Waiting for the grader

TL in 2017

The dirt road that runs for a kilometre between our house and the highway gets so rutted that it literally breaks vehicles. Our Nissan bakkie has lost one mudflap and had all four of its wing valences loosened by the vibration; two indicator stalks have broken on both the Ducati and the TL; the TL’s rear indicators no longer work; the V-Strom has had both mirrors damaged; and the Rune has collected two stone chips and a fractured front indicator lens lug. The authorities planned to tar the road in January this year, but now say it will be 2021 before it gets done; this being Africa, who knows?

Being reunited with the bikes after months away in Dubai was too exciting to pass up on the opportunity to ride, so I took the Rune out and rode it slowly and gingerly over the ruts and through the loose rocks to the highway. Once there, it was bliss: that ultra-smooth motor, the solidity of the beast, the slight snarl from the exhaust, the ample power, and the just-cruisin’ riding position. Warm late-summer sun (this being the southern hemisphere) and a cool breeze just added to the moment.

Rumour has it that there are just five Runes in South Africa, although someone told me he thought there might be 20. Since I now have it on good authority that only 1,508 were ever made, the five figure is probably correct. The bottom line is that almost no one here has ever seen one, so any ride brings its share of smiles, questions, photographs and thumbs-ups.

When it came time to fuel up, though, I came across a quaint South African custom I haven’t experienced in 50 years of riding in dozens of countries around the world: the request that you get off the bike while it is being filled. I’d forgotten about this, and boy is it irritating!

One imagines that there must have been two or three incidents of bikes spontaneously combusting while at the petrol pump, their riders horribly burned or turned to ash in seconds. A quick search on the Internet shows no such record, so presumably this is a rule imposed solely by Shell. The problem, as any rider without a centre-stand knows, is that you can’t fill the tank to the brim while the bike is on its side-stand. In a country where the murder rate is sky-high and education standards are not what they should be, they sit around and make rules about filling motorcycles with petrol. Ho hum.

Next up was the V-Strom, because I knew it could cope with the road far better than the two sports bikes. Okay, it was still uncomfortable, but viable. I noticed that the tyres felt a little hard and lacking grip on the tarmac. The pressures were spot on and there’s ample tread left, but I think the rubber has hardened from three years in Dubai, where the summer heat plays havoc with tyres. Time for new boots. My nearest dealer quoted me for some Mitas E10 tyres and some Bridgestone Trail Wings, and I decided the original tyres weren’t so bad after all.

I treated the TL to its second new battery in two years. I have no idea what’s going on there – all the bikes have been kept on identical trickle chargers year-round. Might be the fact that the most recent replacement was Chinese. Fifty years on, and we’re saying the same things about Chinese product quality that we used to say back then about Japanese quality – but that changed fast. And I treated myself to some new riding gloves. I own about five pairs already, but two are with our bike in the UK and three were in a shipping container somewhere off the coast of Africa at that exact moment. Bad planning.

The road is so bad that the Rune, TL and Ducati are trapped in my garage until the road grader pays its next visit, so I’ve been looking for other solutions – like a secure lock-up garage accessible via a smooth, tarred road. Meantime, the new gloves have already started to disintegrate after about four rides. I checked the label just now. Made in China? No – Pakistan. Hmmm…

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