There and back just to see how far it is…. Riding a Suzuki DL1050DE from Jo’Burg to Vic Falls, Zambia – EPISODE 1

Riding a Suzuki DL1050DE from Jo’Burg to Vic Falls
Words & Pics: Séan Hendley and friends

At the recent AMID show held at Redstar Raceway Séan bumped into Marco Libratore from ItalMoto and Primrose Suzuki, who happened to mention that he was putting a road trip together to Victoria Falls in Livingston, Zambia. Séan, being the forward type, invited himself along as the media correspondent for the trip. At that precise moment, Kyle Lawrenson from Suzuki Motorcycles South Africa happened to pass by and was badgered into loaning Séan a Suzuki DL1050De V-Strom for the ride and a long distance review of the bike.

6am Saturday morning the 9th of March 2024, we all met at a fuel station in Bedfordview for introductions, a quick cup of coffee and a riders briefing before heading out in the direction of the rising sun. Early mornings on a bike with a bunch of mates in Africa are always lekker, especially as you head out for an epic adventure. Most of us were meeting each other and were already becoming big buddies. Only one absenteeism was reported in the form of Canadian Bill, who was one of the instigators of the trip, but was sadly called back to Canada and then to Algiers for a work emergency.

Riding a Suzuki DL1050DE from Jo’Burg to Vic Falls
A quick photo before hitting the road to Zambia. We had quite the motlry crew of bikes, from left to right there was an old Triumph 800 XC Tiger, then Suzuki Dl 650's, a new Suzuki DL 1050DE, an 1190 Super Adventure KTM, a CRF1000 Honda Africa twin and a Ducati Multistrada - proving you don't have to have the latest, greatest, biggest, best bike out there to do a trip like this.

The planned route vs the actual route:

Our route was to take us past Pretoria to Bela-Bela, (Warmbaths), into Modimolle, (Nylstroom), where we would turn left towards Vaalwater where we would turn right towards Lephalale or Ellisras into the old language. From there we would aim for the border crossing at Groblersbrug/Martin’s Drift into Botswana.

Then it was to Martins Drift to Palapye where we would hook a right to Nata and another right through to Serule and onto our first overnight stop in Francistown. Day 2 would take us from Francistown through Dukwi to Nata, where we would have then done a “quick” ride out to Kubu Island on the pans before turning back towards Pandamatenga and onto the Kazungula Border crossing into Zambia with an overnight stop at a lodge in Kasane first before crossing the border into Zambia and onto our diggs in Livingstone. Fortunately, sanity prevailed and the Kubu Island leg was postponed for the return trip which made more sense. 

Then it would be two days of sightseeing in and around Livingstone, Vic Falls, cruising on the mighty Zambezi and the like before returning back home. With the sensible change to the route the first day of the return trip would be a shorty to Nata for an overnight stopover at Nata Lodge. The next morning would be a short flip to Kubu Island and then onto Palapye and Francistown to our final overnight stop. Which sort of happened…. Some of us, some on strictly road bikes or road set up bikes, were enjoying Livingstone a little bit too much and opted for an extra night in Livingstone while the hardcore adventure riders, most of whom were all north of 60 years old, headed for Nata and Kubu Island with the plan being that we all met up in Francistown the following evening and ride back to SA together from there. 

Once again, that plan was sort of adhered to, those of us who rode from Livingstone had a chilled, sightseeing trip back to Francistown with lots of photo opportunities along the way. We arrived in Francistown late afternoon and booked into our hotel and went for a leisurely swim before heading to a local restaurant for dinner. The Kubu Island contingent was a completely different story, with a 140 km odd taking them close on 8 hours to complete and eventually only making it as far as Letlhakane by late evening, absolutely shattered and dehydrated, they stumbled into the first bit of acceptable accommodation they could rustle up for a well deserved rest. 

Our mighty tough tour organiser and leader decided to forge ahead in the dark the last 225 km to Francistown to meet up with us, arriving around 20H30 and completely drained before wolfing down a burger and chips, hitting the shower and collapsing into bed before an early morning start back to Martins Drift/Groblersbrug and Jo’Burg.

Riding a Suzuki DL1050DE from Jo’Burg to Vic Falls
We would have loved to show you the route with Kubu Island included. However, when you add Kubu to the route Google maps falls over - it seems Google is not even sure how to get there

What is it like riding a bike north of our borders?

Once you get north of Pretoria, the scenery opens up a bit and the traffic thins out significantly and everybody seems to relax a bit more on the road, but the roads are pretty boring and straight before turning off towards Bela-Bela. If you are ever travelling up that way, do yourself a favour and stop in at ‘Toeka se Dae’, just on the left as you take the off ramp to Warmbaths, it is a really lekker spot for a quick chow, with excellent food, great service and sensible pricing.

Warmbaths/Bela-Bela itself is your typical South African country town come holiday village, (and you will understand the relevance of my next comments a little further along in this article), but sadly the infrastructure is succumbing quite quickly to the ravages of mismanagement from our  government, meaning it is unkempt, pock marked by potholes with litter and very slow moving undisciplined and discourteous traffic. Clearing town and heading towards Nylstroom along the old road is a relief and a pleasure. The road surface is in surprisingly good condition and is beautifully twisty and fantastically scenic all the way to the border, great riding territory where you can scratch a bit through the twisties. The further you get away from Warmbaths the nicer the towns become and the friendlier the drivers get, with less litter and sewage and potholes, but you do have to become more cognisant of free roaming livestock and wild animals.

Once in Botswana it was a different kettle of fish altogether. The tarmac is more sun bleached and a bit older and potholes become a rarity for the most part down south, and it is only between Francistown and Nata that the roads remind you distinctly of home with potholes aplenty and the road narrowing from crumbling edges as the seemingly never ending stream of heavy trucks barrel along in both directions. And here is where my comments about Bela-Bela start to become relevant. Barring Nata, or the bit of Nata that we experienced, the towns in Botswana are tidy with little to no litter to be found and none of them stinking of raw sewage or decomposing mounds of rubbish. If you really want to experience the potential our beautiful country is being so sadly denied, visit Botswana. 

Francistown is a thoroughly modern, clean and exceptionally well managed African city…. Where everything works as it should! Generally, I am really polite and friendly to people, along the way the peak of my helmet managed to rattle loose and I popped in and out of shops along the way trying to find a couple of short 6mm bolts or gutter screws and was quite taken aback by the absolute lack of reciprocation, and in a few instance blatantly rude responses to my cheering greetings and polite requests. Cashiers, fuel station attendants and the like were for the most part politely professional and inquisitive about the bikes and where we were from and going to, but for the most part completely indifferent to our presence.

Riding a Suzuki DL1050DE from Jo’Burg to Vic Falls
Francistown is a thoroughly modern, clean and exceptionally well managed African city
Riding a Suzuki DL1050DE from Jo’Burg to Vic Falls
Where everything works as it should!
Riding a Suzuki DL1050DE from Jo’Burg to Vic Falls
The towns in Botswana are tidy with little to no litter

Rolling into Kasane I was a bit absent minded and did not reduce my speed quite quick enough and was waved down by a local traffic cop for doing 89 km/h in a 80 km/h zone. I was fully expecting the situation to be handled like our local constabulary would with nefariousness being insinuated and expected if not blatantly demanded. Refreshingly it wasn’t, the perfectly uniformed officer greeted me politely and explained why he had stopped me and enquired where I was from and where I was going to. I returned his politeness with friendliness, apologising for my transgression and was duly remorseful of my action while answering his questions. His response was a polite admonishment and a request to be more mindful of the posted speed limits before wishing me a safe journey and waving me on my way…. Huh?? That was pretty cool.

The riding in Botswana I did find to be a bit of a chore, I have never before experienced such mind numbingly straight, flat roads with such oppressive heat. The 250 to 300 km’s between major towns passed eternally by in a blur of grey shrubbery, shrubs and little thorn trees interjected every 50 kays or by a small village of homesteads of mud brick, corrugated iron sheets and an old jalopy parked out front, scratched out of the sand and bush. The only redeeming feature were the donkeys and their foals. I don’t know why, but I really have a soft spot for the “imbongolo’s” and Botswana has every colour variant imaginable. Oh! There were also herds of cattle and goats at each of these villages along with the occasional shepherd hiding from the harsh sun under the shade of a nearby tree. 

There is very little in the way of infrastructure, shops etc along the way with most of it being centred around the bigger towns, so make sure you fill up as often as you can with fuel and grab water wherever you can. Motorcycle workshops and parts suppliers are basically non-existent, so you also need to make sure your bike is in tip top condition before leaving on a trip like this and carry basic tools and spares with you. 

The biggest thing is to be careful. There is a lot of free roaming livestock everywhere and with the roads being so straight and flat and no significant scenery to keep you entertained, the drone of your bike’s engine and the wind noise and the heat soon lull you into complacency and eventually you feel yourself losing concentration and getting the thousand yard stare. 

These conditions only get worse when the sun goes down and reduces visibility, the regular cattle carcasses, rusting car shells and burnt out truck shells along the roads edge attest to this. Always plan to and try to make your overnight accommodation before nightfall, medical help or any kind of mechanical assistance is many, many hours away. The other bit of road obstruction you need to be aware of and plan for are the regular check points along the way, some are police checkpoints where they might request to see all your travel documentation, so always make sure your docs are up to date, correct and close at hand. For the most part, these are veterinary checkpoints where you occasionally might be required to ride through an antiseptic bath and stomp your boots on a similar pad to prohibit the transfer and spread of various diseases that could all but wipe out the local livestock and wildlife population.

To alleviate the funky haze and fatigue settling in, I tried to focus on looking for the herds of elephants, prides of lions, the numerous buck and zebra all the wildlife films and programs allude to that this land is supposed to be rife with. Flip even a couple of birds would have been a welcome respite from the frankly quite uninteresting passing scenery. Somewhere just passed the ‘Elephant Sand’ Lodge we came across a really big lone bull elephant grazing along the side of the freeway and one or two of the other guys spotted two giraffe off in the distance and another elephant, but that was pretty much it on the way up, and on the way back in a similar spot we found a young lonesome female Elly chomping away at the scrub in the shade of a tree. She was quite cute and was more curious than scared by us and our bikes as we stopped for a pic or two with her. She trotted off in alarm when fired the bikes back up again, we had to wonder where the rest of her herd was or if she was a little lost soul. And that was pretty much it for the wildlife sightings.

Riding a Suzuki DL1050DE from Jo’Burg to Vic Falls
We found a young lonesome female Elly chomping away at the scrub in the shade of a tree. She was quite cute and was more curious than scared by us and our bikes

The most interesting event to happen the whole part of this trip, was when we had stopped under a tree to suck on our hydra packs and give our posteriors a rest after about a 200 km stretch, we saw a lonesome cyclist pedalling down through the heat haze on this very lonely stretch of road. As they got closer, we realised it was a lady on on ‘Overland’ bicycle, and men being men we all licked our hands and smoothed out our hair in our rearview mirrors, sniffed our armpits with a “whatever shrug” and scratched for a breath mint as we waved her over. Her name is Audrey. She speaks with a cute French accent and has spent the last 18 months or so pedalling her bicycle all over Europe, before shipping it to Dar Es Salaam and cycling down through Africa…. on her own!!! 

We asked her if she was scared travelling alone in Africa, her quite naive answer meant she and us were clearly not thinking along the same lines. She said she got a little nervous when she passed an elephant on the road or a wildebeest and sometimes wondered about lions and other predators. From the salacious gawps some were giving her, I think she left with a whole bunch of new concerns on her mind – the more relevant dangers. When asked why the heck she was doing the trip on a bicycle, her answer was that it seemed like a cost effective way to travel the world. And apparently Africa was cheap enough that she could stay in hotels and lodges as she went, so no need to camp or carry camping equipment. Her overnight stop was to be Elephant Sands, about 60 clicks down the road from where we were or a mere 3 hours of pedalling to her. She is a brave tough lady, tougher than us rubbing our tender butt cheeks after a few hours in the saddle and admonishing each to stick close together just in case something went wrong, such brave, brave lads we are.

Click or Tap here to follow Audrey on Instagram or go to her webpage by clicking or tapping here

Riding a Suzuki DL1050DE from Jo’Burg to Vic Falls
We asked her if she was scared travelling alone in Africa, her quite naive answer meant she and us were clearly not thinking along the same lines.... there are dangerous beasts in Africa young lady.... and they have you surrounded

Once you hit Pandamatenga, the scenery does get decidedly more interesting. Lush, cultivated farmlands on a commercial scale, bigger, more mature trees and more colour variations to the scenery. We stopped for a splash and dash at a local fuel stop, grabbed a few more litres of water from the convenience store and aimed for Kasane, very much looking forward to our overnight stop and a dip in the pool. Kasane, like Francistown, is properly sorted with tourism seeming to be its biggest industry. Goats and stray dogs seem to be the order of the day as well as more recognizable shops and restaurants, and for a tourist town the cost of things was surprisingly reasonable, the best we had experienced in Botswana so far. 

This was also where I finally managed to find useable bolts to fix the peak and visor on my helmet which had been precariously re-attached with a bit of duct tape but was still flopping and flapping around at anything over 110 to 120 kmh, thus slowing my progress down significantly. We topped up with fuel…. AGAIN – another expense where it is wiser to over budget for even though 95 octane is about R4.00 per litre cheaper in Botswana than in South Africa, this was our third fill up for the day, but would be enough for our trip to Livingstone and back with an allowance for sightseeing trips and back to Kasane in a few days. A good thing considering fuel is a good R2.00 per litre more expensive in Zambia than in Botswana.

That is it for now!

Keep an eye out for Episode 2, coming your way in a week or so….

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