One well-lubricated reveller reckoned Africa Bike Week was an endurance test for party animals - and he wasn't far wrong. This was the fourth edition of the biggest free biker rally on the African continent, presented each year by Harley-Davidson and the Harley Owners Group - bigger, longer and louder than ever.
From the Thursday night before Freedom Day, bikers began rolling into the normally quiet resort town of Margate on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast. The festivities began on Thursday with a beach party hosted by top local DJ's, and went on until Monday afternoon, when the prizes were awarded to the riders of the winning creations at the ride-in bike show.
FIVE HARLEY DEALERSHIPS
The Harley Village stretched more than two kilometres along Beach Road, lined with huge marquees housing Harley dealerships - five of them! - pubs, food vendors and dozens of stalls selling everything from jewellery to leatherware to aftermarket bling for your bike, and even custom-made crash helmets.
All afternoon and late into the night live music pulsated from two sound stages - one at each end of the village - featuring top local artists such as blues guitarist Dan Patlansky, Gerald Clarke, Brent Harris of Just Jinjer and Afrikaans rockers Ghapi.
But the real show was the bikes and their riders, literally thousands of machines parked along Beach Road and Harley Davison Street outside the Harley Hotel, mostly Milwaukee iron but with a large contingent of sports machines, tourers and dual-purpose bikes from Japan, Britain and Europe - and some of the most eye-popping custom creations ever seen in one place.
ACRES OF CHROME
There were bikes of every size, shape and colour imaginable, with acres of chrome, all polished to within an inch of their lives, brought there by riders from every part of Southern Africa and, despite the jokes usually levelled at riders of custom machines, most had been ridden to Margate.
They were there to be seen as much as to see, an ever-changing display of the wicked, the beautiful, the vulgar and the bizarre, no two alike, yet nearly all true to the same basic formula - a stretched out front end, chrome-plated engine, the biggest rear tyre possible and paintwork to a standard that motorcycle manufacturers simply cannot afford to emulate.
But the overwhelming impression was one of movement, as hundreds of banners flapped in the sea breeze and thousands of bikers and locals strolled, browsed, ate, drank, waved, greeted and chatted along Beach Road, while dozens of bikes, their exhausts spitting and grumbling, weaved their way through the throng.
REASON TO RIDE
And noise, as the constant rumble and crackle of unsilenced exhausts threatened to overwhelm the music that blared from two sound stages, two night clubs, two dozen pubs and eateries, and two hundred stalls, each with its own sound system.
All through the night, every night, the sound of engines never quite stopped; there was always a wa-a-ah of acceleration or a whup-a-aa on the overrun audible from somewhere along the beach front, as another biker found a reason to ride - if only around the block and back.
One sound, however, stood out. Late on Friday evening a brave youngster rode a well-tuned Yamaha RZ350 down Harley Davison Street, the crackle of its two-stroke exhaust unmistakable among the big V-twins and howling fours.
CLOUDS OF BLUE SMOKE
Each evening the squeal of tortured rubber (and clouds of blue smoke!) filled the air above Harley-Davidson Street as stunt rider Dave Egan defied the laws of both physics and gravity.
His most spectacular stunts - huge wheelies and stoppies, do-nuts and 'surfing' (standing on the saddle of a moving motorcycle as if it were a surfboard) - were performed on his well-used, modified Buell XB9S.
However, he also produced some spectacular rolling burnouts and impressive wheelies (in a very confined space with no run-off areas) on a brand new, absolutely stock (except for the pipes, but they don't count!) Harley XR1200X, although he very nearly dropped the bigger - and, more importantly, longer - machine on Friday night trying to get it to pull a stoppie.
But he made up for that with a rolling burnout that went on and on until the bike's rear Pirelli burst.
All day, on all four days, the forecourt of the garage at the bottom of the hill echoed with the rumbling of the bikes as they came in to refuel - or left on test rides, as the huge Harley 'gig rig' was parked there, offering visitors free test rides on the model of their choice, with groups of riders leaving every half-hour or so throughout the day.
And still the people poured in; staff at the tollgate just north of Margate reported that at mid-morning on Saturday about 2000 vehicles per hour (close to three times the normal number) were moving south on the N2.
From 8am on Sunday, riders began meeting on the roof of the Shelly Centre for the biggest noise of all, a mass ride of several thousand motorcycles along a 34km route through Port Shepstone, Ramsgate and back to Margate.
Local traffic officers turned away four-wheeled vehicles and what looked like the entire population of the area turned out with camp chairs, beach umbrellas and cooler bags to watch the parade as wave after wave of gleaming motorcycles rumbled by, taking more than an hour to pass any given point.
Monday morning saw the street outside the Harley Hotel closed to traffic once again as the best of the best of the custom machines were ridden into the show enclosure and parked in neat rows, to receive a final polish while waiting for the judges with their “ums” and “ahs” and inscrutable scribblings on grubby clipboards.
The winners received their trophies amid muted applause - concours is a serious business - but the music was still pumping down on Beach Road till late on Monday afternoon, only to be replaced by the sound of engines, gentler now, as thousands of riders packed their gear and saddled up for the long ride home, carrying with them the memory of the biggest, loudest Africa Bike Week yet.