Skinny Van Schalkwyk

Todays’ interviewee is a madcap from South Africa, who I’m convinced is some kind of superhero in disguise. “Skinny” Van Schalwyk is an entrepreneur who stunts, races sport bikes and off-road bikes and explores long-forgotten places, all the while rocking her signature pink color. She puts out a newsletter chronicling her exploits which has 20,000+ subscribers. I am of course one of them and I’m always delighted to check out what she has been up to – she knows how to tell a good story! I hope you enjoy this read. [Rashmi Tambe, Editor, Global Women Who Ride]

Skinny_featured

Name: Skinny van Schalkwyk
Age: 37
Country: South Africa
Languages: Afrikaans, English
Years Riding: 10
Height: 1.8 m
Inseam: 88 cm
Current Motorcycles: Yamaha R6 (Billy-Bob) and Suzuki DR650 (Brom)
Past Motorcycles: KTM950 Adventure (Tonto); Yamaha R6 (Dragonfly); Triumph Scrambler 900 (Griet) and BigBoy XTG200 (Vonk)
Kms Per Year: 14, 200km
Website:http://www.tankgirls.co.za

 

Please introduce yourself. I studied geology and got an honours degree in it. I worked for one of South Africa’s biggest oil companies for a year before changing over to the IT department. I became a SAP consultant which I did full time for four years before I opened my own bike shop specializing in motorcycle gear for ladies. After four years I decided that the shop wasn’t going anywhere and I closed the doors. I then opened a printing company which did very well, but I had to move on after two years. I currently own a pet cremation business with my brother and live on our farm in the Magaliesberg mountains.

Describe your path into motorcycling. When I was seven or eight years old my parents had a friend come and visit with his bike. They thought that I would love the bike so they plonked me onto the back seat and sent me on my way. This oom (uncle) wanted to show off a bit and went flying down the road. I could not wrap my arms around his waist because my arms were too short and his waist probably too big. I was scared. I was scared silly. I was not impressed!

Fast forward twenty years later when I moved to the big city and didn’t know many people. I was sitting home bored out of my skull and decided I had to take up a hobby – but what? And then it came to me – biking! When I bought my first bike, they had to show me how to start a motorcycle. I rode out of the shop with a brand new Yamaha R6.  If I’d had any knowledge about bikes back in those days, I would never have bought a 600 cc as a first bike. Everybody told me to be very careful as it was a very powerful machine but I stalled it twice on the highway the first time I took it out. I couldn’t understand where all this “power” was that everybody was talking about? Then I realized – I had my foot on the back brake the entire time.

Describe your current motorcycles. I still have my first bike Billy-Bob but he has been stunted. I practice whenever I can and still dream of becoming the next Dena Sodano.

Women Who Ride: Skinny Van Schalwyck doing a wheelie

Skinny Van Schalwyck doing a wheelie

I also have a Suzuki DR650 adventure bike (Brom) on which I do my everyday riding. I opted more for a dirt bike as I live on a farm on the Magaliesberg Mountains. The road to get to the farm is bad and a normal road bike would never make it up and down the mountain. I also do a lot of weekend trips and in South Africa you need to be able to ride stof (dirt) to get to the nice towns.

Women Who Ride: Skinny Van Schalwyck takes a break off-road

Skinny Van Schalwyck takes a break off-road

The picture of you riding the pink KTM in the pink tutu is an internet legend now. What’s the story behind it? Ah, Tonto, my pink KTM950!  When I bought the bike I didn’t ride dirt at all!  But I liked the bike and being tall I knew I would fit on it.  Not a lot of ladies fit on the taller KTMs.

I took my brother Louré to a track day and thought he’d enjoy the day on the bike. I gave him Tonto to use for the day. But when we got to the track, I completely forgot that he didn’t even know how to start a bike.  I was out on the track playing when I noticed that I hadn’t passed Tonto yet, so I pulled back into the pits.  A little boy came running up to me saying that they thought my brother was going to die!

When  my brother finally got the bike started and figured out the clutch and throttle, he got target fixation on the pit wall and went slamming into the railing.  If you ever visit Phakisa raceway and look down the pit wall, the dent was made by my brother. (laughs) This was the perfect time to have the KTM sprayed pink while we had him fixed up.

The tutu part I dreamed of and decided to wear one to our yearly Toy Run – an event where all the bikers get together and collect toys for underprivileged kids.  Someone took the photo and it spread like wild fire on the internet. I actually had a guy phone me from the USA wanting to know if I was the girl on the pink KTM.  I confirmed and he then asked if he could come visit me – all the way from America!  Mike Tippett was from the BMW forum over there and they had a bet going on that it was not a girl on a bike.  He came and took some photos with me, we took him out for dinner with him on Tonto’s back, and he won the bet.

But the KTM support here in SA wasn’t all that good and Tonto spent more time in the garage waiting for parts than actually out on the road.  So I swapped him for Griet, my Triumph Scrambler 900.

Women Who Ride: Skinny Van Schalwyck - the famous girl on the pink KTM

Skinny Van Schalwyck – the famous girl on the pink KTM

Women Who Ride: Skinny Van Schalwyck - the girl in pink

Skinny Van Schalwyck – the girl in pink

Do you have a motorcycling achievement that you take pride in? Where do I start?
I’ve done a coast to coast trip across USA, from Myrtle Beach to LA on a Harley. I’ve done a 1200 km all night trip from Johannesburg to East London, SA, for a beer with friends. I competed in a 24 hour endurance race with a team of five other chicks and we came first among the ladies’ teams. I produced two female biker calendars with only true biker chicks on their bikes and no Photoshop! I’ve traveled to Cyprus to visit a couple I’ve never met before to go ride in the mountains. I’ve done some small-scale charity work in Mautse, a small township in the rural areas. I’ve crashed and burned and stood up to crash again.

Women Who Ride: Skinny Van Schalwyck practicing at RedStar raceway for a 24 hour endurance race

Skinny Van Schalwyck practicing at RedStar raceway for a 24 hour endurance race

Have you done any long distance road trips? I’ve done quite a few long distance trips. One of the longest was one last year riding coast to coast across the USA . In South Africa we often do long distance rides as you have to get quite far out from the cities to get to the rural areas.

One of my favourite trips was with my best friend Jen Kotzenberg back in 2006. She got her very first bike, a 400 cc Suzuki Intruder, and we decided to go on a trip – to Namibia! She’d been on the bike probably three times before the trip and had no experience to fall back on. We did the nearly 5000 km trip with no incident and she made it all the way. Her top speed was only about 100 kmph but we weren’t in a rush.

Tell us a good story from your rides I have so many stories as I write a biking newsletter every month. But I guess one of my favourite one is when I found “Geluk”. I had heard someone sarcastically say that he hopes I find geluk (meaning happiness) one day. When he left the room I kept staring at a map on the wall right where his head had been, which showed a small dot with the name “Geluk”.

Two months later I set out to find this small town. I had to take a few sandy, lonely tracks which not a lot of people ever use. If I fell or got stuck, I could be there for a few days before someone would find me. I spent the whole day trying to find this town when I fell in thick sand. I was planning on sleeping next to the bike as I couldn’t lift it by myself, when a farmer came past and helped me. Apparently “Geluk” was a ghost town now with only a few ruins left. It was on another farm and they opened the gate for me to continue my search. Just before dark I found Geluk! I slept behind a petrol station that night, very content and happy!

Women Who Ride: Skinny Van Schalwyck in search of Geluk

Skinny Van Schalwyck in search of Geluk

Talk to us about sheDARE. sheDARE was an attempt from three girls to become South Africa’s first all-girls stunt group, but it didn’t work out.  The girls weren’t all on the same page, and Storm – one of South Africa’s best racers – and I left the group.  Storm is currently focusing on her racing and hopefully she’ll get to race overseas next year.  I’m practicing my stunting every weekend I can too.

Women Who Ride: Skinny Van Schalwyck on sheDare

Skinny Van Schalwyck on sheDare

Do you do maintenance and repairs on your bike? I can do a few of the smaller things, but I don’t own a lot of tools. Even though I can change a tyre, I don’t have levers. Therefore – I own a cellphone!

Women Who Ride: Skinny Van Schalwyck applying plasters to a cracked valve

Skinny Van Schalwyck applying plasters to a cracked valve

Do you have any motorcycling heroes? When I was little I dreamed of being Superman. How silly? Now that I’m grown up – I dream of being Dena Sodano! Maybe not any more realistic but at least her super powers are real. There are so many people in South Africa alone who inspire me. Cindy Porobich is one of SA’s best all round ladies. You can put her on any surface and she will make the rest of the group eat dust.

Johan Gray from ADA training refused to take no for an answer when I didn’t want to ride off-road. After a weekend of training with him, ending in at least seven different shades of bruises, I now ride dirt.

Then there is a friend I made during my track racing years, Jenice Lehmann aka Storm. She started at the back of the class, but with determination and a never-give-up attitude, she’s one of the fastest ladies in SA these days. Or I should say fastest ‘riders’ as the ladies here are not that far behind the men.

Do you have any advice for people who want to get into motorcycling? Get some training and listen to the old bikers – they survived for a reason!

RIDING IN SOUTH AFRICA

Women Who Ride: Somewhere in South Africa

If I were to visit you and we went riding for one morning, where would you take me? Well, first of all I’ll hope you do some dirt riding, or we wouldn’t get very far in the North-West province. I’ll take you along the channel routes in the farming communities around Brits. We’ll pass a few private game farms and we might even see some buck or giraffe.

I’ll take you to Jericho’s Rock, which is the South African version of Ayers Rock in Australia. If you feel up to it, I’ll take you to the top to see the magnificent view from up there.

Women Who Ride: Skinny Va Schalwyck climbing to the top of Jericho's Rock

Skinny Va Schalwyck climbing to the top of Jericho’s Rock

From there we’ll go to Beestekraal station for lunch. For a last spin, I’ll take you up Breedt’s neck over the Magaliesberg Mountains and stop at the shebeen at the bottom for a well-deserved zamalek (beer).

What’s the best part about riding in South Africa? South Africa is the country of twelve months of summer. Even in our coldest months, you get hot riding in the middle of the day. We have mountains, we have semi deserts, and we have bushveld and forests. We have got quite a few towns you can only access on dirt roads. We have Rossi’s favourite race track – Phakisa raceway!

We have melktert, a dessert sold in every town, made by an old auntie who does nothing else with her time. We have traffic cops who love cans of Coca-Cola (bribes)! Just make sure you have one on hand.

Women Who Ride: Riding off-road in South Africa

Riding off-road in South Africa

What are the top rides you would recommend? There are so many wonderful little towns and rural places to visit in SA, but two of the top biking destinations would be the Baviaanskloof in the Eastern Cape and the ’22 of Mpumalanga.

Baviaanskloof is a ride I still have to do myself and is a technical dual-sport dream. The scenery is beautiful and the ride challenging from time to time.

The ’22 is a tarred road between two smaller towns, Sabie and Hazyview in the lowveld. It is a 22 km stretch of twists and turns. The Superbike riders love to wind it up and down, scraping pegs and knees.

What are the best months for riding there? The only month that is bad for riding is when you run out of money before you run out of month. We have different rain seasons throughout the country, some places it might snow in winter while others will be hot all year long. If you pick your destination well, you will have a great ride no matter what time of year it is.

How does the topography of the place you live affect the kind of motorcycling you choose to do? Living on a farm in the rural areas up a mountain where there aren’t a lot of tarred roads – you have to have a dual sport motorcycle. Even though I vowed never to ride off-road, I had no choice to adapt once I moved to the farm.

Is it safe to ride at night where you live? Not really, but it doesn’t stop me. Especially where we live near Marikana, we have a lot of protests against the mines. The people get quite violent and it’s definitely not a good idea to go near any of these.

Living on the farm, we also have a lot of crime especially at night. We have to lock out motorcycles away every night as they get stolen to use the engines for water pumps.

Is there a local motorcycling event that you try and attend regularly? When I still lived in the city, three of us bikers started a tradition of getting coffee on a Friday morning before work. Fridays we could dress a bit more casual and thus we would take our bikes to work. We did this even on the coldest of cold winter mornings, come rain or shine. One morning, an old auntie who was always at the coffee shop came up to us and asked if we were kopdood to ride in that cold weather. Kopdood means brain dead in Afrikaans. Thus started Kopdood coffee. The last time I attended a cuppa, there were more than 50 bikers! I live too far from the city these days, but if ever I moved back – I wouldn’t miss Kopdood.

There is a small, by-invite-only rally organised by one of the famous characters in biking here in South Africa, Charley Cooper. He started this rally more than 10 years ago. It is called the Poes rally (not a very nice word in Afrikaans) (blushes). There’s never more than fifty people attending and it’s more like a get together of old friends who haven’t seen one another in ages. The ride there is also always epic.

Then there is the annual Toy Run, the biggest biking event in the country. Bikers take from the goodness in their souls, get together on the last Sunday of November, take over the roads of the big cities and get together at stadiums to collect toys for underprivileged kids. It is hart warming to watch these burly, leather clad, ruff-and-tuff bikers draped in teddy-bears. Tons of toys are collected just in time for Christmas.

Are there any motorcycle specific laws? You have to wear a helmet that is DOT or SNELL approved and covers the ears. You are not allowed to ride on anything smaller than a 50 cc on the highways. Lane-splitting is technically legal. You are allowed to “share” a lane with another vehicle if the lane is wide enough. Though the way we ride we keep crossing the line between two vehicles on a highway and therefore we have to indicate every time we cross it. Our traffic officers are very lenient though, especially if you have a can of Coca-Cola on hand.

Women Who Ride: Skinny Van Schalwyck after going a little faster than the speed limit

Skinny Van Schalwyck after going a little faster than the speed limit

Are motorcyclists discriminated against in any way? We do have to pay the same at tollgates as other vehicles, even a bakkie (SUV) with a double axle trailer!

I wouldn’t really say there is that much discrimination against us. There is however a lot of ignorance regarding bikes. We often hear the usual “but I didn’t see you” phrase at biking accidents. Therefor we started the Think Bike campaign in 2005, focusing on educating cagers about bikes and also educating bikers about safety. I was the secretary for this campaign for three years and even though I’m not actively involved anymore I will always support the cause!

How do the police treat motorcyclists? They do target bikes, especially on Sundays when most of us are out on the road enjoying a breakfast run. On popular bike routes, they will even have road blocks specifically for bikes. They have cars on call to chase down bikers on some of the highways well known for speeding. These cop cars are souped up so that they can keep up with any superbike. They are rigged with cameras front and back. We also often hear of bikes that are impounded if they do not have number plates on or if they have the incorrect size number plates.

Are any motorcycle related sports popular where you live and do women actively participate in them? Drinking and “yes” respectively. (laughs) We have all the sports here and yes, women partake in all of them.

Women Who Ride: The first women to cross the line in the BikeSA 24 Hour Endurance Race 2013

The first women to cross the line in the BikeSA 24 Hour Endurance Race 2013

What is the traffic like and how does it affect motorcycle riding? There is heavy traffic congestion during peak hours in the cities. We do not have any proper public transport thus most people use their own cars to get to work and back – one person per car! With lane splitting allowed, it makes life a lot easier to commute with a bike. But it causes a lot of road rage especially during traffic jams when people get irritated with sitting in their cars for hours. Patience goes a long way!

Is motorcycle theft a problem? Motorcycle theft is a big problem. If your bike is not nailed down – they will take it. If it’s nailed down – they’ll steal the nails first.

How are women motorcycle riders treated? Seeing a girl on a bike in SA is not unusual. Over the past ten years motorcycling has grown hugely among women. These days when you see two bikes coming your way, most of the time it will be a man and woman on their own bikes.

Do you have access to high quality motorcycling gear in your part of the world? We do have all the big names in gear available to us but there are few brands which specialize in women’s gear. We just import these ourselves and it’s cheaper then. We have a bigger problem getting bike parts in South Africa. It’s not strange to have a Suzuki stand for months waiting for a simple part like a regulator.

Do female and male motorcyclists have the same amount of freedom to pursue motorcycling activities? South Africa is the land of opportunity – if you dream it, you can do it!

SKINNY RECOMMENDS

Books: Land Of The Long Wild Road, Beyond Bucharest by Bob Goddard
Movies: Why We Ride
Magazine: BikeSA magazine for my friend Charley Cooper’s “Charley’s Chat” article
Professional Motorcyclist: Simon Fourie – he’s in his 70’s and still racing!
Female Motorcyclist: Dena Sodano

 

Can’t get enough of Skinny? Follow her exploits on her blog and make sure to subscribe to her newsletter for regular updates on her latest adventures!



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