Margate, KwaZulu-Natal – One of the most iconic symbols of personal freedom has always been the motorcycle, so it’s appropriate that Africa’s biggest free biker rally is held each year over four days across the last weekend of April - the Freedom Day weekend.
For those four days, ten of thousands of leather-clad bikers completely take over the normally sleepy resort town of Margate on KwaZulu-Natal’s South Coast. For four days the locals forget about sleeping, driving their cars down Main Street (officially renamed and signposted Harley-Davidson Boulevard for the duration) or Beach Road, which is transformed into the motorcycle-only Harley-Davidson Village.
The road is lined with marquees representing almost every Harley dealership in South Africa, stalls selling every kind of biker gear, fast food and beverage you can think of and quite a few that you won’t, plus a giant stage right on the beach, pumping out biker rock by some of the country’s top entertainers.
And everywhere there are bikes, of every make you’ve ever heard of, mostly custom bikes and cruisers but with a growing contingent of bobbers and café racers each year, as well as hard-core, high-revving, hand-built multi-cylinder sports-bikes, few in number but responsible for a lot of the noise - and most of the rubber smoke.
Very few of the machines at Africa Bike Week are standard; most have been modified - or built from scratch - to be as individual as their riders. The bikers are there to see and be seen, by people who are able to appreciate how much work goes into building a one-of-a-kind custom bike.
Hosted by Harley-Davidson, and now in its seventh year, Africa Bike Week has become a mainstream event; it’s no longer all about the motorcycles from Milwaukee, although the Motor Company still has a huge presence in Margate.
It’s about bikers of all persuasions, from travel-stained adventurers on big beetle-crushers to youngsters on ratty second-hand lightweights (remember your first bike?) celebrating their kind of freedom along with the very special freedom that came to South Africa in April 1994.
The noise - all day and until the chill pre-dawn hours of the night - is indescribable. There are dozens, sometimes hundreds of bikes constantly moving in the streets, each rider vying to make himself heard above the general rumble of big V-twin engines that supplies the bass track to this ‘beautiful noise’.
Thousands of riders and locals mingle, checking out the bikes, cheering every bit of show-boating by skilful riders and filling Beach Road wall to wall with pedestrians, all day and late into the night, for three unforgettable nights.
So much so that at this year’s Africa Bike Week, on from 23-26 April, it has become necessary to register your bike - at a cost of R250 for the duration of the event - in order to ride, and park, in the Harley-Davidson Village.
ROCK THE NOISE
Entry on foot and to the main stage is still free, as is entry to Sunday’s mass ride, the ceremonial climax of Africa Bike Week, and there is plenty of free parking behind the Harley-Davidson Hotel and all over town, but Beach Road has become so crowded over the past couple of years that riding through the pedestrians has become a safety issue - hence the control measures.
Headlining the acts on the main stage this year will be rockers Just Jinger, Taxi Violence, Dilana and Jack Parow - with music starting at 10am each day and going on until 11.30pm on each of the first three nights.
All day long there will be test bikes to ride, with trials bike demos in front of the Harley-Davidson Hotel on Saturday and Sunday, and the mass ride from Shelly Centre at 10am on Sunday - although you’d better be there by about 8am to get a good spot!
The tagline for Africa Bike Week 2015 is “Rock the Noise” and you’d better believe it. It’s a celebration of music, motors and freedom at a very personal level, one of the few events where you’re encouraged to be as loud as you like.