By Craig Wessels
I’ve been riding bikes since I was about 8 and got I my first one on my 10th birthday. It was a momentous occasion that I will never forget because it was probably one of the most significant events that would lead me down the path I've taken in life.
I recall that day as if it were yesterday. A year later I got into motocross and moved over my high school years from 80cc's to 125cc's. In 1982 I watched "On Any Sunday" with Steve McQueen on dirt bikes, as well as the 750cc Harleys flat tracking. An experience that cast a mould that I still wear today. When I grow up I still want to own an original H-D XR 750 oval track-racing machine. Off-road has always been my favourite. I actually still have a motocross bike and ride most weekends in Caledon.
When I was 15 I bought a blue and yellow Yamaha DT50. Another turning point-freedom. Many interesting and crazy things happened during school holidays on that 50, but that's history. The point is, I had my first real taste of independence, and enjoyed the flavour. After school came two years national service, aah, the good old days, and riding took a back seat. I then got heavily into mountain biking for a few years whilst at varsity, and did little riding. Then I got my first real job and was suddenly very liquid (R1500/month to a 22-year-old was ok in 1992). So it was 1992 and I had not been riding much for about 3 years. I had an itch that needed scratching. I was older now, more mature I thought, ready for a gutsy machine that was going to take me places. It was time to realize a childhood dream. I needed a Harley. I found one, paid the old plumber a z grand deposit, sold my car for 12 grand then paid him the 8 grand balance a month later. I borrowed a bakkie and went to fetch her. My wife Anne, who was my girlfriend at the time, was horrified when instead of arriving home with the shiny sparkling bike that Harleys were supposed to be, I unloaded a rusty wreck that did not even run. But to me it was everything. It was another important day, just as significant as my 10th birthday. For the next 5 months I worked during the day and rebuilt the 1941 45cu WL Flathead during the night.
During that time I joined the Harley-Davidson Club of South Africa in Durban, which I forgot to mention earlier, is where I grew up. The Durban dub was made up of a small band of enthusiasts who had been riding Harleys for the last 35 years or so. You must remember that this was all before the Harley fad. Back then, not many people had ever seen one. I think you had more credibility on a CBX in those days. So these guys really made me feel welcome even though I was the youngest by about zo years. There was Chris 1, Roy, Frank, Vic, Chris B, Tom and a handful of others. We had monthly meetings and club rides (usually around 10 bikes). I don't know if I can explain the club atmosphere then, but I'll try. It was about 20 guys, most of whom at the time had been riding Harleys their whole lives. They were ordinary people with an extraordinary passion. A passion not influenced or tainted by flash or trend. The club had no evo's, not because they didn't like them, but because there weren't any around. Why? Because in their minds, what idiot would pay 100 grand in the late 8o's, early 9o's for an uncomfortable, unreliable, shiny couch? These guys rode their Harleys because they wanted to, not because it was cool. The Harley-David son-Instant-Biker-LifestyleLook-at-me bullshit was not around in those days. It was real. They acknowledged that the American machines were inferior to European and Japanese bikes, but they rode them anyhow because they genuinely loved them. You see, these guys rode them at a time when it wasn't cool to ride a Harley. I respected that and learnt a great deal from them (our club has a few of these people too, and they are still very active, of course. I hope they share their stories in a similar article).
Once the rebuild was complete I felt another itch, so I quit my job, packed my bags, loaded myself and the little black bitch onto a plane, arrived in the Mother City and rode into town. It was February 1994 and the Cape summer was in full swing. Riding around was great, but fairly lonely.
I had envisaged finding a similar club in Cape Town as I had found in Durban. Sadly there was nothing. I was disappointed. But it did not take long to find a few enthusiasts. Out in Philippi I found Paul, Alan and Gareth. Around the same time I stumbled across a budding, really interesting Harley workshop in Glengariff Road. The grumbling owner and I eased into a friendship that has not waned in 10 years. Joel knew shit from clay and through him I slowly met other genuine enthusiasts, Fritz (bought his 45cu in'58) Ray (bought his 74cu in 1972), Egon, Rodney, Arthur, Andy J, Arnold, Jason, Singleton, Babrow, et al. It was interesting times. I had no job, no money, no permanent abode, not much really besides the flattie. But these guys looked after me and kept me on the road. And on one occasion, the grumbling one scrapped me off it. It was also a time when Hollywood and the Motor Factory began a campaign that would change the Harley thing forever. Harleys were beginning to capture the general public's imagination. One positive from this is that the Harley marketing arseholes have managed to get a lot of people onto two wheels that otherwise would probably never have ridden. How many of you reading this crap have owned a bike prior to your Harley? See, I think my theory holds. I think it's a good thing. The more bikers there are on the road the better. Not because I like bikers, but because then statistically, the odds of me being involved in another accident decrease. Heh heh.
So post accident, after I had learnt to walk again (which, incidentally, took about lo months-so hang in there Ray, the pain and frustration will pass) the little black bitch was rebuilt with the help of my new friends and shortly thereafter it was May 1995 and time for the Buff Rally. With nervous sweat pouring off my face in the chilly autumn air, I got back onto my bike for the first time and rode. It was exhilarating to be back on the road again, heading off to Prince Albert on route to the Buff (which was in De Hoek at the bottom of the Swartberg Pass). The nerves settled and I slipped into what I experience when I ride any distance -a kind of peaceful, thoughtful, rhythmic zone. We had such a good time, camping in tents and huddling around fires in below freezing temperatures, which is another lesser-known story yet to be told. Perhaps not. Riding in a pack again was special and I knew then that I had to find some way of doing this more often. It reminded me of the Durban days.
When we got back I started speaking to guys about starting a club where we could do this type of riding on a more regular basis. The response was warm yet non-committal. Anyway, with the Durban club still fresh in my mind, I decided to hold a sort of more formal meeting for any Harley owners interested in forming a club. Joel helped in spreading the word although he knew he could never join as the Hells Angels Cape Town Chapter was in the pipeline, just not common knowledge at the time. The venue was Andy's old soccer club in Greenpoint (very close to our current one).
I think it was around December 1995. The response was positive and we all agreed to hold our first official meeting in January 1996, which we did, at our then clubhouse, Harleys bar, in Waterkant St. In those days, that was the area where it all happened in town. We were in the thick of the action and loved it. We would have the meeting upstairs in the bar. The bar was small and covered with old Harley parts, road signs and other shit, smoke filled the dimly lit room and bourbon flowed. Behind the bar was an old flathead mounted on the wall, wearing my twisted front forks. Joel had helped me steal its original ones to use on my crashed bike and we replaced them with my old bent ones. After the meetings (I think the record was a meeting that took about i min and 16 seconds) we would hit the bar and wonder downstairs to the street where all our bikes were parked. We would spend a lot of time on the pavement, talking bikes, watching the crowds go by, riding up and down, and generally hanging out. I remember telling a young Ruben how my flattie would start first kick every time. In true Ruben fashion, he wanted proof, so I showed him. A few weeks later he was riding his own. Silly things, but memorable. That was the start of another good friendship and many many adventures, taking our bikes to places that matter.
Again I am not sure, but I think that the first meeting (the official one) drew about 50 interested people wanting to hear what was going on. Other enthusiasts emerged from the woodwork and a the club was born-initially as the Harley-Davidson Club of South Africa, Cape Town Chapter, with permission and support from the Durban Club. That name fell away later. It was a good time. The club was relatively small. We all knew each other quite well, went away a lot, rode a lot, and drank a lot. I see not much has changed in that regard, thank God. The club still knows how to have a good time, albeit in a slightly more organized way.
In running the club, my only point of reference was Durban, so I held the meetings along those lines, trying to be all democratic and let each person have their say. The initial size was about double Durban's and growing rapidly, so that didn't last long. Soon I was swearing and yelling, which felt much better. Anyway, somehow we managed to make it work. Later that year I got married to Anne and went to Sturgis. We ended up staying in the States for about 6 months. Before I left, Steve, a true Harley enthusiast and one of the most hardcore bikers in the mileage sense, took over as chairman. Under his leadership the club doubled in size. When I returned, I was really happy to see that all was well and the club was growing. Meetings were entertaining and would often end around 3am-and because of our smaller size, it was more intimate and we all stuck together.
Maybe I was the catalyst that got the club started, but its continued success, many chairmen later (and many committee members) has nothing what so ever to do with me. I have been very inactive in the club for the last few years. Partly from choice, but mainly from circumstance. It's also good to see that most of the founding members are still around and pretty active. They stand as a testament to the club having grown on solid foundations. They are solid people. It is these people, and the ones I have yet to discover, not so much the bikes, that make this experience so worthwhile.
The little black bitch and I have traveled some interesting roads over the past 12 years. She was rotting away in a dirty garage when we met. I took her home. She has been there since I had my first job, she followed me to Cape Town, she stuck around when I had nothing, and she took abuse living outside for a Cape winter. She forgave me for getting her smashed up by a car. She introduced me to interesting people and was there when I got married. She stayed loyal while I traveled overseas and understood when I was too busy for her whilst starting a business. Now my son, Luke rides her and she smiles knowing that it's my daughter, Ava's turn next. I have just finished putting her rebuilt motor back in and she anxiously awaits next Friday when she gets a chance to stretch her legs on the open roads to Prince Albert. She is 63 years young. I can only imagine what she has seen before my time. She must know a whole lot, the little black bitch. And people ask me why I ride an old bike.
Keep the flag flying; we have an amazing club that influences our lives far far beyond the first Wednesday of every month.
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On the road
- HDCCT April Club Ride 2013 ( HOG KIDS blanket run)
- HDCCT Club Ride 10/3/2013
- HDCCT Riders in the sky memorial run 10/2/2013
- HDCCT Annual Poker Run
- HDCCT Club Ride October 2012
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