When Thomas and Jacqui Böhm started building the Sabie Valley Rider Academy in June 2018, they were aiming to create something striking. They wanted prospective clients to take note of their offices – and it worked. Tons of people have since stopped in Sabie to find out if the motorcycle trainers build homes with containers. We sit down with Thomas to find out more.
Thomas and Jacqui recently undertook a shift in careers. Although he has been offering motorcycle training as a side project for the past 10 years, the couple have been involved in the hospitality industry around this town for a long time. They recently sold their hotel and opened the Sabie Valley Rider Academy in January.
It is a BMW-accredited training partner. “We teach people who already ride to go to the next level, to gain more advanced riding skills off-road and on the road as well,” Thomas explains. They offer a defensive road- riding course, but also do novice training for “people who have never ridden”. The rest of the business consists of tours, events, products, tyre sales and bike maintenance.
The industrial look and face of the business undoubtedly fit in with motorbikes. “We wanted to go for a workshop, retro style and not only a modern look, but budget constraints were also an issue,” Thomas says as a truck roars past, driving down Main Road. When it comes to saving money, he believes it depends on what you are doing.
“If you are only going to build a simple structure – a one-bedroom cottage with a bathroom – then it can be extremely cost-effective, quick and easy. The moment you go more elaborate, adding decks and double storeys as we did, your costs go up. You need experts and reinforcing metal.”
Morag Campbell, a motorcycle friend and architect from Johannesburg, assisted Thomas with the building plans as well as the planning permission. “At first I thought that we would get away with not having planning permission. In theory, if you can pick it up and take it away it isn’t a permanent structure,” he elaborates. “But the moment you connect to electricity and water, it becomes permanent.”
Bejane Space Solutions in Mbombela supplied the containers, and even though they can provide extensive changes to the structures, Thomas wanted to do most of it himself. “We were on a budget, and it is also about being able to say I built it.”
He calculated that cutting a 12-metre high cube container in half would work out cheaper than buying six-metre containers. “Bejane did that for us. I had a boilermaker who helped me with all the welding and two general labourers. There were four of us working on the building,” he adds, chuffed with their creation.
Although Thomas has previous building experience, he has never worked with containers. “I tried to do as much research on the Internet as possible and we had to get a structural engineer on board. It is also crucial for the concrete foundations to carry the load – you need someone who knows what they are doing.”
Other factors to consider are the transportation of the containers, insulation and waterproofing. “Putting down the containers can be a challenge,” Thomas admits. “When we bought them from Bejane, they offered us a flat transport rate from Mbombela – R7 000 for big containers and R3 500 for the small ones.” Because the company uses crane trucks, they stacked and moved the containers for free.
“To place the two containers on top of each other was almost a day’s work. The police had to close the road to make space for the truck,” he exclaims.
Thomas and his team only insulated the top level’s ceiling, but he urges prospective container dwellers to consider insulation, especially in areas warmer than misty Sabie.
“We didn’t want to place a roof over, because it would break the aesthetic – therefore waterproofing was a challenge,” he adds. You either have to create long welds where you join the containers, or use special products to create seals. Thomas and his team opted for welding, which can be a time-consuming endeavour.
“We also wanted to reclaim stuff – like the old windows used as mirrors in the bathrooms – and we used every bit of material we cut off to cover areas and make doors,” he says while glancing at a large sliding door, which truly opens up the space to the outside. “We also made the top deck’s bannister from all the rails that came off the containers.”
Sabie Valley Rider Academy has loads of bright plans for the future; it has joined the Sabie Chamber of Commerce and Tourism to help promote the quaint hamlet as a motorcycle destination. “We now have York Timbers involved – they have given us a big tract of land to use for training and they are going to start issuing permits to ride in the forests,” Thomas shares eagerly.
They are also in the process of setting up an app aimed at tourism and motorcycling in the area. Users will be rewarded for certain stops and can even receive discounts for visiting sights on their route. On the building side, there is no stopping Thomas either. The next add-ons will be showers and a splash pool for clients – for a cool dip after training or to wash off the day’s drive.
GET IN TOUCH
Thomas on 072-133-2151
Jacqui on 082-930-6289