Motorcycle tour on a Harley Cape Town South Africa

A Motorcycle tour of the Route 62, Western Cape and Klein Karoo, South Africa - Part One

Author: Steve and Carole Eilertsen.

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Route 62 on a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide

There are some brand icons one cannot ignore e.g. Cola Cola, Microsoft, Nike and Harley-Davidson, to name a few. I have intimate knowledge of the first three but have never ridden a Harley. Fact is, I will probably never own one, as our first love is trail riding, far from the well-established network of tar and hardtop. But who says that 'ownership' is the only option??

A recent special offer in a magazine had us polishing up the old credit card and jetting down to Cape Town to rent a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide 1450cc for an extended winter weekend of three days. All ideas of tiling our lounge, re-decorating the bathroom or building a water feature were forgotten for a few days of unadulterated ecstasy on the mountainous roads of the Western Cape. An opportunity of a lifetime, an experience we did not want to miss!

For the uninitiated, the Electra Glide is a top of the range, super smooth Harley touring bike. It is comfortable, spacious and mild mannered. Its mass sits around 344kg; its wheelbase a full 13cm longer than our regular bike and its price tag can be compared to a well-appointed townhouse in the suburbs!

We arrived in Cape Town a day early; call it good preparation or just overwhelming excitement. I have always had a thing for "Grunge", an alternative lifestyle that has always fascinated me. So to start the holiday off, we booked into "The Green Elephant" - a backpacker's establishment in Observatory, (a suburb referred to as Obs by its locals!) The exceptionally friendly staff welcomed us and showed us around the double storey house with its well-worn creaky floorboards and pressed steel ceilings. We queried where we could park the hired car, "You have a car?!" (This is a student joint and luxuries are appreciated here.) She then asked if we had driven all the way from Johannesburg to which we explained that we flown in an hour ago. This threw her, "You flew here?!". (It seems another luxury reserved for the rich in this establishment.) At this point, we realised that to mention our imminent Harley rental would probably have us kicked out and sent to the Holiday Inn on the other side of town and we changed the subject!

Backpacker Cape Town

The Green Elephant Backpacker in Observatory, Cape Town.

 This student suburb of Cape Town offers great night life - very alternative.



Lunch in Obs was a bohemian affair at the Red Lounge - also one of those wooden-floored houses on the main street. The thick old-fashioned velvet curtains and wooden panelling complemented the French 'Brel-type' music issuing out of an old wooden radiogram in the corner. It reminded me of those plush Parisian clubs depicted in movies during the German occupation during the Second World War. As I love Brel I enquired about the identity of the gruff male artist singing but was told that he was not available locally but I may have some luck on (Well this was 'Obs' after all!)

As a married couple we got the 'Lion Room' at the 'Green Elephant'. The lion theme was confided to a four-walled panoramic painting of lions done in bright orange and yellow. Our theory was that the painting had been down by a passing student in exchange for a week's free board and lodging. The brand-new bathroom on suite (that did not have any lions) did not have any hot water either but we were assured that there was plenty in the shower down the hallway!

After a good nights rest we went off in search of breakfast. One of the staff was busy baking muffins in the communal kitchen but unfortunately they would not be ready for 20 minutes. Therefore we tried the local bakery, which also served as a well-stocked second hand bookstore. Boy, I just love this place!

Back in the city we were introduced to our shiny-chrome cruiser complete with hard panniers and high touring screen. It was big, heavy and beautiful. The staff patiently introduced us to its instruments, features and idiosyncrasies. We had been warmed about the side stand, which has a tendency to fold away just as you are lowering the bike onto it! We therefore took extra care to ensure that this did not happen to us. We were then politely left alone to get more acquainted with it. The was greatly appreciated as getting onto such a large, heavy bike and driving off without looking a little unstable was difficult. 

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Harley Motorbike

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide.

Me and my Harley (OK, just for the weekend!)

I felt unsure for the first few kilometres. After my BMW F650 trail motorbike this was something else. We immediately headed for the motorway out of the city where I could cruise along in a straight line and get used to the ride, handling and layout. 

At speed the weight of the bike just melted away but now I was confronted with something new. Its long wheelbase gave it straight line touring comfort but getting it to drop into a sweeping bend at speed was not easy! I quickly learnt that my counter steering was not as clean and decisive as I thought. Getting this baby over required a firm hand! Being honest after three days of constant riding, I would still not rate my ability to throw this bike into a fast bend as anything more than mediocre. 

The distinctive Harley 'potato' sound always deserves a mention. Our BMW motorbike at home is very quiet but we made the transition to the Harley sound easily. With its gallons of torque you could change gears early and its cruising fifth gear made the bike relaxing to ride for hours on end. I found it useful to 'gas it' when we pulled off which ensured that the bike remained stable and upright during those initial few metres (and it sounded great as well and people would look, and young girls would wave and . . .. (you get the picture!!))

We left Cape Town on the N1 and headed for Worcester. We stopped off at a small coffee shop where we ate during out West Cape tour last year. It was a wonderful reminder of other adventures. We sat chatting to the owner, an old Afrikaans lady who wanted to know where we were off to, (even though she hated motorbikes.) We told her of our previous trip to Calvinia and the ghost we had encountered in the guesthouse. The old lady knew the owners of the establishment well and we were sure she would be on the phone with this news before the roar of the engine had disappeared down the main street.


Our rental package included two nights accommodation in the Klein Karoo town of Montagu roughly three hours from Cape Town. This was an excellent choice! Montagu recently won a national competition as South Africa's favourite small town. It lies in the shadow of impressive mountains well known for their hot springs and spas. The main street has fourteen beautifully restored buildings that are national monuments, many now used as restaurants. The route there by this less used R318 was deserted and allowed us to stop and take photos easily

Our accommodation was the Montagu Country Lodge - a three star hotel that greeted us on arrival with the speciality of the area i.e. a glass Montagu Muscadel - a sweet red desert wine that has now become a firm favourite with Carole!
Harley Motorbike Tour South Africa

Our Harley shared its garage with another vehicle of distinction!

While sipping the delicious wine, we looked around the beautifully restored and decorated hotel. It's art deco style boasted unusual pieces of antique furniture in an otherwise modern look. The restaurant offered an exceptional menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner so we ended our first evening sitting by the open fire in the large dining room, treating ourselves to the tastes of delicious soups, fish and Karoo lamb dishes. One thing is for sure. When it comes to culinary skills Cape Town is far ahead of Johannesburg and in my opinion, is world class. Their menus are imaginative, South African, beautifully presented and excellent value for money. Their restaurant staff are professional and accommodating. Sure you can get an excellent 750g steak and chips in Johannesburg but after that you have to resort to Italian, Thai, Portuguese, French and other international cuisines. Beyond steaks and other meats South African cooking is difficult to find outside the Western Cape.




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