by Vuyi Mpofu
My relationship with motorcycles started out on a Honda NC750X in 2019. Granted, I had had an on / off relationship with motorbikes since 2015 when I first straddled a motorized bike, but it would take the better part of 4 years for me to finally commit to learning how to ride.
After attending dedicated lessons with one of the most celebrated motorcycle instructors in the country – Morag Campbell and finally obtaining my learners license, I was given an NC750X DCT by Honda Motorcycles Southern Africa.
750cc of power had not been in my plans at that stage. Rather, I had pegged myself at the 125cc mark, given that I had only just obtained my learners license and my psyche didn’t extend beyond the power and performance of a pizza delivery vehicle. Thankfully, the powers that be at Honda Motorcycles Southern Africa, namely Riaan Fourie – Divisional Head: Motorcycles Domestic & Power Products, and Cassels Madingwane – National Sales Manager; Motorcycles Division, had a bigger vision for me.
They showed me the newest iteration of their NC 750x model, positioned at new and returning bikers, they detailed how it was the most friendly newbie motorcycle available on the market. What they didn’t know at the time, is that I wasn’t totally convinced by their pitch – not by a long shot, (but read on and you’ll find out why).
Having said that, the only part I totally bought into, was the fact the DCT (automatic) transmission would allow me focus on my riding capabilities, traffic and surroundings without the added pressure of having to ‘search’ for the correct gear at any given time.
Perhaps as a motorist the thought of slipping your bike into the wrong gear is lost on you so let me put it into context.
As a newbie driver, you will recall that stalling a car is at best uncomfortable and embarrassing. On the other hand, stalling a motorcycle is tantamount to slipping on a banana peel and falling in slow motion; complete with an undignified and stupefied look of dazed disbelief while the genesis of comprehension sets in as your body collapses to the ground in an undignified heap of shame. Pretty descriptive I know, but to be honest I have had more than my share or disgraceful dismounts to know what falling of a motorcycle looks and feels like.
Contrary to being on 4-wheels which offers all round balance even when you stall the engine, losing your equilibrium on 2-wheels occurs in 2-distinctive scenarios:
1: Not realizing you have stalled the engine. This commonly happens when you roll to a prescribed stop such as an intersection or traffic light and is the result of either a lack of momentum in collaboration with insufficient throttle.
2: Skipping a gear while in motion.This commonly occurs when you are changing gears from 1stto 2ndbut haven’t put sufficient emphasis on bypassing Neutral (which is positioned between 1stand 2ndgear) resulting in hearing the most unholy scream from your engine; which is loud enough to frighten even the coolest VW Polo driver next to you; above the blare of the latest nonsensical amapiano tune from his pricey audio system, (which usually costs more than the value of his car – full tank included).
Irrespective of the reason for the mishap, hearing the magnificently quizzical response of the incorrect gear input from your normally dutiful engine is the stuff memes are made of. Visualize your engine looking at you inquiringly while you simultaneously look at it – equally perplexed. You get the picture – it’s the look you’ve received a million times from your significant other, only in motorcycle terms, it happens on a public road in the presence of puzzled motorists who think you have lost your mind and are on a death wish, (never mind the fact that they are usually holding a cell phone while driving).
When my Honda NC 750x DCT was ready for collection, I influenced my #littletwinsister – Bongiwe Didiza to collect it for me. Regardless of our age gap and me pulling the older sister do-as-I-say card she probed me as extensively as African culture permitted. As to why I couldn’t collect it myself, the unspoken answer – which I knew she ultimately wanted me to incriminate myself on – was that I was too self-aware to ride my new wheels out of the dealership in the presence of a watchful audience, in case I toppled over within 100metres, due to a nervous disposition.
Bongiwe dutifully delivered the motorcycle to my home and parked it in the garden. In return I treated her to a gourmet vegetarian meal in a guilt-ridden attempt to absolve myself, hopeful that she wouldn’t recite the entirety of the mortifying incident to the rest of the family at the next gathering of the clan.
The NC750x DCT stood in the garden for a full week without so much as being turned on. Each day I woke up and stared at it, questioning the soundness of the chapter I was about to embark on. Apart from my younger brother, Bekumuzi (also an avid motorcycle rider) and Bongiwe, no one in my family knew I had ambitions of motorcycling, let alone that I had a motorcycle.
Being a Black female I knew I had an uphill battle to climb as motorcycling is not considered the domain of a “well-brought-up-African” female. Versus my African culture, motorcycling has little to do with the (old school) idea of a woman being caring, timid, unquestioningly submissive, reserved and family-orientated. Let’s not forget that sitting on a motorcycle requires one to keep their knees apart – which is also not quite how a respectable African woman is raised to position herself in public.
Rather, on the whole, motorcycling is and continues to embody positive delusions of what masculinity is about: respectability, individualism, strength, assertiveness, fearlessness and a (weird) sense of sexuality all of which aim to portray an African male motor biker as being a ‘manly man’. Yawn.
Understandably, my concerns were mostly geared towards my 75-year old mother’s opinions, even though I was determined not be dissuaded from my decision. While she had always encouraged us to follow our dreams, similar to many African mothers who had paid lip service to that standard, I suddenly found myself sceptical that motorcycling may not have been on her radar during any other those heartfelt lectures.
Bear in mind that I was also the instigator of a binding contract with Honda Motors Southern Africa on the one hand while on the other, I was now firmly in the awkward position of having incited a possible emotional skirmish with mother dearest. Feel free to say anything along the lines of a rock and traditionally hard place round about now.
Not sure how to broach the topic, I employed uBekumuzi to do my “dirty” work and bring mum up to speed. Him being 4 years younger than myself didn’t matter at that stage. I knew that she would receive news of my impending motorcycling aspirations better from a man rather than from me, simply based my gender.
Mum didn’t raise an eyebrow when my brother casually informed her that I was taking a detour into the motorcycle arena. However, I would later learn from a trusted relative that she had lamented about my ‘wild sense of independence from an early age as well as on the fact that I remain “husbandless”. Sigh.
That said, either in an attempt to embrace my new found passion or an attempt to appear modern and “with it” the first full tank of full that graced the tank of my Honda NC750x DT was paid for by my mum, much to my siblings amazement and my huge relief. I now had her unspoken blessing and could confidently ride out to conquer the world!
Strengthened by her implicit support, I realised that Honda Motors Southern Africa would not nearly be as understanding if the NC750x DCT continued to kill the grass under its tyres. As I tried to muster up the courage to wheel it out of the garage and onto the road, I received a call from fellow motoring journalist and friend Tumelo Maketekete, who suggested that we embark on a road trip to Lesotho.
Before he could complete his pitch and in keeping with my adventurous nature, I found myself grinning in enthusiastic response and asking when our departure date would be. As you know, I had not so much as ridden around the block on the NC750C DCT, yet somehow, embarking on 582 km cross border trip made complete and utter sense to me. As the saying goes, it was game on.
I’ll tell you all about what transpired next in the upcoming article.