Tag Archives: Africa Twin

Africa Twin – Off Road in Morocco 2

Africa Twin Index Page
Morocco Overland

I’m parked up below the ramparts of the Saghro massif, just over the road from an old French-era fort where they filmed one of those ‘SAS: Are You Tough Enough?’ shows. Up in the hills, new-to-me tracks wait to be logged, but by the time I get rolling I realise I’ve left it way too late to do what needed doing before dark. I nose up a new track just to check it’s there, and up another new road over the jebel, but going for a there-and-back excursion seems silly.

Heading back to the hotel in the late afternoon heat, huge dust devils spin menacingly by the roadside. There must be some way of doing something new and saving the day. Yes: cross the ridge and ride Route MS1 out through Tafetchna and into the stony desert, then come back up the little-used east bank of the Draa river on a new backroad. I haven’t done MS1 for years and as elsewhere, tarmac has seeped up from the south and shortened the off-roading.

It’s only about 12km through the shallow gorge, but as always, it’s miles more engaging to be on the dirt and follow the track weaving through to the other side. In the shallow gorge, an abandoned track leads over the riverbed and back north, but I’ve never managed to make the link. One for next time on something lighter.
As more and more pistes in southern Morocco get sealed, obscure trails become Tois or ‘tracks of interest’, but because they’re largely unused and unmaintained, they’re rougher and slower going. It’s a bit like mountaineering in the second half of the 20th century; once all the highest peaks had been knocked off, climbers had to start looking for harder ‘north face’ routes.

Once through the gorge, up ahead I remember the water tower landmark visible at the village of Touna Niaaraben where the asphalt now runs to the N9 over the stony plain.

Back on the bitumen, I nip down to Zagora for some fuel: the AT has peaked at 63mpg (52 US) on a mixture and 2nd and 3rd gear tracks and 120-kph road stages.
I then turn back up the Draa backroad – an east-side alternative to the main N9 but it turns out to be nothing special. On the edge of a village I pull over by a ditch alongside some shady palms for a snack, then get back to the hotel pleased I’ve done something new today. Tomorrow I’d need to crack on.

A few weeks ago a Moroccan geologist got in touch. He’d spent the summer in the mineral-rich massif of Saghro on his Himalayan and told me of a couple of new tracks traversing the ranges. I traced one 100-km crossing from Nekob on Google sat – for me the most reliable way to find new routes online because unlike maps, WYS is WYG. Once over on the north side, I could turn east via the new Kelaa bypass and finish off by closing the loop via the classic Saghro route over the newly sealed, 2316-metre Tazazart Pass (MH4) back to Nekob. An action-packed 400+ km day of discoveries lay ahead.

At the fuel station west of Nekob I remember to reset my Montana correctly, then set off to see what I might find. Not far out of town, three dump trucks roll in which suggests the piste will be better than average and may well have been built for- or by the mining outfit. Once I pass through a small gorge and the ascent starts, there’s only one semi-deserted hamlet for 90km; not enough reason a track might get built or improved.

Soon, the distinctive Saghro vistas rise around me, a little different from any other range in the Atlas mountains complex. Buttes and spires jut abruptly from the dust and rubble, recalling Algeria’s Hoggar. It’s no place to be a lettuce. Through it all the smooth, wide piste swings around the heads of chasms and across the arid valleys.

It’s not all plain sailing. As the twin rear axles of the heavy trucks scrub round the most acute switchbacks, the tyres grind the sand and gravel into a fine powder which I just can’t get to grips with on the Africa Twin. And that’s with a Motoz knobbly on the front. I’m definitely struggling to find my off-roading mojo today. I put it down to the heat and the weight of the machine, plus riding alone on an unfamiliar track. After KM3 out of Nekob I didn’t pass any other vehicle.

Soon I reach the junction where the much gnarlier and even more dramatic MH14 and MH15 routes come up from the south. I last came this way on the little WR250R in 2017. A great bike for those sort of pistes, but less of a high-speed highway sofa. The zen-like search for the Middle Way continues.

I pass the 2100-metre high point above the basin with Tagmout village and the new copper and gold mine – which explains why this track got built or improved. Tagmout may have been big enough to justify a mosque once. Now it’s just half-a-dozen scattered dwellings with adjacent gardens drawing on the groundwater of the basin’s dry river course.

I ride out of the Tagmout basin (there are a couple of left turns to get right, here), back up over a pass that leads westwards to the winding piste, a lovely trail curving through the scrub and rock at over 1500 metres.
Apart from those tricky hairpins.

Within an hour the track drops towards Bou Skour and the high mountain drama is over. A couple of forks guide me around the old Bou Skour mine, past the village of Sidi Flah on the Oued Dades, and finally down into Skoura itself on the N10.
I pull into the roadhouse for an omelette salad and a litre of yoghurt drink. While I’m waiting, before I forget I jot down the route’s twists and turns on the handy paper tablecloth.

I whizz along the new Kelaa bypass (left) in 30 minutes; handy to know for next time. They really must have asphalt and roadbuilders to spare if they’re starting to build bypasses in southern Morocco, although it’s true the section of the N10 between Kelaa and Dades is a near-continuous built-up stretch with attendant distractions. We used to come back this way on my tours after crossing Jebel Saghro via MH4, but the mildly more aggrressive driving on the N10 added with the sun setting straight in our faces on the way to Ouarzazate was not a safe way to end the day.

Back to now, soon after Dades, I turn back south into the Saghro massif and climb up to near Iknioun, then take the newly built spur over the 2300-m Tin Tazazert back down to Nekob. What used to take the gasping XR250 Tornados half a day now takes the AT just 35 minutes of asphalt and Armco.
We first came this way in the late 1990s in the Land Cruiser (left), looking for routes for my Sahara Overland book at a time when so much of this part of Morocco was only linked by rough tracks.

Back down in Nekob, I get a young chappy on a pushbike to do me a selfie in front of the mural. All that remains is to bomb back to Tamnougalte, back to Marrakech next day and fly out the day after.

The plan was to come back for the Honda after leading a tour in early November, but rising Covid numbers in the UK (as well as DE and NL) saw Morocco suspend flights. Mass cancellations all round.
So the Af’Twin is stuck again in Morocco, but at least I know it’s running well. By the time it gets back I’ll need to retrain it on how to ride on the right.
C’est la vie.

Africa Twin – Off Road in Morocco 1

Africa Twin Index Page
Morocco Overland
Part Two here

Previously on Adventure Motorcycling…

March 2020, Tiznit

Everyone remembers where they were in March 2020. Me, I was hurrying back from the Mauritanian border ahead of a nationwide transport shutdown when debris on the road punched a hole through my Africa Twin’s sump (left) as the Corona tsunami crashed into Morocco.
With two days to get out or be trapped for months (as some were), what might have been a fairly easy roadside bodge with putty, dragged on for months as my attempts to fly back to Morocco stalled.

By October 2021 travel impediments cleared and travel confidence rose, so I flew out to 41°C Marrakech with a new battery and oil pan. Amazingly, the stock lithium battery took a slow charge and lit up the dash just like it should. Even the tyres (the rear an MYO tubeless) weren’t totally flat and the chain was in good shape.

With these vitals established, I replaced the sump, oiled the motor and – with Hail Mary on redial – pressed the Button of Destiny. She fired right up to a steady tickover with no clattering or error codes!
Nice one, Honda.
Actually, the ‘MIL’ icon did light up on a test ride, but I wasn’t too bothered as those things can come on if your shoe lace is undone. It did remind me to check the coolant level which I did and it went away.

Next day I packed up and headed south to pre-run my Fly & Ride tour route ahead of November’s group. Even though it’s first year had been at Honda’s off-road centre in Wales, I’d only ever ridden the AT on the road so it would be a chance to actually discover how it handled the dirt.

Having not ridden in a year and a half, once swinging into the High Atlas’ bends, the creeping front Motoz Tractionator Adv knobbly took some adjusting to. I’ve had tyres like this before, though not on such a big and powerful bike, so I kept things smooth and gentle as I got accustomed to the feel. As so often happens, a day or so later odd felt normal: the very nub of the human condition.

Heading south without a group I was free to divert up a series of switchbacks climbing a hillside, just to see where they went. I didn’t think twice about it and the AT took to the gravel like the giant trail bike it is. I sometimes feel the trail bike layout and riding position is embedded in my muscle memory so then when I’m doing it everything feels fine.

I free-wheeled back down passing a few MTB-ing Marrakshis and near Ijoukak popped in to see one of my tour hosts, Houssain, who told me of a new track over the High Atlas which reached a high col further down my route but bypassed an initially gnarly climb. On the AT I was happy to dodge that particular ascent which anyway, was never a great start to my tour’s off-roading.

It joined up near the newish road which climbs up to over 8200 feet (2500m+) before dropping down the far side of the Atlas. A great way of breaking into the hills

After a tasty feed in Igli, down the valley I decided to check out a way across a river bed feeding a drying reservoir which I’ve been wondering about for years. But that soon proved to be beyond the limit of me and AT, and without going cross-country, the link suggested on Google Maps probably wasn’t there.

I scooted on along the highway over to Taliouine for the night, appreciating the effortlessness with which the big Honda knocked out these flat, main road stages. That was two tour days ticked off in one, and in the heat it was enough adventuring. Time for a brew.

Next day I headed into the Anti Atlas, following the new road east out of Agadir Melloul (MA13) to swing by a homestay in the oasis of Assaragh and see if they were still up for it. They were, so after another chai, I said I’d see them in a month.

From here it was down the ‘waterfall’ into the Aguinan valley (MA13), always an impressive descent.

Then out through the cool serpentine canyons and into the baking desert. That’s Jebel Timouka on the horizon below – an abandoned piste and no place for an AT.

Far south and at a much lower elevation, I knew it would be cooking down on the desert floor, so the best thing was to keep moving. As long as you remember what you’re riding and where you are [heavy bike; middle of nowhere], the AT zipped along the desert trails well enough. I very much doubt I’ve ever used more than half of the 88hp in all the time I’ve owned it. Topping up in Taliouine from the same servo guy who’s been there for years had returned 60mpg (21kpl; 50 US). I don’t think it will get much better than that; one of the juiciest bikes I’ve had for years.
One benefit of a high-end Adv is you get quality – or at least, adjustable – suspension. Up to a point that means you can get by with tyres left at road pressures and let the springs absorb the shocks. And the knobbly front Motoz lead the way with a reassuring bite.

It’s only and hour or two but this is a desolate stage and the thought of having a flat on my still-tubed front was not appealing. I stop off on a ford a schnik-schnak and a cool down.

Once back on the asphalt the Palmer screen is working too well and I can bear it no longer. I stand up into the breeze to decompress the backside and generally air the heck off.

I get to my usual roadhouse where the tour 310GSs often arrive on fumes, but the coffee machine has packed up and there is no fresh OJ. Quelle horreur! So all that remains is a late-afternoon, 100-click ride ride back out of the desert and over to Tamnougalte where I’ll spend a couple of days to explore some new tracks.

The pool looks tempting.

All the veggies come from the adjacent garden irrigated by the nearby Oued Draa. And they taste like it too. Potatoes with actual potato flavour. Remember them?

A cool dawn. I should have got out there but fancied a day off – this heat really wears you down. There’s no wifi so I get absorbed into my interesting book.

Part Two here

‘CRF800L’ Africa Twin

The engine pictured in this mock-up is a CB500, not the distinctive slopping NC.

See also
Africa Twin
Honda CB500X 5000 miles
Yamaha XScrambleR
BMW F750GS

MCN‘s recent claim of Honda’s plans to make an Africa Twin based on the NC750 motor was a rare instance of my wish coming true. When the popular CRF1000L (below) became an 1100L last year – in part to compensate for power losses due to Euro 5 regs – the cry went up for a mini-AT, not least following the popularity of the XT700 and the KTM 790 ‘middleweight’ adventure-styled bikes.

Honda seems to have heard the call and recognises the gap in their current 14-model Adventure category. At the moment, unless you fancy the old VFR 800X Crossrunner which must be close to getting Euro’d, it’s a huge jump from a CB500X (above) to the newest 1100AT at twice the price. Slotting the NC750X into that Adventure category (which also includes the CRF450L) was always is a bit of a reach. An 800L is much more like it.

Right from the start I’ve been a fan of the NC concept: a low-revving, high-economy, low-CoG, big capacity chugger with all the real-world power you need. Last year I ran a 2018 750X, partly to properly try out the DCT gearbox but also with a view to adapting it to an all-road travel bike, as I did with the XSR7 (below) with reasonable success.

The NC750X (below) was a great road bike which loved to corner, occasionally flashed up 100mpg and still seemingly plain suspension was a big improvement on earlier models. But for many obvious reasons it would have been too hard/costly to adapt. As I’ve found with the XSR, it takes more than a set of bar risers, suspension lift and wheel change to turn a road bike into a travel bike. An NC750 may have a low CoG compared to my current AT, but it’s still heavy (my NC-DCT weighed 232kg; my AT is 240kg before add-ons).

There is talk that the whole NC range may be getting an 800-cc makeover, probably for the same Euro-5 reasons. You do wonder it this may mean a more conventionally upright engine as in the mock up, losing the frunk ‘tankbox’ and putting the tank in the normal position, as BMW have done on the 750/850 GSs. Analysing patent designs (as below) may suggest something in that vein.
The Honda designer in the MCN article talks of a budget spec bike, like the CB500X, to appeal to learners with A2 licences. That will keep the price down and, with a good motor, as with the 500X, will be easy for owners or outfits like Rally Raid to offer suspension and wheel upgrades for those who want them. We watch and wait.

 

Africa Twin: Sealing the Rear Wheel for Tubeless

AFRICA TWIN  INDEX PAGE

I’ve rewritten conversing spoked rims to tubeless.
There are several updated pages from here on what, why and how.

If ever a bike wanted tubeless wheels it’s the AT (and T7 for that matter). These bikes run 21-inch fronts and were initially pitched at a low price to get them moving. Choppers aside, cast wheels are unknown in 21-inch, while OE spoked tubeless wheels (as on many European 21-inch advs) are expensive. The new 2020 1100 AT Adventure Sport finally has a tubeless 18/21 set up.

MT or WM?

at-wheels.jpgI’ve investigated various proprietary methods and, after 12 years and a lot more theoretical and second-hand knowledge, decided to give DIY sealing another go – but carefully this time and only on the back wheel (above, top) where it’s fairly easy to do. Like nearly all 21s, the AT’s front rim lacks the ‘MT’ safety lip or ridge which is important if planning to run tubeless tyres. Without it, a TL tyre seals less well on a regular WM rim (above, bottom) and may leak. And in the event of a flat, it will slip into the rim just like a tubed tyre with the usual undesirable results.
The only way around that it to get the rare, lipped, 2.15 x 21-inch Giant rim from CWC for £111. Add anodising, spokes, wheel building, their Airtight™ vulcanised sealing band (similar to DIY mastic) plus post and that’ll be nearly 400 quid. I could seal it myself and save £120, but 21-inch wells are narrow and curved and so are less suited to taping. So while CWC make my wheel, I may as well cough up for the Airtight and be done with it.
The high cost of a new wheel build is why DIY is so attractive, providing your rim is MT with the requisite safety lips. Most rear wheels, tubed or tubeless, have been like this for decades (they will be stamped ‘MT’ on the side, as opposed to ‘WM’). And the AT’s rear well is also nice and flat and 55mm wide which makes it easier to seal well.

Things you will need

  1. The wheel resting on a spindle
  2. Solvent (Brake cleaner, Toluene, MEK, Acetone, etc)
  3. Microfibre rag (lint-free) and Q-tips
  4. Runny adhesive – from Superglue to Seal-All
  5. Thicker sealant – like Goop or Bostik 1782
  6. Sealant tape such as 3M 4411N (not the 2mm thick 4412N). From £18 on ebay
  7. Or some etching primer and mastic sealant like Puraflex about £6 for 300mm
  8. A tubeless valve

Rim sealing procedure

Clean rim thoroughly with solvent using a rag, toothbrush and Q-tips
Apply a runny glue around the nipple and into the threaded centre. I used Bostik; thinner would have been better. Expect microbubbles. Leave to dry for a day.
A day later overseal with thicker sealant. I used clear Goop. Let it dry for a day.
Wrap the undried glue in the non-sticky side of masking tape to stop the lower Goop blobs sagging out under gravity. Or spend days turning the wheel and doing four nipples at a time.
Tape up the rim with 50mm 3M 4411N.
Because I used thick glue and maybe too much, the lumps stuck up quite a lot so made it hard for the non-elastic tape to fully contact the rim floor. I pressed down between the spoke nipples as best I could and did the odd prick here and there. Then I removed the backing film while allowing for some overlap.
As good as I could get the tape. But I’m confident the glue alone has sealed the rim.
I decided to cover the 3M with some regular plastic tape to protect it during tyre mounting.

Or…

tl-ianwheel
… spray on some etching primer, let it dry then apply a coat or two of Puraflex mastic. Don’t go too thick or you’ll lose the well’s depth and ‘slack’ needed for easy tyre fitting.

If you’ll be in a wet environment, consider also sealing the spoke nipples from the outside.

The mastic sealant method is probably better. The tape adhesive might lift if it gets very hot; a black tyre and rim sat in the hot sun. But then, pressure building up in a hot tyre will tend to push the tape down.

Mounting and inflating the tyre

Mounting is easy as there’s no tube to worry about. Soapy beads help reduce the effort needed and tubeless tyres are actually quite flexible – or that’s how the Michelin felt. I know from cars and the Tenere years ago that home mounting tubeless tyres can be tricky. It took me most of the day to get the TKCs on to the Tenere, and that was with a pokey 2.5cfm 4×4 compressor. Because there is no inner tube pushing the tyre on to the rim, you need both edges of the loose tyre to at least make a partial seal with the rim and allow pressure to build up. When that happens, the seal improves, leakage stops and you’re on your way. Using a small car compressor and with the valve core removed to allow faster filling, nothing happened for a bit and then pressure slowly built up as input outpaced leakage. At around 35-40psi there were a couple of loud bangs as the last segment of bead slipped over the safety rim and into place.

I am fairly confident my gluing alone has made a good seal. The tape is probably redundant. Overnight there was no drastic pressure drop. If there is in the next week and I can’t fix it, I’ll swap back to the tubed wheel and will anyway take a spare tube. This time I’m not using Slime sealant, though I’m told it doesn’t affect the 3M tape’s adhesion.
I’ll be monitoring it with TPMS but a few days in it was about 8 psi down and the same again when I picked the bike up in Spain in March. So it seems to depressurised down the mid 20s psi. I seem to recall this was normal in the early days and so gave the back a shot of Slime in Spain. No more leakage.