Tag Archives: western sahara

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.

Himalayan: Impressions at the edge of the Sahara

Himalayan Index Page
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Just got to the desert about a 1200 miles in. Two wheels on my wagon and the Himalayan still humming along. Hard to believe it hasn’t missed a beat running down from Malaga over the High Atlas and down here to the edge of the Sahara. The tension is unbearable!
Fuel economy has slowly improved and is now averaging 77mpg Imp (about 27.2kpl; 64.1 US). Bear in mind since leaving the autoroute from Tangier I rarely go over 60, where that’s possible. At yet at these modest speeds the REH is a very satisfying and undemanding ride. It’s an ideal low-profile machine for Morocco, if not so much the getting here. That’s because the seat still needs work; an easy enough fix.

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I’m really impressed how well this thing rides on the dry stony mountain tracks which sum up most of ‘mainland’ Morocco. It’s so effortless you don’t even notice at first. Can’t say the same of a 310GS which I’ve also ridden out here a lot: more concentration required on the dirt. The 310 motor and brakes are more suited to shredding tarmac canyons – another adventure-styled bike that’s not really an off-roader. The REH doesn’t look like anything you’d know – maybe a civil partnership of Rokon and MZ.
It must be down to the Him’s combination of low CoG, torquey, long-stroke motor, wide gearing and 21-inch front, plus on my bike, the Anakee Wilds and YSS shock which help make it one of the best bikes I’ve ridden in Morocco for years. On one epic high mountain day I even managed to zing the centre stand on the supermoto track they call the to Sidi Ouaziz.

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Brakes are fine on the dirt. The weak-on-road front is as you’d want; the back a tad sharp, but that’s normal, easy to manage and even useful.
To me the ABS is not an issue at the speeds either I or the bike can manage on the dirt. If it engages you probably need to slow down. Both wheels lock easily on really loose stuff before the ABS even reaches for the alarm clock. On the road I’m sure there will come a day when I welcome it.

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My proof-of-seat concept (2 x 20mm foam sandwich under a Cool Cover) is an improvement but not there yet. Two days over 400km more or less non-stop and I wonder if the foam slabs are crushed out already. It’s worse on rocky dirt where I tend to stand only when I must. The aerated Cool Cover may help, but it’s slippery and tends to slide me forward. Next version wants to be more level and maybe more foam.
I think what’s still a short distance between seat and footrest (for me) makes levering the body upwards harder that it would be on a KTM450 for example. Removing the footrest rubbers will add an inch more leverage while the 2-inch rise in the bars is nearly just right for me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven though I’m wearing a Bell Moto III I don’t find the buffeting from the short screen intrusive at 65 – my self-imposed max until I know better. It needs to be about 4 inches higher to push the wind over my head but I wonder if one of those air lip/dams might also help lift the airstream. I bought the MRA one but it was too wide to fit without drilling or other bodging. Of course on the dirt the screen is as unobtrusive as you want which is why a spoiler is a better idea than adding height.
The Enfield catches you out with firm stock suspension – the opposite of most of my recent bikes, especially the Jap ones. I bought a YSS shock and fork preloaders as soon as I got the bike, and the YSS shock works as well or better than the Hyperpro (XCo, WR), Tractive (CB500X) or Wilber (XSR700) I’ve run out here recently. All it needs is a pricey HPA to be truly useful, because adjusting preload will be a right  pain (unlike a 310GS, for example).
I suppose they’re now a bit shown up by the YSS shock, but road and trail the RWUp forks are just right for my sort of speeds and load. The preloaders are set on zero – rats! that’s ten quid down the drain.
Because my Anakees are knobbly I tend to leave them at road pressures on  the trail, which makes the suspension feel harsher than it is. I know dropping just a few pounds will make a difference, but I tend to endure rather than fiddle, until necessary. Fyi I’m 95kg (210lb) and my gear is probably another 20%.

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My tubeless tyres hadn’t lost any air on collection but the back (vulcanised band) lost a couple of pounds after a few days then settled down. The Tubliss front was doing the job until I saw a bit of Slime oozing from the red valve which means it’s getting past the 7-bar high-pressure core. I tried to top it up, but the crumby garage hose was split and purged more air than it put in. Don’t meddle until you must! Now I realise my pressure gauge doesn’t read to a lofty 7 bar (100 psi) and my Cycle Pump has no gauge. I pumped it up for 3 minutes which hopefully has got up to 7 bar until I find a better garage pump. I said this years ago when I fitted it on the GS500R:  Tubliss is a pain for overlanding rather than rec dirt biking. Or maybe I should have anticipated the need for a gauge that reads 7 bar +…
Out of Malaga the fully charged Michelin TPMS took many hours to pair up and show readings, but since was very handy in monitoring the experimental tubeless tyre pressures. Sadly, 10 days in it appears to have packed up – not even the battery level is indicated.
Now I’ve refined the strapping, the slim Kriega OS20s throwovers sit tight and are easy and quick to access. Total demounting would be easier with the HDPE Kriega platform, but I just pull out the white liners if I need to strip the bike overnight (rare). Their slimness is a real benefit on some narrow and gnarly canyon tracks where catching the cliffside with metre+ wide alloy cabinets risks being ejected into the abyss.

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Even with bivouac camping gear (everything bar a tent) there’s no need for a tail pack because the nifty 6-litre Lomo bags either side of the tank take up the slack and help spread the load evenly. A very handy spot for gear and, with the Kriegas, a sacrificial crashbar for when that days comes.

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So, after 10 brilliant days in the mountains managing to dodge hail, bandits and lightning, all is good with the Himalayan and pretty good with my adaptions. It’s somewhat nerve-wracking but then it always is as I tend to come out here on a wing and a prayer with roughly adapted bikes I’ve barely used.
The XCountry came with the various lip-chewing issues of that series (but nothing went wrong) and the WR250R had dodgy fuel pump activity when hot (but with care got me round OK). Clapped-out Tornados only had age- or user-related issues. Even a Husky 650 Terra, a 701 and an F650GS loaner and 700GS rental with 100k did me a week. Only the Tenere 660Z CB500X and tasty XSR700 came with- and delivered absolutely no worries. You can’t pay enough for that (bodes well for the XT700, too. You can see where I’m going with this).
I met a gnarly KTM450 overlander carrying a spare injector, fuel pump and clutch. Me, I have spare underpants. In fact I brought two by mistake. One will have to go.

Time to see how the Himalayan manages several hundred miles of desert piste.

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WR-ing about in Morocco – 5

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

I drop down, turn west and and plough into the oued, hoping for the best, but it’s not going to happen. Soon I’m paddling madly in first, like something out of a Roadrunner cartoon, engine screaming. The temp gauge reaches 134°C. Normally 100-110.
With vigorous paddling and feathering the throttle I  j u s t  manage to keep creeping forward. On firmer terrain the bike grabs traction and leaps ahead, then sinks at the next soft patch. The rear spins, the clutch creaks, I’m panting and my mouth is parched.
I inch towards some shade to let it all cool down. This shouldn’t be this hard – I’ve made a mistake somewhere. Those nomads upstream use old landrovers and wouldn’t camp in such a hard-to-reach place.

I set off on foot to try to find the track or recce a firm, rideable route. I’ve been lured in by a couple of car tracks – a common mistake to make when the way ahead isn’t clear. Thorny acacias and stony river banks limit options, but I work out a way to the south bank where I want to be.

Back at the bike I drop pressures to 1 bar – it can make a huge difference. I’ll need it as a 250 lacks the grunt of a 600 to hook up on soft sand.
Suddenly it’s all got a bit challenging, but if I ride short sections then rest, recover and cool the motor, I’ll make it out in a hour or two. Plus there are waterholes and even nomads if something like the fuel pump goes wrong.

Before setting off I suck down one of these gels; they were going cheap on Wiggle. I’m not usually into this stuff but it’s worth a go. The soft tyres transform the bike: traction makes faster forward progress – actual riding not paddling – and less spinning and revving and more airflow = less heat: win-win.
I climb onto the south bank and ride gingerly among the rocks on the flat tyres, working my way along the valley

I find and follow a stretch of track but it soon ends in a huge mound of flood-churned sand by a big waterhole (MW6-KM256). I set off on another foot recce to see if it gets better or worse and like they do, a nomad pops out of the scrub. Another tourist in a pickle, and he’d be right.
We do the greeting thing then I ask him “Hawza? [nearby army base]. Piste?”
He points across a spit of sand bridging the waterhole where the track once was (above; Bing image below).
That’ll do me. I check it for firmness as I already trod in some quicksand. I start the bike, reach the waterhole and shoot over, but see no track on the far bank. Sod it, I take off up the rocky hillside to cut the last bend in the oued, hoping the soft tyres don’t pinch.
Elevation is always useful when lost: from the top I see the track continuing south across the stony plain towards a pass.

Two years later I was in the same place on the Himalayan and a 4×4. I’d made much less of a mess of the oued, but this time the gorge was a dry mass of deep sandy ruts which the bike would definitely not manage. I aired-down the rear and tried to walk and push around, but the torque of the heavy bike had the chain slipping on the front sprocket. Not a good sound. Luckily the two in the car saw me panting like a dog, came back and helped push me across. Once back on firmer sand, I took off over the stony hill, as I’d done with the WR. Alone, I suppose I’d have managed eventually, as I did on the WR.
The trick is knowing when to stop and rest and drink – every couple of minutes if necessary. Don’t burn yourself out: a frazzled brain makes mistakes.

The sandy gorge from hell, as seen on Bing aerial.

Gnarly episode over, I air up with my trusty Cycle Pump. Generally I don’t mess around with tyre pressures too much, but that oued needed 15psi.

And very soon I reach another thing I’d forgotten about – an amazing view from the escarpment down to the chott (dry lake bed). If you have edition 2 of Morocco Overland you’ll see a picture of a 101 camper which stripped its gearbox trying to get up this steep climb.

That’s the climb from the base. Even on the WR it would be an all-or-nothing launch to get up it.

Behold the sun-baked chott. Surely, no more dramas.

On the chott. Like the famous Bolivian Salar, but without the electrics-eating salt.

Like you do, I get a bit carried away, looping some loops, but realise I need to head for some specific Dakar mounds on the south side to reach the track to the road.
Soon I’m back on the blacktop, the continuation of the restricted border road I was turned back from at Zag.

It’s another two hours to Smara. I pass a turn-off for the remote shrine of old Sheikh Sidi Ahmed Rguibi, the ancestral Yemeni forefather who led his people to this promised land, 500 years ago. The Arab Reguibat are the dominant tribe among the Saharawi nomads of Western Sahara.

Smara: road’s end at the Polisario front line, but looking quite prosperous for a garrison town. I roll up and down the high street and spot a few rough-looking joints.
I brace myself and pick the ‘Golden Sands’. The bloke in the office picking his nose is a bit bemused to see a sweaty Nasrani (‘Nazarene’ or Christian; ie: foreigner). Nevertheless he leads me to a windowless cell resembling a deleted scene from Homeland: a heavily soiled mattress and a dim bulb hanging on bare wires. Oh well, I’ve lodged as bad in Pakistan and elsewhere, and it’s only one night and three quid.
I’m just unpacking when the boss rocks up.
‘Come on mate, you can’t sleep here. Look at it, it’s shit!. Let us take you to a nicer place over the road. They got showers and everythink.’

Over the road feels a bit odd. My room has walls lacquered in ripe pig’s blood sprinkled with sequins, plus a matching satin duvet. And out in the corridor a highly scented lady gives the place the ambience of a knocking shop. Not sure this is what the g-friend had in mind when I told her I was off for some WR-ing about in Morocco.

I go for a wander and see a sign for Tfariti on the other side of the Berm, in the Polisario Free Zone. The Dakar Rally used to cross here to get to nearby Mauritania, but I always wondered how that was negotiated. Since the actual fighting ended, Morocco has pursued a full-time propaganda war against the Polisario, with all sorts of fake websites making out they’re pork-eating, drug-taking smugglers and terrorists.

As always in these towns, I have trouble recognising a place to eat. Cafes packed with blokes watching football while twiddling their smartphones over a fag are everywhere, but they only serve tea or coffee.
People stare at me: ‘how did he get here?’
I try a couple of places – “sorry mate, we repair typewriters” – then stumble into this place, rough as a granite toothbrush.
‘Got anything to eat?’
‘Sure, take a seat.’

My brochette arrives. One thing I like about these basic places is the total lack of pretension, a genuine welcome plus the food is cooked right in front of you so you know what you’re getting – not yesterday’s warm-overs.
Ok, so there’s no fork to pull the brochettes off the skewer. He sees me struggling, comes over and just grabs the meat with his fist and pulls them off the skewers. That’ll work!

Smara by night.

Meanwhile a spy informs me my publisher was spotted at the London Book Fair, spreading the word.

Part 6  > > >

WR-ing about in Morocco – 4

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

After two full days off in Tan Tan, I’m up for more.
I decide to try a new but slightly shorter route to Smara, only 330km; half piste.
I set off for Mseid, passing the village of Tilemsen.

Some of you may recall a fake news story from a few years back about a French bloke whose 2CV ‘broke down in the Sahara’.
From what I recall of the version I read, it was ’staged’ just out of Tilemsen where his only choice (apart from simply walking back to town?) was to merrily pass him time cutting and welding his car into a ‘Scrapheap Challenge’ motorbike, ride out and live to tell his amazing tale. Just like James Stewart in ‘The Flight of the Phoenix’ movie. Knowingly or otherwise, all the news feeds lapped up up this epic of desert survival. The 2CV bike was real – the bloke built them for a hobby, iirc. The survival yarn, most quickly deduced, was faked.
My PoV here.

The road ends at Mseid, looking even more abandoned than usual. Someone told me later that, following recent massive rains (which broke a dam and cut the road bridge at Layounne), every nomad and his dog is out pasturing their camels and goats while the going is good. These villages are more storehouses, occupied only in summer.

I head through the gap in the range and pass these wind-bent trees, like you get in west Cornwall.
Good windsurfing in Western Sahara, I’m told.

Without a GPS tracklog traced off Google Earth last night, my faint turn off to the southeast would be barely noticeable. No cairns of anything. GPS means you can attempt more adventurous stuff and literally string together your own routes.
In the pre-GPS era, unless you resorted to astro-nav or hired a local guide, all we did was follow main tracks, which of course felt pretty darned adv at the time.

The track is clear which is reassuring, as I don’t expect to see anyone. That’s the Jebel Ouarkaziz on the horizon and the Oued Draa behind it. They form a natural barrier separating Western Sahara from what I call ‘mainland Morocco’. Tbh the best scenery and riding is on the mainland, but out here you get a sense of space and solitude.

This must have been a former Dakar Rally stage as there are what I call ‘Dakar mounds’ straddling the track every kilometre or so. All helps with the nav.

But as always, riding one of two foot-wide twin ruts with loose rubble a few inches to either side takes concentration. You can’t look away for more than a second. At one oued crossing I dither over which track to take. The bike wanders onto the middle hump and flips out. I brace myself to be force-fed a dirt sandwich, but luckily it corrects itself this time. That’s another good thing with light bikes; they don’t get carried away by their momentum.
WTF happened there? I think I looked left and the bike drifted with me. The deadly target fixation. It’s all over in a second but it takes just one second to blow it. And there are a lot of seconds in a day.

Wildflowers are out after the rains.

Bang on my 145km estimate I reach the crossroads with MW6 coming down from Labouriat where I camped a week ago. You could play noughts and crosses on that!
I now turn south along MW6. It’s more washed out so probably less used, but it’s only 50km to the road. Nearly there.

I get to a fork. Old Olaf GPS map points left but the right fork might be a shorter, newer route. I crest a stony rise and see the big oued ahead with some nomad raimas (tents) at the back. Ah yes, I forgot about the sandy oued. That’s the worst sort of desert terrain for a bike.
It’s never over till it’s over, as I’ve learned to say in the Sahara…

Part 5  > > >