What goes clunk when it should go splash?

Blog 12 by Mick: What goes clunk when it should go splash?


Stellenbosch, our destination for the following evening, is just 30kms north of Somerset West up the main road, but going that way would be pretty boring with so many other great options available. So we started off that morning riding south, in the completely opposite direction of our destination.

R44, known as Clarence Drive, is a beautiful road hugging the shoreline in much the same vein as the Great Ocean Road in Vic, and is quite famous in this region for its fun corners and its ocean views. It lived up to the reputation. We rode past many a biker giving his sports bike a bit of a twist of the right arm, which made me pine for my (now long sold) MV Agusta. Never mind, the 80’s tech dirt tractor DR650 was fun enough, plus the views were great and soon enough we were presented with many great photo opportunities.


It was a great day to be riding Clarence Drive


Lovely views of the Atlantic


We stopped for brunch in Kleinmond, but quickly found that the café we were in only served coffee and cake. Considering the venue was Tanya’s choice it should have rung alarm bells – “Ah shame! They only do cake! Oh well we are here now :)”. Leaving the café a little sick after 2 coffees and a large slice of quite reasonable baked cheesecake, we headed east and then north and after some dirt back-roads we hit the tar twisties of Viljoens and then Franshoek Pass. The vantage point at the top gave us great views of Franshoek and its wineries.


Some dirt roads coming to the bottom of Viljoens Pass


On the edge of Theewaterskloof Dam before going over Franshoek Pass


View of Franshoek from the top of the pass. You can hear the local poppies from all the way up here. “Ahg shame!”


We stopped for a very late lunch at Grande Provence, one of Franshoek’s more well known wineries and we were not disappointed. After parking our bikes a little worried that Winery Security must surely be mobilised and we stinky bikers were about to be forcefully escorted from the property, we settled in for a wine tasting and some food. We got a little more tipsy than one really should when travelling by motorbike, so ended up staying for a couple hours. Nevertheless, it was quite interesting to observe the more affluent echelons of South African society after some of the sobering places we had been recently.


The driveway for Grande Provance. “I don’t know if we should keep going? The might shoot us on sight?”


Tan and some wine tasting


It was a pretty decent way to spend an afternoon


And there was funky art in the garden. This horse statue made of old car tyres was worth a photo


We arrived at Danie and Sara’s after riding 193km (my GPS counted for me) to finish up about 30km from our start point, and were welcomed with great conversation, great wine and a great meal of South African specialties. Danie, a member of the Wild Dogs adventure riding forum in South Africa, had invited us after we had introduced ourselves there are about 2 months previous. Little did we know at the time that if we had been on BMW’s we may well have been walking into a trap, but thankfully the humble Suzi’s, while certainly no Yamaha, were acceptable enough for Danie to permit them to stay inside the gate for the evening.

We woke a little late and a little lacking energy after such a late and well lubricated evening, and tried to muster some energy to get moving. We failed. Danie had a very nicely setup workshop so I knocked off a few little maintenance jobs that were still to be done – adjusted my valve clearances, fixed my horn which hadn’t worked since the whack the bike got on the Wild Coast, plus a few little odds and ends. We did finally hit the road quite late in the afternoon, but not before organising with Danie and Sara a return visit to continue some discussions on riding in Angola, have a braai, and meet some of their friends.

We made our way down to Cape Town thankful that the traffic was pretty casual on a Sunday evening, and met Hannah and Steve, kids of our friends Beth and Pete back in Howick. They had kindly offered to accommodate us in Rondebosch for a couple days while we sorted out some issues with our bike paperwork and saw the place.


One handy feature of our pannier bags, a bottle of wine fits nicely in the front water bottle holder


Our bikes are still registered back in Western Australia and are in essence just holidaying in Africa like we are. To do this they travel on a kind of passport for vehicles, a Carnet de Passage, which allows us to temporarily import and export the bikes for personal use without incurring any duty. It’s a pretty simple document with 3 parts, an importation voucher that goes to customs when the bike is brought into the country, an exportation voucher that customs takes when the bike exits the country, and a counterfoil which stays with the Carnet that shows when and where the bikes have been.

Sadly, when the bikes entered the country through Jo’burg airport, customs hashed up the importation. Tanya’s Carnet had the importation voucher filled out but not taken and counterfoil was uncompleted, whereas my Carnet had the counterfoil completed correctly but both the importation and exportation vouches were taken. On face value it looked to us that Tanya’s bike was never properly imported whereas mine could well be already exported.

We needed to sort this out, and Cape Town was our last and realistically best chance. South Africans will freely admit that their bureaucratic systems are not particularly robust, however in the Western Cape they tend to work a bit better then elsewhere in the country. Hopefully Cape Town customs could resolve the issue.

We battled our way into town, parked on the footpath and got to the customs office without too much hassle. After clearing security where we were asked to declare our sidearms (“err what? like a gun?”) we settled in for a long wait. Thankfully the process wasn’t quite as painful as I was expecting, although to be fair I was expecting very painful – maybe that’s why they asked me to hand in my pistol before letting me in? Anyway, there was the usual ‘no you need to talk to so and so’ and when asking them ‘no you need to ring this person’ type handballing, but after bouncing around between a few people, leaving and coming back 2 hours later because the person we now needed was out for lunch, then talking to them and getting yet another contact in Pretoria, we finally got to talk to the person we needed and they were very helpful. It seems Carnets being filled out incorrectly is a common occurrence as she was not at all surprised and had the issue resolved quickly and efficiently. An awesome result.

Since arriving in Africa, Tanya has had a broken filling that she has been avoiding fixing to the very limits of her highly developed procrastination skills, however with Cape Town being the last proper city for while she finally succumbed to the discomfort of the dentist chair. She was able to get a temporary crown put in, but with our visa ending so soon there wasn’t enough time to get a permanent crown built. So the fix would have to be put off once again until probably Windhoek in Namibia.

With Tan still grumpy and a bit numb from the run-in with the tooth torturer, we made our way back into the city to look around and do some touristy stuff. My anxiety levels were pretty high the day previous with the bikes parked downtown for the entire day and that was something I wasn’t keen to repeat, so we decided to try the public transport system instead.

Let’s just say catching the train was an eye-opener. It wasn’t the lack of air conditioning or the general untidiness of the ageing carriage which was surprising. It was the abundance of stickers advertising the likes of home abortions (yep, really), penis enlargements, treatment for premature ejaculation, tender submissions, contract evaluation, unfair dismissal conflict resolution, how to win back your lost love in 4 days and other crazy crap. And often all offered and performed by the same doctor/contract lawyer/miracle worker/life coach/hack scammer scumbag. Some areas of the carriage were basically wall papered with these ads.

Made me wonder…… who on earth would be sitting on some grubby train on the way to work thinking “that cream from the bus stop just left me with a nasty itch and my willy definitely hasn’t doubled in size, in fact I think it hasn’t grown at all! I wonder if there is a better way??? Mmmmm I wonder??? Oh hang on what’s this? Dr Jaju’s penis enlargements? Wow he sounds legit, and 100% guaranteed! and he can re-write my resume and give me some interview training while I wait. What a pro!”

Surely people don’t fall for that shit? Surely… and surely the Police would be interested in tracking down Dr Jaju and his backyard abortion clinic and the Municipality would want to remove the very public advertisements? It wasn’t a great look for Cape Town.

I think Tan had jimmied the doors open, alighted and was making a mad dash for the relative safety of downtown Cape Town (scary thought) before the train had even really started to slow down. We made our way towards Bo Kaap, a famous street of colourful houses built by indentured Malay labourers. On the way there we stumbled upon a famous hipster café called Clarkes, which did sadly watery micro-brew beer but one of best sandwiches I’ve ever had. I know that’s a pretty big call as we’ve all had the odd sandwich in our lifetimes, but here goes – it was slow cooked pulled pork, melted mozzarella cheese and kimchi on bread fried in butter. Nom noms.


Bo Kaap. Paint some houses pretty colours and bam – instant tourist attraction


Back to the beer though, and I can say this now that we are safely across the border in Namibia and can avoid the ramifications of such a declaration of war, but South African beer was a bit of a let down. Common lagers like Castle or Hansa are very much the same as any mass-produced beer like our common ones back in Oz; that was no surprise. But at every opportunity there was to try something a bit different I did, from the micro-brewery at Nieu-Bethesda to Stellenbosch restaurants and Cape Town hipster café’s with local craft brews on tap, and never managed to find a good gutsy ale.   Maybe I wasn’t looking in the right places, but I tried everything I could find (often a few times to be sure) and my expanding beer gut is testament to that. There is definitely a market here for a good master brewer to set up a craft brewery.

Tan and the worlds best sandwich. Even she thought the beer wasn’t so good


The other repercussion of the unsatisfactory beer was that I then went to our next engagement sober. We arrived at the Mount Nelson Hotel where I was excitingly told that some sort of semi-famous TV person had also gone for high tea once upon a time. Can’t remember now, Opara or Ohpra or some bloody thing. Whatever. I sat there pretty bored while Tan ordered the high tea option that included champagne, which was pretty good of her. To be fair the place was pretty flash, the staff were very attentive, the food and nibbly things were excellent, as was the champers and tea. It’s just that those types of places aren’t really for me; just not my cup of tea, so to speak. Tan loved it though, and for everyone’s info, to get home we used the safety of a taxi…


Tan is happy


I’m bored


Tan doesn’t care, she is really very happy


With our customs and dentist chores complete, it was time to get our tourist chores done and see some more of Cape Town, and then get the hell out of Dodge as our visa was rapidly evaporating. We hopped on the bikes and had a good look through town, had another spectacular pulled pork sanga at Clarkes (the beer was still underwhelming though, I checked again to be sure – I’m thorough like that), did Table Mountain the cheat’s way (up and down the cable car), plus Signal Hill and Lion’s Head.


The cable car to Table Mountain

Great views from the top – Table Mountain rises to over 1000m above sea level.

View of Cape Town from the top


We rode to Camps Bay and then onwards down the Chapman’s Peak Rd, which was fantastic and well worth the R40 toll. We were keen to get all the way to Cape Point but we were running out of time and we had places to be – places that had beer and meat and good red wine. There is a lot more to Cape Town than what we saw but cities, even ones as nice as Cape Town, aren’t really our thing. So, happy that we had enjoyed our short time and seen enough to get a feel for the place, we packed up, said our goodbyes to Hannah and Steve and made our way back up to Stellenbosch.


Chapman’s Peak Rd south of Cape Town


It was a pretty cool road, closed for a number of years and re-opened a couple years back mainly as a tourist attraction


The fire was cracking and the beers flowing by the time and we belatedly arrived at Danie and Sara’s house for a braai with their friends. They had invited some riding buddies and other travelling types to come over for the occasion. It was a fantastic evening of great food washed down by a number of bottles of the local produce. We poured over maps of Namibia and Angola discussing interesting offroad routes through Kaokoland and north of the Cunene River. I have read over the years a couple reports about the Doodsakker and have always been dead keen to do it; Tanya was coming along whether she wanted to or not. It was invaluable to sit down with people who had firsthand knowledge and discuss the risks of the route, of which there are a number of rather significant ones. Little issues such as the 700kms between fuel stops, the complete lack of civilisation, and the itty bitty fact that the most treacherous part of the route is only open at low tide and is known to eat vehicles that don’t get out in time. See sounds like fun!


Some pretty big pieces of cow were cooked up


Waking the following morning was a real mission, a good sign that the night before was a great success. I had planned a busy but achievable route through the Cederburg and Tankwa Karoo to Sutherland then up to Botswana for the coming 5 days. I wanted to knock off the last of our SA “must do” list before being forced out of the country. At some stage I mentioned to Danie that the bikes were due for a service and he suggested I do it in the convenience of his driveway – he has a drum to store sump oil and gets a small sum of money from the recyclers when its disposed of. Knowing that I wasn’t encumbering anyone with 5l of old oil, I went for a quick ride to the local auto store for supplies.

Loosening the sump plug, I pulled my hand away quickly and heard a good sharp “clunk” as the oil went into the pan. Oh shit. Oil doesn’t go clunk. Oil goes splash, it always goes splash. Oil. Does. Not. Clunk. I had a look at the magnet on the sump plug and was greeted with slivers of steel. Lots of them. Oh shit, this is not good; in fact, this is very, very bad.


Oh shit


I stuck my hand into the warm sump oil and fished around for the offending piece, and pulled out a broken tooth. It looked like a gearbox tooth to me, although there are a fair few gears in a motor so technically it could be a lot of things. I called over, “Hey Danie do you mind if stay over for a few more days” and showed him the oil covered tooth. Now Danie might ride a Yamaha but he is still a decent bloke, and he was more than happy to accommodate us unemployed and now immobile itinerant foreigners.


The tooth


Tan had been out picking up some supplies for our coming days riding and returned only just a few minutes after we discovered the gear tooth. The reality of it all was starting to sink in as she walked over and saw the concern on our faces. “We aren’t going anywhere” I told her and passed her the tooth.

We considered the options. Forget about it and keep going came to mind, although was quickly eliminated as not really a valid option, more of an ignorant disregard of reality. I was lucky enough to be given a free-motor-life by the gearbox tooth fairy, as the broken tooth came out in the oil and did not lodge in the gear cluster, which would instantly result in complete motor annihilation. Another significant probability was that with one tooth broken there was more soon to break off. Doing nothing when we have still so far to go was not an option.

Getting someone else to fix it was also considered, but paying people to do things when we have no jobs and no income isn’t really an awesome plan either. Back in Oz, paying a mechanic to strip and rebuild a motor would easily turn into thousands of dollars, and doing that for a cheap bike seems a bit like polishing a turd, or putting My Family stickers on the back of a Nissan X-Trail; i.e. a pretty poor use of our limited resources.

The final option was to strip and fix the motor then and there. While I’ve never rebuilt a motorcycle motor, I have stripped and rebuilt a few car motors with my old man. So with access to Danie’s well set out shed, the service manual, and my fairly passable knowledge of how motors work, I figured it was the best course of action and set to it.

It was about this time I figured I better ask Danie what he actually did for a living. I knew he ran his own business, which is common in South Africa, and he did it from home. But that was the limit of my knowledge and seemed plenty sufficient considering we always had much more interesting topics of discussion; such as types of motorbikes, riding motorbikes, and places to ride motorbikes. So when he mentioned that he was a motor mechanic I was mightily surprised, and thankful (again) to the gearbox tooth fairy that of all the places for something so significant to break, to do it in the driveway of a motor mechanic in wine country was pretty fortunate!

I had the motor out and sitting on the bench in pretty good time. With Danie taking the lead, we took the side covers off, and when we couldn’t see any damage, stripped the head and then split the cases. I came to realise pretty quick that while the basic principle of car and bike motors is the same; the layout is significantly different and I was thankful to have Danie show the way.


When taking the motor out by yourself, its easier to tip the bike over first


The flywheel and all the starter gears were fine. On the clutch side however, the primary drive gear was loose on the thread. Researching this online, apparently they can come from the factory this way. Scary thought.


Bit of blow-by past the first ring


This looks important; we better remember where this one goes.


Eyeballing the gearbox cluster, we soon found driven 5th gear was the source of the problem with one tooth snapped off, a couple more teeth looking very sad, and lots of wear also on drive 5th. Both drive and driven 3rd weren’t looking too flash either and with the DR’s reputation for disintegrating 3rd gears leading to catastrophic motor failure, that was added to the required spare parts list.


Broken tooth on driven 5th, the one on the left


Inspecting driven 3rd


Close up of the broken tooth


And a close up of driven 3rd. The hardening is coming off.   A number of teeth on both sides of 3rd and 5th had damage like this


While this was all happening, Tan was looking into the visa issue as ours now only had 4 days left. What we had been told was that if we could get out of the country for a day or two, or according to some even just a couple minutes, we could re-enter with a new tourist visa and we would get anywhere between 30 and 90 days depending on the mood of the immigration officer. We booked a hire car for pick up the next day with a plan to drive to Namibia, and cooked some dinner and dessert to pay the rent.

Back in the shed some phone calls were made and we found that new 5th gears where available in 3 to 4 days, however 3rd gear would be ex-Japan and take about 4 weeks! Another option was to get a custom made billet 3rd gear pair from a gearbox engineering shop in England for the princely sum of about A$500. In comparison the Suzuki gears were about A$150.


Even the dog was worried


Danie thought there could be a 3rd way, as he knew a mate that had a DR650 motor that had been abused to death by a rental client. This motor was brought to the party and stripped, and wouldn’t you know it, 5th and 3rd gear were also worn. Certainly not to the extent mine were, but they were showing all the same signs of deterioration. This wasn’t a long-term solution, so I bit the bullet and bought the Suzuki 5th gears from the dealer and the custom 3rd gears from Nova Racing in England.


An extra job while we waited for gears, I repacked the exhaust cans with stainless steel scouring pads. The idea is they provide nearly as much noise attenuation as proper fiberglass exhaust packing but is much cheaper and lasts much longer


The following day our rough plan was to pick up the car, have Tanya go to her dentist appointment and have a crown made, then pack and hit the road for Namibia and our new visa. Ursina, one of Danie and Sara’s friends from the braai a few days previous, invited us to a wildlife sanctuary she volunteered at. We made time to come say hello to the baby cheetahs and other critters and were on our way when the hire car overheated.

We limped into town, wasted a few more hours getting a new hire car, and arriving at the wildlife sanctuary in the afternoon we received yet more bad news. When chatting to another employee about our predicament, we were informed that now our 90 day tourist visa was complete we may well be denied access if we tried to re-enter the country! She had some family members trying to return and they were facing this problem. We drove straight to a winery to calm down a little and consider our options.

A bat-eared fox at the wildlife sanctuary. These critters have such large ears they can hear bugs crawling around in the ground and then dig them up and eat them. Unfortunately their hearing is so good traffic scares and disorientates them and they are commonly run over. We saw some roadkill bat-eared foxes later in the trip.


A baby cheetah. The main purpose of the sanctuary is to breed and raise cheetahs


Snoozing after a long day of entertaining tourists


Ursina, Tan and I with one of the adult cheetahs


Hello, we would like to drink all the wine please. Yes you heard correct, all of it


With a few bottles of wine came some clarity, and the following morning we got up and set to rebuilding the motor with the second hand gearbox. We had done some research and with no useful information whatsoever on the Department of Home Affairs site, and all other info on the internet so contradictory, we decided we would have to ride the bikes to Namibia. If we could re-enter SA in a couple days we would, and if we couldn’t we would have the gearbox parts and Tanya’s crown couriered to us in Windhoek and we would do the work there. Working all day, the motor was back in the bike before dinner and the bike was started around 9pm. We celebrated with a Sticky Date Pudding and some liqueur for Tanya’s birthday, and tried to get some rest ready for our early start the next day.


Cleaning the stator cover readying for reassembly


Danie made a unsaid statement by wearing a spotlessly clean Yamaha shirt


Torqueing the head down


The donor motor. Its was from a rental bike where the client had overheated the bike riding in sand like a douche noob, then seized the motor redlining the bike down the highway. The piston melted into the bore


Putting the motor back in. I couldn’t get near it for Danie and his friends. Bike started first go

3 Comments on “What goes clunk when it should go splash?

  1. Another great blog with lovely photos & a really interesting narrative. So glad you guys are meeting some people whose generosity is making your journey so much more enjoyable and saving the bacon at the same time. So much about travel is the people you meet along the way. Hoping Etosha is great and as always, looking forward to the next update…

    • Meeting people, and especially Danie and Sara, was a real highlight for us in SA. People were so generous with their time and hospitality.

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