Tag Archives: CRF1000L Africa Twin

Africa Twin 3 – Escape from Morocco

Africa Twin Index Page
Hotel Sahara’
Africa Twin in Morocco 1
Africa Twin in Morocco 2
Morocco Overland

After hurriedly leaving my damaged AT in Morocco back in March 2020, in October 2021 I finally managed to fly down, fix it up and go for a little ride, before flying back home. The plan was then to fly back in early November, do a tour with a group, then ride the Honda back home before it got too wintery.

With the current twist in the Covid shitshow it’s hard to keep track, but mid-October 2021 the UK was doing badly in the pestilence league. Hold your nerve they said; it’s a cunning plan to get the UK’s spike in early to avoid a big winter spike when there would be a spike anyway. Well, we’re getting a big spike alright – today it’s getting on for three times the October number, though hopefully without the drastic consequences of last winter.

Nevertheless, in response to the UK’s October numbers, Morocco suspended all UK flights so my tour had to be cancelled. Flying in via Spain or France was not a foolproof dodge: people tried that last year and got caught. Plus now, every extra country adds Covid paperwork complications. In the meantime, I still had to get my AT out of Morocco before the end of 2021, otherwise the Customs would turn the bike into a pumpkin.
By early November I’d heard of a Brit flying to Morocco via Portugal with no problems (which of course makes you question the point of the flight ban). So the Mrs and I got our heads round French Covid regs, took a train down to Marseille and rented a cabin in the hills for a few days – a pleasant Provençal interlude. It was great to be back in southern France.

Meanwhile, an old mate was passing out of the Med on the way to the Canaries and beyond in his refurbished catamaran which he’d picked up cheap.
Andy, pick me and the bike up off a Moroccan beach and drop us in Spain. We can do it in a day.’
No can do señor. Private boats are banned from mooring in Moroccan waters at the moment. We could do it in Mauritania?’

Mauritania? Who’d want to go there? Oh, me about 20 months ago. But from Morocco that border was still closed.

While in France I needed to track down a PCR lab to obtain a <48-hour negative result before flying from Marseille to Marrakech. One break in this paperwork chain and the whole plan crumbles. It’s only money and rebookings and inconvenience of course, but it’s still frustrating and stressful. One day we’ll all get used to these post-Covid measures, but like Carnets or visas for West Africa, it’s one hurdle after another and can take over the trip.

That night my resultat: négatif pinged on the mobile and by the next afternoon the Mrs was on a Paris-bound TGV and I was settling into my usual Marrakech hotel.
It was Tuesday. My ferry was on Saturday at 5pm – just a day’s drive to the north before a 40-hour marathon to Sete, in France. [There have been no ferries to Spain since Covid broke in March 2020.]

But first I had to track down a Customs office in Marrakech and get my long expired TVIP renewed. I could easily imagine the scenario:

‘Oh no no no. We can’t do this here, you fool!
You have to go to Casablanca to request a pre-appointment voucher application form. But they’re closed till next week.’

I found the place not far away in a side street with the familiar blue and grey livery of the Bureau des Douanes.
I walk in, he pulls his mask up. So do I. It’s the law.

‘New TVIP?’

‘Wait there.’

A minute passes.

‘You can go in now.’

Another sixty seconds later I walk out with a printed-off renewal notice set to expire December 31, 2021. Result!

I walked over to Loc Rentals and we talk about the whole darn situation, bikes and what not. They tell me their 850-GSs have been surprisingly unreliable t th point of getting ditched, while the 750GS version I rode a couple of years ago has been fine. In the last two weeks a bunch of my spring 2022 tours have filled up. I keep a fairly low profile so never know quite how this happens, but people are clearly gagging to get away on a mini adventure.

Still caked in Western Saharan dust, my Africa Twin is perched on the ramp down in the basement workshop, poised like Thunderbird 2, ready for lift-off.

Meanwhile, I’d got it into my head that I needed another PCR test to be allowed on the ferry. That was the case on leaving Morocco a few months ago; a UK stipulation. I find a walk-in lab nearby, but asking around online and reading between the lines on the Italian GNV ferry website, it seems my Covid vax proof should be enough for France (but not for Italy), as present regs stand..

I decide to leave Marrakech on Friday and return to the Hotel Sahara in Asilah. That gave me some elbow room for cock-ups and left just an hour’s ride to the port next morning.
Good decision, it turned out.

But not good enough.
At this point I was checking the HUBB Morocco forum regularly. Thursday evening someone posted that all planes and boats to France would be suspended from tomorrow night, 23.59.
Bugger!

This wasn’t a total border shutdown (that would happen three days later), just France following in line with the UK rule, so all was not lost. The Italian GNV ferry also served Barcelona and Genoa, so there was a hope it would simply re-route to either port, about the same distance to the UK, give or take a couple of mountain ranges. GNV’s website and twitter said nothing new, and a helpline woman said ‘see the website’.

It left the question: do I ride the 600km to TanMed port tomorrow only to be told next day’s boat was off? That would mean riding back to Marrakech, re-stashing the bike at Loc and joining the scrum at Marrakech airport to grab a flight to anywhere that was still on the list, and from there find a way on to the UK.
Leaving the bike with its expiring TVIP was the least of my problems. The Moroccans had extended it before; they’d probably do it again (in December 2021 they did, for another 6 months).

Last boat out of Saigon’
I woke up Friday morning to some good news. The Moroccans had relented and extended the deadline till Sunday! Saturday’s ferry would be the ‘last boat out of Saigon’ for a while, much like my last flight back in March 2020.

So by noon I was barrelling up the deserted A3 autoroute north of Marrakech with an easy 500 clicks to Asilah.

As I neared the coast I tracked the path of showers running up from the southwest, hoping we’d not converge. My heavy canvas Carhartt coat wasn’t really made for that, more for Montana blizzards. I slipped behind most of them but caught one short downpour. In the 120-kph breeze I dried off soon enough.

By late afternoon I’m back at the Hotel Sahara where this sorry saga began some 6000kms and 600 days ago. I’m the only one staying but at only 9 quid and far from a dump, this must be one of the best deals around.

Assuming I get on the boat tomorrow, there were still a number of hurdles to jump, not least a 1000-km ride across France. I didn’t want to check the weather – que sera, sera. Either it’ll be tolerable with the gear I gave or it won’t be.
I used to do that winter ride a lot in the 1980s, Marseille-bound for Algeria. Only now I have the combined miracles of a Powerlet heated jacket, a windshield and a protective film of late middle-aged blubber. Plus a meaty CRF1000L that can punch through the windchill at 120kph with one leg in the air.

It was just an hour to the port so I took it easy Saturday morning until a text from GNV ferries pinged while I was having breakfast at the Cafe Sahara.

Attention all passengers
• Make sure you turn up with ALL PCR/Vaccination documentation or you will not be allowed aboard
• Check-in closes promptly at midday

Shite, I’d better get a move on. The mention of PCR set the nerves a-jangling again until I realised the forward slash meant ‘PCR or…’ not ‘PCR and…’.
I stuffed in my croissant, knocked back my coffee, and then had the usual dance to get someone to wake up and let my AT out of the garage.

I rolled off the autoroute and into Tangier Mediterranean (‘TanMed’) port an hour later. This is a huge, Alcatraz-like facility 50kms east of Tangiers city, where labyrinthine causeways and ramps lead down to the quays. Sub-Saharan migrants who periodically assail the barbed fences of nearby Ceuta don’t waste their time here; it’ll end up with a stiff beating from the cops who patrol the 20-foot fence.

In the port, the first hurdle is to turn an internet-printed ‘ticket’ into fungible ‘GTF Out of Jail’ vouchers at the GNV counter. But first, you need to get past matey who’s taking photos of PCR/Vaccination papers. Except he’s wandered off for a fag. In the meantime at the GNV counter, a Remonstrating Man is having it out with the unfortunate behind the glass.

‘But I bought this ticket off ferryticketscam.com!’
‘Sorry sir, you’re ticket is not valid. Please move along. Next!’

Remo Man won’t budge; security are called and he moves aside to remonstrate with them instead.
‘Look, I bought it off ferryticketscam.com! It cost me 550 euros!’
‘Sorry sir…. we literally could not give an actual toss.’

In the meantime, the stalled queue is getting antsy, including me. It’s not helped by people joining the line from both ends or squeezing in with a nod and a wink. Half an hour later I’m there and snatch my handful of tickets and vouchers. I ride on to the Police for an exit stamp. He puts my passport into a reader, then mentions I need to get some piece of paper from Customs. Yea, yea.

Customs is a bit slow as my new TVIP print-out needs approval from the boss, but with that done, I slip past the long queue to the giant x-ray machine: a huge metal frame on rails and with cables as thick as your arm, that’s pushed back and forth by a lorry with a bank of screens inside.
On a bike, I’m invited to the front. Protocol-wise, it’s exceedingly un-English but no one minds at all.
Try it at home and ‘Oi, biker – wot you effing playing at?!’
This is why we like bike-friendly continental living.

We’re told to step away from our vehicles to limit radiation. Are they looking for explosives, stowaways, or just hashish which is cultivated openly on the slopes of the Rif mountains a 100kms south of here? Who knows, but next up an Alsatian gives us all a darn good sniffing. Moroccan wheeler-dealers in beaten-up vans full of whatever sells in Europe unload every last box and bag with resignation. Foreign tourists, and especially bikers, are hardly ever searched.

That all took two hours but I’ve reached the next level. I’ve taken my redpill and am ready for Extraction so I ride down to the queue assembled in front of the huge brick of a ferry.

I eye up other overlandy vehicles: a tasty 4×4 Pinzgauer from the 1970s or 80s done up in Tibetan prayer flags, and a huge quarter-million euro M.A.N camper that’s probably better inside than our London flat.

Another two hours pass then barriers get shifted and engines fire up. I’m invited to the front again and prepare to part with Moroccan soil and ride up the Ramp of Salvation to reach the final level of the Ferry Matrix Game.
But first another passport and ticket check, just in case I parachuted into the port with no one noticing.

‘Where is the passport exit stamp?’
‘I dunno, it’s there somewhere. Let’s have a look.’

It’s hard to read one faint, overlapping stamp from another. I’ve amassed loads over the years. Tuesday’s airport entry is there alright, but I can’t see today’s exit stamp.
He takes it up the chain of command and various cops get on their radios.

Bloke in hat: ‘Where is the police exit stamp?’
‘I dunno. Just give me a scribble and let me on anyway.’

They jabber into their radios and phones.
‘My friend. You must ride back and get the stamp. Don’t worry, it will take 5 minutes.’

FF’s Sake! I can’t face slipping back into Liquefaction. Hours ago immigration cop in his booth had one job: take passport, check computer database, stamp it and hand back.
OK, I suppose that’s four jobs, not including breathing, blinking and rearranging his bollocks.

I ride back, go the wrong way, get stopped, explain myself, radio calls, squeeze through barriers, get sent back, go the other way, ask a cop, he shrugs. Ask another.

‘Why did you not get the exit stamp?’
‘I don’t know, do I!? I handed him my passport, he did his thing and gave it back.
How could I proceed without it?’

This will the Last Ferry for months so I’m careful to lay on just enough indignation without becoming another Remonstrating Man. They take my passport. It checks out on the computer. I get stamped but make sure to see exactly what page it’s on. Then I bomb back, jumping the queues at the Customs, the x-ray machine, and the sniffer dogs, expecting whistles to blow and sirens to sound.

Back at the ramp I’m allowed to ride aboard, park by the few other bikes and load the tail bag up with all the mission-critical things I can’t afford to get pilfered. The Italian and Filipino crew direct me to my cabin where I spread out enough boarding cards to start a small casino.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph on a wee donkey, does it have to be this hard?

The 5pm departure comes and goes and the sun sets over the Atlantic but there are no promising throbs from the engine room. I’ve been on enough long, overnight Med ferries to know they never, ever leave on time.

7pm and down on the loading ramp another Man surrounded by hi-viz crew, indifferent cops and insistent GNV admin is Remonstrating like his life depends on it. Arms gesticulate aggressively. Voices are raised. Some shoving occurs.
He’s as mad as hell, and he’s not gonna take this anymore.

9pm. Another 100 cars and vans show up ride up the ramp. Maybe GNV is making the most of last-minute ticket sales. Who knows when this service will start running again. By tomorrow night all Moroccan borders will shut in response to the growing Omicron threat.

At 10pm, ten hours after check-in closed and five hours late, there’s a rumble and a judder from far below. The M/N Excellent pulls back from the bumpers and glides in between the breakwaters. This is the same confidentiality named Excellent that came in a bit hot at Barcelona port a couple of years back. Some muppet forgot the ABS was switched off after a spot of off-roading.

For me the immense feeling of relief when a ferry leaves a North African port has become embedded deep in my brain’s maritime lobe. After so many North African scrapes over the decades, not least this one, you feel like yelling back at the shore
‘Come and get me now, you bastards!
(And no, I don’t care if this boat rams into a Balearic island and sinks, but thanks for asking).’

Meanwhile, aboard the Excellent every 30 minutes the tannoy chimes up in three languages to tell you to wear a mask, it’s the law. Most Moroccans ignore this instruction, maybe because Morocco never got hit as hard as northern Italy did last year. Or maybe they have no reason to trust authority.

As long as you score a cabin to yourself, I love these long ferry crossings; when they’re not ramming quays, these modern ships ride the seas like a K1600 GTL with the platinum ESA package. ///delighted.ferrying.northbound

Part 4 shortly

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 well over a year as my attempts to fly back to Morocco stalled. Read that story here.

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

Tested: Africa Twin 4500-mile review

Honda Africa Twin Index Page
Hotel Sahara‘ on AdvRider

In a line:
It was interesting to dip a toe into BigBikeWorld, but as expected, it’s unnecessarily big, heavy and juicy for my sort of road touring and easy off-roading.

Featured in Bike, July 2020

Looks good
• Feels like a giant trail bike
• Torquey 270° motor
• You just know it will start and run; Honda piece-of-mind
• Adjustable Palmer windscreen
• My DIY rear tubeless worked well
Seat not bad. Adjustable, roomy
• Fully adjustable stock suspension (with rear PLA)
Modes aplenty, if you like that sort of thing
• With a fair wind, 400+ km range from 18.9-litre tank

• Feels big and top-heavy at low speeds
• That’s probably down to the minimum 870mm (34.2″) seat height
Radiators are vulnerable, even in static fall overs
• Motoz front knobbly ran wide on road and trail
• Down to 37mpg in stiff headwinds at 110kph
• Some hand-numbing vibration from the bars – due to front knobbly, it turned out
• USD fork seals seem to be a weak point
LCD display annoyingly reflects your head and not bright enough; hard to read at a glance

Modifications More here

• Front Motoz Tractionator Adv
• Rear Michelin Anakee Adventure on MYO tubeless
• Palmer Products adjustable screen
• Barkbusters
• Adv Spec bar risers
• Strapped-on baggage (below)
• Wired in USB and GPS

Review
The plas was just the right sort of trip to try one of those big-arsed adv bikes I’ve never really been into. A long approach ride followed by short off-road excursions in Mauritania specifically chosen within the bike’s (and my) limits. I’d planned to get a feel for the bike beforehand in the High Atlas on my February tours, but that was another of the many things which didn’t pan out on this epically doomed ride.

So, despite big plans with two other Big Twins for a Sahara Road Trip (left, pah!) , all I managed was to ride alone 2500km down the Atlantic Highway to the Mauritanian border, then ride most of the way back trying to outrun Covid shutdowns before a freak incident brought even that to a premature end. Twenty months later I returned to Morocco, fixed up the bike, did a week’s offroading in the hills, and a month later, road it home via freezing France. All up 4500 miles or 6000km; not even half a rear tyre’s worth.

On the road
Riding out of a town near Malaga back in February 2020, initially the loaded-up Honda gave me a fright and I thought I’d made a terrible mistake. I hadn’t noticed it on the way to the removalists in Essex a couple of weeks earlier, but in the bends the bike didn’t feel secure, seeming to both over- and understeer.
I knew my knobbly front/road rear tyre set-up was unorthodox, but it’s surely only half as bad as the many times I’ve ridden on full knobblies. Maybe it’s only an issue on bikes this big. Braking into bends, the front Motoz moaned in protest but brand new tyres lose this edgy skittishness after a couple of hours.

Sure enough, the AT settled down or I also got used to it as we rode over the Sierra de los Nieves and past the famous White Villages of Ronda to a regular place I know, half an hour out of Algeciras port. Here I took a day off, re-sorting my gear, keying in waypoints and filling the glued-and-taped rear tubeless wheel with Slime which fixed the slight air loss once and for all.

Hold my beer!

Engine and transmission
The 1000L has more than enough power to deal with anything you’ll encounter on the road; it’s on the dirt where the mass will hold back most riders. And if you like that sort of riding, it’s frustrating. Promotional antics as shown left look impressive, but are so far removed from everyday reality that someone should call Trade Descriptions.
This was my first bike with more modes than a Casio G-Shock 007 Special: three power levels plus User (custom), as many levels of traction control (plus off) and the same with engine braking – a new one on me. ABS can be switched off at the back only. Initially I rode in ‘P3 – Gravel’ (least power) thinking it may be best for economy (more below). After that I left it in ‘Tour’ (P1 – highest) where the engine was smoothest, until I forgot I wrote all this months earlier and rode home in P3 gain.

Like all 270-degree twins it’s hard to dislike the motor; the stock pipe makes a fruity sound and the temperature bars never budge. The gif left shows one of the beneficial characteristics of a 270°-twin: one piston is always in motion when the other has stopped and is on the turn. Crossplane they call it (Yamaha’s ‘CP2’) – it’s good for traction and it feels and sounds like a Ducati. Win win. But having tried or owned a few other 270s in recent years, Yamaha’s 695cc CP2 still feels like the best of them. Characterful, economical and with enough poke to get you there without weighing a quarter of a ton. My first choice would have been a used XT700, but late 2019 it was still too early for good used prices.
I got a manual only because I’ve ticked off DCT and couldn’t face the thought of a heavier-still bike. As it was, I spent most of the miles in top gear. Clutch actuation and gear change selection were fine, and even if 1st is typically high, the low-end grunt makes pulling away easy.

Easy gravel roads
After repairing the bike, in October 2021, I spent a week exploring some trails in the High Atlas and got to grips with the AT on the dirt. As a reminder, the bike had a long-wearing road tyre on the back and a good gripping Motoz knobbly on the front to make off-roading a little more predictable. It’s a tyre-combo theory I’ve written about and been meaning to try for years.

However they managed it, the AT feels like a giant trail bike; it must be down to the scaled-up triangle of the ‘bars, pegs and seat, plus the 21-inch wheel’s rake and trail. As I’ve found with previous project bikes (like the TDM900, left, the XSR7 and even the CB500X), geometrically it’s definitely not as simple as just slapping on some ‘bar risers, wide ‘bars and a bigger front wheel. A high headstock has something to do with it, too.

Whatever, once you turn onto the dirt the AT tracks naturally for what it is, so you don’t give it a moment’s thought providing the trail is easy. But you could say the same for a any bike. With the tanked and loaded L nearly three times my weight, the slightest deflection or need for an assertive move could end badly if the thrust of that mass isn’t aligned with the direction of the front wheel. It’s not that the centre of gravity is abnormally high for a bike like this with a big tank in the conventional position – it’s just a whole lot of bike to finesse when you get even a little out of shape. Then comes the picking up; apart from radiator protection, it was one reason I had bags on the sides of the tank – so it didn’t fall so flat.

As a result – especially when alone in the middle of nowhere – I took things very easy and didn’t risk any flash moves. This elephant in the room holds back the fun of riding off road; you’re managing despite the bike not because of it. As a result I never got the ABS or traction control firing, even with the bike on the softest ‘Gravel’ setting. I might have made things a bit easier for myself by dropping tyre pressures a bit – at road pressures the Motoz didn’t bite like I hoped it might (or maybe I was just too timid to lean over and gun it) and ran wide on bends. I half-heartedly jacked up the shock (easy with the preload knob) to steepen the forks but it made little difference. I think the Motoz’s Oxo-cube sized knobs just deform and ‘walk’ when pushed laterally under the weight they’re carrying.

At one point, while investigating a short cut I’ve been wondering about for years, I came across a shallow sandy ramp which might have connected through (not the photo below, but nearby). But it was the end of a hot day and I just couldn’t bear the thought of getting the fat Honda stuck and have to drag it back, fall over, pick it up, get even more tired and sweaty and all the rest. I walked th route anyway but turned back and took the long way round.

The track I was aiming for; easier on foot.

Long story short and no great surprise: while it works a whole lot better than many other bikes in this giant Adv category, for me the AT is just too heavy to fully enjoy off-roading.

Economy
On the A1 motorway down to Agadir I spent a couple of days establishing the exact fuel consumption so I’d know what to expect when it mattered down south from the 18.9 litre tank (4.16 Imp; 5 US) tank. I’ve often wondered if lower power modes equate to better fuel consumption. You’d think so because less powerful bikes like a CT125 are amazingly economical. But it seems not; maybe power-softening modes are merely fuel inefficient – the engine is tuned to run best in at full power.
Cruising along at a very modest 105kph/65mph – in other words, with a barely open throttle:
• ‘Gravel’ mode (‘P3’). True 19.8kpl (19.1 indicated).
Potential true range: 374km/232 miles
• ‘Tour’ mode (‘P1’): true 22.7 (ind: 21.5). That’s 64UK or 53.3US
Potential true range: 429km/266 miles

This graph is actually from the 1100L which has an additional, fourth ‘Off-Road’ power mode.

In P1 Tour the engine felt noticeably smoother and crisper and what’s more, the range jumped to nearly 430km which was good to know. In the CRF1100L graph above, the percentages shown are throttle openings, not power. Nail the throttle (‘100%’) in any mode and you get all the beans. But at small openings (‘25%’) as you’d use noodling about off-road, power is reduced, presumably to constrain wheelspin or unwanted lurches. It’s true that traction control does that too, but that can be turned off.
If, as I have, you’ve ridden without TC most of your riding years, you may initially prefer turning it off until you get to trust TC1, as most AT riders seem to settle on. Or you may wonder whether you need power and traction and engine braking modes at all. Ride appropriately to the conditions (which may include lowered tyre pressures to improve traction). TC is a relatively inexpensive and I would say the cutting out is a rather crude spin-off from ABS electronics (of which I definitely am a fan).
Other observations I made while watching the Moroccan countryside inch by:
Speedo is the usual 8% over
Odo is 1% over (measured over 100km against GPS and autoroute markers)
Economy estimate read-out is ~4% under. True economy is a tad better than shown
Range Initially never relied on this but should have checked when I took on 18.2 litres into the 18.9-L tank. At a catastrophic 15.5kpl (37mpg) into a stiff headwind (while still holding a steady 110kph cruise) the remaining 0.7L would have got me another 11kms…

I now realise something about bikes of 1000cc+ which in my book have always been overkill for a solo travel bike. Either the great weight or more probably the swept volume hold the economy back, no matter how slowly you ride. My best reading of 64mpg closely correlates with 65 I recorded from an as-slowly ridden 1200GS on my tours one time. You may think so what, you get to blast past anything you want on the highway in comfort. That is true, but to me a proper travel bike inspires confidence on all surfaces; otherwise it’s just a road bike of which there are plenty out there.

Comfort
The good thing about a big bike is that for once I don’t feel cramped. Everything is a natural distance away for my size and the excess of power does have a certain relaxing effect. The adjustable and much taller Palmer Products screen (below) made a huge difference, ridding me of all unpriestly turbulence, even with a Bell Moto III.

It wasn’t until I got to the turn-around point 50 miles from the Mauritanian border (and following a quick ‘how-do-you…’ youtube vid) that I finally managed to lower the saddle. I’ve only just realised just how tall the AT is at 900mm or 35.4″ – a bit much for a bike this heavy. Lowering it gets you down to 870mm or 34.25” and there’s an 840mm optional saddle. The principle is clear, but getting the notches to line up correctly took a lot of faffing. I’m 6′ 1″ so have long enough legs but can’t say the lowered saddle was night-and-day – the bike still felt top heavy at times.

Sat down, the 30mm bar risers felt little different from stock, but enabled standing without stooping and doing so – often on the rod to give the backside an airing –the bike felt comfortable, just like the oversized trail bike it is. On the road I did notice a bit of white-finger vibration from the right bar, but that was about it. It went away with the Dunlop road tyre fitted for the ride home so must have been down to the knobbly Motoz.

Suspension and brakes
One good thing about spending big on a modern, top-of-the-range adv is you get decent suspension. I didn’t meddle with it much off-road as both ends felt good enough. It’s only when you go fast off road that limitations become apparent, and I wasn’t going to be doing that.
Same with the brakes which I didn’t push due to the knobbly front tyre, nor to a point where ABS was engaged. The ‘creeping’ of the front Motoz’s knobs under tarmac braking did initially take some bite off the front.

Durability and problems
The only thing that fell off was a footrest rubber – probably not tightened up properly when the shop refitted them from the Off Road School. Refusing to be beaten by this calamity, I replaced it with a scrap of roadside truck tyre.
Because of the spread of lockdowns as the pandemic kicked off in March 2020, I was already planning to leave the bike in Marrakech and fly out. But even that plan was nixed when I rode over some debris just out of Tiznit. Whatever it was flicked up and poked through the bash plate and the sump, losing all the oil. As you can read here, that was an easy fix a year and a half later.

Summary
The Africa Twin was the first big adv which successfully drew riders off their GS12s or stopped others buying the popular BMW. It’s a great road bike, but aren’t they all these days? On my ride down the Atlantic Highway I wasn’t convinced it was going to become magically manageable once on any sort of unconsolidated terrain rolled under the wheels. It would become what it clearly was, a big, heavy bike with a tall saddle and high centre of gravity when loaded and tanked up. The big worry would always be: one little misjudgement and a heavy bike launches you hard before you’re faced with the daunting task of trying to lift the bike. A slim AT falls over a lot flatter than a GS12 resting in it’s cylinders.

But by now 99,999 other owners suggest that Honda got something right and there may well be an element of me taking out my unlucky trip on the poor AT. After riding it back via France, I feel the same: nice ride on the road (by now with a road front tyre), comfy but with some mpg figures I couldn’t bear to work out, as it was just a matter of getting home. In a way it puts me off a T7 which might not be that much better on the dirt to be worthwhile.
I’ve already got an idea or two of what comes next; more about that soon.

Africa Twin – Ready for Africa

AFRICA TWIN INDEX PAGE
amh8prt
atpk-lane

With AMH8 (right) sent in, I have a week and a bit to get the Africa Twin in shape for some Morocco trails and Mauritania road tripping. It doesn’t sound a lot of time but I’ve done this loads of times so know exactly what needs doing.
Or so I thought.
As I write early on in AMH: Beware and even anticipate a last-minute cock-up (‘LMCU’). While undertaking some wiring, my LBS noticed the left radiator was bent and fan jammed. I thought I’d smelt the whiff of coolant on the last couple of rides. It was clear from the damaged fairing the ex-Honda Off-Road Centre bike had fallen on the left at least once before they removed the crash bar, stitched up the fairing and sold it on. Looks like those crashes may have been heavier than they looked and my bargain AT wouldn’t be such a bargain after all. Oh well.

at-rad

Honda parts prices? Don’t ask. Ebay to the rescue. Because there are so many ATs around I snagged a used radiator-fan assembly (left) and dropped it off at the shop. With that fixed, it now transpired the used OEM crash bar I’d bought a while back (probably also from the HO-RC) had missing brackets and my ferry was leaving next day. Luckily, the pressure was off as Storm Ciara (below) put paid to that ferry crossing and with the next one too late to get to Marrakech in time, I was left to van the bike to Malaga (£420) and pick it up after my tours. I hope that’s all the LMCUs out of the way. I really don’t want to leave our descent into Mauritania any later than it already is.

at-storm

Attachments

atpk-palm
atpk-palma

The fixed stock screen is famously ineffective. I settled on a Palmer screen, as on the CB500X a few years ago. It consists of a taller screen mounted on a pressed steel frame with three heights and three angles (left). That should surely deliver a cruising sweet spot. All up, it adds a kilo over stock; let’s hope the mounts can handle that extra mass on rough tracks.
Riding the bike, I found with the setting as left, I could ride up to 70 with no goggles wearing a Bell Moto 3 which is as good as it gets.
While fitting the Palmer frame (start with all mounts loose and work from there) one of the lower rubber grommet mounts fell into the abyss. Universe 1; Me 0. It seems commonly done but Rugged Roads sell similar ‘top-hat’ grommets that will work and ebay is even cheaper. One thing to know: these lower screen mounts slide up into place so don’t need completely unscrewing at all. Once you’ve undone the less lose-able top mounts, just slide the lower mounts down and out.

atpk - 1
at-ASrisers

The stock plastic ‘handguards’ are rubbish and not surprisingly, the clutch lever was bent. I was hoping my 2008 Barkbusters might get their nth outing on an AMH Project Bike, but it was not to be. The threaded ends of the Honda bars need a specific insert. Reluctantly I coughed up 90 quid for some Barks to fit an AT with, for once, no bodging required. I’ve had a good run with those old Barks and at least the scuffed black plastic covers fitted right on – the Bark bar design has not changed in all that time!
I was also hoping to re-use my Rox Risers to lessen the stoop while standing, but the Rox’s bike-mount ends are for thin bars only. You can pay crazy prices for CNC milled risers (or much less from Asia) but Adv Spec’s Risers (left) are a more normal 40 quid and come with a selection of nicely knurled shim stacks adding up to a 40-mm lift with three lengths of hex-head bolts to suit. I found about 30mm was the limit on the AT’s cables.

at-toolbo

WTF’s the battery? It’s not under the seat. What would we do without the internet – RTFM I suppose. Turns out it’s jammed in above the gearbox (above right) but behind a ‘toolbox’ that can only be opened/removed with the 5mm key clipped under the seat (where my actual tools were located). With the empty toolbox off, I wired in a plug (above left) to run the tyre pump, but the added wiring and fusebox fouled the snug-fitting toolbox. Luckily, you can pull the box apart at the hinge (left) and just mount the front to cover the battery.

atpk-99

The wiring of the GPS and a USB port I left to my LBS. Here’s a good link on the fiddly job or removing the cowling, including snappy how-to vids. I don’t want to be doing what’s demonstrated below by the kerbside with tiny fittings disappearing into gutters full of rotting mid-winter leaf mush.
Though obviously very handy, there are some rambly, ill-thought-out how-do vids on ebay; some old dope droning on for 20 minutes for a <1-minute video on how to access the battery while reminiscing about his dad’s old tractor. The non-lingual vid below shows how it should be done.

Tyres

michlogo

Michelin sent me some Anakee Adventures but the front looked a bit too roady compared to last year’s Anakee Wilds on the Himalayan. The AT may only be 60 kilos heavier, but has over three times the power which may chew through tyres fast.
On this trip of several thousand kilometres I’ve decided to try the ‘gnarly front – roady rear’ tyre strategy I write about. The rationale is: prioritise secure loose-terrain steering on the slower-wearing front while, on a powerful, heavy bike you need longevity from faster-wearing rears where sliding in the dirt is less problematic as you won’t be cornering this tank like a 125 MX. Anything too knobbly on the rear risks an unnerving ride, fast wear and ripped off knobs on the road.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I fitted a Motoz Tractionator Adventure (left) to replace the front Karoo which isn’t the sort of tyre I’d choose for teaching off-roading in muddy Wales on a quarter-ton AT. On dry tracks it’s less critical but the Karoo only had 5mm left (same as the rear Karoo).
The bike is front-heavy but with a centre stand and a trolley jack, once fully deflated, the Karoo just squeezed out between the twin calipers. But getting the wider, stiff and new Motoz in – no chance. I tried to undo one of the calipers but they’re torqued off the scale and the loose forks make it hard to get tension (better done with the wheel on). Instead, I loosened one fork stanchion and shoved the wheel in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was just about to remove the rear when I remembered I had a nearly finished DIY tubeless wheel upstairs. All it needed was taping up and a Michelin Anakee Adventure (left) slipped on with some proper tyre soap. Inflating a newly mounted tubeless can be tricky as the tyre needs to catch a seal to accumulate pressure and get pushed over the lips into place. I know from 4x4s and my old XT660Z this can be hard to do, but the uninflated Anakee ‘auto-sealed’ well enough and, with the valve core removed to speed up the airflow, eased over the rim’s lips with a pair of loud pops. A cold day a week-and-a-half later and it’s down 8-10 psi so will need watching, though I recall early pressure loss is not unusual, even on proprietary tubeless spoke sealings.

Hopefully, it may settle down but I now have a v2 Michelin TPMS to keep an eye on things and may have to get some Slime in. I’ve stuck one activating magnetic dish to the fairing at a readable angle (right) and will keep another spare in the tank bag when off-road in case the display shakes off (a common complaint according to amazon reviews).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

From the state of my fairing and radiator, the OEM crash bars which came on the HO-RC bikes (and are now selling used online), don’t really do the job. But what would you expect from 250 kilos of bike hitting the ground?
I specifically want them to mount my ex-Himalayan Lomos which I hope will act as sacrificial impact-absorbing airbags. Better the bags’ soft contents get mashed than what seem to be vulnerable radiators.

The stock bash plate is at least made of metal, but it doesn’t come up around the sides of the engine which look vulnerable. On the rocky trails of the Adrar plateau I’ll have to tread carefully and have some epoxy putty at hand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
atpk-krig

CRF1000 USD forks are leak-prone – one of mine was leaking before I even bought the bike at 1800 miles (fixed on warranty). Repairing a seal in the field sounds too tricky to do well so I’m hoping some Kriega fork seal covers (right) will keep the seals from getting worn. They’re easy to fit and remove if needed. The full-sock tubes like I had on my XCountry are better and cost the same, but require removing the forks from the bike to slip over the top.

And that’s about it. It would have been fun to ride the Honda across Spain, but this is the first time doing that crossing over many winters that the weather has caught me out.
It would have been even more useful to get the feel for the AT doing my regular tour circuits in Morocco. That too is not to be so I’ll be renting a ragged Sertao for the duration and will just have to learn to manage the AT on the fly down in Mauritania. More news and impressions on the road in March.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA