September 04, 2007 GMT
South Africa, 19 September 2007

The day we left the shores of Lake Malawi was one of those days. Our first ride on the bike for over three weeks after the dive course and lengthy relax by the Lake and within 50 kilometers we were stopped at the side of the road with a broken throttle cable. No problems we had a spare. Except the spare packed was for the wrong bike. Very clever. Several bodges were attempted to fix the thing but none lasted longer than a few miles. Eventually we hit on one that worked. We rode on again and then the rattle that had been around since Ethiopia started to get louder still. We'd been riding on a wing and prayer for the last couple of thousand kilometers not really believing that we would make it to Johannesburg for our intended re-fit. But crossing the border into Malawi and with less than 2000kms to go it had started to seem a possibility. Our hopes were scuppered with a quiet pop from the engine department and we cruised to a halt.

Continuing our 'you meet the nicest people with a breakdown' theme a pick-up had pulled over within five minutes and the driver asked us what was up and where we were heading. In a small world coincidence it turned out that the driver, MacDonald, had studied at Bournemouth University at the same time that I had worked there. In another five we were loaded up and motoring it on to Lilongwe (Malawi's capital). Not only did MacDonald drive us all the way to Lilongwe refusing all payment but we were treated to dinner and dropped off at a campsite afterwards. Thank you MacDonald!

piston broke again.jpg

Stripping the engine down at the campsite revealed the above. As far as I know it all started in Sudan when the extreme temperatures broke down the lubricating power of the engine oil and 1000kms later it was like water when drained out. We probably got at least 30 times as much wear in that short distance as we should have.

With Sascha's holiday coming to an end in four weeks and having to catch a flight from Johannesburg we decided that it would be all round better to get the bike down to South Africa. A fortnight in a workshop followed by a quick rush to Jo'burg airport wouldn't have been the best way to end the trip. In our search around to find a way to ship the bike on someone suggested trying one of the bus companies that ply the Lilongwe to Jo'burg route. Amazingly they said, yes no problem, and the bike was booked on the bus for a token fee. The bike slipped nicely into the luggage compartment underneath the seats and 24 hours later we were in Jo'burg. Beat that National Express who once refused to take my bicycle from Bournemouth to Heathrow Airport in an empty bus!

We were kindly picked up a the station by Godfrey from Royal Enfield SA and the bike dropped off at their swanky showroom. Over the next couple of days the bike was stripped down and parts put on order. In the meantime a cheapy hire car was procurred and off we set on our SA road trip.

new wheels

Shamed as I am to say it, four wheels was a bit of a treat after leading a completely minimalist lifestyle on two for the last 9 months. First stop was the supermarket and the boot was loaded of with boxes of wine and all the culinary goodies South Africa has to offer. In our quick loop around we went through Swaziland and arrived at the same time as the annual reed dance when all young maidens of the country dance in front of the king after which he chooses a bride from amongst the loveliest. (Yes, he has a lot of wives!). Sasch was suspicious that our timing in Swaziland, arriving just when 15,000 semi-naked chicks parade around a field, was somehow planned. It was in fact complete fluke. Honest!

reed dance

Sascha flew home just over a week ago and the feeling of suddenly being alone after 10 months of continual 24/7 company has been weird. There's been plenty to keep me occupied though with rebuilding the bike at the Royal Enfield workshop. The guys have been not just tolerant in my dirtying the workshop with the 9 months of grease and road dirt on the bike but downright hospitable in taking me out to dinner, lending me a bicycle to commute to the shop and helping out no-end with the job. Thank you Jeff, Terry, Dave, Godfrey, Jackie & Gertrude!

reed dance

It's not all been hard work repairing the bike in Jo'burg. Jeff of RE introduced me to Philippe of Top Bike magazine who invited me to take part in their Bike of the Year article. Philippe kindly lent me a bike for the weekend enabling me to ride along with the Jo'burg 'Bulleteers' weekly Sunday breakfast run. Then come Monday morning off I rode with four other guys and a photographer back to Swaziland for the road test and pictures. Of course there was some hard work but overall it was a hoot and great to be back in the saddle again after a month off the bike.

Spending so much time in Jo'burg and at the RE shop has allowed me to mingle so much more with local people than you normally would as a tourist and get a decent insight into SA culture. So, one more time: viva breakdowns!

RE showroom.jpg

Posted by Richard Miller at September 04, 2007 03:55 PM GMT

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