BMW’s evergreen R 1250 GS dons one final coat before morphing into the R 1300 GS newcomer. PETER FROST commandeers a Trophy to get the best out of Stellenbosch Visio’s Cape Coffee Route.
It’s hard to believe that the GS has been around for 40 years. In fact, BMW recently celebrated its millionth bike using the iconic flat twin-cylinder boxer engine. That was the latest R 1300 GS, a wholly new iteration of the legendary all-roader and now in South Africa. As a farewell to the much-loved 1250, BMW released a special model, the Trophy, celebrating the International GS Trophy off-road trails race. It’s this bike Stellenbosch Visio used for its Cape Coffee Route.
STELLENBOSCH TO PHILADELPHIA
So how do you choose a biker’s coffee route in a region choc-a-bloc with artisanal coffee stops? The answer is easy: focus on the roads. Weekend biking is all about getting away; there’s no sense kitting up just to pop to your weekday local on the corner. No, these spots need to lie at the end of a special ride that challenges, rewards and animates in equal parts, adding up to a grand day out. Recompense for a stressful week’s yada yada.
Our coffee route starts in Stellenbosch and heads out towards Malmesbury on the R304, with a left turn at Klipheuwel and a quick right to the village of Philadelphia, still following the R304. The morning we set out was that day, the Heritage Day deluge day, and the skies were already threatening grievous bodily harm. Press the electronic starter button, listen to the evocative boxer strum, pull back the surprisingly easy clutch, snick it into first – super-easy again – and head out.
Instantly relaxed, impromptu grin – aboard the 1250 GS there’s this alchemy. Big as it is, it seems to shrink on the move, while all the time offering up an authoritative sense of invulnerability. It’s entirely manoeuvrable, whatever your size, and light, agile and very comfortable, thanks to that low centre of gravity and long travel suspension. Ten minutes in, relax, take your eyes off the beautifully laid-out infotainment console and look around – the first leg is an easy 40-minute ride and one that gets the endorphins flowing. International car launches use the superb piece of tar past Malmesbury farms to test responsiveness. On deserted Saturday mornings there are few stretches of road in the country as mesmerising as this: canola fields riotous, wheat just turning from deepest green to rusk-brown, a black ribbon snaking through an empty landscape absolutely made for biking. Heaven.
Philadelphia appears on the right, a little farming town that rates as one of the Cape’s best-kept secrets. It’s here that Annalet Aspeling has been running the Pepper Tree Art Stable and Restaurant for going on 16 years. Her ethos – as organic as possible, honesty in food and approach – has won friends around the world. The namesake ancient pepper tree anchors the old converted stable, with a tent providing cover in the courtyard. It’s on Philadelphia’s ‘main drag’, a high street so peculiarly last century that it was chosen to film scenes from Naomi Alderman’s period film, The Power. Pepper Tree is popular as a breakfast spot with those in the know, mostly cyclists and savvy bikers who, like us, use it as a first stop on a morning’s outing. The must-have on the menu is the farm bread French toast, washed down with Terroir Coffee Roaster’s Tribal Blend, chosen and honed over the years by Annalet and her team.
Terroir’s beans come from rare growing regions of the world such as Nagaland in the Himalayas and the blend is tangibly different – smoky, full, creamy.
PHILADELPHIA TO WELLINGTON
Coffee done and with one eye on the weather, it’s a quick look in at Magic Minerals over the road to say hi and pick up a birthday present of bespoke earrings, and then back on the GS to play. The Swartland’s appeal is the complexity and variety of its
backroads, perfect for adventure bikes, so instead of a simple routing to Wellington and the next stop at Cole Coffee Collective, a quick sideshow down the Capaia dirt road to test the GS’s offroad prowess.
Tar turns to gravel, deconstructs to goat track – this stretch of rutted purgatory is never an edifying experience, but master of its environment the GS most definitely turns out to be; hit the loose stuff and there’s no perceptible change in attitude. Remarkable. Thank the bike’s inherent balance as much as the raft of electronic aids that ensure you stay upright and elegantly aloof. Not even Poseidon letting loose his water cannons could spoil the fun. All too soon the gravel morphs into tar, into double lane N7 and a fast gallop to Kalbaskraal and the Slent Road past Ayama Winery to Wellington.
This leg of the tour is essentially ballroom dancing – quick, quick, slow – as the national limit N7 gives way to the up-hill-and-down-dale Old Malmesbury Road, then the grand, sweeping clip of the Paardeberg Road past the Denneboom Vineyards. The big Beemer is in its element and again the revelation is how well it manages everything. It’s no surprise that 60 000 of them were sold in 2021 alone; there’s not much else you need in a bike.
At Cole Coffee Collective there’s a buzz. And it’s not just the Colombia blend. The coffee spot, on the old Hermon Road just outside Wellington, is expanding into the back of the 147-year-old Ou Hexberg wagonry, transforming into the Cole Eatery under the culinary guidance of chef Erwie Kruger. It’s happy bedlam as floors get finished, Victorian pressed ceilings transform into wall panels, the pizza oven is fired up and – the pièce de résistance – an exten- sive outside patio with Salvador Dali-esque snaking wall takes shape. It’s an impressive undertaking and no surprise to learn that the greater Ou Hexberg Centre development (which includes Jacques Lombaard’s Belt and Band leatherworks) is the brainchild of Oscar Saunderson, the man behind the Old Tannery redevelopment just down the road.
Cole Eatery owner Nicole Warden-Buirski directs traffic while she talks coffee and history. “A local roaster blends our Brazilian, Colombian and El Salvador beans. The barista Amor Melato and I have worked on a specific taste and I find the South American beans work best for me.”
By now the Heritage Day storm is blotting out the far horizon, black like a babalaas temper, but there’s still one stop on the route, an important one, so it’s back on the grosse Duitse and high-tail across town to the foot of Bainskloof Pass and Cafe La Vita. It’s here that Antonina and her husband Martyn van Blommestein resettled after closing up the hugely popular Bistro 44 between Wellington and Klapmuts.
Antonina is Ukrainian and there’s news from home; it’s been a frightening time.
Except I’m too late – she’s flown home to be with her 81-year-old mother in Kyiv. Over Deluxe coffee Martyn debates difficult decisions. Bring her here? Stay with her? “It’s a difficult time.”
La Vita itself is very different to Bistro 44’s rustic, farm-style ambience. Antonina has gone for a sharply contemporary feel here, with picture windows out over the mountains, Chesterfields on Persian carpets, bare brick walls and a wrap-around patio that takes in the grazing springbok and the dams of the neighbouring Kleinevalleij Estate. She still focuses on local produce, though – arts and wearables are on sale alongside organic supplies and bottled specialities.
Outside it feels like The Wizard of Oz before the twister deposits Dorothy in Munchkin Land. Panicked wildlife, agitated oaks, threatening cloudscapes. Now it’s the 1250 GS’s job to get out of Kansas as quickly as possible – and it doesn’t disappoint. The bike hunkers down, the torquey flat twin roars and bike and rider outrun the tempest, Riddick outpacing the mud demons.
Half an hour later I’m warm, dry, all coffeed out, while the GS through the window is getting an impromptu wash, care of the cut-off low. It’s a splendid thing that bike – friend, wingman, warrior, weapon and nanny, all rolled into one.
The new 1300cc will have to be exceptional to better it. Challenge accepted. Next month in the Karoo then. Definitely there’ll be no rain up there … ?
BMW R 1250 GS TROPHY
A South African team won the International GS Trophy in 2020, so it’s not surprising that the R 1250 GS special edition has sold like hot cakes in the country. The Trophy is largely a cosmetic exercise, with special matt blue paint the most obvious differentiator over the standard bike. Grippy footrests, engine guards and hardcore spoked wheels speak to its off-road prowess, while the engine – BMW’s iconic twin-cylinder boxer – delivers 100kW and 143Nm of torque. Fuel consumption hovers at around 5L/100km, good for nearly 320km from the 18-litre tank. Like all BMW bikes, accessories rule the day; most popular are the panniers and heated grips. Pricing starts at R370 000. bmw-motorrad.co.za