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Desert Travels - Motorcycle Journeys in the Sahara and West Africa!

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  #1  
Old 28 Aug 2008
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London- Dakar on 3 XR400s

Hi there,
Without trying to sound too naive and unprepared, two friends and I are planning a trip next july/august through France and Spain before attempting to follow the 2006 Lisbon- Dakar route on 3 XR400s through morocco/mauritania. If anyone is willing to help I have a few questions!

(1) Is this a good route?!! We're only 18 but are looking for a challenge..and want to make the trip last roughly 6 weeks

(2) The budget is roughly £5000 each, is this too high/low?

(3) Bikewise, how expensive should the modifications be? obviously we're not going to buy the whole touratech catalogue, but basics like new fuel tank/shock absorber etc..

Thanks in advance,
Tom
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  #2  
Old 28 Aug 2008
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I met some blokes in Mauritania (in 2005) on XR400's on their way to Cape Town (west coast route). They made it by the way. Great bikes - as far as I know they just had big tanks and fancy luggage. (Are you there Andy B?)

However - like the Dakar, that was in January rather than July/August. I can't help thinking it might be a touch warm at that time of year.
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  #3  
Old 28 Aug 2008
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A good choice of bike, but that time of year is too hot to be taking Dakar routes through Mauritania on laden bikes. The coastal tarmac maybe, but that is something different. Also, many of the Dakar sections are not possible without logistical support of some kind. Sorry to rain on your parade...
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  #4  
Old 28 Aug 2008
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If you are going to follow the 2006 route closely I think you might have problems with stage 6, TanTan to Zouerat, as that area is under military control. "Dakar Inc" are obviously able to pull a few strings that the rest of us cant. The only way round it would be TanTan to Nouhadibou to Atar.

The Dakar is usually held in the winter for good reason. It's going to be hot, hot, hot in July and August. Too hot, I would suggest, to be safe in the desert stages and possibly too wet further south.

Bikewise, I've done a similar route twice on a XR600 and my basic mods were:

Michelin Desert tyres - last for ever (good) but very stiff sidewalls so that lowering pressures on a light bike (like a XR400) doesn't do much (bad).

Acerbis 40L tank - holds loads of fuel (good) very top heavy when full (bad). I very rarely filled it up completely.

Made my own luggage - need welding equipment (bad), cost next to nothing so I didn't care if it got bent / broken (good) (you will fall off!).

I stuck with the std rims, rear shocker, forks. Nothing went wrong with them. The kickstart snapped on the last trip and had to be remade (several times). Biggest tip with breakdowns like this - learn some French.
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  #5  
Old 28 Aug 2008
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There is a lot of valid points here (summertime, restricted areas, logistics ++).

I have traveled a few of stretches that have been used in Paris Dakar and I always go way slower then Coma and the guys. There is several reasons for this:
  • I’m not as good driver as they are
  • I’m not in a hurry
  • I don’t drive on the edge (healthcare and parts are hard to find and I’m my own mechanic)
  • I carry luggage (incl food, water and petrol)
  • My bike don’t have the “I’m in problems pick me up”-button
  • I seldom go in the coldest season


I have used somewhere between 1-4 days to drive one stage and that’s mean I have to carry loads of water, which again make me drive slower.

But with the right attitude it’s amazing what you can be able to do.

Good luck, keep us informed!
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  #6  
Old 28 Aug 2008
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Thanks very much for the swift replies! So helpful already. Fortunately the two other guys I'm travelling with are native french speakers.... so at least that's the language barrier sorted.

The main issue so far seems to be the temperature one, the reason we initially proposed the dakar route was purely due to...well...ignorance! Clearly there will have to be a significant compromise, this will be my first serious trip of any kind, and the only time as a group we can spare time is july/august.

Currently I'm passionate about going for the real desert experience through mauritania, is there a route which could be considered more feasible without completely sticking (lol) to the roads...I will be in no hurry throughout the trip and am definitely not as good a driver as the dakar guys, but that doesn't stop me lying awake at night thinking about next summer!

I'm headed up to the RGS tomorrow to have a serious look at some maps so any advice would again be appreciated
Tom
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  #7  
Old 28 Aug 2008
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Here are some links on XR400 touring
Touring on a XR400 - ADVrider
Two 400 XR in Morocco - ADVrider
http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hub...subframe-24753

here are links for parts:
XR400 : Just Gas Tanks
Turbo City - Rock-It Parts
Turbo City - Rock-It Parts
Turbo City - Rock-It Parts
XR'S ONLY -- HONDA ATV DIRT BIKE -- CRF TRX XR - Oil Temperature Dip Sticks
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  #8  
Old 28 Aug 2008
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Have to agree with the other guys, it's going to be really hot. We hit just over 53C at the beginning of July in Southern Spain with a week long heatwave blowing up from North Africa.
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  #9  
Old 28 Aug 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by firstimeflyer View Post
Currently I'm passionate about going for the real desert experience through mauritania, is there a route which could be considered more feasible without completely sticking (lol) to the roads...I will be in no hurry throughout the trip and am definitely not as good a driver as the dakar guys, but that doesn't stop me lying awake at night thinking about next summer!

I'm headed up to the RGS tomorrow to have a serious look at some maps so any advice would again be appreciated
Tom
Every great plan starts somewhere..

In terms of a route through you could look at the beach piste from Nouadibhou to Nouakchott through the Banc D'Arguin - you will have a desert experience and the Atlantic climate will save you from the worst of the heat.

Otherwise, perhaps make a diversion to Atar by road from Nouakchott and test your Summer endurance with shorter tours from there.
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Last edited by Richard K; 28 Aug 2008 at 20:30. Reason: clarity
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  #10  
Old 31 Aug 2008
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Once again, all very helpful.
Having visited the RGS over the past couple of days, I've had a chance to look seriously a routes through morocco and mauritania and have a few more questions...

(1) Is it possible to travel through the western sahara to somewhere such as Ain Ben Tilli on the Mauritanian border? I read somewhere about weekly armed escorts/convoys setting off from morocco or is this now a thing of the past?

(2) I understand how ridiculous it may seem to be travelling through the desert in July, but in order to get to the coast (Nouadhibou) and not through the western sahara, how feasible is it to travel from somewhere such as Ain Ben Tilli via Zouerat before skirting along the southern border on what appears to be an 'unmarked piste' to the coast?

(3) Once again, with the heat in mind, is the whole thing possible or am I just dreaming?!

Thanks again,
Tom
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  #11  
Old 31 Aug 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by firstimeflyer View Post
Once again, all very helpful.
Having visited the RGS over the past couple of days, I've had a chance to look seriously a routes through morocco and mauritania and have a few more questions...

(1) Is it possible to travel through the western sahara to somewhere such as Ain Ben Tilli on the Mauritanian border? I read somewhere about weekly armed escorts/convoys setting off from morocco or is this now a thing of the past?

(2) I understand how ridiculous it may seem to be travelling through the desert in July, but in order to get to the coast (Nouadhibou) and not through the western sahara, how feasible is it to travel from somewhere such as Ain Ben Tilli via Zouerat before skirting along the southern border on what appears to be an 'unmarked piste' to the coast?

(3) Once again, with the heat in mind, is the whole thing possible or am I just dreaming?!

Thanks again,
Tom
Tom, I don't think you're going to be able to get anywhere near Ain Ben Tili - not because the tracks are unrideable but because the armed standoff between the Morrocan army and the Polisario has its front line roughly in the Ain / Zouerat area and you will get turned back.
At the moment if you want to go to Mauritania overland the only practical route is the coast road (aka the Atlantic route). Because of the unrest in the area there used to be a convoy system in operation between Dakhla and the Mauri border but it was scrapped about eight years ago. You can now drive freely all the way down the route subject only to the frequent road blocks.

Re the unmarked piste along the southern border, if you mean the one that runs from Nouhadibou to Choum on the Mauri side of the border, that is a popular piste (one I'm hoping to do this Dec) and not really unmarked - there is a railway line that marks out the route, just follow that. You can follow it on Google earth if you have the patience.
If you mean the one north of the border that goes through Zoug etc then that's in the no go zone. Bear in mind that the whole of that southern border is said to be mined and that north of the railway puts you in the danger zone.

On a more general note, even if there were no political problems and the borders were open I would think twice about tackling the Ain / Zouerat piste in 50C summer temps. I don't know what sort of experience you have in these sorts of conditions but the Sahara is hard enough in the relative cool of winter and unless you are well acclimatised and with a "long way down" level of backup it's not something I would suggest you consider. The one time I rode in 50C heat is the only time I was "burnt off the bike" and had to give up and seek shelter. Clothing soaked in water was dry within a mile and it was hard to breath in a full face helmet.
Search the postings on this site for one by Cool Karim where he relates his (near death) experience on the Tichit to Oualata piste and if you haven't already, look through Chris Scott's site, Sahara Overland ~ the book and online resource
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  #12  
Old 1 Sep 2008
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Clearly I still have a lot to learn! In which case a new option would seem to be taking the Atlantic route through morocco/western sahara. Although, of course it will still be hot hot hot, presumably the more Atlantic climate will save us from the worst of the heat as Richard K suggests. Having achieved this, would it be utterly suicidal to attempt to travel inland from nouadhibou to Atar via the Choum piste in July despite how determined we are? Ideally, that is what we would love to do, however, considering the time of year, it appears that the coastal route via the Banc D'Argin would be much more plausible.

It currently really is a steep learning curve, so forgive me if I sound like yet another misguided & naive young traveller, however the july/August slot really is the only period available. I clearly cannot appreciate just how hot it will be whilst sitting through another miserable english summer, but I guess it is just a question of minimising the effects of the heat whilst attempting to make the most of 8 weeks on a bike!

Tom,

I've also just ordered a copy of Sahara overland 2, so no doubt more literature advising against it!
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  #13  
Old 1 Sep 2008
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I don't think anyone will tell you NBD to Atar in July is a good idea! However, if you are determined then the only safe way to do this would be to hire a driver and Hi-Lux in Nouadibhou (cost about 150 euros per day including fuel and perhaps a return fee).

Navigation is simple, so rather than riding in his dust, go at your own pace and ask him to follow your tracks. Between 12-4pm you will probably not be doing anything other than drinking, sweating and sleeping, so the shelter & fluids a 4x4 can carry will be a lifeline.

If you cannot change your dates, then the sensible thing to do is make an informed decision at the time and on the ground when more of the variables are settled (state of health and machinery, heat, skill levels etc.).
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  #14  
Old 1 Sep 2008
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to be honest there are plenty of 8 week biking challenges, without putting yourself in the Sahara during the summer.

While the Sahara Overland book will probably just get you more excited about that location, it also has pictures of an egg frying on a Land Rover front wing, etc, etc!

By the same author is the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook, which has plenty of worldwide areas to explore. Or, read the trip reports on his website to give you some alternative ideas.

cheers,
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  #15  
Old 1 Sep 2008
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Will it be enjoyable in summer heat?

Quote:
Originally Posted by firstimeflyer View Post
I clearly cannot appreciate just how hot it will be whilst sitting through another miserable english summer, but I guess it is just a question of minimising the effects of the heat whilst attempting to make the most of 8 weeks on a bike!

Tom,
Tom
It's not a bad thing to be enthusiastic about an ambitious trip. However, one point which strikes me about this thread is not whether it can be done but whether you would actually enjoy it.

Sometimes in the summer months in the UAE, to keep riding, we set out after dark, camp overnight and get up and on the bikes by 6-6:30 am. It is really lovely to ride then as the sun comes up and can feel very fresh. However, by 8:30 am it is scorching and by 9 am we are heading for the trailers, an air-conditioned car and a refreshing shower.

You won't have that luxury and will very possibly start to be feeling uncomfortable, irritable or worse - with the whole of the day still ahead of you. And that's with the bikes running smoothly and no mishaps.

Good luck with your trip and let us know what you decide and how it goes.

I'm planning to travel in North Africa too next year - but starting in January!
Stephan
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