Soekoe Motorcycles: South African-built art, grace and brilliance
Story: Harry Fisher
It is ironic that the modern motorcycle manufacturer is looking ever further back in time for inspiration for new motorcycles. Manufacturers such as Triumph, BMW, Ducati and Kawasaki have released extremely popular bikes that hark back to a particularly successful period in their history in order to attract new customers to the fold and, as time marches on, they are looking further and further back through the years.
First there was the cafe racer craze aping the home-built race replicas of the 1960’s. Now we are in a ‘bobber’ phase, copying the stripped down bikes from the immediate post-second world war period.
But how far back can we go? Well, how about to the very dawn of motorcycling; the early 1900’s? And forget having to look to Europe or Japan; it’s happening right here in South Africa.
Travel to the bustling metropolis that is Fishershill, near Primrose, east of Johannesburg, and you will find a small, unassuming, but tastefully retro shop that is the home to the latest South African motorcycle manufacturer; the Soekoe Moto Bicycle Company.
Stepping inside is like stepping back in time and there is a mouth-watering display of ‘flat-tank’ and board-track racers, some looking as if they’ve just come off the production line and others as if they’ve just been pulled out of a barn after spending the last 100 years under a bale of hay.
They may look old but they are, in fact, brand new. More importantly, they look utterly fantastic. The frames and accessories are sourced locally – built to Soekoe’s specification – and all assembly and finishing is done in-house to an extremely high standard.
The single-cylinder, 66cc, two-stroke engine is installed in the frame in such a way that it looks completely authentic. There’s a stark simplicity to the machines that is a refreshing change to the massive complexity of the modern motorcycle; nothing is there that doesn’t need to be.
Having said that, there is one feature present that is essential; a set of bicycle pedals! Let’s be quite frank at this point; if you should choose a Soekoe as a means of transport, you do need to be fairly fit; you pedal to start the engine, you pedal to set off and you will certainly pedal to get up hills. Oh, and you back-pedal to brake!
But to reduce this wonderful machine to what could be seen as a glorified bicycle is to misunderstand what is possibly the most fun you can have on a motorcycle. Top speed is unlikely to be more than a heady 40 – 50km/h but that is more than enough to put a smile on your face; this is true happiness on two wheels.
Once on the move – after a vigorous pedal – the rider is immediately transported back many decades to a time when the journey was as much of an adventure as the destination. You travel slowly but in great style. Heads turn as you putt-putt past and you know you are making a bold statement, one that brings a smile to the face of everyone who sees you.
Time seems to slow down when riding a Soekoe; all of a sudden, everyday routes that have become stale and boring take on a new sheen of interest as you have time to look around and take in your surroundings. Riding a slow bike is completely different to riding a fast bike slowly: when there is no choice but to ride slowly, you feel a sense of calm creeping over you; ‘I’ll get there when I get there’ becomes your mantra and the headlong rush of modern life is for others to worry about.
And, when you have finished riding for the day, the temptation to open a cold beer, pull up a chair and simply gaze at this remarkable machine is hard to resist. Beauty on the move and beauty at standstill; it’s a rare bike that combines the two as successfully as the Soekoe.
For more information, go to www.soekoe.co.za