Bonafide Moto Adventure to Sani Pass

A few months ago, a group of us were at The Local Culture in Greenside (South Africa) for our weekly breakfast meetup discussing all kinds of nonsense. Our buddy, Luke, wouldn’t stop going on about how keen he was to do a trip up to Sani in the wintertime. It sounded quite crazy, but I couldn’t shake the idea the rest of the day. We had plans to do a Sani Pass trip in 2018 but we hadn’t actually booked the dates. I woke up the next day with Sani Pass on my mind and I knew we had to make it happen. So that day the ball started rolling.

The last time Bonafide Moto Co went up Sani Pass was two years ago. It was just a few of us that ended up going, we knew nothing about what to expect but we had an absolute blast. This time around we really wanted to open it up to a larger group of people and put together something special.

For this year’s Bonafide Moto Adventure to Sani Pass there were a total of 25 of us who made the trip on a wide range of bikes. There were 17 riders from Johannesburg, 5 from Durban, 2 content creators, 1 medic, and a driver, Jaco, courtesy of Front Runner and their trusty Defender 130 with a trailer, spares, and tools provided by Triumph Motorcycles South Africa. Jaco literally never stopped smiling the whole trip—guess who’s buying a motorcycle now?

We didn’t want to complicate the trip too much and thought everyone should be able to experience as much as possible from our previous adventure so we kept the exact same itinerary as before.

It was a three-night trip that would take us from Johannesburg to Amphitheatre Backpackers for the first night, Sani Mountain Lodge for the second night, and the last night we would spend at Nottingham Road Hotel before heading back home.

The meet-up was relatively early for our departure on Thursday morning as we left town on the winter solstice. This meant we had a lot of riding to do on a day that offered us the least amount of daylight of the year. To be on the safe side, we really try to avoid riding at night unless we absolutely have to.

The ride from JHB out to Clarens can be relatively boring. There’s no real fun way to get there and no matter what route you take, it’s lots of long straight roads with very few turns. What I can appreciate about it is that it’s a great opportunity to let the noise and chaos of life slowly start to fade away the further down the road you go. So by the time we finished lunch at Clarens Brewery, all I seemed to be focusing on were the beautiful roads ahead and riding through Golden Gate National Park.

After fueling up and playing around in the park for a bit our next stop was a photo opportunity at the Sterkfontein Dam rest site. That place always seems to be pumping with wind, and it was a great time to stop as we had just under an hour of daylight left. A beautiful sunset cruise down the winding pass, and we arrived at the Backpackers that evening a few hours before dinner with plenty of time to hit the pub, unpack, and kick our feet up for a bit; everyone also had an opportunity to get their custom-made goody bag.

One consistent thing we’ve experienced first hand is that the food at Amphitheatre Backpackers is always on point. They deserve each one of those five stars for the food alone!

The next day, the group woke to the sounds of “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica playing from one of our speakers—a tradition that Alan and I picked up in Peru. There was frost on some of the seats and a spectacular view of the Drakensberg escarpment off in the distance. We set out shortly after 9:00 a.m. and would be making our way to Howick to meet up with the Durban Crew at Steampunk Coffee. We had some great coffee, shook some hands, and made some small talk with new friends when we suddenly realized that we were now going to be pushed for time and had to get moving fast.

The road from Steampunk to Himeville is truly amazing. Long, wide corners, and fast-paced sections—the group split up into various rider comfort level and we all made it safely to Himeville Arms for what turned out to be a rather disappointing experience. Alas, we needed to get moving—filled the bikes up and made our way to the Sani Border.

As soon as we hit the dirt portion of the pass, we were greeted by massive trucks carrying dirt and rocks to a construction site at the base of the pass. All part of the laborious process of having the pass tarred. With the setting sun above us and dust all around it made for quite a hectic ride in. The closer to the border we got, the larger the gaps that formed and the less dust we were eating. After going through border control we went through the river crossing and quickly realized that the pass we knew from years before had gotten much tougher. Due to the recent bad weather, there were large, loose rocks all over the place and on this dry day, it was a real challenge to find a good line.

I made my way up the pass first to get as far ahead as I could to take photos of everyone along the way. What I noticed was some massive gaps behind me. In our group, we had riders of all skill levels that joined and you could see the difference. Some people passed me not too soon after I made my way up, and the headlights of others could be seen way in the distance down below me, with the daylight fading by the minute. We’ll be hosting another One Night in The Dirt soon, and I highly recommend the training for anyone tackling a bit of dirt.

Everyone that passed me had a smile of some sorts, but you could also see the seriousness and concentration that each of them had as it was challenging. One of the things that I enjoyed so much about our group was the kindness and compassion everyone had for one another. The pass was tough and I could see several bikes that had gone down and most of the time the riders needed help. I watched from up above on several occasions where another rider would stop, get off their bike, walk back to lend a hand to pick up the bike and usually there was an exchange of a high five or small hug offered.

As mentioned before, we seemed to be chasing the light all along the way. Just 10 minutes before the border gate closed (6:00 p.m.), and shortly after the sun had tucked behind the mountains, the last rider came through. All riders were accounted for and everyone could be found with a smile, a cold Maluti, and bundled up next to one another inhaling the anthracite fumes burning in the fireplace, which, if you’ve never been before, is all part of the experience—this is the highest pub in Africa.

The following day we had planned to go explore around in Lesotho a bit, but there were a few bikes that needed some minor repairs and everyone seemed to be a bit knackered from the day before. We wheeled a few bikes indoors, got out the Pratley Steel, and fixed a leaking sump, a few levers, and a foot peg. We decided to let everyone chill in the warmth, and to make our way down the pass no later than 12:00 p.m.

We went down the pass on time, and there were mixed reviews as to whether it was easier or harder to go down the pass. In my opinion, it’s always easier going down.

Some of the group went down the pass quite quickly and pushed on to lunch, but the majority of us waited for everyone to make their way down before continuing on. Our support vehicle ended up carrying a few more bikes down the pass than we had planned but it was nowhere to be seen from border control. We eventually made a decision to carry on to lunch, and once they had a cell phone signal they could meet up with us.

The ride from Sani Pass to Nottingham Road can be done two different ways. Option 1, you take the tar road (boring and repetitive) or Option 2 you take the dirt road that gave us so much hell from years before. We went for Option 2, and boy, was it worth it. Even though it was dry and dusty it was a treat to be just gliding along the road not having to worry about too many rocks and choosing the best line.

The majority of the group made it to our last night’s accommodation at Nottingham Road Hotel with some daylight to spare. As soon as we arrived the staff grouped us together for a photo, and then quickly offered us some cold drinks from the pub. The owner, Clive, had organized a live band that evening, and timing our arrival with the rugby and football games made for one packed pub with an electric atmosphere.

Our last evening together was spent around the dining room table stuffing our faces full of way too much pizza, with laughs and storytelling from the previous few days. It was good to see that everyone who had joined us for this latest adventure truly enjoyed themselves and the company of their new friends around them. The reason we do these events is ultimately to bring people together and for them to experience adventure each in their own right, but with the support of good people and camaraderie on their side.

Keen to join us on our next adventure or want to find out more about what we do? Sign up for our newsletter and be the first to find out when our next event is. We like to keep our events limited in numbers as to ensure they’re intimate and manageable groups of riders so don’t miss out on the next one. We’ve got another One Night In the Dirt event near Cape Town, Swaziland Adventure, and our annual Sabie Bubble Run coming up in 2018.

In partnership with The House of Machines, Triumph Motorcycles South Africa, Rev’it Parabolica, and Bell Powersports Africa.

A born and raised American, Joe is a US Army veteran who has been living in South Africa since 2013 with his wife, Monique, her son Madden, and their 4 rescue dogs. Joe is a photographer, a rock climber, and an adventure seeker and has been guiding motorcycle tours throughout Southern Africa since 2015 with his company Bonafide Moto Co. His first motorcycle was a 1983 Sportster that he turned into a chopper. Although he still has a Harley (The Freedom Machine), he now prefers motorcycles that will take him off-road. Current ride: Triumph Tiger 1200 Rally Pro.