While dedicated bus and minibus taxi lanes help some high occupancy vehicles get to the CBD faster, the only other commuters who get to whizz past private vehicles are motorcyclists. When the rest of Cape Town is stuck in peak-hour traffic, widely accepted to be the worst in the country, motorcyclists can negotiate the gridlock by virtue of their size or lack thereof.
Although motorcyclists enjoy freedom in congested areas, they also take on more risk. There are many who know the dangers of navigating pileups, being cut off by drivers of cars who don’t signal when changing lanes – a particularly hazardous habit with sometimes fatal consequences – or getting caught between lanes while waiting for traffic If you take sufficient precautionary measures, motorcycling as a commute alternative can lead to massive savings and less time caught in congestion. lights at intersections to change. Operators of larger vehicles often cite motorcyclists’ lack of conspicuousness as a reason for collisions.
The risk is high especially in urban areas, where the highest likelihood of a collision is at speeds of between 60 and 80 km/h. Arrive Alive says most accidents happen when speeds are even lower, around 34 km/h, which is more-or-less what you’d be doing when traffic volumes are high.
But with congestion sky high, and the price of fuel rising almost every month, perhaps it’s time that those who still want the freedom of traveling privately do so on two wheels. In the view of some experts, this need not be a hazardous experience.
Hein Joncker, founder of the Motorcycle Safety Institute of South Africa and Arrive Alive motorcycle safety expert, says that the majority of the 214 reported accidents involving motorcycles across South Africa can be attributed to excessive speed, alcohol and a lack of skill. Even though there are instances of just the rider and motorcycle being involved in an accident, through perhaps error of judgement, the majority of motorcycle accidents involve collisions with other vehicles.
“Alcohol gives riders an often fatal mixture of ignorance and arrogance. They become arrogant enough to think that they can operate their bikes safely at speed and are ignorant of the fact that they do not have sufficient skill to do so in the first place,” Joncke says.
Although the risk and accident statistics might be frightening, if you have a level of mechanical sympathy, can drive a manual car, are able to ride a bicycle, and wouldn’t touch a drop of alcohol before operating a vehicle, then you might well be one of the many people interested in using a motorcycle for the daily slog to work and back.
“I am personally passionate about using motorcycles and scooters from 300cc and larger as a commuting alternative, and I remain convinced that if we can overcome people’s fears with rider training and the right choice of motorcycle, we can see a marked increase in two-wheel commuting,” says Andrew Thompson, owner of Mike Hopkins Motorcycles.
From a financial point of view, the savings over a modern, average-sized family sedan or hatchback are effectively half. With the current R12.81 price for a litre of unleaded fuel, and the average fuel consumption of light vehicles around 7 litres/100 km, the average commuter trip by motorcycle could use up to half the amount of fuel over the same distance, stretching your income quite a bit further.
Commuter motorcycles that are able to keep up with other traffic at freeway speed, where necessary, typically cost upward of R20 000, depending on brand and style and these smaller engine bikes can also nudge close to R100 000. Learning to ride from scratch will cost you many hours of good rider training, which start at around R250 per hour. There’s a saying in motorcycling circles that ‘you pay as much for a helmet as you think your head is worth’, but there are more affordable options that will set you back between R3 000 and R6 000. In general, it’s not a great idea to be riding in sandals and shorts, so adequate protective gear is highly recommended and as with helmets, prices vary.
From a time perspective, there are similar savings, as motorcyclists are allowed to straddle lanes where there are no solid lines. Given that in peak-hour traffic flow bikes can legally get up to an average of around 20 km/h higher than the traffic they’re passing, this means getting to work almost twice as fast as those commuting by car.
If you’re strongly considering two wheels, bear in mind when choosing a motorcycle what it will be used for.
Wernich Stipp, of BMW Donford Motorrad, says that while they tend to enjoy a more affluent enthusiast base, there will be something aimed at commuters soon. “We have a new range of motorcycles coming in later this year, a single-cylinder 310cc, which will be more affordable than our usual range of tourers and sports bikes.”
If you’re a first-time rider, the Motorcycle Safety Institute (www.msi.org.za) provides a list of accredited and recommended training academies. There are also several city dealerships that may offer what you’re looking for on two wheels.
Mike Hopkins Motorcycles, 79 Roeland Street – stockists of Triumph and Kawasaki motorcycles and Sym scooters. There’s a lot of choice on offer here from very light inner-city scooters, to track-ready motorcycles.
BMW Donford Motorrad, 112 Buitengracht Street -- these BMW bikes run the full gamut of motorcycle culture, from superbikes to the legendary touring-ready GS models. Coffee connoisseurs are also catered for with a branch of Tribe coffee within the concept store.
Mekor Honda, 33 Jack Craig Street, Foreshore – the Japanese brand has been making motorcycles for as long as it’s been making cars, and makes some of the very best in the business.
Big Boy Cape Town, corner Loop and Strand Streets – this is a proudly South African company that stocks a wide variety of commuter bikes, scooters, and even commercial vehicles.
Harley Davidson Cape Town, 2 Hospital Street, Green Point – the famous American manufacturer of some of the world’s most iconic motorcycles.