HARLEY AFRICA BIKE WEEK: Thousands of bikers growled, rumbled and howled into the Hibiscus Coast in April 2015 for the annual Africa Bike Week. Images: Dries van der Walt
Over seven years Africa Bike Week has become an annual institution, not only for Harley-Davidson owners but also for riders of all brands and styles of bikes.
The 2015 event, held in Margate over April 23-16 was no exception – it again drew thousands of people to the otherwise fairly quiet resort town.
It saw Jeep – another rugged iconic American brand - come on board as co-sponsor to, as part of its sponsorship, provide transport for VIP guests and the news media to and from Durban's King Shaka International airport.
FOCAL POINT THE 'HARLEY HOTEL'
Bikes weren't the only attraction at Africa Bike Week: on the entertainment side there were appearances by big-name acts and local talent to keep the revelry going into the wee hours of the morning.
The Margate Hotel (dubbed Harley-Davidson Hotel for the duration) was one of the activity hubs, with Harley demo rides, trial bike demonstrations by well-known stunter Brian Capper, as well as the ride-in bike show taking place in the street in front of the hotel.
GALLERY 1 - Harley-Davidson Africa Bike Week
On Lower Marine Drive, various vendors of bike-related accessories and services pitched their tents, with Harley displaying its 2015 range in its own tent.
The organisers, due to traffic and parking problems in Lower Marine Drive during previous events, decided to charge a one-time registration fee of R250 which allowed registered bikes access to the prime parking spots.
Ample free parking was available behind the hotel, a stone's throw from the activities.
OPEN TO ALL BRANDS
The town was blanketed with a carnival atmosphere. Between the almost non-stop music from the stage and the sounds of thousands of bikes, Margate's normal tranquillity vanished in favour of people having fun practically around the clock.
And that, according to Paul de Jongh, Harley-Davidson's country manager for South Africa, was precisely the point. "We decided in 2009 to open the event to riders of all brands of bikes, to allow them to experience the Harley-Davidson culture of brotherhood."
GALLERY 2: Harley-Davidson Africa Bike Week
De Jongh also mentioned that H-D was countering the impression its bikes were aimed at older riders with the launch of the Indian-built Street 750: "Although targeting the younger market – 90% of Street 750 buyers are new to biking or to the brand – it is still every inch a Harley Davidson."
At that point he invited me to take the 750 for a test ride, which I did and which left me suitably impressed. Wheels24 will bring you a full review of the Street 750 later in the year.
CHARITIES VITAL TO THE WEEK
While Africa Bike Week isn't intended as a charity event, De Jongh mentioned that a group of riders spontaneously decided to buy and deliver 500 hamburgers to a local community.
"Each Harley Owners Group chapter has a strong association with a local charity. Nationally, Harley-Davidson supports "Snors for a Cause" in the battle against men’s cancer, prostate and testicular .
But what is the commercial benefit of the event for the region? Justin Mackrory, CEO of Ugu South Coast Tourism, said the direct and indirect spend in Margate and surrounding communities was huge, with some business reporting an even higher turnover than over the Christmas and year-end holidays.
Mackrory explained: "The fair weather in April and the vast choice in accommodation for attendees make Margate the ideal venue for Africa Bike Week.
“The event has contributed to a renaissance of tourism in the region, which led to infrastructure improvements and further investment, such as the building of a new hotel in Margate."
RAIN DIDN'T DAMPEN THINGS
Harley-Davidson supplied motorbikes for the media to participate in what they described as the biggest mass ride yet. The Sunday morning saw the roads lined with spectators eager to see the huge number of bikes taking part in the ride.
The sunny weather of the previous days took a turn for the worse on Sunday morning but that didn’t deter either the riders or the spectators.
Charity, economic benefit, and a boost in tourism may well be important considerations, but for at least those four days in Margate they were put on the back burner in favour of partying, riding, eating and then partying some more.