Ceres, Western Cape - "They’re selling postcards of the hanging, they’re painting the passports brown" the words of Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row kept running through my mind as we cruised through the Tankwa Karoo, Cederberg and Koue Bokkeveld.
Not because someone was about to die, although given why we were there that was always a remote possibility, but the stark beauty of the area had desolation written all over it, made even worse by the recent fires that had destroyed thousands of hectares.
We were there for the launch of the Honda CRF 250 Rally dual-purpose motorcycle, and not having twisted a throttle in anger for almost two years, never mind long stretches of dirt road, rocky two-spoor paths and deep sand, my reintroduction to dirt-terrain riding was somewhat nerve-wracking, but thankfully relatively uneventful.
Keeping in mind that my area of expertise is tackling obstacles in a 4x4, the roads and challenges we encountered weren’t as daunting as the prospect of facing them on two wheels.
In a twist of fate, I took over a bike at one of the more difficult sections covered in what is affectionately known as "marbles" - lots of loose round stones - designed to make anyone on two wheels a little nervous.
It wasn’t exactly like getting on a bicycle; in fact it was nothing like getting on to a bicycle again, particularly because I hadn’t had the chance to get used to the Rally on tar or smooth dirt, made worse because some of the guys in the group were legends on two wheels as well.
In true biking fashion, though, advice was plentiful and friendly; but when your helmet covers your face, it’s just you and your machine trying your level-best not to plough into the bushes.
I took it slowly at first, trying to get a feel for how the bike responds, but deep sand and loose rocks had me digging deep into the memory banks in an effort not to take a tumble. Turns out my brain still functions relatively well, helped a lot by the forgiving nature of the bike.
Focused on bottom-end torque, ideal for its purpose, it pushes out 18.2kW and 22.6Nm of torque, which when you’re a novice or still a little nervous, is just enough.
Once we had traversed the worst of the mountain trail and wound our way through rock-strewn river beds, a long stretch of smooth(ish) dirt road beckoned to our overnight spot at Die Mond.
I’ve never professed to be the most accomplished rider, but the CRF made even an average person like me comfortable enough to barrel along at speed without fearing the worst.
There was, however, an unsuspecting bit of very loose sand that I saw just in the nick of time, that allowed me to test the ABS brakes to the fullest before gearing down and throttling up to get through.
At speed, you’re nicely protected by the floating screen, and if you dismount and take a closer look it’s pleasing to the eye as well. The headlight is an asymmetric dual LED unit, while the rear light, LED indicators and number plate bracket tuck away. The digital dash features a speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge and clock.
I’ve recently been mulling over whether I should get behind the handlebars again, and spending three days out under clear blue skies has more or less made up my mind for me. I have the little CRF 250 Rally to thank for that.