Misadventures on a mystery ride

Zanie's picture

Points: 4

This is a story of a disastrous weekend for Lance and me. It included a crash and a forced overnight bike abandonment. Yet the whole experience, aside from the fear and the frustration, left me with the knowledge that we are surrounded by and incredible number of incredible people, whom are willing to help out beyond the point of what we’d consider reasonable.

The ride started auspiciously enough. The planned venue (Jurg se Kaya on the West Coast) was shut down two weeks beforehand; leaving ride-leader Geoff scrambling to organise an alternative route and accommodation. We were given the option of a refund, but we were amped to get on our bikes, no matter the direction. With the tour renamed to “The Mystery Ride”, we set off on Friday 17 Nov, along with roughly 16-19 others.

The route took us in the direction of Worcester, then the back-roads to Robertson, through McGregor, looping south of Bonnievale, over the Montagu Ouberg Pass and on some pretty gravel roads south of Anysberg. It was somewhere on the way to Ladismith that the first disaster struck.

Everyone regrouped at a random turn-off in the road, as is done periodically to make sure everyone’s still there. Lance didn’t appear. Unbeknownst to me, riding somewhere in the middle-rear of the group, Lance had volunteered to be sweeper. He had been riding dead-last. The second-to-last guy (Keith?) said he hadn’t seen him for a while. Geoff and Keith headed back to look for Lance.

Kellan, Geoff’s son, took us a couple of kilometres down the road to a shady spot next to the Buffelsrivier where he and his dad sometimes stay. I wanted to go with Geoff, but was told it would be better to stick with the group. I later realised that if Lance had a puncture or mechanical issue, I was sitting with all our tools and tubes. I think Geoff did have an arsenal of goodies, but I was not sure whether he had tubes.

Time ticked on. Still no Lance. It had been over an hour since anyone had seen him. There was no cell phone signal and we hadn’t heard back from the search party. If it had been a puncture, surely someone would be back by now. If it was an accident, Lance would have been alone for a very long time… I was not in a happy space; to put it mildly.

Eventually the search party returned. Two bikes. No Lance. Imagination is not your friend in this instance. I was massively relieved, in the end, to hear that it was “just” some torn ligaments. It had appeared on the X-ray to be a broken bone, but was actually just a bone where it shouldn’t be, thanks to some torn ligaments.

I think boredom and perhaps a bit of plain silliness (I’ll try not to use a meaner word here) caused Lance to start fooling around at the back – something you should not do if you’re the sweep. He ramped a cattle-grid before realising that the road curved afterwards. His version of events is here.

He had been stuck on the side of the lonely road for 1.5 hours, so he had plenty of time to document his experience:

I feel for the guy. He had just gotten back on the bike a month or so ago, after a badly-broken wrist (hardware required) from a botched landing after ramping a sand mound on his dirt bike.

That break had cost him a chance to participate in the Honda Quest (he was chosen for boot camp). This break would cost him the kite-surfing season. This guy doesn't get lucky breaks. Only real ones.

Yet this is where his luck changed. The first person to pass by was someone in a bakkie, towing an empty trailer, heading to Panorama, Cape Town; just 15km from Lance’s home. Bakkie-owner Fred had a farm in the area, but a home in Cape Town. He had planned to take his dirt-bikes home, but had figured there was not enough time to do this and return the rented trailer in time; hence the empty trailer. His first impression, when he saw the downed back and helmet lying sadly on the side of the road, was that Lance had ploughed through the fence and ripped off his head. Lance was actually chilling out in shade beneath a bush.

Fred offered a lift for bike and person. He even lost some skin on his foot after a fall when trying to load Lance’s bike (he was not used to a big bike). At this point, Geoff and Keith arrived and helped load the bike. On the way back to Cape Town, Fred organised with the trailer rental company to keep the trailer for one more day, as he would not be able to return it on time, thanks to helping Lance.

Knowing that Lance would be ok, the ride continued. I would see him when I returned home the Sunday. We seem to live by the motto “the ride must go on”. If the one gets broken the other continues. Or in some cases, if the one gets broken, the one continues! I’d still like to see Lance ride with a broken bone…

We arrived at the mystery destination just after 5pm. It turned out that we were staying at Rooiberg Lodge. It’s a beautiful little haven in the middle of nowhere. It’s also very well-suited to big groups. And, probably uniquely for such a set-up, I don’t think there will ever be too few toilets or showers. I loved my loft-style room beneath the thatch; complete with two tables for random oddments of biker kit.

View outside my room in the morning:
 

We set off on Saturday morning for a mystery outride (we stayed at Rooiberg Lodge both nights). Unfortunately this morning it was my turn to get struck by bad luck. Not even 30km into the ride, on the way down Rooiberg Pass, my dash lights flicker, my fuel light goes on and my bike cuts out while riding. I coasted to a stop in puzzlement. I had fuelled up towards the end of the ride the previous day. Some guys puzzled along with me. We decided to push-start the bike – quite easy on the steep slope. The bike “coast”-started fine, but it didn’t seem to like low revs. Towards the end of the pass, it cut out again, close to a clump of shade where everyone was regrouping.

The guys opened up my bike with the tools that I was carrying. Battery connections seemed fine and fuel level was checked – also fine. MacGyver checked my fuel filter, sucking some petrol through, just in case there was a blockage. (Aside: The reason I call him MacGyver was because he was the guy that helped me with a clutch lever the first time I’d snapped my clutch lever (it’s happened twice now…) at a previous Jurg se Kaya ride.) We left the bike open just in case it would need more open-heart surgery.

Cable-tie holding everything together in the meantime:
 

I have a rudimentary cruise control on my bike (plastic lever that physically holds the throttle on your desired position) and this was now set in such a way to keep my revs up. When doing this, my bike seemed to start and run fine; as long as the revs remained high. Oh well. Let us continue.

Our ride took us to through Calitzdorp and then via the beautiful and winding Groenfontein Road. At some point after Calitzdorp, my bike stopped giving any hassles; it idled fine and didn’t threaten to die. It had reverted back to normal. Odd.

We fuelled up in De Rust. Bike started perfectly. We stopped just 8km after the town for everyone to regroup at the Rietvalley turn-off. Everyone set off. I turn my ignition key. The dash lights don’t even come on. S#*t! I’ve seen this before. My heart sinks.

One thing I have now learnt about Motobatts: they die with little to no warning. This one actually even gave a bit of warning (the previous weird cut-out). My last one went from “bike starts beautifully” to “dash lights don’t even respond” within 3km. Standard batteries start sounding “tired” when you want to start the bike.

One thing I have learnt about my bike: it eats batteries for breakfast. Something is very, very wrong here. This is the third battery it killed in 24 months exactly. It’s the fourth battery death since I bought the bike 4 years ago. A timeline summary:

  • First battery death: 7 months/3000km after I buy the bike. It appears to be an original BMW battery (bike is a 2001 model). The battery is literally swollen. Replace with standard battery.
  • Second battery lasts 17 months/23,000km. Replace with Motobatt.
  • Motobatt lasts only 7 months/7000km. Dies suddenly in Die Hel (read: middle of nowhere). Voltmeter shows 3V; shifting down to below 1 when trying to start the bike. Loaned a quad-bike battery to get to Oudtshoorn to get a new battery. Leave Motobatt in Die Hel, therefore could not get warranty. Replace with standard battery.
  • Standard battery lasts only 3 months (but 10,000km – so technically longer mileage than previous Motobatt). Boiled acid all over my bike’s innards. Had to replace coolant hoses. Vow never to use standard battery again. Replace with Motobatt.
  • Motobatt lasts 15 months/24,000km.

The front of the group don’t notice I’m missing. One or two souls wait at turn-offs for a long time; like lost breadcrumbs. A couple of others, including Cecil, were behind me and notice that my bike remains resolutely stationary. We are just outside what looks to be an abandoned farm house, but turns out it is occupied during odd working hours. A lady offers that we stash the bike in the yard. We take her up on that offer after I was convinced that it was the best thing for the group. We had tried to run-start it (we were on a long hill), but the battery was beyond revival.

Abandoned my bike here:
 

Cecil acted as my lift for the remainder of the day’s 370km outride (I’d managed 150km on own steam). He was a great rider from a pillion’s perspective. The reason I bought my own bike was that when Lance started riding off-road, I couldn’t take my eyes off the road in front. I was constantly worrying about the next obstacle. Now, with Cecil, I was checking scenery. His riding made me feel safe.

By the time we got back to Rooiberg, I had a splitting headache. I attributed this to constant worrying on what the hell I was going to do to get my bike from De Rust to home in Cape Town. My usual bike trailer helpers (Lance and his dad) were both now in arm slings thanks to separate bike accidents. It would be a monumental mission to orchestrate the bike’s pick-up and transfer. First prize would be to ride it out. But how?

Geoff could not drop the whole ride to help me out. I was on my own. There was no cell signal, but Rooiberg did have wifi. I did the only thing I could do: post an S.O.S. on the Wild Dog forum. Within 5 minutes, someone called Ernst Whatsapp-called me and gave me the number of a guy in Oudtshoorn , who would open up his shop and sort me with a battery if I could get there. I did a double-take: the shop, Pit-Stop, was the same place that had helped me out last time when my battery died in Die Hel.

Cecil was my next saving angel. He gave up the third day of the ride in his offer to help ferry me around the next day. His only proviso was that he needed to be home in time to fetch his daughter from the airport (she would land 10pm tomorrow night).

Cecil and I had to forego breakfast in order to get on the road early. It would be a long day. Cecil pillioned me to Oudtshoorn via the fastest route: Rooiberg Pass. I have new respect for pillions who tackle these types of roads. It would have helped if I stood, but (as some may have noticed) I feel deeply uncomfortable standing).

In Oudtshoorn, Blaine from Pit-Stop kindly opened his shop for us. After buying the battery, Cecil lifted me to De Rust, where we found my bike untouched. I prepped the battery (adding acid), then waited for the required half-hour for the acid reactions before sealing the battery. Meanwhile I had the privilege of listening to some of Cecils exploits on his recent 3-month southern Africa trip.

The new battery looked a bit small in comparison to the old Motobatt, but that was not the train-smash. When trying to seat the battery, we realised the terminals were swapped. There was no way the wires would reach. Lance and I had this problem last time with the loaned quad-bike battery and had rectified it with a spare piece of wire and lugs. No such goodies this time. I only had basic tools. Another lesson: no matter if you’re in a group ride, bring all your own tools.

Battery comparison:

Now the clock was ticking. Cecil had a deadline. I phoned Blaine from Pit-Stop and asked whether he’d be willing to prepare a battery of the correct dimension and terminal configuration. He was. I sent him photos of the old and new battery. I also Googled battery dimensions and sent these on.

To save time, Cecil decided that we tow my bike to Oudtshoorn. Then we wouldn’t need to come back to De Rust. Thankfully I had my tow-strap. Yet again I must thank, from the bottom of my heart, JP Hamman, who gave me the tow-strap after reading the ride report of how my battery died in Die Hel - how prophetic! This was the second time I’ve had to use it. The first was when I needed to be towed from Ouberg Pass to Sutherland when a hole got knocked in my radiator, 3 months ago.

Cecil and I were old hands at towing now: he’s towed two 1200s and I’ve been towed once before on a less than forgiving surface. This would be much easier! Cecil found my little 650 to be very light and I found the tar road to be easy and Cecil to be a real gentleman tower - not that Geoff hadn’t been careful when towing me last time!

There were some roadworks between Oudtshoorn and De Rust. While waiting, a bakkie sped up behind us. The flag-waver went quite frenetic; waving the flag behind us, so that we weren’t squashed. The driver of the bakkie was obviously a box of note. He sat on our tail. Soon afterwards, a random biker with pillion (not from our group) on what looked like an 800GS (lava orange) came up behind us, saw that I was being towed, put on his hazards and remained behind us, making sure no cars came close or sat on our tail. I was almost in tears at this point. How nice of this person, who didn’t know me from a bar of soap, to help out. Everyone was being so helpful: Cecil, Blaine and now this random biker. When we got to Pit-Stop, Random Bikers went ahead. I still do not know who they were.

Blaine had prepared not one, but two different batteries in the same size range, so I would definitely be sorted. I picked the largest one that still fit in my battery space. If anyone is ever stranded anywhere near Oudtshoorn, go to Pit-Stop. They are my battery angels.

Cecil and I could finally head home. It was a gruelling ride, but thankfully broken in two parts through a stop at the Country Pumpkin in Barrydale at about 2pm. Cecil and I were ravenous, because until that point we had only had a can of Pringles that Cecil had discovered while we were waiting for the battery acid to cool in De Rust. Cecil wouldn’t even allow me to pay for his lunch! He said it was by choice that he helped me out, so I do not owe him anything. What a real gentleman. I hope to be able to “pay it forward” one day.

I was very glad when Cecil took us home via Du Toitskloof. No matter how tired I am, I have never missed this pass in favour of the tunnel, aside from one time when there was horizontal heavy rain and there were reports of cars aquaplaning. Cecil rode with me until his turn-off at the R300. I’m not sure what time I reached home, but it was late afternoon and it had been a long day: 110km as pillion from Rooiberg Lodge to Oudthoorn to De Rust, 30km towed from De Rust to Oudtshoorn, and a 430km ride from Oudtshoorn to home. I was shattered.

Apparently there had been one more incident on the ride: Hugh had hurt his ankle and bike after a fall. He was in extreme pain, but managed the ride home. Thankfully no broken bones, just a lot of bruising. It had been an eventful ride, but everyone made it back and everyone will be ok in the long run. That is what is important.

My only gripe is that I have now lost all trust in my bike. I can handle snapped levers and a radiator damaged from stones, but this sudden battery death is not fun. I use my bike basically every day, for commuting and trips. I’ve charged the battery 2-3 times using an approved bike charger. There’s no reason for the battery to die so soon. If this issue cannot be diagnosed, I’m not taking this bike on multi-day rides easily again. It will remain my commuter. I cannot sell my first child, even if it is a problem one. But I’m starting to look at a light, nimble bike that can fill the gap between my heavy, but comfy 650 and my light, fun, yet non-roadworthy dirt bike.

Happyfeet's picture
Offline
Joined: 2010/02/12

Yikes, you guys sure have had some battles! Touch wood, I have been super lucky with all the kms I have done, not to have such serious problems ( I have normally been the cause of things going wrong with my bike)!

Thanks for the great ride report. Hope Lance gets better sooner than it seems. Kudos to Cecil too.

Jinx Louw

I don't suffer from insanity, I love every minute of it!

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