Tag Archives: high atlas

Trail Biking Tours in southern Morocco

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mememAn easy introduction to small-group, backroad trail biking in Morocco, suited to seasoned road riders with little or no off-road riding experience. Your time is maximised by flying in and renting a bike before heading out over the Atlas mountains for an 800/1100-kilometre lap of southern Morocco right down to the edge of the Sahara.
Using my nearly 40 years of riding in North Africa and the knowledge based on writing Morocco Overland and the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook, 
we take relaxed, dirt-road excursions of 2-3 hours. That may not sound much but with the scenery, deserted roads, great food and cosy lodgings, it all adds up to a memorable mini-adventure which will leave you satisfied rather than exhausted. Read the riders’ reviews below.


Start/end Marrakech
6-day Easter 2019 tour £750 + bike rental + flight
7-day autumn 2019 tours £860 + bike rental + flight
Dates and availability
Read the FAQs


What a brilliant trip that was. A great balance of challenge and relaxation. RS
We would like to thank you for a beautiful trip that will remain in our memories forever. RBE
Interesting mix of people + your amazing quiet knowledge of the area made it all feel so easy. JT.
Thank you so much for all your help and guiding. The tour has been an indelible memory for me. JK
You’ve ruined green laning in the UK for me now ;-) TY
Great mix of rough and smooth, with a dose of true Moroccan culture. [And] the biking – just right. Loved it. BR
I felt I had experienced much more than the typical tourist fare  It was great to get off the beaten track. CR

If you’ve been there and done that, southern Morocco holds no great challengeBut just as it was for me back in 1982, first rides to North Africa can be a shambles. I came back 82-cassisfrom that trip having not seen or done half as much as I could have.
Today, I still hear of first-time visitors stuck at the border on cumbersome, overloaded machines before getting shafted, ill or breaking down while tackling over-ambitious itineraries while the days slip away. That can be all part of the adventure if you’re young, carefree and happily naive. For everyone else, a short, guided tour can be a great primer to genuine adventure motorcycling or just a great biking holiday.

New bikes • New routes • New lodgings • New 6-day Springtime

For 2019 we’ll be renting the new BMW G310GS I’ve adapted my proven formula so the riding is more suited to these bikes. I’ve again upgrading some of our amazing lodgings and have refined the routing so that there’s always an all-sealed option in the event of bad weather or other set-backs.a310-15-1

Also, because the new G310GS is more road-oriented than the former, clapped-out XR250s, the difference between the 310s and say, a G650GS single or the F700GS twin is less pronounced. Therefore, although the default bike for this tour is the 310GS, these heavier but less revvy bikes are now suited to the tour, assuming they’re available and you feel you can handle the extra weight. Seat heights are not so different. They cost between 25% and 55% more to rent than the 310GS but are quite a few years older and have much higher mileages. Things like ABS and a full dashboard may not work. Read my recent report on doing the lap on an old F700GS.

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The Tour

You fly to Marrakech and check-in to a modern hotel where we all meet on the first evening for a meal and briefing. Next morning it’s a 4-minute walk from the hotel to organise the bikes. We then set off for a 100-km ride to a remote lodge in the High Atlas and next morning continue on a, loop following deserted backroads and spectacular mountain and desert pistes, right up to the very last day returning over the Atlas to Marrakech.tour-2019a

As importantly, we use ambient lodgings, ranging from simple Berber home-stays to impressive kasbah-style boutique hotels on the longer tour, enjoying the hosts’ warm hospitality and freshly prepared food. Many riders often regard the food as a highlight of the tour.

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My knowledge of Morocco gained from researching and writing the Morocco Overland guidebook means barely a day or a mile need be M3-coverwasted getting to the places overlooked by most tourists, tours and other guidebooks. When things go awry and delays crop up, as they do, I know the region well enough to reschedule the itinerary at the drop of a valve. On this trip we’ll barely see other tourists and when we do stray into their territory the whole circus can be quite a shock.

warningThis tour is not a hardcore off-roading, dawn-to-dusk challenge.
It is a laid-back but adventurous backroad trail and road ride through southern Morocco’s mountains and deserts.
Please re-read the red above to avoid disappointment.

However, you still need to be:
• Experienced and level-headed to ride competently on winding mountain roads where anything can lie beyond the next bend
• Fit enough to handle a couple of hours off-roading and
Flexible enough to accept the vagaries of back-country travel in North Africa.

Sound like your sort of thing? Then read the FAQs carefully and check out the gallery below or here and here.tour2019d

WR-ing about in Morocco – 9/9

WR250R 4000-km review
WR Introduction
WR250R Stage 1
WRing about in Wales
WR250R ready for the desert
Morocco trip report, 1–9
Fuel log

Chilly morning in Tilmi – and it’s going to get a lot chillier.

 

I set off up the track and soon find it’s in unusually good shape and actually with a very gearing-friendly gradient. Good road building! Down in the valley, the very last village on the south side.

I stop on the Tizi Ouano pass, just short of 3000m or 10,000’. Nearly over now and, with the worst exposure behind me and all excess weight ditched, the WR burns down the track. I cover the 40kms in a little over an hour then brace myself for Agoudal village.

That’s the sign you need to watch out for if coming from the north and wanting the dirt crossing to Dades.
If you stop they’re on to you.
As it is right now, you could easily do this pass on a GS12 with topbox and Tourances
Or if you don’t fancy it, stay on the asphalt and make your way down to Schmodra Gorge and Tinerhir, via Ait Hani.
Better still, at Ait Hani (before Todra) turn NE up the valley for Assoul, Ait Jacoub (nice auberge here), mysterious Amellago, and down through the amazing Rheris gorge to Goulmima.
All off-axis, great riding and not a single, rainbow cheche vendor will you see.

Clear of Agoudal, for me my friend the piste is over, so I pull over on a culvert to brush the chain with lube. Mario from Slovakia on a 700 TA pulls over and we have a good chat. He is finding some indolent, scrounging Moroccans hard work. I say get off this axis. He says I want to do MS6 Merzouga to Zagora. I say with that load, and those tyres you may find it hard work.

I decide to follow MH1 right through to Tounfite, but dodge the over-rated Cirque de Jaffar finale and stick to the tarmac.
I’ve done my share and there are scores of ‘Jaffars’ all over Morocco (not least, Sarhro D-West).

Soon I’m climbing on a frost-damaged, storm-ravaged road with more carts and mules than cars.

 

 

I get to Agoudim village and turn right, head over a rather radical ditch which no village Merc van could manage, and soon the road starts to disappear.

Within a km I’m riding along a bike-wide path above the river bed. This was one of the easier sections.
This does not feel right. And that is because (all together now):
“It’s Never Over Till It’s Over!!”


There is no trace of asphalt now, just a massive landslide where the road – only a few years old – once was. I park up and walk on, wading through streams. There are knobbly tracks, but really this all looks a bit hardcore. How long will it go on for? Why was there no sign: ‘Road closed after Agoudim’?
Oh well, all good research for the book I suppose, so I schlep the 80 clicks back to Imilchil – a village I’d not usually spend my money on.
At the servo I ask the wrong question: ‘When was the road cut to Tounfite?’
‘Yes there is asphalt all the way to Tounfite’ three blokes tell me. Whatever, then.
It’s late, I’m cold and hungry and I’m about to set off north – a long way to anywhere with a hotel.
Then, at the edge of town a nice-looking kasbah.
Same bloke from the garage: ‘100 ds chum, and another 100 for nosebag’. Not bad at all for what it is.

It was a good call. All that night a freezing wind howled from the north, rattling the panes. I slept in all my clothes and sleeping bag. Six am next morning (above): the snow may not be deep but the wind chill is arctic. A good day not to be riding. So I stay over and spend the hours uploading one of these posts.

At breakfast next morning, two German backpackers are wrapped up in all they have.

Nice bloke at this place – good tucker again last night and a full Moroccan on a platter.
Last night I looked at the big picture on Base Camp and saw a new road go round the washed out gorge. I managed to get on the HUBB Morocco forum. Confirmation: old route totalled, new route carved over the hills. There is tar to Tounfite after all.

So back I go, over the unnamed 2650-m pass.

Down the other side.

Past some old seabed at 7000’.

Nice formations.

And right here. This is your turn for Tounfite, though you’d never know, so I made a big sign.

Just up the road I meet Mario again, kindly helping a local biker with a jammed gearbox on a moped not worth 20 quid. Mario’s lost his mojo. He made the same mistake I did, but got stuck early where some kids helped him pick up and turn his bike round. He spent the night in an Agoudim auberge, but got the shits eating local, his key chip played up so he had to climb the hillside to call home for advice (‘try the spare key’).

But he still wants to do the Cirque. I tell him I’ve not done it for years and it’s become a pretty gnarly 4×4 route and has been closed lately. If you fall over on that thing, you better hope there’s someone around to help or it doesn’t land on you as you slide down the hill. He seems despondent. In Imilchil yesterday some kids threw a football at him and just missed him.
I know that feeling – bad aura – call it what you like, but it can ruin many first trips in Mk. I give advice on how to dodge it in the book (eg: avoid cities until you’ve got the swing of things) but no one really takes it in. We all learn best from our own experiences – which may later happen to concur with received opinion. But you need to find out for yourself.
Make no mistake: the hassle in mainstream tourist Morocco is truly world class, but is a lot less bad than it used to be.
Next door in Algeria – nada. Tunisia, lame! Libya, Niger (pre-2011) – nothing. Mauritania, small time.

We ride together for a bit then split at a roundabout with a wave. I come round a bend and suddenly the Atlas goes flat.
Next stop: Middle Atlas.

Unfortunately the elevation does not abate and I’m getting chilled to the bone. Again.
That is biking; you just endure (or you forsee the need for appropriate clothing).
I need a hot feed and stop in Timahdite to the aroma of grilling brochettes, but before the stand is down a grinning bloke walks up to me with outstretched hand, ‘Hellomyfriend. Whereareyoufrom?’
F-the-f-off, pal, I’m not in the mood. I take off.

I ride on to Azrou, bound to be worse there. Pull in at a Ziz with a resto, but can tell from the bloke’s face that he is normal. A sizzling chicken taj with a vachette on top for long life and many sons.
With a coffee, 3 quid. Keep the change, amilago.

Fes is near but I don’t fancy doing battle with that. Maybe somewhere on the outskirts? I pass a huge, flash Relais for Fes yuppies. Sod it, I’ve earned it. My rationale for roughing it (not that there’s always a choice) is that you can justify the odd splurge. Friendly folk, 300ds room-only, wifi’s out and telly controls indecipherable, but I cook up some room self-service. Fyi flavoured cous-cous is great travel food: just 200ml of boiling water then 3 mins stewing. Add some vachish and a tuna and you’re as good as fed.

When it’s over it’s over (except when it’s not, obviously) so, even though the clocks have gone forward, I try to make the 5 o’clock boat out of Tan Med. Should be doable if I press on. It’s springtime in the Rif, the warm air is like Nivea vapor and I’m finally out of the chilly mountains. My hands remained numb for days.
It’s not an easy ride from Fes via Ouazzane to Tan Med, hundreds of bends, more traffic, more roadside hazards and more aggressive driving compared to the laid back south. But the WR is humming away. I wouldn’t want anything faster – better brakes and SM tyres maybe.
I get to TanMed at 4 but there’s no 5 o’clock. Next boat is 8pm, there’s no wifi, a squall blows the bike over and settles into rain. The 8pm departure drags on to 9.30.
But I am nearly Out Of Dodge! No matter how much you may have enjoyed your travels, it sure is good to leave the AMZ and especially North Africa.
The stresses, frustrations and fatigue suppressed for nearly 4 weeks begin to bubble to the surface.
That, in a nutshell, is why they call it ‘adventure motorcycling’ and not a touring holiday with full RAC back up.

Leaving a port around midnight with the rain streaming down a bug-splattered visor and not knowing quite where you’re going is a recipe for riding into a ditch. But better this way coming back to familiar Costa del Sol than entering northern Morocco on the way out. Thanks heavens for my Montana. After a few false starts, I rock up at a hotel, not an expansive golf resort with ornamental marble ponies.
It’s late but matey is up and there is room at the inn.

Next morning the WR is can’t be stopped: was it breakfast? is it the softer, more humid air, no wind?
More like: the end is in sight.

I drop it off at Fly and Ride’s Malaga warehouse…

… then ditch the Bell in a bin and walk through the light-industrial roadside trash to the airport.
Job done!


m3acoverMorocco Overland

65 routes covering nearly 12,000km
• Includes scenic byways suitable for all vehicles, including motorhomes
• Guidance on 4×4, 2WD, moto or MTB choice and
preparation
• Off-road riding and driving tips
• Moroccan ferries, border procedures, port maps and fly-drive options
• Selected recommendations on places to stay
• GPX waypoint files to download

m3bander

WR-ing about in Morocco – 8

WR250R 4000-km review
WR Introduction
WR250R Stage 1
WRing about in Wales
WR250R ready for the desert
Morocco trip report, 1–9
Fuel log
Last night I tracked down the exact point where Jebel Sarhro ‘Double West’ picks up off the Nekob highway, near Tansikht.
I tried to find it a couple of years ago with a group, but failed. We did it coming down in 2013 – a spectacular afternoon’s ride up MH14 and down MH15.
Glad I left the Husky Terra at the auberge and borrowed a Tornado.It’s heating up again – my body thermometre doesn’t know if it’s coming or going.
My Hyperpro suspension has softened a bit too, and I found my PLA (preload knob) was close to max.
I emailed Bas at HP and he suggested not upping the low speed comp (also now on max) but cranking up the rebound which I do in the shade of a palm. Who’d have known.
Those carpets are actually pretty heavy and, annoyingly, I filled right up at Agdz, instead of just a couple of litres to get me over. I’ll feel that extra weight on the hill.
Back home, I’ll screw the hydraulic PLA ring down on the shock body a bit and return the comp settings back to medium. With 4 settings it’s easy to get baffled by a high-end shock unless you RTFM.
But they sure do make a difference. My WR rides like my old 650X – there must be something to this progressive spring theory.With a hot back wind from the south, it’s a tough, 2500-foot climb over 10kms to this pass.
The bike grinds up in 1st and occasionally 2nd, and in places the exposure gets a little alarming.
I stop into the wind a couple of times to cool the motor and calm the nerves.Luckily, round the corner the track keeps its elevation along a saddle…

… to reach the plateau.

There are nomad tents with grazing sheep and patches of bright green cultivation against the barren rock.
I pass this ruined agadir, or fortified storehouse.

I pass the point where MH14 coming up from Nekob joins this route, but it looks like no one’s used it for a while.
I last did it 5 years ago on an F650GS (above) and a mate on a TTR. Now it’s becoming another abandoned track suited to light bikes looking for a challenge. F ‘650’ was a great bike; I wish they (or anyone) would make a light, 500cc version.Then, a few km on I suddenly join a wide, graded track. That wasn’t here last time.What a relief! I can finally relax for a bit. I’m all for off roading, but that climb was a bit gnarly.
Surely they’re not building a road to the few hamlets up here?
More probably it’s another haul road put in by prospectors to extract Jebel Sarhro’s gold and other minerals.Down in this basin I follow the haul road skirting a village, but it has yet to breach the ridge. Lots of trucks, rock hammers and dead ends leading to quarries.

With the Garmin map I work my way back to the old village track, get over an antenna pass and carry on north.
It’s actually a very nice track, and I realise why. After storms, work parties from the villages re-cover bare stony sections with sand and gravel to smooth it over and spare the van transporters a hammering. Only useful village tracks get this sort of maintenance.

I recognise this knot of villages by the Oued Dades. Nearly over. I am pooped.

Suddenly I briefly plunge into a verdant oasis of trees and barley. After all the rough, rocky riding it’s quite mesmerising, a real tonic on the eyes.

I stop on the bridge to admire the washerwomen. It sure is nice to see greenery and water.

But as I reach the N10, before I’m even in neutral, I’m set upon by a teenager demanding money.
The N10 is on what I call the Tourist Axis: Marrakech; Ouarzazate; Todra (do me a favour!); Erfoud; Merzouga (Chebbi), with branches down to Mhamid and up to Imilchil. A few years ago at Tinerhir there was a scam where they let fuel pumps run without actually dispensing fuel. (Harder to pull off on a bike with a translucent tank).
I ignore the rude boy and he goes back to work at the blacksmith nearby.
Keep off these axes and you’ll find another Morocco of genuine, friendly people.
There a Ziz nearby – lunch is 40d, a bit more than normal, and a bloke points me in the wrong direction for the toilet. Ya got me! [dickhead].

Time to head up the Dades valley – one long line of auberges and axis activities, but there are scenic views to be had.

Higher and higher I climb. I plan to stop away from the over-priced ‘hello-mister’ throng, at the very last village with the very last auberge before the main ascent tomorrow.

Tilmi. End of the road.

The Assaka auberge is basic, but Hussain cooks up a mean lamb tajine. A good one stews for two hours. He shows me his special, aromatic four-spice mix. Everyone had their own recipe.

Time to translate the day’s jottings into legible data.
Tomorrow one last piste then homeward bound.