Cape Town – If last year’s Cape Bike Expo could be described as being a bit left of centre, this year’s edition was way out in left field.

The upmarket newbies who arrived wearing branded biker gear that obviously all came off the same rack at the dealership, on late-model machines that were standard right down to their as-issued exhausts – and there were plenty of them – must have been a little bewildered.

If they were expecting smartly-dressed, cappuccino-quaffing yuppies offering show-special deals on brand-new mainstream machines, they would have had to adjust their mindset, because this annual bike show, set in the grounds of historic Timour Hall Villa in Plumstead, is convened by and for riders for whom their motorcycle is more than a weekend playtoy or a convenient commuter, but rather a rolling work of art and an expression of individuality.

What they got was an astonishing variety of hand-built customs, bobbers and café racers, nearly every one of them created by small local workshops for customers who are as serious about their bikes as they are about building them.

Dream bikes

Supporting them were a range of stalls – some indeed, offering glitzy new machines, but the majority displaying either jewellery for bikes as well as riders, or products and services for the growing number of riders who are creating their own dream bikes in their garages at home (hence the term ‘garage build’), from fancy finishes for refurbished original or handmade one-off components, to high-tech waterless wash and wax sprays, originally formulated for the highly competitive US ‘detailing’ trade, that the vendor assured us would leave nothing on the bikes’ paintwork but a deep, warm glow.

To listen to an expert who makes exclusive cars, bikes and even aircraft shine brighter than new for a living, describe how he keeps the plastic lenses on modern headlights clear and free from discolouration was an education worth the price of admission by itself.

Nevertheless, an anoraks’ convention it was not; the beer garden offered an endless show of big-screen motorsport, the food court a distinctly upmarket selection of takeaways, and the play area for hooligans in training, complete with jumping castle, was probably the noisiest part of the event.

The real show

But, as always, the real show was in the parking area, a constantly changing display of bikes old and new, standard and modified, including a surprising number of niche makes such as BMW, Ducati, Harley-Davidson and Triumph, among the mainstream Japanese machines.

We were not alone in spending more time in the lower paddock chatting to the riders of these bikes than in walking round the stalls. There’s a ring of authenticity to the words of a rider telling you exactly why the bike he built looks the way it does – and that’s what the Cape Bike Expo is all about. There’s very little here that will impress the wannabe or weekend rider, but plenty for those for whom motorcycling is more than what they do, it’s who they are.

IOL Motoring

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