Home Editor's Picks Behind the scenes: Kaapstad Motorcycle Tours

Behind the scenes: Kaapstad Motorcycle Tours

by MotoGusto Editor

In issues 67 and 68 of our former title, South East Biker, we published a story of a group of ladies exploring South Africa with Kaapstad Motorcycle Tours. We asked Alex Jackson, the founder and owner, to fill us in on his background and how Kaapstad started.

At fifteen years old of was in awe of my sister’s boyfriend who owned and raced two motorbikes. He didn’t ride on the road but weekends would be spent helping out at “scramble” meetings around the country.  I so wanted to have a go, but these things were massive and it just wasn’t going to happen.  I remember him giving me his old copies of MCN and I would go through them looking at the pictures wishing one day I would own one of these machines.

As I approached 16, I had it in my head that I would buy a Yamaha FS1E with the money I had been saving from odd jobs, pocket money and my paper round.  The big day came. My Mum wasn’t keen on the idea, but had enlisted Ron’s help to help me get a bike.  Finally I would have wheels for the open road.  Turns out I didn’t have enough for a FS1E so I ended up with a….Puch Maxi.  

It didn’t matter, I was mobile.  I went everywhere on that Puch. I have no idea where some of those places are now as I had a dreadful sense of direction and road awareness.  I fell off loads which was probably why, when I was approaching 17 and now with more money, when I suggested getting a 250cc Mum really was not keen at all. In fact she cleverly planted the idea in my head that getting a cheap car would be so much better for socialising.  Well that idea worked, along with a bit of cash to help me come to the decision.  From then bikes were just objects of desire and, judging by the amount of car accidents I had, it was probably just as well.  I managed to bend pretty much every one of my first 5 cars. I thought I was clever passing my test after just three lessons. Turns out there is no substitute for hours of experience on the road!!

Many years passed, along with many dented cars, until in 1996 I lost my Mum very suddenly and my world turn extremely dark.  I was lost in a world of coping with grief and trying to look after my 80 year old Dad who was angry he had been left on his own.

Just before this all happened I had been saving to go on holiday with my long term friend Ian. We had already visited Japan and we had the urge to see more of the world other than the little market town of Leighton Buzzard.  However, I was in no fit state or had any desire to travel anywhere at that time, but Ian came up with an idea that was to change my life.  “Why don’t you take your motorcycle licence then we can travel on bikes?”  I still wasn’t over enamoured with the idea, but went along with it as it was only a one week’s crash course and he had lent me a SR125 to clock up some hours.  Ive often though it should be referred to as a “How not to crash course”  The other bonus of course was that my Mum couldn’t tell me off now!

I passed and was soon keen to get my first proper motorcycle.  Luckily Ian was in the bike trade with his own workshop and also did a bit of buying and selling of motorbikes.  Who else would I turn to for help on this?  I remember the day he drove down my road and pulled up outside my house with a Honda CX500 on the trailer.  It had been totally black hammerited, with a floor to ceiling Rickman fairing attached that made it look like a shed door.  “ You do buy some crap” I said. “what the hell are you going to do with that?”  “ It’s yours” said Ian.  DOH!!!!   “Park it down the road before anyone sees it” was my rapid reply.

In fairness, it was a sound bike once I had stripped all the rubbish from it, and for £300 was a bargain. Especially as it came with an extra fuel tank and side panels.  It was to become my first project and it got painted polished and loved to bits.  

Let the travelling begin.  Ok so we didn’t do any round the world trips but we did go to Swanage – A LOT!  It was more difficult now as I was still trying to look after Dad. 

Just two years after passing my test I went to South Africa for the first time. Just a week, but wow my life was to take another new turn. I had a KLR650 for a day and I was hooked. Riding in and around Cape Town is like nothing you will find in UK. I would return as often as finances would allow, which was actually quite a lot as I had somehow managed to stumble into a job that paid me ridiculous amounts of money for reasons I still haven’t worked out today.  

In 2004 my personal circumstances changed, which meant I was able to focus on me more.  As a child I had been raised on a TV diet of Tarzan, Daktari and stacks of Sir David Attenborough docs.  I loved wildlife and wanted to learn more about it all. Other than when I was learning Karate for eighteen years, I had never really studied anything since school. Even then, I am not sure I really paid much attention.   Anyway I managed to find a place in South Africa (I had tried Kenya but it was way too expensive) that ran Game Ranger Courses.  I enrolled on my first course which was just twelve days long, purely to use it as a holiday. I simply loved the fact that these courses were run on practical learning.  I struggle to learn from books, but if I can get on the ground and get amongst the subject, then I am winning. I loved that wildlife course so much I ended up doing it a further four times over the year. I even got offered a full time job on a reserve (Twice)  but simply couldn’t take it due to UK commitments.  I did, however, manage to get the reserve owners to agree to let me work there as and when I could on a casual basis. 

All this time I was still playing on motorbikes around South Africa. I was thinking that I really wanted to spend more time in Africa and riding.  I knew that I didn’t want to be in the corporate world forever as it was strangling me. I had been working for a major Network Solutions company and I won’t lie, I loved working there, but my job was done. I had set up the Facilities and Security side for the business but it was getting a bit samey.  I was asked to go to work for a company in London. A fashion company of all things. Some of you won’t be surprised having seen my up to the minute dress sense…… OK maybe not!  I dealt with the security situation that I had been asked to solve but really, me and the fashion world, it was never going to last. One day having mentioned a concern to my director I was told “That’s the way it is, you will have to get used to it.”  Guess what?  Three days later I was back in the bush. Unemployed, but now taking clients for bush walks and game drives on the game reserve. 

Why Kaapstad?  It means Cape Town in Afrikaans. It also works in Dutch and German. I had hope to find an African name for the business that would mean Adventure or Exploring but having asked many of my Zulu, Khoisan, Swazi etc friends and taken on board all their suggestions; it was never going to work if I couldn’t pronounce them!  

At this point I knew that I was going to make a massive change in my lifestyle.  I had been out to SA with mates and ridden bikes around the Garden Route area a couple of times.  Lightbulb moment. Why not see if I can bring more people out which would fund me doing what I love doing? Riding bikes and being amongst wildlife. 

Back in time to my sister’s boyfriend Ron was now her husband. He had recently retired from owning Ron Humphey’s Motocross.  We had a chat and he and my sister Eileen became convinced that I could do this.  So was born Kaapstad Motorcycle Adventure Tours Limited.  

Why Kaapstad?  It means Cape Town in Afrikaans. It also works in Dutch and German. I had hope to find an African name for the business that would mean Adventure or Exploring but having asked many of my Zulu, Khoisan, Swazi etc friends and taken on board all their suggestions; it was never going to work if I couldn’t pronounce them!   

One thing we did agree on from the start is that we were going to do this properly. No mickey mouse trips flying by the seat of our pants.  We would build a reputation that would make clients want to come back again and again.  I want to sell South Africa, not just motorcycle riding. South Africa has had its share of bad press and some of it is totally valid. However, you will still be greeted with a smile. I doubt anyone has ever been to South Africa and failed to feel its energy. A feeling that will stay with you for the rest of your life, encouraging you to return and discover even more. It’s a very diverse country with ever changing landscapes, its multitude of cuisines and eleven official languages. It was once described as “A World in One Country”. Trust me, that description fits perfectly.

When I first started running commercial tours, I had just one route, the Garden Route.  Simple, beautiful and offering a bit of everything to the first time explorer.  The first tours were done on KTM 990’s loaned from KTM Cape Town.  I soon realised that this particular bike wasn’t maybe the best to offer as the only option.  We get people on tour who are not 6ft tall.  I have always said that I will never put a brand of motorcycle against my business. Quite simply, because this trip is the customers!  They shouldn’t be told what to ride. They should have the choice. We now offer the BMW GS range, KTM 790 adv, Honda Africa Twin and sometimes Triumph Tigers, depending availability.  

Our clients come from a varied selection of the touring market.  I would have to say that most are 40+ years even up to a recent chap who was 84 years old.  So much of it is about mindset, I think.  The tours we run today are aimed at the people who want to experience Southern Africa and not just ride flat out everywhere.  I would say that Kaapstad Tours offer Holidays on Motorcycles.  The word Adventure in my opinion has been hijacked by the super macho wannabe hero type, that are only interested in showing off themselves rather than giving the client a true experience of the country. Clients that come with us need no special skills other than competence and good road craft.  Even the gravel roads we use are perfectly ridable by those new to motorcycling. 

Our tour range covers the whole of South Africa and also into Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). We can offer ten day, twelve day and twenty day trips in different parts of the country on set dates to suit the weather patterns.  There will hopefully be a new tour covering the Eastern Cape and KZN by the end of the new year in 2021.

I am a firm believer that if you are in a position like myself then you also have a fantastic opportunity to “give back” into the cultures and communities that we visit.  In 2017 Kaapstad Tours organised “Ride for Rhinos” where we were able to donate almost £15,000 to anti-Poaching projects. This particular ride saw motorcycles enter Kruger National Park for the very first time. Since then we have included that segment into our Kudu Tour, a ten day Motorcycle Safari.

In 2019, in partnership with BMW Motorrad South Africa, we were able to donate £6,000 to a project that saw the upgrade of the communication system in Kruger National Park.   In April 2021 it is my intention to lead another Ride for Rhinos from Cape Town north through Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Eswatini, in a bid to raise 1,000,000.00 South African Rand for conservation Projects in these countries. These will include anti-poaching and a tree planting project in Namibia.  We have a voice, let’s be heard. 

Kaapstad Motorcycle Tours is now solely owned by myself, after Ron and my sister Eileen decided that they really did want to be retired. I now run it with help from my very clever wife Tanya who also just happens to be a Senior Travel Consultant.   

The 2020 calendar is looking a bit uncertain with the obvious cancellation of many shows around the UK.   We do have bookings made for September and October so we are holding out to see if they can go ahead.  If not….we’ll have loads for next year  

Details of all tours can be found at kaapstadmat.com and our Facebook Page Kaapstad Motorcycle Tours and Safaris.

Details on Ride for Rhinos 2021 can be found on Facebook – Friends of Ride for Rhinos.  More info on that via email r4r@kaapstadmat.com

#kaapstad #kapstaadmotorcycletours #motorcyclesouthafrica #kaapstadmat #motogusto

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