Durban - After being hailed as the motorbike rider’s haven for eight years Margate, on the South Coast, has lost the popular Africa Bike Week festival to East London - but local organisers are pressing on with another similar event.
The move to Buffalo City comes as no surprise following the legal dispute in 2016 between the organisers, Nkosi N Projects, and the KwaZulu-Natal department of economic development, tourism and environmental Affairs.
The department withdrew its R6 million funding for the Light the Fire instalment of the biking festival at the eleventh hour, resulting in some service providers pulling out and payment being delayed for those that remained.
However, Africa Bike Week's main sponsor, Harley-Davidson Africa, said the move was a marketing strategy.
“This will see the event being moved to a new city every three years,” said project manager Carl Frayne.
All the same, it is a big loss for Margate as the event carried huge tourism potential, attracting 60 000 revellers over three days.
“The festival is very popular because it brings the whole carnival experience to the host city," said Frayne, "So, in addition to the more than 5000 riders, we also get families coming through and people come from as far as Namibia, Mozambique - and for the past couple of years we’ve been getting a group from Australia.”
'South Coast Bike Fest'
The local organisers and the Ray Nkonyeni Municipality have now come up with “South Coast Bike Fest”, which will be hosted on the same weekend as the ABW would have been, starting on 27 April.
Vicky Wentzel, who co-founded Africa Bike Week, said they anticipated an even larger crowd in 2017 because the new festival had not only been opened to all motorbike brands but also off-road activities such as endurocross.
“It was great having Harley here," she said. "We are going to miss them but we had to carry on because the biking festival is one of our biggest attractions. It’s even bigger than our summer season and brings in revenue of about R240 million to Margate annually.”
The new festival has received a positive response from bikers across the province who do not seem keen on riding to East London.
Robyn Petterson, proud owner of 11 Harley-Davidsons, said: "It’s a bummer that Africa Bike Week is gone but at least there is still a biking festival here. I know a lot of people complained about the noise but it was great for local tourism and we are hoping the new festival will be just as fantastic if not bigger.”
Her sentiments were shared by Kevin Krummick, fellow biker and owner of the Village Tavern, a biker bar in Margate.
“The festival brought a lot of business to Margate," he said, "but I think most bikers, not just the local guys but also from Johannesburg, will be coming here because of the distance and the fact that this festival has opened its gates to all makes of motorbikes.”
Johannesburg-based James Lee of the popular Hells Angels Motorcycle Club said most bikers would definitely be coming back to KwaZulu-Natal.
“The South Coast is beautiful and has great facilities, and I believe the decision to open the festival to other bikes will attract even more bikers. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a great festival?”
New corporate sponsors have come on board, raising about R1.5 million, the local municipality has committed R500 000 and R6 million has been raised through government entities, including the KwaZulu-Natal department of economic development and tourism.