NORDEN 901 - BRAY RUN 2022

Bray Run 2022 was the suggestion of Rainer Gaier, an old timer who’s blazed that trail before. The aim was to give the Norden 901 and myself our first real challenge of mixing it up in more diverse off-road conditions. The riding group quickly grew to eight capable riders, each one looking for adventure and the chance to ride with the Norden 901.

Bray is on the southern border of Botswana about 250km West from Mahikeng in the Northwest Province. Due to time constraints the bikes would be trailered to Mahikeng on Friday afternoon with a relaxing evening at the Protea Hotel, early dinner was enjoyed at an upmarket café opposite the hotel. Here we also realized that even although we had enough tools and equipment to sort out any potential punctures, we were missing a rear wheel nut spanner. Off to the local parts shop and after some compulsory bargaining, we walked away with a shiny ‘’Bloemfontein Micrometer’’. The Norden comes standard with tubeless rims so I was hoping not to damage the tire to a point where the plugs would fail in the unfortunate case of getting a puncture.

Due to some of the group only trailering in from Joburg on the Saturday, we took a late departure around 10AM. True to adventure riding plans and FDF (first day fever) all the fancy GPS, we promptly got off our planned track, and the first of many penalties of the day was logged. Tailgating and causing a rear end, the night’s festivities would take care of my fine. Fortunately, the area was the soft Kalahari sand so no damage to bike or body, my ego tells a different story of course. It attracted familiar jesting and banter which is the norm among bikers. This incident unfortunately also confirmed the true condition of my 20-year-old shorty boots, with roadside repairs necessary to re attach its trusty sole. If wire, cable ties, ductape and Pratley steel can’t fix it, it can’t be fixed.

Staying on the correct track proved a little more challenging for our beloved guide even though it was explicitly explained at the morning briefing that since we were heading west, following the Molopo River would be to the north of us, any intersection that we should encounter, we should default to the ‘right’, that way we would always be riding along the border fence. ‘Fence’ is used loosely at its nothing more than a badly rusted four strand barbed wire affair with loads of damaged sections. Plenty of tracks and paths heading south and north exposed the porous condition of the border between South Africa and our peaceful neighbour.

The single spoor/jeep track we followed soon showed its challenges. Recent rains had left some surprises for us in the way of slippery, muddy sections with fairly deep rutted sections that had us bathing in black grimy goo – a good test for the OMO jingle. We could see that security/patrol vehicles had not been this way in years and with the heavy rains putting the thorn bush and grasses into turbo mode, I was grateful for my Kevlar arm protection sleeves and carbon fibre knuckle protection on my gloves. There were a few wincing expletives every time the Norden 901 scratched and scraped its way past the dense brush.

The rain had flooded large sections of the route requiring detours to avoid drowning. The banks of the Molopo River had been spectacularly breached in several places.

Then came some rocky hillocks, this added another dimension to the adventure and where the de-robing started; with sweat and tears starting to emerge, spills and jeers filling the air; fines were being readily clocked up for the unlucky ones.

My earlier concerns of the Norden 901’s off road capabilities were totally ill-founded and the perfectly balanced low down torque with huge power delivered to the rear wheel when needed, had me cruising confidently through the rougher stuff, spitting up as dust and rocks when blasting out of the many turns along the thorny bushveld. Later in the day when the real sandy sections came the 901 it showed its genuine colours, and the relatively low weight of the mid-sized adventure bike was noticeable. The bike is well planted and stays on track with ease but has the ability of a large cc off-road bike to transition comfortably. By now I had an equatorial smile, what an absolute pleasure to command. As we approached Bray, we surfed down more sandy gravel roads, alongside the rapid-flowing rivers edge we spotted several brandy fuelled locals, performing antics that looked like they could end in tears. Heavily overload barges with sokkie sokkie music blaring and scantily doing their thing. Later that evening when we finally got to Tapama Lodge in Bray we were told that the Molopo River had not flooded in seven years, and this had attracted the local farmers like moths to a light. Most of them carried on through until first light with their local dialect getting more and more colourful as the night went on.

We arrived about three hours after schedule due to our numerous falls, laughing sessions and photo shoots.  Mike Puzey from Bikers Warehouse encouraged me to stretch the Husqvarna’s legs. On arrival, we were greeted by the news that there was Diesel but no Petrol to get us back to Maheking.

A quick recce into town revealed that not only was there no fuel but what was once a cute little border town had nothing, except for the trusty khaki cladded, brandy swilling, laugh a minute, crazy bunch that had descended upon the area. The only church in town looked closed and dilapidated; the only shop was closed with the dry fuel tanks. The border gate was shut tight and secured with branches. The lone police guard explained that the border had been closed since Covid. This practically killed any legal travel and much needed income. Sad sight but hopefully it will revive once the border opens up.

The subject of fuel became the main talking point, of course the interest was redirected as the refreshments and days fines were dished out. We were promised a plan for fuel would be made in the morning. An early to bed call was made for myself and my roomy Tony, some of the members decided to give the locals a run for their money and retired in the wee hours. This proved to be in our favour as revealed in the morning.

We were served a healthy dose of good intentions, but when we woke, there was some trepidation as to the fuel issue – we needed around 150l. A group of farmers had taken upon themselves to solve our predicament. It began with snipping off a length of garden hose and attracting the wrath of the owner, considering she had just dealt with a fire extinguisher being discharged in one of the chalets as a prank. The hose was cut too short to reach into the fuel tank of the one and only petrol vehicle that had volunteered to share fuel. Laughing just got louder and more intense as each attempted to siphon fuel failed. Syphoning is difficult with one hand clasping a Brandy fuelled glass. One cannot help but laugh at the bizarreness, it was only 7am.

The late-night socialising (read drinking) of our team leader with the locals revealed a glimmer of hope. Rainer had secured an offer of fuel to be delivered by 10am. In return, he needed to hand over his credit card and pin code to two strangers at 1am. When Rainer’s wife discovered he handed his card over to a lady stranger she was suitably upset ….Rainer replied “”but she rides bikes I’m sure it will be fine””

True to their promise, our knight in shining armour with his credit card acquiring girlfriend arrived with 160litres of fuel in several containers. Oh, the joy. Our group’s concern was less about getting back to Mahikeng but rather if the lodge would have adequate booze for everyone should we spend another night. We may have had a very angry khaki brigade to share the digs with.

We finally departed about 10H30 with rounds of grateful handshaking, hugs to newfound friends who refused to accept reparation for their efforts. He said the 280km odd journey was nothing and that maybe one day when he comes to gangster paradise, we will do the same for him. Not so sure about a credit card with pin.

The trip home was routed in reverse, with a somewhat worn-out “keep left” navigational advice. Speeds were up as we all knew what to expect and more time could be spent taking in the beautiful scenery.

It’s blessed for sure, to be riding with a great bunch of guys in the bush on motorbikes. Even with a lengthy run across varied terrain, the neutral ergonomics of the 901 gave me a perfect seated and standing position.  The seat is likened to a lounger, making for a super relaxing experience.

The Norden 901 was perfect in so many ways, the group fantastic, the setting awesome and the weekends entertainment was nothing short of showbiz.

Only downside for me was the final demise of my trusty shorty boots, I had now lost both soles with my toes practically peeking out. After so many faithful kilometres they would be relegated to the trophy rack, such fine foot companions should not be dumped unceremoniously.

Loaded up, we entered Joburg with the great feeling of experiencing Africa at its best, I thank my group mates and Mike Puzey. I also thank Husqvarna for thinking up such a great concept. The perfect touring adventure bike with really good off-road manners.