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Old 11 Sep 2010
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How much experience do I need before I motorcycle across Africa?

Hi All!,

Well, I've now been riding a couple of months and still LOVIN' it!

As well as riding round town getting used to traffic, I've done one big ride of about 300km in one day and planning to do another one tomorrow (down the Great Ocean Road, I'm very excited and a bit nervous too!).

I keep thinking about my dream of riding across Africa and wondering how soon I will get there. I 'm riding a 250cc Suzuki Marauder at the moment but already thinking about what sort of bike would be good for Africa, and whether I should trade in the cruiser soon and get something to practise on.

In another month, I can get my full bike licence - and then technically I'll be able to ride anywhere in the world! But how much experience/confidence do you think I need before I start seriously thinking about an Africa trip? Obviously on the one hand, I can't wait - but I don't want to be stupid and tackle something like that before I'm ready... (How will I know when I'm ready??)

All opinions/advice gratefully received, as ever, guys!

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Old 11 Sep 2010
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Take at least one three thousand mile shakedown trip carrying full gear through variable weather. In North America that's just a short hop through a few states or provinces; in Europe, maybe up to Nordkapp and down through the Baltics. That'll give you a good head start on your skills and teach you a lot about the shortcomings and strengths of your bike and gear. But in the end, only travel will prepare you for travel. Experience riding a motorbike is good, even necessary, but it only takes you so far.

I don't mean to be discouraging; I had been riding for less than a year, about 8000 miles, before setting off on my first big trip to Eastern Europe and North Africa. But I'd spent a lot of time in the Developing World before that, and had driven cars in Africa too, which I think counts for something. Most people here would probably suggest riding for longer than I did....but I'm still here to tell the tale, and I've not had anything serious happen in 100,000 miles since.

Another approach: probably if you dumped the cruiser tomorrow and bought a dual sport, by the time you got it outfitted for overlanding and organized your affairs you'd be as ready as you need to be. It all takes time.....and in the end, you're never actually fully "ready" to leave; you just cut the cord and go regardless.

Hope that helps.

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Old 11 Sep 2010
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I think it is more a case of experience in travel, dealing with other cultures etc, than riding.

You can adjust your riding to match your skills to the terrain, but from what I have read about Africa, it seems to be dealing with the administration, local cultural nuances etc that can pose more of a challenge to the overlander: if the terrain is hard you just slow down. If a border official is being difficult it is a bit mores sensitive!!

Either way, I'm sure that you'd be up to the job. When you feel ready, you are as good as ready as it means you are prepared for the challenges ahead!!

(All typed by someone who has not travelled in Africa since he was a teenager!!!)
Adventure: it's an experience, not a style!
(so ride what you like, but ride it somewhere new!)
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Old 11 Sep 2010
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Riding in African takes a different mindset, there are many unexected hazards and no 'health and safety police' to keep the roads safe.

There'a thread on AdvRider from an enthusiastic youngster who wants to head into South America, buys the gear and the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook and heads out. To cut a long story short, he hits some donkeys, is paralysed for life, then two years later tops himself.

So... some form of advanced motorcycle training is essential. I'm not talking about offroad so much as onroad, something like ROSPA or IAM in the UK where you have it drilled into you to be aware of potential hazards.

My first motorcycle trip to Africa was in 1972 when I was 21, riding a TriBSA Cafe Racer. Someone had just tried to assasinate the King of Morocco and I came round a bend at speed and only just, somehow, managed to avoid hitting a police roadblock with some rather triggerhappy cops.

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Old 11 Sep 2010
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Touring Ted

Hi Jeanie, great that you are thinking of undertaking this nothing wrong with pots of enthusiasm. My great friend and sometimes drinking partner, Touring Ted, is on his way to Africa at the moment. There are numerous posts by him but PM him and I am sure be delighted to answer any questions. He has a current running commentary on his blog site. As Tim said, in Africa it is about a lot of bureaucracy and times and regimes change so nothing is constant.
By the time your bike is ready for some mild offroading and you have covered some rough terrain, (Australia is full of it get out there and practise) you will be ready and there are loads of people to pass on tips and help.
Hope this helps.
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Old 11 Sep 2010
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If the roads in Africa were empty you probably wouldn't need a huge amount of experience. If you had 4-5,000 miles under your belt on a bike you'd probably be able to ride well enough to cope with most of the terrain.

Unfortunately African traffic adds a new dimension to it all and what you really need to develop is the the kind of "sixth sense" that kicks in when danger is a few seconds away. A feeling that the car next to you is going to do something stupid or that the stuff dripping from the bus in front is probably diesel, or the horse in that field is going to run in front of me. (all of which have happened to me in Africa). The only way to get this is miles (and miles and miles) - or the hard way (where hard = painful).

In my early days (Morocco 1970!) I'd never ridden more than about 50 miles from London beforehand, but London traffic was a great training ground. If you're able to ride through big city traffic confidently over any sort of period then you're probably getting there.

That'll get you to the start line. Then you've got all the other stuff - paperwork, culture etc. Good luck with that side of it!
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Old 11 Sep 2010
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If you are competent on road and can ride a bit of gravel and mud then go for it and be careful.
'He who laughs last, was too slow to get the joke'
Never confuse the map with the journey.
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Old 11 Sep 2010
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It's possible to cross Africa with only one stretch of offroad (Ethiopia to Kenya). You can also get a lift with a truck on that stretch if you like. With a few exceptions driving is easy and when you get out of the cities there are almost no traffic (except ZA).

On the other hand Africa has some of the best places for offroad-driving in the world but it's all up to you. Africa is huge and because of the poor infrastructure it feels even bigger...

Africa does something to your brain, everything is different, sometimes you travel without a security-net for weeks or months. If you mess up there might be no one to help you. But again if you stay close to the main-route everything is easier (and more boring).
Personally I think the visa-situation is exaggerated, I have crossed maybe 60-70 borders and has been denied visa once. It's not that hard.

So how hard it's going to get it's all up to you, but be prepared for not one but two major culture-shocks. It's a nightmare when you come home.

Remember: You can leave Africa but Africa never leaves you!
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Old 11 Sep 2010
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The best way to answer your question is simply to say "you'll just know". Either you'll know you're ready or you'll know that you can put your fears and doubts aside and do it anyway. I've never ridden in Africa (bicycled Morrocco) so none of this is Africa specific.

There are some who have done it with almost no riding experience and others who wouldn't dream of doing it without many many kilometres and hours upon hours of specialized training under their belts. We're all different and all willing to take different risks. Tiffany Coates is someone who comes to mind when I think of those who did it with very little riding experience. She didn't even know about knobby tires when she set out with her friend through Africa and even into Iran.

If your trip is coming up relatively quickly I would definitely trade in the Marauder for something else if you're not going to do it on the Marauder. If it's only a dream at this point you may want to just keep riding the Marauder for a while, but keep in mind that it's a very different riding position from any off pavement capable bike. If you're very clear about wanting to do more off-pavement trips, then you should probably get the right bike for it sooner rather than later so you can get used to at least that style of bike.

I like the earlier suggestion of getting the right bike and gradually outfitting it while riding, riding, riding and riding some more.

Above all, don't overthink it and have lots of fun working towards it. Africa is also on my list and I'm already trying to cook up a scheme to make it happen before too long.

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Old 11 Sep 2010
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Not a bad suggestion to maybe take a little trip to South Asia (India) to get in at the deep end of the troubles of travelling. Doesn't get much worse than there.

As for riding. I'd advise anyone (especially in Australia) to go trail riding. You'll never learn as much on the road as you do going trail riding. Being able to flick the bike around and know how to control it with your weight instead of using the handlebars is the best way to be one with the bike. You never know when you'll have to throw it into the ditch when some mad truck ends up turning on your side of the road. Or takes a blind corner on the wrong side of the road. This is common!!
Most GP riders are off road riders from what I'm being told as well. And you'll be encouraged to keep it light. The Euro guys are disadvantaged in this respect, because there's not many places to go for this in North Western Europe. But we're in off road heaven. Particularly where you are.

We went across Asia as soon as we got our license pretty much, but I enjoy my trips much more now I'm confident and skilled in whatever the conditions throw at me.
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Old 12 Sep 2010
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How many people outside of Australia wonder how hard it is to travel in the outback there?!

Get out there, do that and report back!
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Old 12 Sep 2010
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You need to be confident riding your bike (fully loaded) in most conditions. Experience is what you go travelling for and no amount of training in Europe is going to prepare you for Cairo traffic.

One of the best ways to improve your bike control skills and confidence is to do some trail riding.

Things you can get right before you set off on an African adventure include your bike and your ability to maintain it, your kit and gaining sufficient riding experience so that when you are travelling you are not using valuable mental energy worrying about the basics. Travelling anywhere outside Europe requires a degree of resourcefullness just to deal with some of the day to day issues that crop up. If you were permanently stressed about riding then you your enjoyment of the trip would be seriously affected.
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Old 12 Sep 2010
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Originally Posted by Tim Cullis View Post

There'a thread on AdvRider from an enthusiastic youngster who wants to head into South America, buys the gear and the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook and heads out. To cut a long story short, he hits some donkeys, is paralysed for life, then two years later tops himself.
Jeez that's a very sad tale
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Old 13 Sep 2010
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Wow, so many great replies, thanks guys!

Lots to absorb, but I'm certainly hearing a few common themes, including getting some trail-riding experience and buying, prepping and riding the bike I'll take to Africa before I go. This latter point would seem to suggest that going to Africa and buying a bike there isn't such a good idea, as I wouldn't be able to practise much on the bike before setting off...??

To put my Africa dream in context a bit, I've already done a lot of independent travelling in that continent and have driven extensively there too, both on and off road, 2WD and 4WD, including some extended solo expeditions. I've done plenty of border crossings in Africa too, and have experienced many times the unpredictable and even dangerous things that can happen there... So from that point of view, I'll be going with my eyes very much open - it's just the motorcycling that is new!!

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Old 15 Sep 2010
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Do you have a motorcycle,creditcard and commonsense? If yes is the answer then go!
Don,t listen to too many blowhards in your life!
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