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

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  #1  
Old 1 Nov 2010
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Riding fully loaded 2up through sand

Ok, crazy (boardering on stupid) as it sounds but has anyone ridden a motorcycle with two people through the Sahara fully loaded with luggage?

To say that I'm considering doing just this is probably a stretch of the imagination but I am finding myself more and more drawn to the sands and I want to know what I'm getting us into before committing to anything seemingly impossible.

If so what were your experiences, what bike did you ride, what can you share?
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Old 1 Nov 2010
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Don't leave the track...

Hi,

You can easily ride the Sahara two-up with luggage on a GS1200 - just stick to the pistes. A heavily laden big bike will sink like a stone in soft sand.

I supported 2 guys on 1150s in Morocco a couple of years ago. The bikes were fine on the tracks but on the soft stuff were an absolute nightmare. The only way they could make progress on sand was to "paddle along" - fine if you've got long legs and are riding solo. Lots of "offs" and trying to get a heavy bike upright on soft sand is really tough.

Hope that helps.

Happy trails,

Jojo
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  #3  
Old 1 Nov 2010
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"through the Sahara" and paddling along some pistes on the edge of the isolated sand dunes in Morocco are not one and the same thing. If you really mean "through the Sahara" you need to get the large scale Michelin map of NW Africa to see what you would be getting into.

Basically even if there were no border restrictions and even if there were no bandits/kidnappers/terrorists and even if you stuck as much as possible to the hamada areas, the answer would be no.
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  #4  
Old 1 Nov 2010
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My experience

Hi Turbo man

My experience is that anything is possible and people search for too many solutions before they set off

My girlfriend and I rode 2 up on an XTZ750 Super Tenere from the UK to Cape Town in 1995 just before the dawn of the Internet and we knew zilch before we set off, absolutely squat. In all honestly we were dangerously ill prepared but what the hell, we got to our intended destination after 12 months and had fun on the way.

The bottom line is that no, riding any motorbike, even a 125cc bike 2 up on sand is nigh on impossible. We tried it for 100 yards and gave up, turned around and thought about going home to buy a Land Rover. I remember the tear stained pillow () in the tent as we discussed our options. It is just so difficult for a rider of any ability, and the risk of injury to the passenger who hasn't got a feeling for what's going on (does the rider in sand ???), well it would have killed our relationship if we'd done another yard I reckon.

But in the campsite a few days later we met 2 guys, one of whom happened to be ex Royal Navy as I was, we all got on like a house on fire, and they took my girlfriend and the luggage in the Landy. We didn't like being a burden to anybody so quite often I helped out by going on ahead on the bike to look for good routes through the dunes and so on, and my girlfriend cooked great meals in the evening and we bought them tons of cheap African and things turned out just fine. Our paths continued to cross actually quite often until we finally split up when they departed in Benin as they gave up and flew home

Me and then girlfriend then did Central African mud 2 up and that is just as much fun as sand, if not more Plenty of days at walking pace, me off the bike pushing, her walking serenly alongside, gently glowing in the heat

But if you want to ride 2 up, where there's a will there's a way to get to your destination. Stick the bike on a train/truck/canoe or bum lifts off locals/overlanders, it's all good fun and only adds to the experience. In fact we did all 5 of those things I just mentioned, happy days
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  #5  
Old 2 Nov 2010
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go for a spin in sand.

Riding a big bike in sand is not as impossible as folks seem to imply. Very difficult, but not impossible.
You'll need plenty of practice solo first. and your pillion, when he/she joins you on the bike, will also need plenty of standing-on-the-footpegs action in difficult terrain, including but far from limited to sand.
Other stuff that needs to come along with it all (not a comprehensive list!):
- loads of trust and communication (verbal and other) between rider and pillion.
- pillion paying lots of attention to changing surfaces, and able to anticipate what the rider will likely do next (gas, slow, whatever).
- you'll have to be prepared to come off now and then. happily, the softer the sand, the more chance of falling off. so hopefully you'll come off in soft sand...
- keep your riding to the cool weather / times of day (might go w/o saying for comfort reasons, but sand is also more viscous and easier to ride when cool).
- let your tyres down more than you would believe.
- and yes, you'll be paddling sometimes!
I've not been to the sahara, but have ridden my laden R11GS many a mile in central Australian sand, very often two-up. Sand roads, deep sand, dunes.
Enjoy, and as the others say, prepare.
Cheers
Andrew.
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  #6  
Old 2 Nov 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TurboCharger View Post
Ok, crazy (boardering on stupid) as it sounds but has anyone ridden a motorcycle with two people through the Sahara fully loaded with luggage?
I haven't done it with two people but if "through" Sahara means crossing Sahara it can work out if you use one of the three most common routes. Two of them are paved and on the third one you need a guide in a car.
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Old 2 Nov 2010
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Great advice. I thought that there was a reason why there was no competition entry for motorcycles with two people in the Paris-Dakar (now the Dakar).

Essentially what I know is that you want the lightest bike possible with the best power to weight ratio.

Riding 2up fully laiden is a complete contradition to this advice.

I have ridden in some soft sand, enough to know that I need more experience and knobbies. We got stuck in soft sand in Cambodia and it shook the crap out of the bike and I was really worried about having an alu topbox, I thought the corregations in the sand would rattle the bike to bits, it didn't and we got out of the sand, Well actually my partner filmed me as I covered her in Sand spraying a curtain of it over her as a speed off.

Ever sincel that experience, and another in Ladakh she lost confidence in our ability to ride in sand and has not wanted to go back there, fearing the worst. I can't blame her but now I'm faced with a very steep uphill battle to convince her it is possible and we won't die, we might even have fun.
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Old 2 Nov 2010
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It can be done - eventually

Good advice from Andrew and clarification from Ali B.
Most of the Sahara is gravel, not soft sand which cross-routes avoid where possible.
But it only takes a few metres of soft sand to flip a bike as you can see below.

When I met Al Jesse* in Senegal in the mid-80s, he'd just crossed the Sahara the same way I had: Tam-Agadez, but 2-up on an ST (lightish BMW boxer road bike).
Back then it was 600km of sand and gravel - now it's 220 (currently closed).

As he says "Our worse day was from the [Niger] border towards Arlit [200km], 4 miles in 10 hour day. We had 10 gal. Water and 15 gal gas."
Four miles is close to my all-time-low on a bike in the Sahara and I can tell you, you end the day barely able to lift a spoon.
I think Al was a skilled off-road rider and this - plus tyre pressures as mentioned - makes a huge difference.

The problem with bike riding in soft sand (I read once) is the in-built 'forward-pointing' castor effect of the steering geometry (desirable) gets eliminated as sand builds up in front of the wheel. The wheel wants to flop to the sides so the answer is to gas it, raise the front end + gain momentum. That's fine on an RM250 or even a Tenere, but with half-a-ton of GS12 + gear + unpredictable passenger movements, it becomes dangerous, not least because that weight landing on either of you is what usually causes the injury, not the falling off (which is often a form of relief).

Even without a passenger it can end like this (an R80 morning after in the Laouni Sands about 100km north of Niger border - now sealed).

IMO the worse terrain a bike must manage are twin sandy ruts with rocks or bushes on either side so you can't break out. Like the Gao-Tim piste (too risky these days) or indeed the French Line in the Simpson, old Gunbarrel or Telegraph Track in Au.
Tam-Agadez was not like this, it's a wide open plain, but even here you end up either paddling at 4 miles/day or as pictured below (Route A6, KM628 west) because the ever-changing terrain which you were blasting over to avoid getting stuck catches you out.

That's the nub of it on a bike in soft sand: you need to go fast to gain stability and maintain momentum, but that will soon catch you out on 500 kilos of GS/AT/CBX and pax. So you paddle at 2kph at which pace in the Sahara your water supply (time) becomes as critical as fuel (distance).

Ch

*Al went on to steal my luggage idea and became a millionaire
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  #9  
Old 2 Nov 2010
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Thanks for the detailed advice and as you say it would come down to time and distance. On that note, is there a good supply of fuel and water through Algeria-Niger (arlit) route? What would be the minimum amount of Fuel and Water you would carry should you do that same trip again?

It's an important (if not the most important) consideration as fully loaded the main weight ends up not being the bike itself which is a meer 220kgs but the fuel (22L), oil (5L), water (10L), passengers (160kg) and luggage (80-90kg) which takes our overall weight up to a whopping 490kgs!!!

This causes us to be top-heavy and then steering in sand also becomes a problem especially with tail-steer or bum-steer which can cause the rear of the bike oscillating to destabalise the whole bike throwing it from side to side and eventually loosing control.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Scott View Post
When I met Al Jesse* in Senegal in the mid-80s...
*Al went on to steal my luggage idea and became a millionaire
I don't sense any built up resentment between you and Al, none at all.
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  #10  
Old 2 Nov 2010
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Hi,

>On that note, is there a good supply of fuel and water through Algeria-Niger (arlit) route?

I don't know when you plan to to the trip, but actually the border Ain Guezzam to Assamaka is closed for tourists. And anyway crossing northern Niger exposes tourist to very high risks (see other threads in this forum).
Algeria-Tessalit is even worse thees days.
There is a sealed road from Tam to Ain Guezzam. Petrol in Tam, Ain Guezzam (somehow irregular supply, but a few ltrs for a bike could always be sourced) and in Arlit.
I would go for 20-25l of water (2 persons), 40-50L (min. 600km range with worst case consumption) of fuel and 40kg of baggage.

Regarding heavy BMW at 2 in sand I remember a German guy, fantastic driver, I met in 94 in the Erg Issaouane, near BOD. He mastered deep sand at 2 even better than is solo friend! Be prepared to establish skills by training, take a break when you get tiered.
BTW, the BMW in question had very low center of gravity due to special fuel tanks and up to 90 ltrs of fuel capacity.

Good luck,
Yves
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Last edited by Yves; 3 Nov 2010 at 06:38.
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  #11  
Old 5 Nov 2010
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I met 2 French couples on GS's in Morocco, and they paddeled along on the sandy streches. Very tiresome and not pleasent for the wives.
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