Bikers are hardly the beasts many think they are. They are the gentlest of giants.
This I got to experience at my first biker rally, hosted by Strawdogs MC in Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape last weekend.
But let’s not mistake gentle with boring. These men in expensive leather suits throw the best parties.
So much so that I lost my voice.
The rally, I’m told, is intended to get like-minded bikers together to share in a weekend of bonding, brotherhood and camaraderie.
I’m in awe as I see mostly middle-aged men saddle themselves on to superbikes as opposed to cruising machines.
Roderick Mc Bride (42), of West Side Riders MC in Jozi, explained that a biker was different to a motorcyclist.
“My bike is my wife. It’s a part of me and I feel lost without it. We enjoy the thrill of a superbike. The fact that there is a rally in Graaff-Reinet is a good enough reason to go and we enjoy the scenery. Roads in South Africa are conducive to high-speed touring.
“Not just anyone can be a biker. There’s a stringent process you go through to get your patch. Only men of a certain calibre are allowed to apply to our club,” he said.
Wayne de Doncker (46), co-founder of the West Side Riders MC, said this was a time for bonding with his brothers.
“Riding is why we go. Going is not why we ride.
“Biking is about togetherness and to celebrate our brotherhood. We live by the principle of love, honour and respect. Functions are also held with charity in mind,” he said.
From Joburg to Graaff-Reinet is a drive of about eight hours , but we took more than 12 . The hours flew by on this thrilling journey.
No one is allowed to take off before saying a prayer while holding hands and asking God to keep them safe. The first thing I learn about these “tough” guys is that their motto is “Put God first”.
So in the bus we get, with the bikers leading the way on their mean machines. We have to make a few stops as some of them have unforeseen breakdowns.
The women on the bus can’t wait to get there and are enjoying the booze and music – two songs that play on repeat: Mafikizolo’s Happiness and I’m Free by Fistax Mixwell.
Graaffies is a small town and this is as much action as it gets.
Upon arrival the temperature is peaking at what feels like 40º.
Entry is R180.
Shawn Martlouw (47), president of Strawdogs MC (Joburg), said they held the rally there because it’s a central meeting place for Strawdogs members in Gauteng, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape, as well as members of several other clubs.
But more than that, they help boost the tourism industry of the quaint little dorpie.
They also donate to the poor community by raising money for food parcels and blankets.
“The financial injection that the town receives over the rally weekend is phenomenal. We have 1500-plus bikers descending on the town and it’s growing every year,” said Martlouw.
Other advantages of Graaff-Reinet are that it has infrastructure and that the authorities are accommodating.
The activities start on the Friday. We are welcomed and go to freshen up in the communal showers.
It’s a pretty picture with camp tents all over the valley, surrounded by tall mountains. There’s a band playing, food stalls and a bar that doesn’t seem to run out of stock.
A little Asian girl dubbed “Pokemon” by rally revellers wins the Miss Strawdogs competition.
Then DJs take over. Bikers close to 70 outparty the youngest rock star.
After about three hours of sleep in Aan Die Oewer, a three-star B&B in town, we get back to the action of burning rubber on Saturday.
There’s a mass ride through the town escorted by traffic officials.
The main street is blocked off and professionals do daring stunts that have the crowd begging for more. There’s nothing more thrilling than the roar of a bike engine.
From here we move on to the bike concourse, where the guys enter their machines to be judged for overall work done, cleanliness and looks, followed by controlled racing along the drag strip.
Later, there’s a moment of silence for fallen brothers, and almost everyone is in tears.
Then it’s more partying, with shooters flowing between R5 and R8. Not a single fight breaks out, which I find impressive.
I walk away with a few lessons, including that biking is not a hobby but a way of life. True bikers are not weekend warriors that pull out their bikes on sunny days for a leisurely cruise through the countryside. Bikers are hard-core, they have an inherent sense of the value of life. They share a bond that you have to experience to understand.
As Martlouw put it: “Bikers are governed by a code of honour, loyalty and respect for each other. But through all the leather they have the most generous hearts. They are the first to rally to assist the underprivileged. This is not done for recognition but because of the value that bikers place on life.
“Bikers abhor violence against women and children. The stigma attached to bikers as being bad ass is a myth. Yes, we have bad ass bikers, but they are in the minority. Clubs do not make themselves party to crime.
“Bikers have a very close relationship with their Maker, because every time you mount your bike, you pray. Some pray throughout their ride because we are so close to the edge .”