The best thing about riding a motorbike is probably how amazingly cheap it is. Petrol, insurance and the bike itself costs you next to nothing (depending of course on the bike); at the traffic lights the vendors and beggars ignore you completely except to have a friendly conversation about how easy/difficult it is to ride a bike; ditto car-guards. You don’t pay for parking – any pavement will accommodate you. Okay I did get one ticket. (Never park on the sidewalk in front of the Engen garage in Fish Hoek. They don’t seem to like it.)
Then there are other bikers. You’d think they’d sneer at me because I ride a little puny 125cc. But no – the only time I feel a bit embarrassed is when they make the ‘Your flickers are on’ gesture at me. This happens less often now than it did a couple months back. But still too often for comfort. One guy I spoke to said he liked his bike (same as mine) and was never going to get a bigger one because he goes slowly and so when he has come off (cars turning in front of him) he’s had only ‘BMX injuries’ because he was going not much faster than 60km per hour. A car once turned in front of me, out of a side road purely because the driver thought I was turning left into that road. This could have been because I hadn’t turned my flicker off.
The impact was tremendous, even though I was not even reaching 60 yet because I was still in Fish Hoek where the mind turns to porridge. Maybe that’s why my flicker was still on. Moving on – yes, they were only BMX injuries. According to the poor woman at the wheel, I sailed through the air, head over heels before landing on the tarmac. Long story short, all that happened to me was an impressive hole in my shin (very mysterious, no idea what stabbed me) and a broken right thumb. The bike lost its right mirror, and that cost all of R250 to fix.
But people were so kind. A little crowd gathered, a lovely woman called my sister, a guy who works for Netcare came past and phoned them for an ambulance and I couldn’t have been treated better. An Andre put his top under my head so it didn’t have to lie on the tarmac. I lay there feeling utterly grateful and looked after. I was only too happy to feel the tarmac under my head, to feel anything at all was a complete gift. All ended well, I was drawing with my thumb in crutches the next day and by now it’s fine but plays up now and again with a vague ache like the toe I broke years ago. It’s part of life. What is a body without war-wounds? They are a sign that one has lived.
Once I ran out of petrol on a road about 5 km from the nearest filling station. A biker came past, stopped, found out what the problem was and went off to get a 2 litre Coke bottle full of petrol, wouldn’t accept payment, put the petrol in and rode off.
But the best was the manager of the Motomia South branch in Westlake. I’d been to see a client and was happily riding home when the battery fell off the side of the bike. Worse, I didn’t have any airtime on my cell. I looked to see what could be done, and contemplated tying the thing back on with my bandana. The strap holding the battery had somehow been eaten away by its proximity to battery acid, I found out later. While I was slowly realising that I couldn’t know what was good to tie the battery onto, my client phoned to clarify something and I was able to ask her to phone Reggie at Motomia and ask him for help. He phoned me to say he was on his way. So I sat at the side of the road… cars shot past, the sun shone, the trees were beautiful, the mountain was in top form.
Along came Reggie, sorted out the problem and even fitted a new strap off another bike… all for no charge. Shut up his shop to come and help me. That, people, is service.
By now I’ve done 5000 km on my bike and I’d promised myself to go over Ou Kaapse Weg when that milestone happens. As you may know, that road is full of steep inclines and many twists and turns. The biggest danger however is the motorists, who lose their minds in the other direction from the Fish Hoek Effect, which closes a dead hand over you the minute you get past the first lights. On Ou Kaapse Weg people are filled with a sudden urge to seize the blind rise as soon and as often as they can, to get where they are going. Perhaps it’s all the accidents that occur on that road and they want to get to the other side asap. Who knows? Maybe Ou Kaapse Weg can eat other people. I’ll stay off it, at least till my will is sorted.
Having a bike for the first time means lots of new ‘firsts’. The first time you ride in the rain; the first time you ride in the dark; in the rain AND the dark; in the wind; in the wind AND the rain; in the wind AND the rain AND the dark… That last ‘first’ is very vivid. It’s not a matter of being brave – it’s a matter of not having any choice. I’d been visiting my friends in Simonstown and it was time to go home. I went through the ritual of helmet, gloves, jacket. Real slow. They opened the door. The wind came through and blew their rubbish-bin across the floor. ‘Go WITH the earth, Sav…’ was the last thing I heard on my way out. Right.
One thing at a time. Rituals and doing what comes next will always get you through. I unlocked the bike. Swung my leg over. I am still here. The wind always sounds worse from inside the house – have you noticed? Slowly down the steep hill, aware, aware, aware. Don’t rush, trust the bike. All the way home, I kept repeating: ‘I’m okay so far. Trust the bike.’ And the bike got me home. The night was pitch-black, the wind howled, then the rain started, and it was a beautiful ride, alone through the darkness. Nothing makes you feel as exuberant as being shot at and escaping unscathed, said Winston Churchill. I think I have some idea of how that feels, now.
On the bike I feel truly alive because my worst fears have already happened, i.e. being stranded without airtime and being in an accident – and we are both still here. People still turn in front of me but that’s not deliberate, except on Fridays because people want to get home. I can feel the personality of the traffic changing on a Friday. So for Fridays’ sake, I will wear a sign on the back of my helmet saying ‘Caution – Baby’s Granny on Board’. Or a big L. That seems to get everyone’s attention, because motorists give one a LOT of space; they even sometimes slow down to give advice, tell me I should be in the other lane or ask how it’s going.
But Cape Town motorists are really great – thank you for your patience – I know sooner or later you’ve encountered me. You’ll know me because my flicker’s on.