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A trip within a trip

The problem with the wonderful Western Cape wine estates, according to Jim Freeman (as he sat astride a Suzuki SV650), is that the best of them are situated along the finest motorcycling roads the province has to offer …

“Are you not scared of falling?” is one of the questions I am often asked by people who don’t understand the passion a serious biker has for life on two wheels. Of course I am scared of falling. It hurts like blazes and the pain gets worse when you get older; your bones and muscles (and all the rest, including ego) don’t recover as quickly as they did when you were young.

But it is impossible to explain to someone who has never been astride a motorcycle that falling off the damn thing is inevitable. All you can do as a rider to avoid trawling the soils of Mother Africa is minimise the circumstances of risk. Such as drinking and riding.

How, though, can you do this when you climb on to a bike such as the wonderful Suzuki SV650 lightweight sport roadster to explore Franschhoek? The roads in the region are stupendous but you cannot **really** enjoy Franschhoek if you are not sampling its magnificent food and beverages in some over-the-legal-limit abundance.

One of the few things that compares in awfulness to being wheeled into casualty is being booked into the holding cells of a police station because you’ve failed a breathalyser test at a roadblock. Checking in to the La Petite Ferme estate on the lower slopes of Franschhoek Pass for a weekend of oeno-debauchery, with the still-ticking Suzuki parked in the shade for the rest of the day, was a far more pleasant experience.

Perhaps the greatest joy of being a travel / roadtrip journalist is that I frequently get two chances to experience some of the finer things life has to offer. I had been at La Petite Ferme (www.lapetiteferme.co.za) over a year ago when new owners announced they were completely refurbishing the venerable property.

I made a note to check with general manager Riaan Kruger if I could return for a weekend stay at some time in the future when the proposed vineyard suites had been built and – glory be! – the time had come. By a happy confluence of circumstance, my visit coincided with picking up the bike from Suzuki South in Cape Town, the rebranding of Haute Cabriere (a few hundred metres from La Petite Ferme) and my discovery of the Franschhoek Wine Tram.

It was too early to go through to my suite, so I dropped my leathers and helmet, hoisted my camera-bag, and set off downhill to Haute Cabriere. “Call us when you are finished,” I was told before I set out, “and we’ll send someone to pick you up.”

I was already in an extremely cheery mood. The ride from Stellenbosch had been invigorating and I had come the scenic, roundabout route to Franschhoek as I got to know the little Suzuki. I say “little” because it is a compact bike built around a feisty liquid-cooled 650 cc V-twin engine whose power output (56 kW at 8,500 rpm) and torque (64 Nm at 8,100 rpm) make this something of a city pocket-rocket and a confident sprinter on the twisty roads of the Winelands.

Ideally, I would have to be slightly shorter (I am 1.89 m) to be most comfortable on the bike but, since I only suffered a twinge of cramp in the back of my right thigh after 30 km of peak-hour traffic, perhaps I am being churlish!

While I felt I might be a bit tall for the Suzuki, I never felt I was too hefty or that it was under-powered in whisking my 102 kg body (with a 22 kg camera-bag on my back) first through the vineyards and orchards of Elsenburg and then into Ida’s Valley en route to Helshoogte.

The SV650 is no newcomer to the market but has been one of the best-sellers in the Suzuki mid-size road bike range since 1999, during which time it has been compared favourably with the likes of the old 600 cc Ducati Monster but also, more recently, the offerings by Kawasaki and Yamaha in the segment. It has always had a pared-down “naked” look but this is even more accentuated in the current edition.

So it looks and sounds sexy – no need to fit an after-market pipe on this baby – but does it deliver in a corner? It proved (initially on Helshoogte and later in the weekend on the Franschhoek Pass itself) that it is not only pretty, it puts out.

Yes, my extra height and weight made for some over-steer in the tighter bends, but this was easily corrected by being a little more placid in my riding style (using less counter-steer). Never once, though, did I get the feeling that I could high-side even when taking the faster, more aggressive sweeps.

I made it back to La Petite Ferme in time for a refreshing shower – the first two weeks of February have been a stinker in the Winelands, with temperatures regularly rising above 40 ˚C – and a spectacular sunset over the Groot Drakenstein mountains. My fellow guests basked in the golden light, generally with glasses of bubbly in their hands, while I contemplated dinner and the next day.

The Franschhoek Wine Tram has been around for a couple of years and it is one of those things that I promise to experience “one day” but never get round to … I’m sorry it has taken so long because it is the **perfect** way to explore Franschhoek and its **vignerons**, almost all of which are top-quality. It’s pricy but far more pleasant and cost-effective than a trip to hospital or brush with the law.

The method is simplicity itself: you buy a ticket for a designated route – red, yellow, blue, green, whatever – and visit the estates along that route. It is a hop-on hop-off service that stop at an estate every 30 minutes and your guide tells you what time it will return. The trams run with military precision, so it will not wait for you, even if you are still paying your bill or busy in the loo.

Each venue has a wine tasting (or you can order a glass of a specific tipple should you know what you like) and many do tapas-style pairings with their wines. Be aware, though, that the drinks and pairings are additional expenses. You can pre-book by visiting www.winetram.co.za or buy tickets at the Franschhoek Wine Tram kiosk in the village.

The first port of call of my tram was Haute Cabriere. I had a magnificent breakfast omelette at La Petite Ferme before taking the now-familiar road to catch my boozy-Über. Naturally, I partook of the Pierre Jourdan **Blanc de Blancs** but, unlike other passengers who showed a willingness to start the wine-tasting experience at a gallop, I held back.

The second stop was Le Lude, next to the Huguenot Memorial. It is one of only two estates in South Africa that focuses solely on producing **Methode Cap Classique** (MCC) wines and its premium offering, Agrafe, is probably the most exclusive MCC in the country. Production is extremely limited (around 300 bottles) and buyers are limited to one bottle each at R1,790.00.

The next morning, I did a breakfast run over the Franschhoek Pass to Peregrine Farmstall near Grabouw. The little Suzuki kept growing on me and I tootled along at a fair clip. I am very partial to a 650 cc motor because you are not hanging around while travelling, but neither are you going to hit “warp speed”, which makes a ride a physical and mental challenge and extremely risky. Fuel consumption is also much better than on a superbike or cruiser and the SV650 did not disappoint. I figured I could get significantly more than 300 km on the 13.8-litre tank.

I returned to Franschhoek just before lunch, in time for a visit to the Franschhoek Beer Company with an old mate – sacrilege in such a posh wine-producing region, I know, but every now and then one just **has** to have a pie and a pint!

Our bike: Suzuki SV650

Engine:                  Four-stroke, liquid-cooled DOHC 90˚ V-twin

Displacement:        645 cc

Maximum power:  56 kW @ 8,500 rpm

Maximum torque:  64 Nm @ 8,100 rpm

Transmission:        six-speed constant mesh

Length:                  2,140 mm

Width:                   760 mm

Height:                   1,090 mm

Wheelbase:            1,445 mm

Gross weight:         197 kg (with ABS system)

Seat height:            785 mm

Price:                      R90,900

We like: Extremely good-looking and sounding. Lovely riding position. Narrow chassis. Versatile and good value for money.

We do not like: A bit “plasticky”. Very limited luggage-carrying capacity (this is not a criticism as it is not a touring or adventure bike).

RoadTrip rating: 80%