Margate - Each year at the end of April, this sleepy little resort town on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast suffers an invasion that has been likened to 'an assault on the senses' or 'a 96-hour non-stop rock concert'.
The noise levels are certainly similar; nobody in Margate, visitor or resident, is going to get much sleep during the first four days of May. But, despite the competition from not one but two sound stages going full blast for at least 12 hours out of every 24, most of the music will come not from pounding drums and screaming guitars, but from deep-chested V-twin motorcycle engines.
Africa Bike Week is South Africa's biggest free motorcycle rally, second only to the Toy Run for sheer numbers.
Because the two-wheeled population is constantly on the move, seeing and being seen on roads closed to four-wheeled traffic for the duration, and entry is free (no registration required, bro!). Nobody has ever managed to get an accurate attendance count but, extrapolating from the number of meals sold and beds booked, and the perception that about half the bikes are carrying a pillion, estimates range from 8000 to 12 000 motorcycles.
ASSAULTING ALL YOUR SENSES
Most are big cruisers, slathered in chrome and eyeball-scorching custom paintwork, and the smell of petrol fumes, beer, ketchup and scorched rubber hangs heavy in the air, day and night.
Bike Week is hosted by Harley-Davidson - it's all very Hog-flavoured and the iconic H-D logo is everywhere, but you don't have to be on a Milwaukee V-twin to attend; Motor Company PR maven Michael Carney was openly pleased at the number of European and Japanese machines - of all shapes and sizes - attending in 2013.
It's a celebration of the biker lifestyle - the noise, the in-your-face attitude, the tattoos - and also about the tight-knit camaraderie and the old-style values of family and community, none of which is tied to a particular brand.
And it's not just for dedicated bikers either.
The activities include a specialised bike trailer called the Jump Start with a genuine, working Harley Sportster mounted on rollers so anybody - even if they've never ridden so much as a scooter - can get aboard, with an instructor standing right next to them, and accelerate through the gears to get a real taste of that classic V-twin rumble.
Then there's the Harley-Davidson Riding Academy for newbies who want to learn how to ride, and a fleet of demo bikes leaving on outrides throughout the day for licensed riders who want to try the latest Milwaukee machinery.
For four days Margate's Beach Road is lined with motorcycle showrooms, bikewear shops, motorcycle-oriented jewellery and accessory stalls, pubs, themed restaurants and, beyond the second of the two sound stages, the Aftermarket Village, a tent town serving up every kind of fast food and biker bling you can imagine and quite a few that you won't.
THE BIG DEAL
Bike Week comes to a climax on Sunday 4 May, with a 34km mass ride from the roof of a mall in Shelly Beach, back to Main Road, Margate - and it is worth noting that the leaders will reach the end point before the Tail-end Charlies leave the mall!
Then there's the Ride-In Bike Show, which is exactly what its name implies - a custom bike show open to anybody whose bike is capable of entering the arena under its own power, which rules out the 'trailer queens' and their impractical show-bikes.
With the exception of their engines, some of the bikes on show are built entirely by hand from scratch, some are assembled from the 800-page Harley-Davidson aftermarket catalogue and some are standard, other than a gorgeous spray job, authoritative aftermarket pipes and a shine that reflects every tooth in the proud owner's grin.
Each of them, however, uniquely reflects the personality of its rider, and that is what makes Africa Bike Week so special. It's open to anybody with a passion for freedom and motorcycles and attendance is free.