Sahara - XT500 - 1982

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by Chris S, Nov 15, 2011.

  1. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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    I was just thinking the same thing, Merf. It was only the 80s, hardly retro - but feels like the another era.
    Crap photos help, but I wonder why that is. Something to do with how we romanticise nostalgia, I suspect.
    #81
  2. Foot dragger

    Foot dragger singletracker

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    Holey Moley! Ive injured my self plenty bad enough just racing a 76TT500 back in the day,cant imagine what a totally loaded version of one could do to me now. Great Report of what it was like before a GPS became the norm,and bikes are more or less made to do this sort of thing.

    (I had no idea Dunlop K-70's were dual purpose tires)
    #82
  3. tee bee

    tee bee Been here awhile

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    Great report chris, made me smile.
    Yea ,1982 was a different era and of course they,re always "the good old days", which from memory, i,m sure they really weren,t.....
    #83
  4. roninwva

    roninwva Been here awhile

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    Great little story for a cold November day. :thumb Thanks for the trip. Loved the old 500 singles. Had a '80 SR500 and enjoyed blasting around on it,
    #84
  5. Odysseus

    Odysseus Stoic Philosopher

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    Chris, Brilliant! Thanks for that :clap
    #85
  6. conchscooter

    conchscooter Long timer

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    That was a great story. To keep my tale real I rode the SR500 out of Tamanrasset and totally lost my bottle. The piste was completely confusing to me. Car tracks spread hundreds of yards across the desert in all directions and I couldnt figure out for the life of me which way to go. I lost the stupid piles of rock, couldn't see the posts and my SR500 was doing about 20 miles to the gallon (there was no fuel at In Guezzam when I was there so you might have had additonal problems. Just artesian water which was horrible to drink). I turned back. I found a convoy of German engineers going to Agadez and they agreed to put my Yamaha SR500 in the back of a truck and I rode the desert crossing in the cab with a crazy ex-Afrika Korps man driving the truck and hating the British every mile of the way. Thanks mate. It took the trucks several days (I forget how many) to get to Niger. They were contantly sinking into sand and we were constantly digging them out with sand boards and shovels while the rabid Germans yelled contradictory orders at everybody. I felt like a priosner of war in a cheesy 1950s Desert rats movie. The nights camping in the desert wastes were amazing as we ate well, drank better and had huge camp fires every night. I rode on from Agadez and later met three Italians in a UAZ Jeep who were much more my style. My mum was Italian so I speak the lingo and we had a lot of laughs struggling south to the Niger River on dreadful sand pit roads at which point they went west and I went to Kano Nigeria. I look back now amazed that I slept rough across Northern Nigeria where Muslims are killing non Muslims every day now.
    In 1979 I lucked out as the road to Tamanrasset was paved that year. I heard it washed out the next year. I remember studying the Michelin map like a madman reading tea leaves trying to figure out where the paved roads were. I rode an SR500 because the XT was too tall for me to ride comfortably and I never did trust off road rubber on paved roads. The SR did quite well in the dirt and as bad as anything in soft sand. I got to Yaounde in Cameroon, got jaundice and flew home with some French peace corps guys boxing my bike and shipping it for me with the last of my money. It was a hell of a trip.
    I then rode across the US in 1981 and used a Vespa P200 for that trip, rather wishing in retrospect I had ridden one on the Africa epic. Roberto Patrignani was a big advocate in Italy of Vespas as long distance tourers and he was right. You asked for a thread referring to a trip from the 1980's and here is mine from a trip where I still have the pictures.
    Thanks for your story. It made my day and with that I end this excessively long reply.


    http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=251907
    #86
  7. ThomasVolomitz

    ThomasVolomitz New Old Stock

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    Doesn't get much better!!!!
    #87
  8. TRIZUM

    TRIZUM n00b

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    Being young this is the only way I can get a taste of the way things once were. Thanks! :D
    #88
  9. Deadly99

    Deadly99 Fast and Far

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    Thanks for the report :freaky
    #89
  10. hardwaregrrl

    hardwaregrrl ignore list

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    Hey Chris...thanks for this. Very cool pics and story. I think you need to stick this in Old school.
    #90
  11. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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    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 3½ - now you're talking (never ridden one of them, either).

    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'm not even going to look! - or another afternoon slips away...

    C


    .

    Attached Files:

    #91
  12. Johnny55

    Johnny55 Banned

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    What's the story behind the burning bike?
    #92
  13. D.T.

    D.T. Difficult but useful

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    :clap

    Just had my 1985 out for a ride a few days ago...
    #93
  14. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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    It was damaged, he was injured and I couldn’t resist it.

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

    .

    Attached Files:

    #94
  15. philsb

    philsb Gentleman of Leisure

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    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.

    Phil
    #95
  16. ERIC DN

    ERIC DN Been here awhile

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    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

    Eric
    #96
  17. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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

    Oh they are: they fit the front wheel and the back. Well that's how the tyre shop guy explained it.

    C
    #97
  18. fishhead

    fishhead Adventurer

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    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.
    #98
  19. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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    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.

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]

    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).

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]

    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
    #99
  20. egret

    egret noob

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