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Chris S 11-18-2011 07:10 AM

'Standing' on the corner in Vining, California...'
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out of Tamanrasset and totally lost my bottle. The piste was completely confusing to me...
Not surprised to hear that, but sounds like you still had an adventure. You weren't alone in thinking the Vespa would have done well out there.

Cool report on the Vespa. Would make a great film: 'The Scooter Diaries'. Like someone said, these old prints seem to have soul - but I think we just associate old with good, aka 'good old days'.
Jeez, US immigration were polite in those days - what were they on!?

Never really tried a trad scooter but Morini 3˝ - now you're talking (never ridden one of them, either).


It's a lesson I still carry with me today, as I try to remember that the point of any motorcycle trip isn't, for me, to carry the kitchen sink, but to enjoy the ride, and to do that, its better to travel light.
I'll put that in my next book. It can't be said enough times.

Like I said, in 85 when I finally reached In Guezzam (Alg border with Niger - middle of nowhere), it was not without more dramas, but at least the bike below (not mine) got about 150km past the green BMW shell where I tanked out in 82.


I think you need to stick this in Old school.
I'm not even going to look! - or another afternoon slips away...



Johnny55 11-18-2011 08:30 AM

What's the story behind the burning bike?

D.T. 11-18-2011 08:49 AM


Just had my 1985 out for a ride a few days ago...

Chris S 11-18-2011 12:20 PM

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What's the story behind the burning bike?
It was damaged, he was injured and I couldn’t resist it.

Like me first time round, he wasn’t having a great trip...


philsb 11-18-2011 01:04 PM

The joys of Donny!

Apart from Doncaster the nearest bit of wilderness was the Arctic or the Sahara in North Africa.
I could be offended if it wasn't true:rofl

Even the Rovers ( the local soccer team for the colonials) are in the relegation zone:(:

Regards from a pleasantly mild and dry Doncaster.


ERIC DN 11-18-2011 02:44 PM

Thanks a lot Chris, brilliant report.
Why I didn't dare to do it in 80ties, I would like to know this period, when riding free and safe in sahara was possible.
Anyway happy to did it two years ago
Lesson : do it as soon as you can


Chris S 11-18-2011 03:03 PM

Salut Eric - now you know my secret history ;-)


(I had no idea Dunlop K-70's were dual purpose tires)
Oh they are: they fit the front wheel and the back. Well that's how the tyre shop guy explained it.


fishhead 11-18-2011 03:45 PM

The start at Versailles
Living in Versailles in the late 70s and early 80s, I'd walk down to the main square the night of the new year where all the bikes and cars would leave for the PD. What a show that was!
Thanks for the great report and great memories.

Chris S 02-07-2012 03:32 PM

Sahara - 1984 - dumb bike
Hello again, time for another deserty instalment of the way we were.

You’d think I’d have learned something from my 1982 ride on the XT5 (see the start of this thread). Well I did: despite it all I liked the Sahara. When it was good it was epic, other worldly, and if you come from one of the less edgy suburbs of South London, the Sahara made quite an impact – nature stripped back to the raw bones of sand and rock. And though it all lay a frail ribbon of road called they called the trans-Sahara Highway.

By 1984 I’d settled for an easy way of despatching for a living: working long but steady hours for a typesetter, dodging back and forth between Holborn and the West End collecting copy and delivering artwork. There was no need to run an IT250 or a 900SS should you get sent to the other side of the country on a wet Friday evening. For this job a dreary commuter bike was all that was needed. And none came drearier than Honda’s CD200 Benly twin, a single-carbed, steel-rimmed blob ridden by stoical Benlymen who valued mind-numbing reliability above mind-expanding intoxicants.


Riding up to 12 hours a day on a hyper-dull bike can drive you a bit crazy at 24 years of age. Then, I can't recall how but I acquired an AJS 370 Stormer – a vile, shit-kicking British two-stroke motocrosser that was the polar extreme of the Benderbike. In a moment of intuitive brilliance which years ago had given birth to the Triton cafe racer, I figured I could cojoin the runny nosed Honda and the gaping headwound AJS and make ... a Benly-engined, MX-framed desert racer!

In the summer of ’84 the machine took shape in my artfully appointed bike design studio in London’s literary Bloomsbury district (left). It took two goes to get a bike shop to correct the engine alignment mistakes of the former, but here it was, suspensed by some Honda XL250s rear shocks as long as a truncheon, and silenced by a pair of VW Beetle tail pipes, a trick some of you may recognise from the BM I rode with in Algeria in ’82.


Later on, the job was finished off with gearing more suited to horizontal applications and an RD250 tank with a sexy ‘Moto Verte’ sticker so there’d be no mistaking what an internationale, Franchophilious guy I was. I took it out to the local woods to see what it could do.


The answer was comparable to dragging a dead dog around on a lead. The VW pipes managed to choke the power at the rear wheel to quite possibly single figures while the AJ’s conical hub brakes where a stipulation made by the once powerful Ambulance Drivers’ Union in the early 1970s to ensure that their members were never without work scraping Stormer riders off the sides of buildings which had got in the way of the original two stroke's epileptic power delivery.

I dubbed the bike a ‘Bénélé’ in envious recognition of Yamaha’s near-perfect XT600Z Ténéré which had been out for a couple of years and which was itself based on Yamaha’sParis-Dakar Rally desert racers.

So what do you do with a dumb-assed desert racer? You ride it to the Sahara in a little less time than is available. You pack a 3000-mile trip to North Africa into two-weeks and you schedule it for September when you imagine that peak summer temperatures are on the wane. This time there’d be no fear of enduring the cold of a mid-winter European transit or indeed the northern Sahara. And my goal – the mysterious massif which I’d passed by, south of Arak on my way to Tam in 1982. (see above).


The Bénélé’s top speed was no more than 50mph – and even at that speed it felt rather unsafe, should a squirrel run out in front of me. So to get a good run up on a Friday night I rode straight from work down to a mate’s in Canterbury, close to the port of Dover. By maintaining momentum, Monday night found me a little crippled but camped happily back among the sun-bleached outcrops of Cassis, near Marseille, ready to hop on the ferry to Algiers next morning.


You can see that I had an all-new soft luggage set up this time round. No more sawn-off chemical tins on Dexion racking. Oh no – this time I was going really cheap with a small canvas pannier on one side, a used Times newspaper delivery bag I must have lifted off a comatose teenager – a tottering tank bag sat on the flat-topped RD tank, and a sleeping bag in front of the headlight to keep the bugs off the lens. Cunningly, I also had a tool bag with other heavy items strapped under the lofty engine. If my mass had been any more centralised I’d have become a Black Hole right there and then.

My first memory of Algeria that year was being a little unnerved that as far north as El Golea it was already 35°C by 9am. If you live in Yuma that’s probably no big deal in September, but for a South London boy it was a bit of a shock. I filled up in El G and set off across the Tademait which had spooked me on my first transit in ’82 (see above). I buzzed along at 12bhp/day and by early afternoon was nervously eyeing dust devils or mini whirlwinds which were whipping across the shimmering gibber either side of me. I recalled how a mate told me he’d been knocked off his XS650 by one in Turkey that year.

I was already tired, thirsty, sore and hot when up ahead what looked like a huge wall of sand hundreds of feet high span across the blacktop. Only as I neared it did I realise it was the mother of all whirlwinds, a huge cauldron of rotating sand. I turned the wick up as much as I dared and the motor droned as I punched the Benele into the sand wall. Inside, all visibility was lost as grains pelted me from all directions and I struggled to keep upright. And then, in the windless core of the maelstrom the grains turned into hammering rain drops. WTF was going on here!? Search me, but before I knew it I’d blasted out of the tornado’s far wall and shoved this time in the opposite direction onto the roadside gravel. Now I knew how those roadsigns got flattened into the dirt like crushed beer cans. Only on a moto, the signboard would swat me off the back of the bike while it careered ahead, like something out of a Roadrunner cartoon. Don't want to do that...

Yet again the Tademait had terrorised me and I vowed I’d ride into the dark if need be to be off the plateau before stopping. The blacktop broke up and turned to rubble as I rode into the dusk. I pulled up briefly with the engine running to remove the bag off the headlight, and pushed on to the sudden switchback descent off the Tademait down to the desert floor.


That night I stripped off and lay in the dirt by the bike, listening to what sounded like the oil boiling in the crankcases, hours after switching off. I wasn’t hungry but I drank and drank and soon fell asleep where I lay. Tomorrow I was heading past In Salah, the hottest town in Algeria, deeper into the Sahara.

to be continued soon

egret 02-08-2012 03:35 PM

Excellent writing and fantastic pics ! Less is more seems to be the title for this last instalment . Thank you ! :clap:clap:clap
-egret .

rdwalker 02-08-2012 06:17 PM

Chris? I bow deeply...
Holy Shit! (oooops, sorry...) Chris? You on the forum?

I am so happy I stumbled upon this thread. You Da Man! :bow

I always had at least 3 or 4 recent editions of the Handbook, fodder for my daydreams, but gave away most of them to the inmates here. I still have 2001 and 2005 (sadly "Americanized") editions proudly on my bookshelf.

A hard copy of Desert Travels is nearby, as well - just so you know, your selection of quote from Saint-Exupery really hit my soft spot.

Thanks for the report and for mingling with us mere mortals.

KingKong_500 02-08-2012 10:31 PM

Exciting read
Chris, This is an awesome adventure report.

I love bikes, adventure riding, exploration and old photos. Your report has all of them. Love the writing as well.

Keep it coming.

Johnnyboxer 02-09-2012 06:09 AM


Originally Posted by Tarka (Post 17314432)
Absolutely brilliant...I started riding bikes in those pre Playstation and electronic gizmo days so it`s really refreshing and pure nostalgia to read.
Makes such a change from another computer plotted schedule from the BMW patchwork pyjama brigade who need a blooming GPS to get to the corner shop. :D
I still only use a paper map and a 'bullet point' card for my touring.

Great story Chris

I love your quote, Tarka:D

overlandr 05-05-2012 09:56 AM

Hey Chris, belated welcome! I read your site on the 3x XR650Ls trip to Africa few years ago.. We need more of your stuff.

simmersonwheels 05-05-2012 11:22 PM

just simply hot-damn freakin awesome!!

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