“Ethereal” – adjective

“extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world; heavenly or spiritual”.

The word “ethereal” is not a word you often hear mentioned among dirt-caked, dusty-lipped bike riders halfway through an adventure in the middle of Lesotho. There is no doubt, though, that if you mentioned the word, all heads would nod in unison. The experience of travelling through a remote, scenic landscape on two wheels is one of the most sensational ways of escaping everyday city life and enjoying this beautiful land most of us call home. As you pass through a small valley in the early morning mist, you can feel the temperature change – just a degree or two, but you can feel it.

You can smell the vegetation along a rural road. You can see everything through the visor on your helmet, with no pillars to disturb your panoramic view. You can hear cows, sheep and children, and the mute growl of your exhaust pipe when all else is silent. And then we have the adrenaline factor. Traversing a tricky section (trying to look where you want to go rather than looking down the side of the cliff-edge dropping away under your left foot-peg, your mind saying “Oh shit… oh shit…oh here we go…”) causes he adrenaline to pump furiously through your body. And afterwards, when the obstacle has been negotiated safely, there’s the feeling of accomplishment and the hunger for more of the same. I believe this is why we ride motorcycles.

With only around 10% of the roads in South Africa being tarred, it suddenly makes sense when we see adventure bikes leaving motorbike showrooms like the animals boarding the ark. We have the ability to cruise comfortably on tar motorways and national roads, but there’s always the option of leaving the tar to explore dirt roads, jeep tracks and sometimes single-track paths. All we need to do is adjust the tyre pressure and switch off ABS on certain models. With town names like Lusikisiki, Nieuwoudtville and Hotazel, the South African countryside is begging to be explored. From meandering farm roads to a backbone of excitement standing tall, better known as the escarpment area, you can travel along the Highveld-Lowveld split in the north, via the Drakensberg around to the Swartberg Mountains in the south, creating a smile.

The Drakensberg, translated as “Dragon Mountains” or, in Zulu, “The Barrier of Spears,” was formed throughout millions of years. Starting with volcanic lava and sedimentary deposits, erosion then gave us the dramatic range all along the eastern coast of South Africa. These mountains naturally posed a challenge to our forefathers who had to engineer routes to transport supplies and produce over this major obstacle. These days we are fortunate to have relatively well-managed mountain passes to enjoy on our motorcycles. When we watch Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman riding around the world on their BMW Adventure R1200GS motorcycles in The Long Way Round, or the same pair riding from Scotland to Cape Agulhas in The Long Way Down, I doubt there is one of us who would not want to be a part of an epic adventure like that. Chatting to Ewan in Cape Town at the end of The Long Way Down, it became clear to me that the trip was demanding, that he missed his family and that he looked forward to getting home to his own bed, shower, etc.

What resonated for me, though, was the flicker in his eyes when discussing the struggle to fit back into the busyness and mad pace of the city-bound life most of us lead. After spending three months travelling in a small group through vast open plains of desert or grass, with unlimited time alone in your helmet you get comfortable being the rider, riding day in and day out. Coming back to “civilisation” can be a huge adjustment, with people suddenly making you feel claustrophobic as you walk through your local shopping mall or ride in traffic again. The choice for you to make is: Which world do you prefer?

Words and photography by Greg Beadle

Published in Playboy South Africa October 2012  

BMW Motorrad is hosting a “Ride Of Your Life Tour” where you can test drive the new BMW R 1200 GS across continents – see their site here for more details on this exciting competition.