Johannesburg - The phenomenal growth in sales of touring and on/offroad motorcycles worldwide has heralded the birth of a new breed of rider in the Western world, most of them with the resources to meet the often heavy financial demands of this active, outdoor lifestyle.
The last 10 years of the 20th century saw a renaissance of motorcycling in Europe, the US and countries like South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and this momentum has continued in the 21st century. It has even resulted in the development of new models of machines suitable for touring either on blacktop or offroad.
Whether this phenomenon is due to greater affluence in these countries or the arrival of well-off baby boomers at middle age (more than ever this is a 40-something sport), or even the shift to motorcycling as a leisure activity, some of the older – and famous – product brands are being reborn.
Someone who has been able to live his post-retirement dreams on two wheels and on a global stage is Larry Smith, a former senior executive in a lubricants company. He lives at the Wilderness for the local summer and spends the European summer in southern Spain while fitting in at least one motorcycling adventure trip every year.
He has also found time to compete in two of the BMW GS Challenges held in South Africa – in Loxton and Ficksburg.
Although his father had a Royal Enfield with sidecar and he travelled in the “dicky seat” of the latter, Smith did not ride motorcycles until middle age. He obtained a motorcycle rider’s licence in Singapore only two years before he retired.
Subsequently he and his wife, Judi, have travelled about 100 000km on two-wheelers, undertaking a variety of adventure trips on a mix of BMWs and Harley-Davidsons on most of the continents.
The couple dived in at the deep end with their first purchase – a big BMW 1200RT – and a subsequent two-week trip through the Pyrenees. This was the first time Judi had ridden pillion with her husband, although she had pillion-riding experience from a few breakfast runs to Harties on superbikes.
Smith explains: “This first trip proved very taxing for a beginner, and we had to learn to live with very limited luggage capacity, particularly Judi. We had to cope with temperatures varying between 34ºC and below freezing, and golf ball-sized hailstones. Although it was literally a trial by fire and ice, Judi and I were nevertheless well and truly bitten by the motorcycling bug.
“We have always been interested in visiting out-of-the-way places and enjoyed this for about 10 years while living in Asia and going to numerous different venues for scuba diving. Now motorcycling has opened a new vista, which we find much more involving than travelling by car.
“Biking is all about the journey; looking for interesting roads and not necessarily being too concerned about the destination or getting there quickly. Riding a bike, one is totally immersed in the environment, particularly the smells and the weather. You are out of your comfort zone and have to be very vigilant as each day of a trip is a minor challenge.”
It is always important to be aware “that you are vulnerable on a two-wheeler… And when one is in your 60s you realise that if you come off, you don’t bounce any more.
“My mantra is ‘always wear the protective gear – it’s better to sweat than to bleed’.”
The places they have travelled on motorcycles are as diverse as Alaska, the Arctic Circle in Norway, Hawaii, the US (including much of Highway 1 and Route 66), Australia and many countries in Europe – including some of the most famous and daunting mountain passes in the world; for instance the Stelvio Pass in Italy… it’s not only the highest in the eastern Alps, but contains 89 hairpin bends.
The best road surfaces they have found are in Norway.
Smith is proud of the 10 000km circumnavigation of southern Africa that he organised in 2009, and on which he was accompanied by three other BMW riders on a “men-only” trip.
Most of the riding was on tar but with enough gravel roads to make it interesting. They covered the 10 000km in 30 days.
“I have had three crashes to date, all while riding offroad (one through lack of concentration and two while ‘training’), sustaining broken ribs and a damaged shoulder, but fortunately none of them have been too serious – thanks to the gear.”
Larry and his wife have not yet finalised their plans for an adventure ride this year, but they will be doing more local touring before heading to Spain once winter arrives.
However, they still want to experience the BMW Ottoman Tour through Slovenia, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, as well as touring Croatia and Sardinia. - Saturday Star