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Tamed by the beast

The recently introduced BMW K1600GTL is a luxury cruiser for the well-to-do rider with a sense of fun. Jim Freeman put the hefty machine through its paces on some of the most beautiful roads in the Western Cape … and found it quite intimidating.

It is not often you will hear me admit to being intimidated by a motorcycle. Sure, I have been in situations on bikes that have left me feeling horribly uncomfortable – and, yes, bones have been broken in some instances – but generally I am quite happy to re-gather my courage and soldier on.

There have, however, been two bikes I have ridden over the past couple of years that have left me queasy after riding them: The Suzuki “naked” GSX-S1000F and, most recently, the BMW K1600GTL. Do not get me wrong. They are both magnificent machines but, if you do not use them for the express purposes for which they were designed, chances are good you are going to get into difficulties.

The Suzuki is made for speed on an open road and its acceleration is such that it comes with multi-mode traction-control. I wimped out and set it at intermediate because the low-sensitivity level – said to be ideal “for sport riding and good road conditions” – left me feeling that I had inevitably go hard up the rear-end of someone when pulling away from a traffic light or stop street.

The same goes for the BMW tourer. It is gorgeous but, weighing in at just over 350 kg and being a metre wide, the K1600GTL is something of a beast and **not** something you want to ride at low speeds or on gravel. If you drop it, you would not get it up again without assistance.

I know this because it happened to me. I was returning from my road trip and was literally outside the door of my cottage. It was dark, and I did not see a patch of pine needles on the ground while I turned into my parking spot. With my feet splayed wide, I used the front brake to stop. In a heartbeat, the handlebars twisted out of my hands and the bike keeled over.

I felt as though I had stood on a banana peel, and there was nothing I could do to keep the bike upright. I did not ride it for the rest of the weekend and, when I had to return it to BMW on Monday morning, I was scared to climb on. I was shaking so much, my clutch-throttle co-ordination was shot, and I was certain I would wash out again.

I am sounding churlish because the actual trip was a dream. Retailing from R261,300, the GTL is undoubtedly a luxury cruiser and I thought I would take it to places where a well-to-do rider with a sense of fun might choose to do a weekend getaway.

Majeka House

In the process, I put the bike through its paces on some of the most beautiful roads in the Western Cape … and at speeds which were ideal for its size and heft. If I think about it, the Beemer is only scary when it is going slowly and that is probably because the rider causes it to wobble. What this baby cries out for is **momentum**!

It was mid-afternoon when I rode into Paradyskloof on the edge of Stellenbosch and the lack of traffic allowed me to reach sensible urban speeds on the way to Majeka House luxury boutique hotel. There were a few nervous moments negotiating “traffic-calming” circles in the middle of intersections because the bike corners unexpectedly sharply. Still, my welcoming glass of wine was enjoyed rather than gulped down.

Majeka, run by the husband and wife team of Karine Dequeker and Lloyd van der Merwe, was last year voted best design hotel by Condé Nast Johansens. The 23 rooms are spread across four categories: premier, garden, poolside, and mountain-view.

Décor is the brainchild of interior design consultant Etienne Hanekom. He was given carte blanche to create something spectacular for the lounge area and bar as well as the lobby area and restaurant. No expense was spared and one of the quirky hallmarks of the place is the proliferation of decorative pigs around the place.

“Karine has collected pigs for many years,” recounts Van der Merwe, “and when Etienne put the big one in the reception area, she started bringing some of her own from home. “The display here took on a life of its own because some repeat visitors would bring little pigs as gifts.”

The number of foreign visitors,” says Dequeker, “are traditionally dominated by those from the United Kingdom and Germany, followed by the Swiss, French, Dutch, and Spanish. The Brazilian and American markets are also growing. However, the local drought, Brexit, and other happenings in Europe have had a huge effect on business.

“Fortunately, we have made a concerted effort to grow our local clientele and we put together very attractive packages that include accommodation, spa treatments, and dining in Makaron restaurant during the Winter months. Essentially, our weekends are fully booked throughout the Winter.” Makaron, with executive head chef Lukas Carstens at the helm, has built up a reputation as one of the finest restaurants in Stellenbosch.

The following morning as I was preparing to head off, I started playing around with the settings of the BMW (I really needed to turn off the almost volcanic heating in the grips and seats) and made two great discoveries. Windscreen rake is electronically adjustable to deflect airflow over riders of different heights and there is a reverse-assist button for manoeuvring backwards up an incline.

It was not long before the straight-six engine was pulling smoothly up Helshoogte before dropping into Franschhoek. I did not bother to stop but went straight over the top of the pass and past Theewaterskloof Dam, which is looking a lot healthier than six months ago.

It was a magnificent morning and the bike was treating the roads with aplomb. I decided I was not yet tired of the mountains, so detoured up Viljoen’s Pass to Grabouw, for a cup of coffee and pie at Peregrine Farmstall.

In for a penny, in for a pound with the mountains, so I pushed on to Caledon and made my way to Hermanus via the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Large swathes of farmland on either side of the road were brilliant-yellow with blossoming canola and blue cranes abounded.

Thatch House

I was knackered when I checked in to Thatch House (midway between Hermanus and Stanford) and my knees fair creaked as I climbed off. It had been a wonderful day’s riding on the perfect bike for the trip.

Thatch House could not be more different from Majeka but is, in its own way, as spectacular. It lies between the Overberg mountains and Hermanus lagoon and is situated amid sprawling gardens that stretches to the water’s edge.

The six-suite property was bought by two Cape Town-based businessmen in 2013 and, after extensive refurbishment, opened as an exclusive-use self-catering villa. The owners decided the business model was not financially sustainable, so it was reborn as a boutique hotel at the beginning of last year.

The two-room family suites are vast and tastefully decorated. The prime attraction for me, however, was a deep bath – something Western Cape locals and visitors have become unused to over the past few years – and just the ticket for soothing muscles after an active day in the saddle. “People come here mainly for privacy and tranquillity,” maintains general manager Terry-Anne Smit. “It is far from the bustle of Hermanus but close enough to easily access the restaurants and activities there.”

The most popular new restaurant in the seaside town is Char’d Grill and Wine Bar, which is essentially a steakhouse but is vegetarian-friendly and has gluten-free options.

A light and tasty lunch of chicken livers preceded the ride back to Stellenbosch along Clarence Drive. Running from Arabella just off the N2, past Kleinmond, Pringle Bay, Rooi Els, and Gordon’s Bay, Clarence Drive is acknowledged as one of the finest seaside rides in the world.

There are a few fast sweeps but for the most part it twists and winds along the Atlantic coastline. Whales are out in force and I pulled the BMW over repeatedly to enjoy their antics. From there it was back home and my ignominious date with Mother Earth. As one of my best friends puts it: “It was a magnificent ride … until I crashed!”

The bike: BMW K1600 GTL

Engine:                             In-line, six-cylinder, four-stroke, four valves per cylinder

Displacement:                  1,649 cc

Maximum power:            118 kW @ 7,750 rpm

Maximum torque:            175 Nm @ 5,250 rpm

Transmission:                  six-speed constant-mesh

Length:                             2,489 mm

Width :                              1,000 mm

Height:                             1,475 mm

Wheelbase:                       1,618 mm

Gross weight:                   350 kg

Luggage space:                117 litres

Price:                                R261,300 (R330,000 as tested)

We like

Adjustable windscreen, keyless operation, Xenon headlights, luggage space, comfortable seats

We do not like

Weight, balance (at low speeds) and width

RoadTrip rating 75%

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