Road trip in SA: Choosing the right road for your bike

Dries van der Walt
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 CRUISING THROUGH SA: Our bike expert Dries van der Walt looks at which bikes will suit your road-trip needs. Image: Supplied ~ Supplied

Cape Town - Imagine this: the open road is beckoning, and you need to choose which bike from your extensive collection you will use on your road trip.

Will it be the quick and nimble sport bike, the comfortable tourer or the laid-back cruiser? If you are anything like me, this is not a problem you are ever confronted with. You likely have one bike – maybe two, if you’re lucky – to use for whatever trip you’re planning.

But that’s a bit of a problem, because not all bikes are equally suited to all roads.

So let’s work with what we have, by taking a look at what type of road trip will suit specific types of bikes.

The cross-province trip: KTM Super Adventure

We’ll start with the adventure bike category, which as you know, has subcategories. If your ride is an adventure tourer, such as a KTM Super Adventure, it is well suited to a long highway trip. It won’t be fazed by the occasional mountain pass or dirt road, which means that you have a great deal of freedom when planning your trip. With panniers and a top box, which are readily available for this type of bike, you will also have ample space for your luggage.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure. Image: Dries van der Walt

The long way round: BMW R 1200 GS Adventure

If you have a more off-road biased adventure bike, such as a BMW R 1200 GS Adventure, you can plan the same kind of trip, but throw in some off-road stretches for good measure. Animal trails and water crossings won’t be a problem, so you’ll be able to reach out-of-the-way spots which are not accessible to riders on other types of bikes.

BMW R 1200 GS Adventure. Image: Dries van der Walt

Taking on mountain SA passes: Ducati Multistrada

If you ride an adventure sport bike such as a Ducati Multistrada, you can cheerfully head off to the near-est (or more ideally, furthest) mountain pass. The bike’s performance and handling will make the twisties a load of fun while its comfort will be welcome over long distances. But don’t be fooled by the macho looks – unmodified, these types of bikes are better suited to tar roads and well-maintained dirt roads than the hardcore rough stuff.

Ducati Multistrada. Image: Dries van der Walt

On to the next category: full-dress tourers such as the BMW K 1600 GTL or Harley-Davidson’s Glide series. If you own one of these you’ll want to stick to highways and other major roads, and avoid gravel altogether. While you may not be able to reach the more out-of-the-way spots, you will be able to travel in luxury with ample luggage space and creature comforts such as a good sound system, almost car-like weather protection and in some cases even air conditioning.

Just cruising: Indian Scout

Cruisers like the Indian Scout are much like tourers, but minus the weather protection. This means that high-speed riding, while doable, won’t be very comfortable. So plan your cruiser trip along scenic routes where you will be able to spend hours of leisurely riding just taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside. This is definitely a case of the trip being more important than the destination.

Indian Scout. Image: Supplied


Sport bikes, like the Yamaha YZF-R1, are not made for long, straight highway trips. If you own one of these, you’ll want to get to the twisties as soon as possible, because that’s where the fun is. With cramped accommodation and minimal (if any) provision for luggage, sport bikes can wear you out quickly on long trips. If you’re fortunate enough to live close to a mountain pass, kit up and have fun. If not, you might want to invest in a bike trailer.

Multipurpose bikes: Kawasaki Z1000

Standard bikes, or nakeds, such as the Kawasaki Z1000, are multipurpose machines. You can use them for all but the most specialised types of riding. Besides being great everyday bikes, you can use them for highway riding (with the addition of a small screen), touring (if you add a top box and/or saddle bags), mountain passes (with more torque at lower revs than sport bikes, standards are remarkably adept at fast cornering), and even the occasional dirt road if you don’t overdo it. They may lack the glamour of the more specialised bikes, but standards make up for it with their all-purpose nature.

Most bikes are fairly versatile, but specialisation means that some bikes work better in a specific application than others. That’s why it is important to have a good idea of what you want to use your bike for before buying it. While you can use your bike for just about any purpose you choose, ultimately you’ll get more pleasure from using it what it was designed for. And pleasure, in the end, is the main thing you should get from riding a motorcycle.

Kawasaki Z1000. Image: Dries van der Walt