stand with a number of vehicles parked right down on the rocks. The company also provided transport Grand Cherokees and Wranglers with large ABW burning Africa logos on the bonnets. Clothing was available for sale for the well-heeled for both Harley-Davidson and Jeep and many other clothing, bike gear and bike accessory stands were there. You could even buy a pair of big bore cylinders or high lift cams. Naturally there were many food stalls, a Carling beer tent and a Jack Daniels tent. The American theme was enhanced by the odd classic Plymouth, a new Dodge Charger
The demo rides were a great attraction and so important to prospective owners. I managed to slot in a number of spins on bikes. There was a set route that included a mix of town crawling, country lanes and freeway blasts around Margate. Weather played along very nicely too. Some riding impressions:
Sportster Forty Eight
I first hopped on a Forty Eight which has a 1200 cc engine. It turned out not to be my favourite as there was some instability and a very clunky gearbox. The engine needs some revs to avoid drivetrain snatch. It looks super cool, though and is a real classic. The peanut tank gives a seriously limited range.
In its dark custom livery, this is a popular looker and definitely worth comparing to the new Street 750 if you are considering joining the American Icon brand’s family. With similar looks, especially the small peanut tank, it feels a lot easier to ride than the Forty Eight with more low down
Dyna Street Bob
This time we have a 1 680 cc (103 cu.in) engine and even more in the classic look stakes. More my style with flat but not low bars, a low seat and terrific torque with a thumping feel that is surprisingly flexible at low revs. The bars are semi-high but, with the low seat, the pegs are much too close to your body. What it needs is what our long term Street Bob special had and that is forward mounted pegs for a stretched out ride.
We are receiving a test bike soon for a decent test but a quick spin revealed the true nature of this newcomer. It is every bit the entry level, scaled down version of the liquid cooled, 60 degree V Rod. A smooth engine that blends torque and top end power works for me and the gearbox is Harleys best yet with super slick shifting. It also feels quite light and agile. Some luxuries found on the bigger bikes have been pared away such as keyless go and self-cancelling indicators.
The highlight of the “Rally” was the mass ride on Sunday morning. I snapped up an offer to saddle up a Fat Bob, one of my favourite cruisers with a low seat, forward controls and drag bars. The ride started at Shelly centre shopping mall at Shelly beach and took us on the coast road up to Port Shepstone and back. Thousands of bikes roared along behind the Police bikes with our demo bikes near the front. The spectators along the way were amazing, with waving arms and clapping hands. It was even more fun than the annual Toy Run in November. Such was the attention to detail that Harley-Davidson even commissioned two Road Glides to be kitted out as Police bikes. White paintwork, blue lights, sirens, even dedicated air cleaner housings with a “103 Police” emblem on. This took me back to the 1970s when I was a teenager and watched in amazement as a cop in the Cape Town city centre on his white police Harley Ultra Glide helping a young woman whose VW Beetle had stalled with a flat battery preventing restart. To get going as quickly as possible, he told her what to do with gears and clutch and pushed the bike’s front tyre against the chromed rear bumper and bump/push started the car in a few seconds.
Some amazingly spectacular machinery was on display with leather, chrome, bronze, more leather and even some bullets. What owners must spend on customisation is quite scary.
And finally, back to the noise bit. First there are the bands. Sometimes two or three playing, then there is the rumbling of V twins without silencer baffles. This is all good stuff. But then there are the Sport bikers that think that valve bounce is attractive to the ears. Not really. And when that noise diminishes it was the turn of the hotel plumbing to take over. Water hammer in the pipes and constant high pitched shrieking from 3 am to dawn. But it was all part of the Africa Bike Week experience. I hope to be back next year.