This year the Buffalo Rally was held in Aliwal North, a small town in the Eastern Cape. Aliwal North is 616 km southeast of Johannesburg, just over the Free State border.
Cynthia and I left Alberton about 5:45 A.M. for our first stop at a filling station twenty kilometers away. There we met up with Hennie Maartens and Laurance Rodgers. Hennie rode his G5, Cynthia was on her Monza and I was mounted on my LeMans II. Laurance arrived by car with his bike on a trailer. There was something wrong with the charging system of Laurance's LeMans, so he decided he would be safer bringing the bike on a trailer. We all filled up with petrol and left about 6:00. Our next stop was at Kroonstad, 187 kilometers away. We had to fill up in Kroonstad as Bloemfontein was out of tank range and all the towns we passed were off the beaten track, so we would have had to leave the main road to fill up.
The road was relatively quiet at that time of the morning so we made good time at a constant speed of approximately 140 kilometers per hour. The speed limit on these roads is 120 kilometers per hour, so we had to be careful there were no speed traps.
We filled up at Kroonstad and headed for our next stop which was Bloemfontein, 211 kilometers from Kroonstad. Here we planned to have something to eat and drink and to do all the "necessary things" as the next stop would be the rally site 218 kilometers away.
Fifty kilometers outside Bloemfontein the road changes from a single-carriage way to a two-lane freeway. We made up a lot of time - at one stage I was doing 180 kilometers an hour to keep up with Cynthia on her Monza. I really have to do something about the speed of that Monza - nothing radical, maybe removing one plug or a piston.
After we had breakfast in Bloemfontein it was time to fill up the bikes and leave. This is where my problems began. The starter motor on the LeMans would not work. Oh well, I will strip the starter motor at the site and do the necessary repairs. Nothing is too much trouble for a brave biker. At the time I assumed it was the starter relay as the whole system was dead. I coasted down to the petrol pumps, filled up, and with a quick push from Hennie and Lawrance we were on our way.
The ride to the site was uneventful and we arrived in Aliwal North about 3:00 P.M. We were on the road for about nine hours. With all the stops that gave us an average speed of about 68 kilometers an hour.
I arrived at the gate of the site first and had to wait for the rest of the party to catch up. They arrived fifteen minutes later. We registered, and after another push start we made our way into the site to find a camping spot. We were lucky to find a spot with lawn and nice big trees to shade us from the blazing son. We pitched our tents and hung the IMOC banner between two trees. This time IMOC was represented by four bikes: Cynthia's Monza, Hennie's G5, Laurance's Mk. II and my Mk. II. Surprisingly the site was quite crowded. We heard later a lot of people had arrived the day before, which was Thursday. The rally was held from Friday to Monday. Monday was a public holiday in South Africa. The South African government, in their wisdom, decided that if a public holiday falls on Sunday, then the next Monday becomes the holiday. Not a bad idea.
The Buffalo Rally is strictly a no cars event, but Laurance got permission to bring his car in and off load all the gear. Then he parked his car outside the rally site with all the other cars and pickups. I must be getting old, but I certainly appreciate not having to carry everything on the bike.
For the rest of Friday afternoon we wandered about meeting new friends and greeting old ones. Then we returned to our campsite, opened a few beers and prepared the evening meal. After supper we wandered down to the main hall for the Friday night entertainment. The organizers had arranged for a disco and a few competitions. The competitions were Mr. Leg (My goodness, some of the legs displayed would make a grown man cry.), and a beer drinking competition. After the amusements the disco started up and we left. We were all feeling pretty tired after the ride and decided to have an early night. That was not to be, however - we sat and talked and eventually went to bed, exhausted.
Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. Thank goodness Laurance couldn't sleep and was up before Cynthia and me. He had the water boiling for coffee and joined us for a cup of the good stuff. People must have continued arriving all night. When we got out of the tent, the camping area where we were was packed. Laurance brought a gas cooker so there was no walking around looking for wood for a fire to cook and make coffee.
Saturday morning was spent talking and telling the usual biker tall stories and generally having a lazy time. This gave me the opportunity to strip the starter and see if I could find the fault. I could not see a problem so I cleaned everything and reassembled the starter and put it back on the bike, hoping it would work the next day.
Saturday afternoon the games began, starting off with the bronco bike riding. (These bronco bikes are off-road bikes with the front and back wheels offset. Without a bit of practice they are virtually impossible to ride.) For blind racing, the rider is blindfolded and takes instructions from the pillion passenger. Between the clubs there was Tug-O-War. About 4:00 P.M. the final entries for the Concours D'Elegance were accepted, and after that, a qualifying ride was held for all the entrants. This was to ensure the bikes entered were in running condition and were not brought to the rally on a trailer, specifically entered for the concours.
Saturday evening in the main hall was the judging of the Miss Buffalo competition. This is a genuine beauty contest and not a wet T-shirt or other stripping event. After crowning Miss Buffalo there was the best dressed buffalo and the best buffalo hat - a lot of fun! After the festivities, a live band played for our enjoyment. We decided we had had enough and it was off to bed.
Cynthia and I had arranged for somebody to look after our dogs up to Sunday night, so we planned on leaving on Sunday morning. Sunday morning the sky was overcast and it was raining. This was the start of my problems. Petrol must have leaked from the LeMans during the night. I opened one petrol tap, waited a minute and then pressed the starter. At that moment the papaya hit the fan! The bike burst into flames! There must have been a spark from the starter motor that caused everything to happen at once. My bike was surrounded by other bikes, and in the blink of an eye my bike was alone! People ran with pots of water, but this just spread the burning petrol. One lady camping next to us arrived with a dustbin full of water and poured this on the fire. There was enough water thrown on the burning LeMans to put out a fire on an oil tanker, but thank goodness my bike's fire was out. The damage was superficial; the tank was blackened; the fuel pipes were scorched; and thankfully there wasn't more damage, otherwise the bike would have been a totaled loss.. One side cover was toasted on the underside, one of the side fairings was charred; the wiring under the seat was wrecked and so was the positive cable from the battery. After the fire was put out and everybody settled down, coffee was prepared and the wisecracks started.
Cynthia and I managed to secure a trailer to get the patient home. We decided to return home two up on her Monza. As luck would have it, a friend of mine asked me to ride his SP back to Johannesburg. We had to wait until after the judging of the concours to get the bike. We eventually left at about noon for home. It was still raining, but at least I had a bike to ride. The pair of us on the Monza would have been very uncomfortable on a 600 kilometer ride home.
It rained all the way and started getting dark by 5:00 P.M. because of the cloud cover. We both had dark visors and this made for dangerous riding in such low visibility, so we decided to spend the night in Kroonstad. The hotel we chose had no parking facilities so we arranged with the manager to park the bikes in the foyer.
We had no change of clothes with us because we thought we would make it home in a day, so we washed what was necessary for the next day, hoping it would dry, and then we went to bed.
The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn, dressed in the damp clothing we wore the day before, had breakfast and left for home. I must say two Guzzis revving in the foyer of a hotel is a sound not easily forgotten by us and some of the residents who must have been blown out of bed.
The rain of the previous day had stopped, but it was still overcast. The roads were damp so we took it easy - after all we had the whole day to get home. It started raining about 50 kilometers from home, which wasn't too bad. We got home without any problems.
Later that afternoon I returned the SP to its rightful owner. My bike was there, still on the trailer, so I got a lift home. We off loaded the LeMans and pushed it into the garage.
It was the end of a holiday weekend and there was never a dull moment the entire time. To round off the weekend it must be stated that the Buffalo Rally is one of the best rallies in South Africa, if not the best.
I received these statistics from the organizers of the Buffalo Rally: Motorcycles in attendance was 2850. The number of people was 4500.
The Chamber of Commerce of Aliwal North reported an injection of 2.5 million rand, which is approximately $403,000 U.S. dollars into the economy of the town.