Morocco on the Piste (XCo, G650GS, XR250s)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Chris S, Nov 16, 2014.

  1. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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    Allaaaaaahu akbar.
    Dawn in Marrakech and the muezzins are casting their incantations across the rooftops.

    Before the next group rolls in there's time for some pics of a 10-day ride I laid on for Morocco first timers.
    They flew in and hired bikes. I rode down beforehand to give my modified BMW XCountry a workout.

    I went off the X bike during the summer - horrid gear change, lumpy engine at times. Heavy handling.
    But a new set of Mitas 07s and an effortless 750-km-day across Spain cured that
    and now the Xcountry continues to grow on me and runs like a train.
    Slight shame that it pre-sold already but plenty more potentially great travel bikes need investigating.

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    Crossing from Algeciras to Tangier-Med is almost as easy as UK to France now. Hour and a bit - €90 euro open return.
    That's Gibraltar in the back. A few years ago the Brit govt asked the 12,567 residents if they
    wanted The Rock handed back to Spain. About 12 345 replied 'Never. God Save the Queen!'.
    The other 222 were busy trolling the web.

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    We pick up the bikes in Marrakech, faff about a bit then head into the High Atlas.


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    A hearty lunchtime tagine (stew) and our first flat. Out with the Buzzettis and the CyclePump.


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    Shadows lengthen as we climb towards the 6870-foot Tizi n Test pass.


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    We meet plucky Americans Jason and Maria pedalling from Adagir to Tangiers.
    The chilly freewheel off the Test drove them into our hotel.
    Another XR with another puncture - and still flat next morning.
    Out of tubes already, Jason lends us a thin stick-on bike patch. It seems to work.


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    Up towards the pass.


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    Passing mountain villages.


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    Then down the south side into a warmer, more arid climate. Just right this time of year.


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    In the first town I buy a roll of chunky cut-your-own patches and glue. Not seen this before.
    Just as well as at the hotel the stick-on bike patch has failed.
    Even on the road the flexing of tyre against tube scrunched the patch up.
    Proof how tubes move against a tyre even on the road and on a light bike - and why tubed tyres get warm.


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    Workable wifi - Halleluliyay!


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    Next day we head into the Anti Atlas on our first piste (track).


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    (pic from last year)

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    Then steeply down the cliff track...


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    … into Aguinan canyon oasis…


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    … and the cozy auberge (lodge).


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    The dusted up XCo 'support vehicle' is finally looking the part. The Hyperpro shock and front springs
    - custom set-up by Bas in NL - were in their element.
    No need for a DRZ fork as planned. Will save them for another project.


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    Day off next day but the gang all are gagging for more riding, not chilling out.
    I go and recce some routes with Dave.
    There's been heavy rain here recently and some tracks may have got rearranged.
    That, as we were about to find out, was an understatement.
    #1
  2. jmcg

    jmcg Turpinated..

    Joined:
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    494
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    The Dandenong Ranges, Vic
    Great!

    :thumb

    Looking forward to more.

    Thanks,

    JM.
    #2
  3. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    Thanks for your interest JM

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    Dawn creeps over Aguinan oasis.


    Last year the track across the Jebel Timouka escarpment was hard work but doable. Dirt riding newbs managed
    fine on the effortless XR250 Tornados. (More here: bottom of the page).

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    But unlike the central Sahara, mountain pistes in Morocco can get all chopped up by the powerful runoff from the storm-swept Atlas.
    Following heavy rains, I'd read on the HUBB that this route had been impassable due to running creeks a couple of weeks ago.
    So I advise everybody to carry a full bottle of water and be ready for some teamwork and hard yakka down the track.


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    The wild bunch saddle up and head through the canyon to the turn off.


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    So far so good. But desert mountain tracks are a bit like circuit training: longer 'recovery'
    stages interspersed with short sections demanding intense effort and concentration.


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    Soon enough things gnarl up. I barely recognised this crossing from last year.
    Up ahead a nomad mule train gave us some hope but by the time we'd negotiated this wash-out they
    were out of sight. We were hoping to scrounge some dates off them.


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    It's thirsty work in all the necessary protective gear. We stop for a breather and turn our coats inside out.


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    Slow going. Some oueds (creeks) are more easily walked.


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    This shot is a bit blurred but it's clear the 4x4 we had with us last year would have struggled across this creek.
    The problem is that this part of the track - built during the French colonial era -
    has no villages to access and so has become effectively abandoned.
    That is to say it deteriorates year by year and only gets used by occasional adventure tourists like us, not by locals.


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    A good section of track but it doesn't last and is made all the more challenging by a gale now tearing off the
    Jebel down the canyon, pushing on the humble Tornados. You can do the 'lean against the wind' trick but at least
    the XCo fan can take a rest. Somewhere around here we have our infamous 'Strepsil Picnic'.
    A Strepsil is a throat lozenge sweet and was all the food we had and according to this page kicks out 10 calories.

    Lunch had been planned over the pass. Little hope of that now.


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    Fast forward 7 hours and about as many kilometres and buckets of sweat but no photos.
    My hope that once on the 12-km ascent the damage to the track would minimise due to the reduced
    force of the run-off was rather optimistic. For half the riders the worst sections - nests of cube-shaped football-sized rocks -
    were more than they'd signed up for. WW3 in kayak terms. The rest of us shuttle their bikes up one by one.
    A bit more 'teamwork' than I'd envisaged.


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    Dusk and only halfway up Jebel Timouka. An XR is being shuttled up, Kris is heading down to get another and
    I have an hour's walk to try and retrieve Eric's bag from the hefty G650GS. Many of the riders were getting to the point
    when they were too weak to hold a bike up. I knew how that could end. I was approaching that dangerous point myself.
    Mountains look nice, but.

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    Dave comes through on a transit. A regular MTB-er, he didn't find the track too hard, but skill levels within a group
    vary even if everyone gave the max that day. I should have turned back at the first gnarly oued crossing.
    A lesson learned (and a route to avoid in future).

    As the ordeal evolved I observed what analysts call the 'seven stages of motorcycle adventuring'.
    1. Excitement at what lies ahead
    2. Surprise at the worsening conditions
    3. Doubt - are you sure about this?
    4. Resentment at the growing challenge
    5. Anger at getting them into this
    6. Resignation in bending to the task required
    7. And finally Determination to see it through, inch by inch, bike by bike.

    That spells 'Esdrard'. Write it down but don't rush to go there all at once.

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    Half seven at the well near the summit. (somewhere here). Most of us had run
    out of water hours ago and didn't hesitate to take a slug from the trough. With no energy left to ride the heavy GS another
    metre, I'd decided to leave it on the mountain and come back tomorrow. As it was, riding the last XR up in the dark had its moments.
    At one point the back wheel kicked out and flung me towards the precipice. The six inches between the tyre and the
    edge are still clear in my mind's eye.
    Enough adventure already!! Esdrard! Esdrard! Is that the safety word?

    The group were waiting at a junction to a radio tower near the 6000-foot crest from where the track gets maintained
    and so improves markedly.
    Huddled against the gale, they were doubtless raising legitimate grumbles and wondering wtf I was and what to do.
    One bike short, I cranked up the Hyperpro on the XCo and took lightweight Annick in the back. For a GS-PD
    riding biker, she's a good pillion: motionless as my strapped-down Magabags.
    There's something to be said for riding in the dark: like riding a single speed, when you can't see (or negotiate with) what lies ahead you just get on with it.

    I was now on a mission to get the group either down to the village at the base of the cliff or ideally to the hotel in Tazenacht, 50kms away.
    Down on the plain I fire up 'Olaf' on the satnav.
    An XR runs dry. We fill it up, one cup from each bike.

    By 8.30 the sweaty, grimy rabble were looking down on bubbling pizzas and gluging back water and mint tea.
    We're a few hours overdue, no one's hurt and no bikes are damaged - a tribute to pacing ourselves and pulling together
    (plus giving up on one bike and some luck too).
    Things can become a struggle - desert biking is often one big struggle I find - but they always work out alright in the end
    and you have some adventures.


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    What a difference 3 litres of water, a pizza and a bad night's sleep make. The XCo mule continues to amaze me,
    chugging back over the Issil Plain and up escarpment with Eric on the back to retrieve his GS landraft.
    As I've learned before 'it's never over till it's over' so I carry all the tools, puncture gear and positive thoughts.
    We leave the X at the radio mast junction and stagger an hour down to the G-G,
    frequently stumbling on the rubble and clambering down shortcuts at the hairpins.
    Mercy sakes alive: the forsaken G has air in its tyres, no oil slick spreading between them and starts on the button.
    Al hamdulilah (thanks be to god) as they say out here.
    Eric is there to help should I fall and get trapped, but taking it stage by stage,
    I only need to 'lay down' the G twice and steer well clear of the edge.
    The ripped up sections at up to 20% gradient literally knock the wind out of your lungs until you pant like a beaten
    boxer while measuring how much longer you can hold on to the bucking bike.


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    Bit by bit I inch back to the X bike, text the others: 'we're in the clear' and lie on a shady ledge in my sweat-soaked shirt.
    Eric catches up, hops on the G and tests his ABS against a stampede of wayward goats.


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    Then he scoots down the pass with its amazing view over the ochre tones of the Issil Plain that last night was pitch black bar
    the specks of village lights twinkling like stars.


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    X on the left, G on the right. Both do the same 62m/USg, but the heavier G's entire set up is much softer all round (motor, springs, seat).
    I'm amazed how all the bikes managed the Jebel. It was 'rude' as a guy in Yukon warned us once while KLR-ing into the deep end.
    The main problem to a bike was way too high gearing requiring much clutch slipping to control the speed - and so the hammering - in first.
    Or perhaps it was just the wrong place to be on motorbikes. Won't be going back up there any time soon.

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    Eric rejoins the road near Issil village. The Timouka Pass is the U scoop on the right. KM46 on Route MA6 in my Morocco book.

    Now you know where not to go - where next?
    #3
  4. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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    [​IMG]
    Back at the hotel, another round of pizzas then on the road towards Agdz.
    Steve at the beck here won the prestigious Most Compact Baggage award.


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    Oh no, not more night riding on backroads with Eric's G light on strike. We turn round and head back to the last kasbah.


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    Turns out to be a great joint and soon everyone is happy again.


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    A hazy dawn over Tamnougalte.


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    Brekkie by the pool.


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    Every village has its ksar (castle) - some in better shape than others.


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    We heard about this guy in news reports online.
    Got stuck in the sand and left behind near Foum Zguid for 2 days alongside his bogged down HPN? Beemer.
    His mate (with the GPS) organised a search and rescue and a chopper flew him out in need of a drink.
    Seemed to have recovered well enough.


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    Up onto Jebel Sarhro - a popular piste.


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    Past the volcano cores.


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    Autumnal colours up the Dades Gorge.


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    The famous Dades switchbacks.


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    Another cozy mountain village.


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    One last round of cafe au laits.


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    And we hit the road back to Ouarzazate and Marrakech.
    #4
    Will Rogers likes this.
  5. Dr LC8

    Dr LC8 ...soon or later

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    Hi Chris,

    Are the road works to paved the street to Auginal going on?
    That Vally is magical!!!!

    Nic
    #5
  6. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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    Hi Nic, I've been told not to talk about the Hidden Valley ;-)

    Nothing's changed since last year and I get the feeling all the road building is completed. The way in from the south dips in and out of the riverbed for a couple of kms but any bike or car can manage it.
    The way up the cliff to the north is another matter: gives the clutch something to think about (or brakes on the way down).

    Chris
    #6
  7. Dr LC8

    Dr LC8 ...soon or later

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    I have done it upwards:wink:

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    #7
  8. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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    Nice shots Nic. I must try one of these Kay Tee Emms one of these days ;-)
    #8
  9. Dr LC8

    Dr LC8 ...soon or later

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    Chris,

    I am surprised you want to try one of them.:rofl I thought it was clear that you prefered the XR to the 640. :deal You are responsible for one of the best buy of my life (followed by one of the worts sell...).

    After watching you Desert Riders video( I loved it and whised that those place were still secure) I bought an XR650L. I looked at your mods and done many more my self to improve its performances. I took it to Lybia and other trips. A great bike despite the lack of power.

    I sold my XR to buy a 690. I am not regretting having upgrade to 690 (like to go from steam to nuclear reaction!) but I have regret so much selling that gem of bike!

    Can I say that probably the 640 ADV would have served you better in the Tenere????:huh

    Ciao

    Nic

    PS My 690 is now gone. I can't stop but be a twin KTM LC8 lover...despite you clearly don't like them and ignore them in your bike selection criteria in your (fantastic and enjoyable) books!
    #9
  10. Dr LC8

    Dr LC8 ...soon or later

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    That is how the couriosity and interest for the XR650L started:

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    ...and that is what happend a bit later...

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    :lol3

    Nic
    #10
  11. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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    Hi Nic, yes I admit that the XR650L was a bit of a turkey for D Riders (tho it was better than the Teneres of the time, especially suspension wise). But on that trip we needed bombproof Honda reliability rather than KTM performance.

    That's still the way I feel about long range travel bikes now - reliability and komfort (note there is no 'K T M' in komfort - oh, darn, there is!).

    Your one looks more XR than L without all the necessary crap on.

    The KTM twins are I'm sure better than ever, but for my needs just too powerful in the desert.

    Off with group 2 now for another 10 day lap.

    C
    #11
  12. Dr LC8

    Dr LC8 ...soon or later

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    Excellent, send us pics!

    Nic
    #12
  13. Redkrouge

    Redkrouge Independent

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    I am over there in a month, your RR is perfect.
    Great :clap
    #13
  14. stevenatleven

    stevenatleven Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Scotland
    A wee video of the descent down to the village that we dare not speak its
    name a bit rough but it gives you some idea of the exposure.

    thanks Chris for taking me to places I never dreamed I'd visit. the runs and stomach cramps are a distant memory, the ribs are healing up fine but the
    Doc says the nightmares may take a while to go away :cry ces't la vie

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQl274IXfGM&list=UUXIIE0tRqilYmnTvrArNDLA
    #14
  15. Jamesmem

    Jamesmem Adventurer

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    Lancaster, UK
    Brilliant stuff Chris :1drink

    Subscribed :clap

    James
    #15
  16. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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    Right now it's pelting down in Marrakech and has been for most of the night.
    What it's like on the slopes of the High Atlas I can't imagine.
    But how did we get here?

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    The weather lady is not here usual chirpy self.
    #16
  17. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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    [​IMG]

    Ten days ago Group Two fired up four XRs and we rode up into the hills.
    Very windy which was odd for this time of year, although in Morocco you can get
    anything, anytime, anywhere - and you don't have to be William Burroughs.


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    A quick coffee on the Col du Test wondering if the bikes would get blown over.


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    Down on the far side I take a spin on one of the Tornados.
    This really is a great little bike and IMO superior to the CRF-250L I rode round the southwest last year.
    I'll expand on that shortly.


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    After Taliouine it's back onto the piste and into the Anti Atlas ranges.


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    Over a pass.


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    And down to the lodge in the village.

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    Mint tea is served by a charming Berber maiden.
    Where possible I try and stay in these rural places set up by the community to bring in money and create a bit of work.
    That's how right-on I am.
    The bling-palaces on the mainline tourist tramlines will always attract the coach groups.


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    Very soon the gang is delirious with the sugar rush from the tea.
    Managing these violent moods swings is all part of the job.


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    Overnight heavy rain falls on the Valley Which Dare not Speak its Name.
    The creek on the entry to the village is running a few inches deep.


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    We set off down the steep slippery switchbacks alongside the waterfall.


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    Down, down into the valley.


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    And through the oasis. The run-off hasn't got here here yet, but it will soon.


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    Then out through the Aguinan canyon. Now sealed but you can't have it all. A fabulous ride.


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    Past some creekside palms.


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    The plucky XCountry - with just a chain lube following the last run - takes it all in it's stride.


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    The 'agadir' or 'ighern' - a fortified repository or citadel at Ighern Warfaln.
    Like something out of Lord of the Rings.


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    As we're heading east I take a short cut along the oued heading that way.


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    But the track starts curving north not south. Not how I remember it.
    We get to an unmapped village where kids strum gourd mandolin's from the porch.
    I missed a faint turning in the big stony oued (creek) crossing a few clicks back.
    Soon we're on the right track and pick up the main piste heading east.


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    We're supposed to be going up there - route MA7 in my book and an easier crossing
    of the Jebel Timouka than the 11-hour epic with the last group.
    But today - with our shoes? I don't think so.


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    A couple of shallow fords jet wash the bikes and we pull in to a roadhouse for a steaming tagine (stew).
    The guy says the road up ahead to Tazenakht has been cut.
    But by the time we've eaten a van comes through: the ford is doable.


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    It looks like nothing - less than a foot deep - but it's flowing hard at a metre per second.
    If you fell you'd be swept off before you could get up.
    #17
  18. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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    Of course that last pic was a giveaway.
    I get across on the XCo but I'm shaking on the other side.
    You have to steer hard against the flow, but it's deep on the upstream side
    which risks a cut-out.


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    On a light XR I'm not so sure but one by one they get over.
    Only ChrisW - with a possibly fractured shoulder from day 2 - can't pull hard enough
    on the left bar.
    He comes in close to the downstream edge.

    I really don't like river crossings. Or perhaps I'm just not used to them.
    I remember my own rule: if you can walk it you can ride or push a bike over it.
    I would not have walked that one, even if it was barely deeper than the harmless
    village ford that morning.


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    A few more fords and we're at the Sahara Hotel at Tazenakht. (Pic from another day).


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    The best pizzas this side of Anezal.


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    Next morning we load up and try to leave.


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    But the way we came in from the south - passing a turn-off to Agdz in the east - is now a wide, wide river.


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    We consider getting to Agdz via Ouarzazate to the north. But not today.


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    Later in the afternoon the north crossing level drops dramatically and a truck comes through.
    But the word is 60kms up the road a bridge is out and will take a while to repair.


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    No ford too deep for Danger Dawg!
    We give him a round of applause as he trots past and shakes himself dry.


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    Some buoyancy - just in case.


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    So it's back to the hotel for more coffee with kindles.


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    We got to check the river that evening. People gather by the northbound ford, now crossable.
    Traffic comes in from nearby villages but the road ahead to Ozt is still cut.


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    We go for a wander through the sodden town.


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    I buy some mini carpets from the bloke at Tapis Berbere.
    Sheep are shorn, wool is dyed and carpets are woven in the villages hereabouts.
    They can be literally 10 x cheaper than in the souks in Marrakech or Fez.


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    More nosebag in what had become dubbed 'Le Coin Anglais' in the lounge.
    This waiting goes on for a third night but the group don't mind.
    You can't account for the weather and soon stories come in of the destruction and death right across southern Morocco.
    The worst floods since 2010.
    Minibuses pushed off bridges and fords into the torrent, drowning entire families.
    Hundreds of roads cut, bridges wrecked, mud brick houses swept away or collapsed.
    Up to 40 dead or missing.
    We were lucky to be trapped in Tazenacht and not between two floods on the roadside.

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    These guys were lucky to get out of the cab.


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    Not so sure about the taxi driver (pics from news sites).
    #18
  19. Dutchgit

    Dutchgit Completely clogless

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    Blimey ! You head out to Morocco thinking you'll do some stoney tracks and sandy pistes ! :eek1

    Stay safe Chris (and party)

    Ta, Ard
    #19
  20. Chris S

    Chris S Been here awhile

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    It's happening again only worse, Ard.
    Lashing down in Marrakech right now.

    The Oued Draa (long desert river on the Algerian border) has reached the sea for the first time in 32 years.

    Here with Al Jesse trying to save his 'return to Africa' tour after 30 odd years.

    "I told ya we shoulda gone to Baja!"

    Ch
    #20