Robertson - More than 320 riders on a huge variety of motorcycles converged on the Silwerstrand holiday resort just outside this little Boland town at the weekend, making the fifth annual ladies-only Rally in the Valley the biggest yet.
They came from all over South Africa and beyond - including one lady from the UK, and their machines ranged from huge cruisers with rumbling 1870cc V-twin engines to a six-cylinder BMW K1600 Bagger, dual-purpose bikes and sports-bikes, a 390cc KTM streetfighter with a bigger voice (and more attitude) than anything else – and a 1970 Suzuki B120, which arrived (understandably) in the back of a bakkie but was ridden in the mass ride - with a pillion! – by Roelien Stemmet of Worcester, daughter of the original owner.
More importantly, an informal show of hands in the main tent on the Friday evening showed that about one in four were attending the rally for the first time. Many of them were in fact attending their first rally of any kind, and they were warmly welcomed by the more experienced riders.
The atmosphere may have been friendly and laid-back, but that is not to say it was quiet. Friday night’s raucous karaoke evening was interrupted by torrential rain (something of a Rally in the Valley tradition, despite its being held during what is historically the driest month of the year in the Breede River valley) and to be shut down when the speakers got wet.
But that didn’t dampen the spirit of the rally; the ladies simply carried on with an impromptu sing-along, belting out as many of the words of biker favourites such as Mustang Sally and Born to be Wild as they could remember and making up the rest as they went along. The bar stayed open until very late indeed and there were some monumental hangovers on display at the Saturday morning muster.
The mass ride through the middle of the town brought Robertson to a standstill; the ladies made a brief stop at the Robertson Spar, one of the rally’s major sponsors, to thank the young family who run it for their support, and then went on to the sports fields of Robertson High School, where they were played in by the band of the Kaleidoscope Institute for the Blind from Worcester.
This institute, and cancer awareness motorcycling initiative Cancervive, are the designated charity beneficiaries of the Rally in the Valley - to the tune of more than R60 000 in 2017. The ladies of Cancervive, many themselves cancer survivors, gave a moving presentation about what it takes to survive cancer and how they feel the need to give back, undertaking rides of up to 3000km annually into some of South Africa’s remotest areas, to bring the message that cancer can be beaten if detected and treated early.
As more than one said, they are living proof of that.
Once back at the rally site it was time for lunch, from one of several food stalls, and a browse around the bikewear-and-bling stalls, ranging from riding gear - both off the peg and custom made - to jewellery and gadgetry.
At the Concours d’Elegance, allowance had to be made for road dirt splashes on most of the entries (there were no facilities on site for washing bikes) but the care and attention lavished on these outstanding machines by their owners was plain to see – from rhinestones spelling out Biker Chick on one Harley-Davidson to the carefully chosen performance componentry on a Kawasaki ER6-f named Mamba by owner Beverly Meyer, which won the Sports Bike category.
Notably, the judges’ choice for Best Cruiser was an understated blue 2004 Harley-Davidson Softail which has been Chrissy Smit's pride and joy for 12 years and more than 60 000km, and still looks brand new, while the People’s Choice award, voted for by the rallygoers, went to Anita Momberg’s beautifully customised Harley Sportster, nicknamed Identity Crisis - complete with pink BMW badges on the tank!
There was a major upset at the games when, for the first time in the history of the rally, Icarus Chase’ Boob Tube tug of war team was outpulled by the Harley Ladies – but even Boob Tube leader Lauren Cloete, who had to work on Saturday morning and then rode the 172km from Cape Town specially for the tug, took it in good spirits, as everybody trooped out of the front gate to watch a stunt demonstration on the access road by Irina Mink, who is actually HOG Cape Town’s resident photographer.
Mink said afterwards that she didn’t see herself as an especially talented rider - she did it to show that it was all about knowing your bike and believing in yourself.
As we walked back to the rally site we could hear the evening’s headline artist, world-class rocker Karen Zoid, and her band tuning up for a biker party of note. For more than an hour she held the rally in the palm of her hand, belting out songs old and new, even running into the crowd at one point, as more than 300 women rocked the main tent.
Zoid herself and close friend, TV personality Janie du Plessis, later described it as one of her best and most enjoyable shows ever - and the after-party went on almost all night.
But biker chicks are tough; one group of ladies left at 5am on Sunday morning to ride back to Port Elizabeth, while the Blue Angels left at 9am to ride to Plettenberg Bay on the first leg of their journey back to Durban.
One rider, however, had to wait until after lunch; the owner of the BMW K1600 Bagger had gone swimming in a dam near Uniondale on her way to the rally with the electronic fob key in her pocket. Undaunted, she had the Big Six loaded onto a flatbed to get it to the rally and phoned BMW SA for a new key, which was delivered to her at the rally site on Sunday afternoon.
While this may be a cautionary tale for riders of high-tech modern bikes with remote starting, it’s also a reflection of the indomitable spirit shown by the ladies who ride to the Rally in the Valley.