An Adventure Bike Trip

Friend, Bruce Humphrey, who hails from Bathurst in the Eastern Came sent us this trip down memory lane:

A Memorable Adventure Trip by Bruce Humphrey November 2016 This be the tale of my longest and most exciting motorcycle adventure trip of all. It took place in February 1984.

My wife and I parted ways at the beginning of January, her to pursue a career in theatre and film in Johannesburg and me to continue my career as an Environmental Scientist in the Natal Drakensberg. The parting was (reasonably) amicable as we had been best friends for the sixteen years we were together, and didn’t have children. We are still friends and keep in touch with regular emails. But even an amicable parting is painful, and she took our car, leaving me with just my Suzuki DR 250 bike.

I suppose the sensible thing would have been to buy myself another car, but sensible is for boring people! And anyway I had my Government issue Toyota Land Cruiser for my work.

In the second week of January I was riding past Ekerold Yamaha in Pietermaritzburg and spotted a new bike in the window that just screamed “Buy Me!” It was the brand new Yamaha XT 600 Ténéré, the first one in PMB – pronounced ‘ten-err-ray’ and named for an area of the Sahara in Southern Algeria.

I had had an XT 500 Yamaha in 1976 and this was basically the same bike but enlarged to 600cc and with an engine-balance shaft, a four valve cylinder head and a 32 litre petrol tank. It was a celebration of the four back-to-back Paris-Dakar races that Yamaha had won with the XT. I was back the next day and bought it for cash. The next thing was to run it in and get the first 1000km service done as soon as possible, as I had 4½ weeks leave due to me which I decided to take in February.

Long rides every afternoon and weekend got the 1000km run up in under ten days and the service done. I had a small pair of soft ‘throwover’ panniers and a big duffel bag to strap on the carrier and that had to hold all my stuff for the trip I planned. Well, not so much planned as had a rough idea of where I wanted to head.

But then a minor problem. After the service the bike wouldn’t rev above 4500 rpm. without spluttering and misfiring. The mechanics at Yamaha didn’t have a clue, as I had come to expect from motorcycle mechanics. So I dived in to try and identify and fix the problem myself.

The bike had an odd intake system with two very different carburettors,  each feeding one of the inlet manifolds. On the right was a slide carb which opened first – for smooth low-down power – and on the left was a constant-vacuum carb for high end performance. I removed the carbs and noticed that at fully open the CV carb butterfly had gone beyond full open and was already ¼ closed.

I very carefully synchronised the carburettors so they both hit ‘full open’ simultaneously. Replaced the carburettors and bingo, it all worked.

The Ténéré, brand new and running in. Notice the beautiful gold anodised alloy rims and the huge tank. And still a kick-start, no electric starting yet on the XT’s.
The Ténéré, brand new and running in. Notice the beautiful gold anodised alloy rims and the huge tank. And still a kick-start, no electric starting yet on the XT’s.

My first day of leave arrived and I was raring to go. I have always tended to be a solitary chap, and don’t like riding with even one other bike for company, so have done all my long “Adventure” rides, starting in 1969, completely solo.

I left Pietermaritzburg at 03:30 and headed North to Bergville and up Olivier’s Hoek pass to Golden Gate. Then East through Clarens, Fouriesburg and Lady Brand to Graaf Reinet. I was planning to overnight in Graaf Reinet, but arrived at 15:00 and, as I knew the town fairly well, didn’t really feel like hanging around. A quick bite and a fillup and I headed South, as I was going to spend a few days with good friends in George.

I was cruising at about 140km/hr, and the bike was returning 4.3 litres/100km. Which gave me an astonishing range of over 700 km on a tankful. Cruising down towards Uniondale in the late afternoon I approached a cutting with what looked like a dozen or more rocks on the road. I could see a clear path through the rocks, so didn’t slow down. But as I got close the rocks started to move! They were Dassies sunning themselves in the road. I just hung on and rode straight, trusting that the Dassies would get out of the way. Fortunately they did – clever little Dassies.

About 100km later it was fully dark and I was approaching Oudtshoorn, still cruising at +140, when a Duiker ran out from the right side of the road. I thought it was tickets for me, but it saw me at the last moment and turned parallel to me, so close I was able to put my right foot out and nudge it on the shoulder, and it then dashed back into the bush.

I arrived in George at about 21:00, much to the surprise of my friends – this being more than a decade before Cell Phones. Even though I was thirty three at the time and very fit, I was pretty exhausted, having set my all-time record of 1240 km in one day on a bike – and a trail bike at that with no windscreen.

A week in George, with the intention of covering all the passes in the area, both tar and dirt. I went down to “Die Hel” and spent the night there sleeping under a tree. In those days there was no-one living in the valley and I had it all to myself.

Then it was off again heading to Sutherland and eventually to Cape Town, but in a seriously zig-zag fashion taking in all the passes on the way. For some of them, especially the ones with nice corners, I would ride the pass admiring the view, then turn round and ride it the other way. And finally turn round again and blitz the pass as fast as I could. I have always been good at going round corners fast on a bike, and it is my greatest “rush” to chuck the bike on its side and rocket round corners – still do.

I eventually arrived in Cape Town to spend a few days with my great childhood friend Roz and her family. And, of course, had to ride to the tip of the Peninsula, dodging Baboons, and blitz the Chapman’s Peak road a couple of times. I also headed up the West Coast for two days to Clanwilliam and the Cederberg Mountains.

I ended up spending over a week in Cape Town as the weather was perfect, and bought myself a beautiful red English Belstaff riding jacket, which was “Guaranteed” 100% waterproof – more on that later.

This photo was taken by Roz as I was about to leave Cape Town. I apologise for the quality of the photos, but they all had to be scanned from old prints - no digital cameras in those days.
This photo was taken by Roz as I was about to leave Cape Town. I apologise for the quality of the photos, but they all had to be scanned from old prints – no digital cameras in those days.

From a safety aspect note the proper Moto-X boots and Bell Moto 3 helmet. I have always preferred a Moto-X type helmet and goggles to visors. I find them more comfortable and convenient and they don’t mist up in rain. I normally ride with a dark ‘smoke’ lens, and have a second pair of clear-lens goggles tucked away for night and dull overcast riding. I also have to have a helmet with a peak to shade my eyes – I don’t know how people ride with ordinary helmets without a peak. Although it is surprising how many beetles aim for the tip of your nose with goggles, and it is damn painful when they hit the bullseye!!

This is a “Selfie” taken at the tip of Cape Agulhas with my little Pentax compact camera balanced on a rock.
This is a “Selfie” taken at the tip of Cape Agulhas with my little Pentax compact camera balanced on a rock.

On the way back I stuck as close to the sea as possible following the coastal dirt roads and avoiding the national roads. 

Some of the soft sand sections on the roads on the Agulhas Peninsula were a bit challenging, but I had plenty of experience in soft sand doing off-road competition riding in Natal in my late teens and early twenties, so didn’t dump it.

Fairly uneventful for the next part. From East London I headed North to Queenstown so I could ride the wonderful road through Elliot, Ugie and Maclear that runs along the base of the Drakensberg. And then down to Umtata.

My Uncle Ken Humphrey was the MD of the Transkei Agricultural Corporation and I had to spend a couple of days with them. Most interesting, as Ken and I spent a day flying over the Wild Coast and Pongola, landing at tiny rural airstrips – where they had to chase the cattle off the strip first – checking up on various Agricultural schemes in the area. Then it was time to head home to Pietermaritzburg on Saturday, to give me time to get ready to go back to work on the Monday.

I left Umtata after an early breakfast, and within 20km it started to rain and the sky to the East looked most threatening. I stopped to put on a jersey and all the ‘waterproof’ clothing I had (remember that new jacket?) and continued. The rain just got heavier and heavier and by Kokstad it was really chucking it down.

It was so heavy that even mild dips in the road had six inch puddles in them. Fortunately bike tyres don’t aquaplane as they are rounded and narrow, but the bow-waves were impressive. I have never been worried by rain and see no reason to ride slower just because it is raining.

By Ixopo it was really serious and I was absolutely soaked through despite the rain gear – nothing survives several hours of rain at +110 km/hr. I crossed the Umkomaas bridge with the water level almost up to road height.

I finally got home to my flat in Pietermaritzburg looking and feeling like a drowned rat. But the adrenalin ‘high’ created a feeling of total exhilaration. I had looked the monster straight in the eye and prevailed.

I phoned my parents to tell them I was safely home, and only then learnt that I had ridden the final 300km straight into the teeth of Cyclone Demoina! And that the Umkomaas bridge had collapsed only a few hours after I had crossed it. I didn’t even have a TV in those days.

So that is the short version. I had covered 8000km over the trip, and it remains, and always will remain now that I am officially an old fart, the longest and most exciting motorcycle adventure trip of my life. Can’t believe it was 33 years ago, as I remember it so vividly.

I am now on my eighth XT Yamaha, an XT 660R that I bought new in February this year. It is still recognisably an XT, but is now water cooled, fuel injected and has an electric starter. And it still averages 4.3 litres/100km.

I have had a passionate love affair with big single ‘thumpers’ since my first BSA B31 350 single in 1968. This was followed by a 500 BSA and an ex-BSAP Police 500 Matchless. Over half my bikes have been big singles from various manufactures.

To illustrate this the following photograph shows my ‘stable’ of bikes I had until two years ago at my home on Rowin farm near Bathurst in the Eastern Cape.

Just a quick opinion from my experience. The best ‘Touring’ orientated 650 single is the Kawasaki KLR 650 – very comfortable and smooth with a big 22 litre tank and very good wind protection. The best off-roader is the Suzuki DR650 – light and basic with superb suspension, and the best all-rounder is the Yamaha XT660R.

My Stable. From Left to Right: Kawasaki KLR 650, KTM 690 Super Motard and Suzuki DR 650E.
My stable. From Left to Right: Kawasaki KLR 650, KTM 690 Super Motard and Suzuki DR 650E.

Sadly these bikes are no longer available new in South Africa – killed of by ever more stringent emission and noise restrictions.

My current Yamaha XT 660R, when I bought in February 2016, was the last new XT 660 in South Africa. There is nothing in the mid-sized dual purpose adventure bike market segment available at present, but there are some exciting new medium sized twins in the pipeline from Yamaha and KTM – but that’s for another blog.

All the best, and try and keep it upright.

Bruce Humphrey 

A wonderful Tale Bruce. Many thanks indeed!

Roger de la Harpe

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