They come from all over Johannesburg. You’ll find most in suits and ties on a weekly basis - family men, who conduct day-long meetings at their respective companies. Some are captains of industry but they all forget about those roles once a week. For just one afternoon they tap into something more powerful, faster and for many, beautiful.
Characteristically dressed in leather jackets, boots, tight gloves, sunglasses and helmets, one expects to see people casting peculiar looks as these figures make their way through the hustle and bustle that’s become synonymous with Soweto’s streets. After all, these are the ‘new breeds’ right? But there’s none of that.
These are the *loxion’s own breed of bikers...
In fact their presence has now become part of the seven colours and *chisa-nyama traditions that make township Sundays so charismatic. Here, smells of burning rubber blend with the blaring hooters from the constant stream of passing taxis and random bursts of laughter that can be heard from children playing at street corners and outside their homes. It is also here that the fast machine-loving, thrill-chasing and will-do-anything-for-a-taste-of-freedom folk feel comfortable.
I meet the members of the Eagles Motorbike Club on a Sunday afternoon outside Toby’s Motor Shop, which used to be a garage but now doubles up as their clubhouse. The first thing I notice is that most of these club members aren’t 20 to 35-year-old thrill seekers. There’s so much more to them. The group, which according to Club President John Mashazi is made up of people from all walks of life, includes civil engineers, lawyers, accountants, taxi owners, delivery men and a whole range of other entrepreneurs. What they do for a living is not important here; their focus is on bike rallies, ‘day jols’, community projects and strengthening their bond as riders. Mashazi goes on to say, “We are a lot of professionals working in highly stressed environments during the week. We see this as an opportunity to take a break.”
As the afternoon progresses lots of other clubs take to the streets, showing off their different colours - or as the riding fraternity calls them ‘badges’ - and revving their latest purchases. But there’s something a little different about The Eagles. It takes a while to figure out what it is exactly, but I’m then hit by the fact that there’s a certain stature, something relatively prestigious about this particular bike club. It’s in the way they treat each other coupled with tales of trying to start a motorbike club in the township during the 80’s that puts everything into perspective.
This club, which still has a lot of its veteran members, birthed this sensational hobby that’s now taken off in many of the country’s townships. Member, Chris Ndimande says they grew tired of supporting their white counterparts and not being able to fully enjoy the culture of being bikers. “We weren’t allowed into day jols, so we couldn’t fully experience what it was like being bikers. We thought ‘why can’t we come together and just ride together?”
The Eagles grew from what was then referred to as The Easy Riders, and due to split factions, some members went on to start their own clubs, introducing this custom to other parts of Soweto as well as other townships.
The group, which also happened to have been put together by a collection of people who used to ride scooters for work purposes, is now filled with brightly coloured speed bikes - a lot of them brandishing the BMW logo. “Isn’t this an expensive hobby?” I ask the club president. Mashazi says it’s still cheaper than a car, “Yes my bike cost about R95 000 00 but it’s really light on fuel and its maintenance never goes above R1500.” I point out that there are far cheaper hobbies that he could have taken up. He pauses and then explains that nothing comes close to riding a bike for him. “It’s the noise, it’s the style, it’s the machines that we ride. A lot of us ride brand new bikes, top of the range and that just feels awesome.”
The rose amongst the thorns
It might seem like a corny saying, but Blanche Mgqweto is exactly that. Armed with a cool demeanour and an understated class, she manages to fit in with a group of 36 men. She’s the only woman there and like the rest of the men, she’s wearing The Eagles leather vest.
Mgqweto says her relationship with her bike is an affair that’s probably never going to end. “I have wanted to get on a motorbike since I was ten-years-old. I’d get mesmerised every time I saw one go by and beg my brother-in-law to give me a ride. I’ve never looked back since.”
Is there room for growth? Will more townships swap flashy drop top beemers for bikes? These members definitely think so. Mashazi cites a local television show, launched this week, which follows a local music producer’s travels across the country on a motorbike. “You saw Dj Cleo. Riding’s also become the in thing to do for celebrities. It’s definitely not affected by the economic situation.”
* Loxion – slang for township
* 7 colours – refers to a Sunday lunch plate, usually featuring a variety of colourful vegetables
* Chisa nyama – Braai style get togethers’ hosted around parks in the township