Harry Fisher: Is there any reason for not riding all year round?


When I first came to South Africa, quite a number of years ago, it struck me how few bikes I saw on the roads, especially given the quality of the riding conditions; hot in summer, dry and cool in winter, at least in Johannesburg.

This was after living in London for nearly 10 years, admittedly at the tail end of the still-just-about-lucrative bike courier profession which meant that there were hundreds of the buggers flying around but also with a large proportion of private motorcycles being used daily. And they were being ridden in all weathers, a phrase not used lightly in the UK!

I had the good fortune to be back there at the end of February this year and, while it was perishing cold, there were still plenty of bikes on the road. The fact of the matter is that with the abundance of fantastic riding gear available today there is no reason not to ride all year round and, let’s face it, with the weather we have here we rarely need the full protection that a lot of the gear offers.

So, why aren’t more people riding in SA? Those of you who do ride might disagree with that question having, in all probability, many friends who ride. But the proof can be seen on the highways and byways in morning or evening commuter traffic; lots of fools stuck in their cars and only a handful of sensible people on bikes.

Detractors of motorcycling will argue that it’s no fun getting wet or cold on a bike but they are obviously ignoring what I said earlier about modern riding gear. And what would you rather do; sit in a car for two hours getting home or get a little damp and be home in 20 minutes? How can spending up to four hours a day (or more!) sitting in your car be practical or even enjoyable?

I was reading a book the other day written by the post-war sales manager of Triumph Motorcycles in the UK, Neil Shilton. His job was to travel the south-west of the country – one region a week in a five week cycle – visiting dealers and maintaining factory-dealer relations. Bear in mind that this was long before the days of motorways (or highways, as we call them) and specific motorcycling gear simply did not exist. He rode day after day through wind, pelting rain, bitter cold, fog, snow and anything else the British weather could throw at him in nothing better than his old army greatcoat, a pair of leather gauntlets and an open-face helmet with a pair of goggles. One can barely imagine how cold and wet he must have been sometimes, with the clock showing late evening and 100 miles still to go. It was largely because of his experiences that the first fairings were developed.

And look at us nowadays, with riding gear that could tame an arctic storm or a biblical flood and we have the nerve to complain!

Look, I’m not trying to pretend that riding in the wet or cold is actually pleasant; who wouldn’t rather ride in warm sunshine if they had the choice? But when the alternative to getting a bit chilly or damp is sitting in a car for two hours just to travel 20kms then I know what I would always do.

It’s the same when you’re on a long journey. There is something uplifting about beating the elements and getting to your destination. No beer ever tasted sweeter after an arduous ride followed by a warm bath and dry clothes. It’s that feeling of adventure in its truest sense; of obstacles met and vanquished. You just don’t get that sitting in a modern car.

It used to be the same riding classic bikes, even in their heyday as new machines; half the worry and joy of a journey was getting there in one piece; both the machine and the rider! When you did, the feeling was fantastic, as if you’d achieved something that was nearly impossible. With modern bikes, that worry just isn’t there which is, in all honesty, a good thing.

So, there you have it; we’ve never had it so good so there really is no excuse to not get on yer bike and ride.