Cape Town – Bikers are a family, and that is never more clearly seen than at the annual memorial service for fallen riders, held on the first Sunday in November each year at the Bikers Church in Brackenfell.

Almost 100 riders from dozens of clubs joined the mass ride from N1 City to the church on Sunday, 5 November, hundreds more pitched up at the church, filling the cavernous building from wall to wall. Many did not know any of the 53 mainstream bikers who had died in crashes on Western Cape roads during the past year – but that wasn’t the point.

They were there in silent support for the grieving families and friends, a warm living presence to blunt the cold pain of bereavement.

Pastor George Lehman took as his text the single word “Hope”. Hope, he said, is a reservoir of emotional strength.

“You can have the fanciest, most expensive bike in the world,” he said, “but without petrol you won’t be going anywhere.”

And hope is emotional fuel, he went on. “It can get us through the blackest of times, because grief is finite, but hope is infinite.”

And that is why families gather in times of loss; not so much as a sign of respect for those we’ve lost but as a support for those left behind, a reservoir of hope for them to draw strength from.

Then Stanley Paton of the Motorcyclists Association of the Western Cape read out the names of the 53 men and women whose deaths in road crashes the association had recorded during the past year slowly and solemnly, allowing each name to sink in and become a real person – a husband, a mother, a friend or just someone you met at a couple of rallies but who won’t be attending next year.

And as each name was called a friend, family member or club member stood up and moved to the front of the building to be given a single blood-red rose, until their were more than fifty men and women standing three deep on the chancel steps, a chilling reminder of just what it means to say that 53 bikers – more than one a week - have died on Cape roads during in the past twelve months.

Paton reminded the congregation that there is no such thing as an accident – every crash is the result of somebody getting it wrong, and could have been avoided. The time for clever slogans, he said, was long gone. Speed doesn’t kill, he said, it’s the sudden stop that hurts.

It will take time, he said, to change the attitude of the average road user – but that change starts with the individual rider being constantly aware of what’s going on around him, with every rider saying, “No thanks, one drink is my limit, I still have to ride home.”

That way, he won’t have to read out such a long list next November.

A trumpeter played Taps as a final tribute to the fallen, and the riders formed a guard of honour with their helmets as the bikes carrying the wooden plaques with the names of all the riders who have died on Western Cape roads in the past 15 years growled slowly down the aisle and out of the building.