After months of sitting in Cape Town traffic for hours every day, I finally got fed up and bought a motorbike - despite being a complete novice, and my reservations about how safe it was to ride a bike.
The last time I rode a bike was on the back of a scooter in Grade 10, when I caught a lift with a girlfriend from school.
I never considered buying a motorbike, given the dangers. Research shows that in SA, the death rate from motorcycle crashes is five times greater than from car crashes, and the rate of severe injury 10 times greater.
But the traffic in Cape Town - according to the Tom Tom traffic index the most congested city in South Africa - finally pushed me over the edge.
I had already tried the bus, which saved me 10 minutes each day thanks to the priority bus lanes. However, the three-week bus strike put a stop to that - I had to look for a more independent mode of transport, and the only other option was getting a motorbike.
First, I found out that I had to get a new Code 1 licence to drive a bike. You can start driving with a learner's licence, but within two years have to graduate to a full licence. Getting a learner's Code 1 licence was relatively straightforward: It cost R68 and I had to wait two weeks to do the test.
Next, I had to learn to ride a bike. I took lessons and found it relatively easy.
The most challenging aspects were learning to change gears and finding the "friction zone" on the clutch, as well as learning to counter steer once the bike picks up momentum. One of the most important things to me was remembering that if a bike stalls, it will fall to the side. So you need to be prepared to get a foot on the ground in time.
But once it gets going, the bike balances itself and stays upright.
After two weeks of lessons, I started my daily commute on the bike. The results were surprising.
As it turned out, the motorbike was far more efficient - in terms of both costs and time - than I would have thought.
I live 20 kilometres from work. On a normal day, I was travelling 50 minutes to the office in my car, but if there was an accident it could take me as long as an hour-and-a half to get home. With the bike I made it in 30 minutes.
Before buying a bike, I did a lot of research into the differences in size, power and purpose. The most popular commuter bikes are either cruisers or adventure bikes, with the latter being much better suited to handle potholes and rougher roads to the sacrifice of comfort.
It is important to take into consideration your own weight when buying a bike. After taking some lessons, I realised a 300cc (an average bike size to start with) would struggle to accelerate out of a dangerous situation. I was advised to look to one with more power and found a secondhand 800cc, which cost the same as a new 300cc I was looking at. I have not regret it.
Follow other bikes
Filtering (or lane-splitting) through traffic was one of the experiences that was most daunting. I found following the lines of other bikers to be a good way of gauging spaces to see if I could do the same.
Be aware of what drivers are doing
I also learnt to look out for people driving with cellphones, and drivers changing lanes without looking in their blind spot. You can't count on drivers to look out for your safety. It is your safety at the end of the day.
Invest in high-end gear
Your gear is the only thing between you and the tarmac should you fall. Be sure to factor into your budget motorcycle boots, gloves, a protective jacket and pants.
My research showed that head injuries are the most common, which prompted me to purchase a R2,400 helmet with a Pinlock Visor that reduces fogging on misty coastal mornings.
I didn’t realise how much water can splash up into your jeans when it rains. A waterproof jacket and pants should be high on your list. Some bikes even feature heated handles, or even a way to heat your jacket and pants through a plug to reduce the chill from the wind factor.
With additional reporting by Jay Caboz.
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