Motorbike riding in southern Africa is pure pleasure. Long and empty roads take you through stunning, forever changing scenery. Most roads, untarred roads included, are generally in good condition. Your fellow road users – generally! – are more polite then in Europe; greeting one another is for instance quite common. Motorbikers, though quite common, are a rarer sight then at home. Nevertheless there are some important differences, So we have made a small compendium for you about motorbiking in Africa. These tips are in no way complete: consider it a starting guide to motorcycling in one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth!
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We ride on the left-hand side of the road and all traffic from the right has right of way. Road signs are in English and distances in kilometres. Maximum speed in build-up areas is 60 km, in rural areas 100 km and on highways 120 km per hour. Speed traps are common. So stick to the maximum speed limits, because all fines are for your own account and need to be paid cash on the spot.
In small towns and cities you’ll regularly encounter four-way crossings with stop signs. Always stop at these signs! Whoever arrived first has right of way and is the first to cross. Most other traffic rules are the same as in Europe.
Distances are huge in southern Africa, between petrol stations as well. We don’t have self-service and you pay your petrol in cash. Due to these large distances you also get tired more quickly then you realise when riding. Take breaks regularly. Drink plenty of water: our climate dehydrates you quickly! Also it is an unofficial but common practice to ride on the extreme left on two lane roads when someone wants to overtake you. The overtaker usually blink their alarm lights once to say thanks. Don’t do this close to a side road or a curve, so you can avoid slow moving or stopped vehicles: it is common practice for minibus services to suddenly stop to pick up clients.[new_column]
The quality of our tarred roads is generally very good. Main roads are often wide enough that they are used as three-lane roads. The less important the road, the higher the number of potholes and damaged stretches. Be careful when nearing a village or town: speed bumps (‘sleeping policemen’) are everywhere and much higher and steeper than in Europe. Your (eventual) pillion will certainly appreciate you taking these very slowly! Dogs and cattle roam free and are likely to cross the road, so reduce speed when seeing them. This is also true for wild animals. Give them room, because they seem to take an unholy joy in crossing the road right in front of you.[new_column]
Gravel roads: riding
The main untarred roads in southern Africa are generally wide and in good shape. But riding these roads is definitely different from riding tarred roads. A lot of things are in reverse. For instance steering is much more dependent on shifting your body weight. Try following the best packed surface, not necessarily the tracks of other vehicles. When slipping it is often better to throttle up – with a light touch! A (bit!) throttling up is likely to push your back wheel in the right direction. If you throttle down that equals braking with your rear wheel and increases your slip. If you encounter loose sand or a slope with loose gravel: use a light touch when throttling up to avoid wheel spin.[new_column]
Gravel roads: braking
This too is different from braking on tar. Disengage your ABS! On loose gravel you need to be able to block your brakes to stop. The looser the surface, the less front brake and the more rear brake. Most people fall because they used their front brake. On downward slopes use only your engine brake and only if needed add your rear brake. Reserve your front brake for emergencies only. Even then, a light touch is needed to avoid blocking your front wheel. Last but not least: keep your distance. You need longer to stop on gravel then on tar. Besides, this way you avoid riding in the dust clouds of your predecessor. Pure luxury on the often dusty roads!