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Our guest bloggers range from safari guides to technical experts and travellers, all whom share their lessons, photos and stories with us and the Leisure Wheels readers on an on/off basis. If you would like to contribute with tales of travels and off-roading expertise, send two example pieces and a short bio to introduce yourself to our web editor,

Most modern tyres carry a TIN Tyre Identification Number code

Tyre Topics

By Jake Venter

Tyre design is constantly evolving, with the result that new ideas and designs are appearing on a regular basis. This issue we’re looking at two topics that get quite a lot of people hot under the collar, and we’ll also look at the date code that can be found on many tyres.

Run-flat tyres

The latest designs are self-supporting, meaning that they’re equipped with reinforced sidewalls that are able to support the vehicle’s mass even if the tyre is completely flat. They will allow the car to travel on a flat tyre for at least 100 km at 80 km/h, with only a slight reduction directional stability.

Many people don’t like run-flat tyres. The stiff sidewalls are responsible for a considerable reduction in ride comfort, and they’re also significantly more expensive than normal tyres. They seldom last for more than 25 000 km. However, they do make even more sense on an off-road vehicle when you’re far from civilisation than when you’re cruising on the open road. Another option, which has been around for many years, is to fit a circumferential band inside the wheel. This prevents the tyre beads from collapsing into the well as soon as the pressure drops, and allows the vehicle to travel on, but at a speed that’s well below 80 km/h. In both cases the tyre will be damaged beyond repair.

Nitrogen in tyres

The tyres on racing cars and aircraft are filled with nitrogen instead of air because the absence of oxygen is a safety factor in case of a fire. Filling tyres with nitrogen is also beneficial because it is usually supplied dry, while most air compressors can only deliver moist air. The presence of water vapour will have a long-term corrosive effect on valve seals as well as the wheels.

Some vendors selling nitrogen maintain that nitrogen-filled tyres keep their pressure longer, because of the absence of oxygen. The claim is that the oxygen molecule is smaller than the nitrogen molecule, so that the former will leak out quicker over time, but I find this difficult to believe. There is in fact almost no difference in molecule size, and the leak rate should be about the same. It’s worth remembering that an air-filled tyre already contains about 80 per cent nitrogen.

Using old tyres

One often sees a car running on very old tyres. This is understandable, because tyres are expensive.  However, one must be aware that an old tyre can suddenly disintegrate. Tyre companies regard a 5-year-old tyre as too old to trust. In fact, some car companies are advising motorists to replace any tyre that is more six years old, no matter how good it may appear to the untrained eye.

Most modern tyres carry a TIN (Tyre Identification Number) code in small letters somewhere near the bead. This code follows after the factory identification code and shows the date of manufacture. Three numbers indicate a tyre made before the year 2000, and here the digits stand for the week and year of manufacture. For example, on a tyre with the code NAA375 the NAA is factory identification and the numbers imply that the tyre was made in the 37th week of either 1985 or 1995. If there is a triangle indentation after the last number the date will be 1995, and if the indentation is not there it will be 1985. Four numbers indicate a tyre made after 1999. For example, the code DFK1204 means that the tyre was made in the 12th week of 2004. DFK is again a factory reference code.

Tyre ageing

Small cracks anywhere on a tyre are a sign that it is getting past its prime. These cracks usually start at the bottom of grooves where there is an abrupt change of section, but later become visible all over the tyre. Larger cracks tend to break chunks off the tread. Sometimes the sidewall layers separate over time and this often forms a visible bulge.

Three factors are at work to break tyres down:

1. Natural rubber is weak in tensile strength, but if it is exposed to sulphur while under high pressure and temperature the sulphur will link the rubber molecules together so that it becomes strong but elastic. This process is called vulcanisation, and continues for the rest of a tyre’s life, but at a slower pace, due to the effect of sunlight, heat and movement. However, if it carries on for too long, the tyre becomes hard and brittle again.

2. Oxygen and ozone in the air causes the rubber to harden and go brittle.

3. Water in the atmosphere and inside the tyre, as well as on the road, breaks down the bond between the steel plies and the rubber, so that the tyre weakens.

The people of Groot Marico

By Louis Kleynhans

Is the hectic pace of daily life getting to you? I know of a place where you can get your mojo back. Groot Marico is just 90 minutes from Johannesburg and Pretoria.

When you hear “Groot Marico” a few things spring to mind immediately: Herman Charles Bosman, Mampoer and Bushveld will lead most of the lists. You will be absolutely on the mark, but what I have found to be the biggest gem in Groot Marico is the people. The moment you phone the Information Centre, you will realize how friendly and helpful Santa and her amazing team are. Don’t go to Groot Marico expecting to be immediately entertained. You will have to delve a bit deeper for the Marico experience.

Santa, Lironka and Teresa are an endless fountain of knowledge. They don’t only know what there is do in town – you can bet that they are the driving force behind it. The Bosman site in town is their pride and joy. The Bosman society has taken the school where Bosman taught apart brick by brick and moved it from near the Botswana border to Groot Marico. They have also built a Hartbees Huisie and amazing traditional Tswana houses. The museum is where the soup kitchen is run from, and the home of all the Bosman Festivals.

My hosts Louis and Jolene took me into their home and lives and I was treated like family. There is not much that can top good company, sherry and a warm fireplace.

The Northern Cape’s secrets

When we think of the Northern Cape, we think of the Richtersveld or the Kalahari. We can’t help it – we’re overlanders. Even on our road trip to this beautiful province last year, the sights along the way were a bonus, and not part of the destination. But what happens when you skip the big attractions and simply focus on the province’s secret gems? Erik Brits from Nightjar Travel did just that, discovering that the province really does have more to offer than the two great parks.

By Erik Brits

One of the perks of having researched a local destination guide is that you have to do a fair bit of legwork. In any other profession, that would be a drag, but for Nightjar this essentially means going on holiday. The most memorable trip of the last year or two was our Northern Cape ‘safari’ (title earned by virtue of having seen a giraffe).

South Africa holds a diversity of geography that few other countries boast, but the northern end of the Northern Cape is by far the most arresting. It is as if an incredibly talented sculptor ran out of raw materials and decided to craft something beautiful nonetheless, using only rock, rock and more rock. This area is accessible in a vehicle with decent ground clearance and tires suitable to long distances on gravel (i.e. not runflats) but to get the full experience a 4×4 is recommended, because there are some magnificent sleep-out trails all over the province. Below is the outline of our trip, although there are infinite possibilities. As a final tip, don’t assume that just because the landscape is so barren, wildlife does not occur here.

Witsand Nature Reserve – Upington – Keimoes – Riemvasmaak – Augrabies Falls National Park.

This trip starts in the Witsand Nature Reserve and takes the first two or three days off to explore the reserve and the 4×4 trails around it. Witsand has tremendous variation to offer, amongst others, surprisingly, a body of permanent water. Make sure you do the evening walk with one of their rangers (it was free of charge when we did it). The frogs are fascinating, and once the ultra violet light is on, you will be amazed at the numbers of scorpions around you. No wonder they insist on closed shoes and long trousers for the walk.
The trip then heads off to the Augrabies Falls National Park, via Riemvasmaak. Riemvasmaak has a hot spring set in a cathedral of cliffs, and is worth a one week trip in its own right. From the spring, which offers accommodation in a few rustic chalets, you have a choice of three 4×4 trails. On one of them, you can camp out on the banks of the Orange River. There are a few other designated camp sites, but they have fallen into disrepair.
This is very dramatic countryside. If you don’t have the time to stay over in the Riemvasmaak are, at least try and fit in the detour. Allow at least 4 hours for it, because you will be spending more time our of your car taking photos that in your car driving.

In the Augrabies Falls National Park, we spent two days exploring the park on foot, by car and on the river. You definitely need more time to properly settle into this beautiful desert environment. And with a plethora of rafting, hiking and mountain biking options, you could probably spend another whole week here, if you were so inclined.
About the rafting; the Orange River offers a range of possibilities. Closer to the Richtersveld Park the river is very placid, so much so that the commercial trips here are done in Canadian Canoes and not the usual crocs. Below the falls, the section at the Gorge near Verloorsdrif features wilder rapids and is rated up to 4. Perhaps only for the more experienced. For groups of mixed experience, the section in the Augrabies Falls National Park is a good compromise.

We suspect that most people just rush through this part of the world on their way to the Richtersveld or the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It’s a mistake. We would not recommend trying to connect this trip with either of these two. It would be too ambitious, unless you have a lot of time on hand. We think it deserves a good week to ten days in its own right.

Secretly soft-roader envy

By Erik Brits

I am as guilty as the next man of acting on emotion rather than reason – it is just less effort. This is especially true when it comes to the age-old soft roader debate… seriously, why do they exist?? Look at a double-cab bakkie with a replacement bull bar, for example, and feel that tug at all things primitive inside you. Instinctively you want to buy a kayak and go find the source of the Senqu river, or stick a bull on that back so that you can have the freshest meat at the next neighbourhood braai.

Similarly, look at a sleek sexy sedan and you can just picture yourself slicing through traffic like a small (excited) dog through your mother-in-law’s flowerbed, making it home at least 17 seconds faster than in a ‘normal’ vehicle. So what then, do you do with a soft roader?

The cherry on top, when a guy thinks with his heart and not his head, is normally this statement: You’d be surprised where you can get to with a regular old car anyway – it’s only when you really need a 4×4 that things change.

It was precisely that statement that led me to go charging into Limpopo for a week of bushveld exploration in my little BMW 1 series recently, runflats and all, thinking I was going to show those city slickers in their RAV’s and iX35’s what a real man can do with enough will power.

Well, as it turns out, a real man can come home with his tail between his legs. You see, although my car has more than adequate ground clearance for most dirt roads and maintained farm trails, that corners-on-rails suspension kit transmits every vibration straight through my foolishbone and into my brain. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure my runflats actually cry every time they see an oncoming rock with a profile sharper than a teaspoon. And of course, game viewing in the Kruger (I took an interesting route home) is quite tricky when you sit with your head below shoulder height for anything bigger than a duiker, and especially so when you have to rev a petrol V6 to 4000rpm to get your scrabbling rear-wheel drive car up a loose gravel hill. Thankfully there were no other tourists nearby trying to enjoy the tranquility that I spoilt.

I will probably never change. I will probably continue to poke fun at people who buy ‘hatchback-on-steroid’ SUV’s that will seldom leave a paved road. But now, every time I do so, I will wince inside, and remember the bill I just paid for new runflats. Call me a sissie, but secretly I wish I had a softy.

Meet Louis Kleynhans: Travel photographer

Regular readers will have noticed this new name across our website, so we though it time to introduce the travel photographer behind all the tips and latest photos to you properly. We’re happy to have his photos grace our web pages!

Louis Kleynhans is a freelance travel, culture, editorial and documentary photographer based in South Africa, who works around the world. In fact, he is so busy that you have to have your wits about you just to keep up with him. Louis’s love of photography began when he worked as a photo-journalist for regional, national and then international newspapers and magazines. Louis’s dedication to visual storytelling is enhanced by his love for travel, history and cultural exchange. Louis has planned and led various photographic expeditions in Africa with great success.


Louis works primarily as a freelance photographer. He has been commissioned by corporations, private organizations, universities and independent writers and his images have appeared on everything from billboards to magazine and book covers. Lately, he has been spending a lot of time giving back to the photographic community providing various courses. These range from lectures with students to international workshops. Most of these workshops are presented on location. The workshops include: How to make a portrait, location light, location light with speed lights, location portrait and fashion and documentary photography.


​When not working on photo assignments, Louis can be found volunteering his time with conservation organizations, youth organizations and local NGO’s. Louis hosts an International Leadership camp every year in Lesotho. The funds raised go to sustaining the community for the next year. They have managed to build accommodation for Aids orphans and a hugely successful pre-school, one of the very few in Lesotho.


Aside from all the exciting stuff, Louis is a relaxed person who has an astounding passion for photography. He takes any challenge and turns it into a photographic opportunity. He enjoys working with people and when you work with him and his team, it will feel like so much fun that, you will wonder where the time went.

The Lazy Photographer’s bakkie

By Erik Brits

Have you ever looked at a bakkie on a dealer floor, and thought to yourself “Pity it’s not finished”? I often look at that gaping load bay at the back and think to myself… just a little bar here, a battery there, a winch maybe, ooh a spotlight, and don’t forget the tyres! The point is, some people see their vehicles as a canvas, and my old man recently went van Gogh on his. Here are some of the details.

The Cameras

Maybe it’s age creeping in, or maybe it is that the lenses have become bigger with the years, but the one thing that is near impossible to do is to use a camera with a 500mm or 800mm lens effectively from the back seat. And even if it were, it is a pretty inefficient use of the space. Getting out of the car to get the big lens off the back seat is also not an option, even outside of game reserves. Animals and birds are usually reasonably tolerant of a metal box (vehicle), but take flight as soon as the door is popped open.

So we had the idea of installing a set of “kitchen drawers” in the space between the two front seats, extending all the way to the rear of the double cab of the bakkie (Ute for Aussies, Truck for Americans). The bottom drawer in the image shows a camera with an 800mm lens attached. The top drawer takes a camera with a 500mm lens, or two cameras with shorter lenses, or one camera and up to four coffee flasks as shown in the image.


Laptops, Chargers & other toys

The cameras are just a part of the paraphernalia that one needs comfortable access too. On the passenger side of the double cab, we fitted a box in which to slide the laptops. This box comfortably takes three laptops (in neoprene sleeves). Behind the box are containers (drainpipes covered in sticky plastic) for the tripods, monopods, walking sticks, fly-rods and whatever else one might want to stick in there.

The shelf is useful for keeping a bag full of the lenses that don’t go on the cameras and the space below the shelf takes two Pelican / Storm boxes, again full of camera kit for longer trips. The chargers for the laptops and the camera batteries are permanently wired and there are additional 12V and 220V outlets above and below the shelf. One of the biggest challenges of the whole setup was to get everything rattle free, and after 15 000km on dirt roads, we are almost halfway there…


The Power Source

Since a lot of our photography is done in remote places, it was important to have an independent power source for all the cameras, laptops and other gadgetry. Whereas a camera can go over a thousand shots on a charge (and one can always carry spare batteries), it takes a full laptop charge to download and process a batch of 250-odd images. Rather frustrating if you are staying in a remote cottage with no electricity for a week.

The two CTEK boxes in the top middle of the image charge the battery pack via the alternator. The AECA is the controller for the solar panels (The little grey box middle bottom is a spare controller for the solar panels). The two blue boxes are a 3kW sine wave inverter and a 650W sine wave inverter. The smaller one is used for charging the electronics and is permanently on. The bigger inverter, ridiculous as it may sound, is used for boiling a kettle for coffee.

The compressor for inflating the tires has also been hard wired. The tray in which it is mounted serves as the lid for the battery compartment, which contains six deep cycle batteries. The CTEC module that is just visible in the bottom left hand corner of the image is a 220V charger that is used to top up the battery pack before long trips.


The Rest of the Space

Since we have such an abundance of mobile power, we mounted two fridges sideways in the load bay, immediately behind the battery pack. The fridges are accessed through the side panels of the canopy and are quite comfortable to use for folk of average height. With both fridges going and some recharging of laptops and camera batteries, the system can easily run through the night of arrival, two more nights, and the two days inbetween. However, if the plan is to stay put for longer than this, we usually get the solar panels up and running on day 1.

The shelf behind the fridges is fixed and works better than a drawer system. The space below the shelf takes four 70-litre wheelie bags, which can be rolled in and out very comfortably. And then there is ample packing space on top. Of course, this arrangement only works because it only has to access the rear half of the load bay.
Originally published:

3 simple composition tips to improve your photos

By Louis Kleynhans


Understanding composition is something that every photographer should take time to do. Without the need to invest in any expensive equipment, appreciating the elements of good composition will undoubtedly enhance your photographic work. Developing your photographic eye is something that comes naturally to some, but for others, it takes time and effort to hone you visual skills and abilities as a photographer. I’m a very technical photographer and it can take me a while on a shoot to get the composition right.


Here are a selection of hints and tips that will help you when considering the composition of your work.


Step 1 – Don’t try to be perfect

It’s important to understand that there’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ composition. It is possible to have poorly and well composed photographs. There are many elements to the composition of a photograph, each acting as a simple guideline that will help you to take stronger and more engaging images.


Step 2 – Simplicity

One of the main things to consider is how the elements within the shot relate to each other and therefore what you include or leave out of the photo. There is often a temptation to fill a shot with many points of interest as possible, but when composition is concerned, it’s better to be selective about what you include in the photo. Some of the most dramatic photographs have very simple but effective composition, the eye is led into the image and the viewer can engage with a good photograph.


Step 3 – Landscape Composition

Using composition effectively when working with landscapes is very important. The drama of a great landscape photo is based upon its composition and structure. Ask yourself what you want your shot to be about. Is it about the water, the mountains in the distance, the horizon, the sunset or the rocks in the foreground? Which elements do you want to emphasise within your photo?



Jeep’s Grand Cherokee: Driving impressions

Jeeps manic makeover

By Sean Nurse

There is no denying the importance of the Grand Cherokee for Jeep. Since its inception in 1992 Jeep has sold over 5 million of them worldwide. It is often hailed as one of the best value for money propositions in the business. Not only does it provide genuine off-road credentials, but with each passing generation it seems to improve its overall refinement and road manners.

That brings us to the question that came up at the launch of Jeep’s “new” Grand Cherokee. Is the 2014 model a new car as they claim, or simply an extensive facelift? After attending the launch and driving the model line-up, I have to conclude that the changes are not enough to call the Grand Cherokee a new model. That said,  they are not minor enough to be called a simple facelift either.


Small tweaks – big changes

In terms of looks, the makeover is mild, with an emphasis on providing distinctive features to each model designation that will allow variants to be told apart with greater ease.

But it’s the other changes that really differentiate this model. While everybody was going on about the skin-deep changes, the really big news is that Jeep have fitted the glorious ZF eight-speed transmission to the model line-up.


Clever gearing

According to Jeep, the gearbox has been changed slightly by their engineers for the diesel and SRT variants, but on the whole it is the same system that impressed Leisure Wheels in the Amarok and in various BMW models. It is a fantastic transmission and really transforms the Grand Cherokee, particularly in SRT guise, into a properly dynamic and capable SUV. The gear changes are truly very fast in manual mode and manage the tricky double act of being both fast and smooth in auto mode. It is difficult to believe that this is only a single clutch system, and is certainly a welcome addition.

Keeping with the times

The interior upgrades are also fairly significant, with the addition of an 8, 5-inch touchscreen and 7-inch TFT cluster display. The new systems make the Grand Cherokee more infotainment friendly and bring it more in line with what customers expect from a modern SUV. Depending on what specification level you choose, the interior varies quite dramatically. The Limited spec is the most basic, the Overland luxurious, and the SRT cabin, which feels like a smoking jacket infused with nitrous-oxide.

The Grand Cherokee isn’t a vehicle targeted at the hard core off-road enthusiast but rather at a family-orientated person who needs a good value proposition. It is, however,  more than capable of taking you and your loved ones off the beaten path safely with its Quadra-Lift air suspension, Selec-Terrain and Selec-Track management systems.

I had the pleasure of tacking the off-road section in the Drakensberg in the Overland model, equipped with the throaty 3, 6-litre V6. I had sampled the same engine the previous day albeit in Limited guise from Johannesburg and can happily report that the Pentastar powerplant can be economical on the open road, where my driving partner and I managed consumption figures of around 10 l/100km. On the off-road section – in typical V6 fashion – it put down the right amount of torque and simply sailed through what were very mild off-road conditions.

Overall, the 2014 Grand Cherokee is an impressive product. When the diesel arrives in the coming months, the range will be complete. For me, the SRT, with its slightly naughty soundtrack, launch control, surprisingly good handling and attractive pricing is the pick of the range, although prepare to pay for that performance at the pumps. The gearbox, improved infotainment system, refinement and all-round ability of the new Grand Cherokee make it a very solid product in its segment. Just don’t expect to visit your local showroom and see an entirely new car.

Turning girls into women: rural Africa photographed

For his photography post this month, Louis Kleynhans decided to bring tribute to the young women he shot on a UN project. The women and girls photographed are mainly from Mozambique, and while they work hard to support their families, many of them should still be playing with their siblings instead of being homemakers. For more photos from this series, view the gallery here.

By Louis Kleynhans

This Women’s Month, I decided to highight photos that I shot for the United Nations of the beautiful women who work in rural areas across our continent.


Sadly, you can’t talk about these “women” without talking about the girls – which is what many of them are. The children in less developed communities lose out on their childhood. The images above of the two girls fetching water for their homes at the local well and pump were taken at Macanetta Island, Mozambique.


In the cities, are are so used to openeing a tap and having water be available. The first thing these girls do in the morning when they wake up is fetch water. Their family then uses it to wash, cook and do dishes.

At lunch, they fetch more water, and by the end of the day they would have been back and forth a few more times. The women who use pumps spend about three hours a day fetching water, but those who are not fortunate enough to have use of a pump take far longer.


The children that do go to school have to get up before sunrise to do their water-fetching duties – and they will finish long after dark. Besides for the water, they collect firewood and look after younger siblings – often basically raising them.


It’s basically a form of slavery – and their burdens could be lightened so much by simply supplying them with running water. They spend their entire days – lives – working and going to school. In the rural areas we visited, it was very rare to see young girls playing outside. It’s an incredibly sad sight.


So, I’d like to salute all these women on Women’s Day and in Women’s Month – women who should still be girls.