(Cape Town) – For the last few months longtime resident of Montauk in the US state of New York, Phil Berg, has driven a unique vehicle throughout the streets of East Hampton. The converted school bus, adorned with a photo of its owner, his faithful canine companion Umma, and various images of African wildlife, serves as ideal advertising for Mr. Berg’s newest venture—a South African motorcycle touring company, African Bike Adventures.
Mr. Berg has been a motorcycle enthusiast for the majority of his 66 years. He bought his first bike, a 98cc Ducati, in high school and has since ridden around the country with insatiable wanderlust, leading him to write books about his travels.
This new global adventure marks Mr. Berg’s turn from enthusiast to businessman.
He said he was approached last summer by South African businessman Riaan Venter, who pitched the idea of starting a motorcycle touring company in South Africa.
“I go out to dinner and I always ride my bike with my dog … so I pull into The Dock in Montauk and this guy comes out. He makes me look like a shrimp—he’s about 7 feet tall—and he says ‘I’ve been looking for you’ and I go, ‘Oh God.’ But we really hit it off.”
It was that night that Mr. Venter, a co-founder and business development director of South African company Carrus, asked Mr. Berg to send him his resume, to which he obliged. He also sent copies of his books, “What a Ride” and “Travels With Umma.”
It was not long before Mr. Venter contacted him again—this time inviting him to meet in South Africa for an expense-paid trip. Although Mr. Berg had only intended to stay for two weeks in August, he ended up staying for a month.
“He wanted me to have some skin in the game. He sent me out with a guy who’s a logger, which is kind of what I did, on the Garden Route. It’s down at the bottom of the Cape. Then, I went out with a woman who was a chicken farmer and we went to the Kruger National Park.”
Mr. Berg ended up traveling approximately 11,000 kilometers, about 6,835 miles, across the expansive country.
“I rode from Johannesburg, out to Kimberley and then out to the northeast coast, a place called Port Nolloth,” he said. “Then I rode down the coast on dirt roads and highways. It’s an amazing place. All the way around the country. Through Cape Town two or three days up to Durban. I saw all kinds of stuff and met all kinds of people.
“Eventually, I figured I was in on this motorcycle tour thing.”
Throughout his month-long stay in the expansive country, Mr. Berg said he soon began to fall in love with the South African people and their culture.
“Everywhere you go you meet people and they’re very friendly. As soon as you start talking, they know you’re not from there,” he said. “And then the next thing they want to do is give you their phone number in case you break down.
“I said, ‘Well I’m going to be in Durban, 500 miles away tomorrow.’ And a guy I just met was like, ‘All right, I got friends there. They’ll come and get you.’”
Mr. Berg also took pleasure in the bounty of exotic fruits, vegetables and game meats served all over the country.
“The food there is twice as good as ours. It’s all organic, local. The avocado on your plate came from somebody’s tree yesterday,” he said. “And the leg of lamb … I’m a lamb guy so I thought I died and went to heaven there.”
In addition, he took in the scenery of the massive creatures that most Americans only ever see in zoos or on television.
“We have deer. They have 40 types of deer. They got giraffes. You name it, it’s there,” Mr. Berg said.
“I was riding up a road in the northwest and I see something moving and I go, ‘What is that?’ And I look and out there, there are ostriches running away in the desert. You’re not in Kansas.”
All these elements, he said, combine to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Riders can choose between a northern tour and southern tour.The northern option takes tourists through the “bustling metropolis” of Johannesburg, the country’s top national parks and game reserves, the famous Panorama Route, Zulu country, the Drakensberg Mountain Range and the Sani Pass.
Meanwhile, the southern tour includes riding the Garden Route, Route 62, to Cape Town, the wine country of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, Oudtshoorn—the ostrich capital of the world—and more.
The tour is not meant for a casual rider, Mr. Berg noted. The trip is designed for advanced motorcycle or dirt bike riders.
“You’re not going to go there unless you have some sort of motorcycle experience. Otherwise, you’re gonna die,” he said. “Experience is one of those things that’s a big variable. If you rode a dirt bike when you were a kid you don’t have a problem. You know how to handle that thing. If you’ve ridden a road bike and you’ve put on more than 5,000 miles, then you probably got some experience behind you. But if you think that you’re going to ride 100 miles and then go there and ride 100 to 300 miles per day, then you’re out of your league.”
Those requirements have led Mr. Berg to advertise his business at national motorcycle events such as Bike Week in Daytona Beach, Florida. However, he said he couldn’t find anyone looking for adventure, so he will make the trek to other venues shortly.
“The Red Knights put on a ride in North Sea in about a month and those guys are a bit more adventurous. I’ll go to the American Motorcycle Association, and they do like dirt bikes and competitions and races … that’s where the people are who are going to want to go,” he explained.
Aside from advertising, that’s where his bus comes in handy, he said. Mr. Berg uses the vehicle—which features a bed, closet space and a dog bed for Umma—as a camper of sorts. “Wherever I travel with it I have a home base, especially in an areas where they’re not so anal.”
For more information about African Bike Adventures, contact Phil Berg at (631) 379-7500