The rise and rise of black biking

Black patch-wearing bikers are all about charity and community growth

Black patch-wearing bikers are all about charity and community growth

Contrary to popular belief, motorcycling has always been popular amongst the black South African communities. Black bikers (Indian, coloured and ethnic Africans), have been enjoying the sport since the late 1940s.

“I AM my brother’s keeper”

For the purposes of this article, let me differentiate between a patch-wearing biker, an ordinary biker — one rides for himself and the other belongs to a brotherhood. Brotherhood in biking terms commands respect among the biking communities. “I am my brother’s keeper” is what it’s all about, and at the core every bike community is a common love for the motorcycle. This is what unites us all across the colour lines. There is, no doubt, going to be countless stories of bikers who have made contributions to the cause. I am going to attempt to paint the picture as best I can, but I will be simply scratching the tip of the iceberg.

As a young man, I grew up in a family where owning a motorbike was more of a necessity than a luxury item. My father owned a Yamaha RD350, which he used to get to work at the time, and I occasionally took a ride with him to the shop. My love for speed and two wheels developed from there.

My journey into the biking community only really gained momentum in my 20s, when a cousin of mine came to visit on his new 2009 Yamaha R1. I remember thinking how fantastic the bike sounded, and how cool this “biker picture” looked. I decided that this was something I wanted to do, and after having been introduced to a few in the know, I was advised to start with a Honda CBR600rr, one of the most forgiving superbikes on the market.

ALL the gear, ALL the time

Off I went and before getting a learner’s licence, I already owned a bike. I was quickly told: “no riding until you have all the correct gear.” I remember thinking, “hang on, but there are bikers riding with cut jackets and torn jeans, so why can’t I do the same?” The dangers of biking without gear were then made very apparent to me, and today when I ride, it’s ALL the gear, ALL the time.

Once I had thoroughly engrossed myself in the biking community I was invited to a meeting by a member of a club called West Side Riders MC (motorcycle club), the member being the same person that sold me the bike. I remember thinking that it must be a group of guys that just like riding together but I was sorely mistaken, as I later found out.

It was more than just a group of guys riding bike together, it was a brotherhood.  Each man referred to the next as “my brother”. I however was referred to as a “hang-around” — in biking terms I was a nobody, an independent rider, someone who the club needed to get to know first. In turn, I needed to get to know and see if this life was for me.

While in a club meeting, a question is asked of new bikers and the question is: “What do you want here?” I have watched many would-be members come in and take offence to this question and I never understood it until I was exposed to the brotherhood and charity of the biking community.

It is really a community where everyone knows everyone — if you wear a patch on your back, there is a huge amount of trust that comes your way, and vice versa.

Most people think that bike clubs are about drugs, money and women, and I have no doubt that there are clubs like that out there, but this group of guys belonged to a larger group,  the black biking community, who are all about charity and community growth. 

Giving back to the community

A lot of the bikers today grew up in communities with next to nothing where the phrase “giving back to the community” takes on a whole new meaning, whether it be doing a collection for the homeless or buying 600 pairs of shoes for kids who can’t afford them. Attending my first day jol (biker party) you are greeted with suspicion and testing questions, and you begin to understand what it is to be a patch biker, you see the old guard who are trying to teach the young up-and-coming guys what it means to be a brother. I met so many different people along the journey; I have found myself in places I would never enter on my own and have had the best time. I never thought that being a patch biker would work for me, but I have come to embrace my brothers across the colour lines because of a simple love for a machine.

Black South Africans working as delivery boys had to learn to be disciplined riders in order to survive the hustle and bustle of town life. In many ways one could say that this is the largest motorcycle club in South Africa, being on bikes as much as they are, a love for the motorcycle develops and just keeps growing.

Due to the nature of apartheid black bikers went largely unnoticed, but if you dig deep enough and speak to the community there is proof of biking cultures across the country.

On the West Rand were Kitchener Bowers and Eric Neethling, two well-known bikers in the black biking community. Bowers unfortunately died in a bike accident. Sulaiman Gamshu from Fordsburg formed the Bangle Boys, Jabu Maduna from Orlando formed West-Soweto in 1962. The mid-60s to mid-70s saw the rise of the Breeds. They were established in the West Rand townships and as a club they were a highly organised group of bikers.

Clubs that followed the Breeds in the late 70s were the Stallion Riders (Ennerdale), The Chosen Ones, Gestapo Riders, and the Christian club Bondservants from Eldorado Park, Papillon Riders (Randfontein), Easy Riders (Soweto), and the well-known CC Riders from Kimberley in the Northern Cape. The CC Riders are still going strong 30 years on. The Stallion Riders and Chosen Ones were revived and still remain very active. Save for the revived clubs, all the other clubs are now defunct, but they have been replaced by bigger and better organised clubs such as Suspecs, Convics, African Gladiators, Soweto Eagles, Vikings, West Side Riders, Strawdogs, Smoking Guns, and many others.

The 1980s saw a rise in respect for the black motorcyclists. They were recognised as having staying power in the communities. Bike clubs however were not without controversy. Many clubs became embroiled in shootings and altercations. Black clubs were not permitted to attend rallies and jols hosted by their white counterparts.

Black biker clubs today

Today, black biker clubs are the norm, but for different reasons.  The game has changed now — it’s all about economics.  The biking community as a whole is fragmented and has different groups of individuals coming into the community for monetary gain; whether it be a club that just starts up to host a biker jol or a have a bike rally, the brotherhood aspect has left the biking community because apart from the economics, politics has entered the arena.

This is proof that the black biking community is serious about what it is that they do.

Today’s black bikers are flush with cash — this is evident — all you need do is attend a bike event and bikes costing upwards of R200k will be plentiful.

I once attended a rally in Swaziland and witnessed four highly collectable Harley-Davidson motorcycles in the same place at the same time. What are the chances?  This is proof that the black biking community is serious about what it is that they do.

In recent months the economics of the country has seen a decline in bike sales, yet if you speak to anyone in the biking community the passion and love for the bike is still very much alive. One gets to thinking, is the problem with the biker, or have the manufacturers not kept up with who is driving their product? Maybe it’s not marketed correctly to the current demographic purchasing bikes?

A lot needs to change in the biking industry if it’s to shed its views that biking is only for the white privileged community — a complete shift in the way the current business owners conduct business needs to happen.

Biking today is no longer about just selling the bike, it’s about selling the lifestyle that comes with the bike, the breakfast run to the local pub or the planned ride down the freeway.

About a year ago a very historic event happened within the biking community; it was the first time that the heavy hitters in both the white and black biking circles sat down at the same table and had a conversation around their shared love for the motorcycle.

The Ubuntu Run is uniting bikers across the colour lines. It happens once a year and has been done to highlight the cohesion within the various biking communities across the country. Scores of bikers take to the street in a display of brotherhood, because behind the helmet you have no idea who is riding with you, and it’s this very fact that unites all bikers are in biking. It has been a success so far and the next one is touted as being the biggest event yet.

The machine only plays a part in the greater whole of the lifestyle of biking ... the revving of engines until the headers glow red hot ... being seen in your leathers, looking bad to the bone. Today’s bikers are lawyers, accountants, doctors and politicians. They come from all walks of life, and colour and class really don’t matter when you’re on two wheels.