ALL HAIL THE AFRICAN TWIN

Three Catalans go mad in North Africa and/or a mid-life crisis trip to live out a childhood Paris-Dakar dream. You decide…

Bike in sand

by Lobo, with Jethro Hutchinson |

The Paris Dakar has always been serious business in our household. Every New Year we would huddle around the television and devour every second of screentime. I was 15 when I first saw Honda Africa Twins crossing the desert, Honda won the rally every year between 1986 and 1989. It became my dream bike, instantly. 25 years later and I am 40 years old and the proud owner of a 25-year-old Honda Africa Twin. So that’s one of my major childhood ambitions achieved (I’m still working on the other one: a sexual automaton of Solitaire from Live and Let Die). I tested the Africa Twin in Wales on the Dusk to Dawn race. The organisers will never forget me, I was the one competing only in boxer shorts. There was a good reason: following a crash that left me and the Twin in a bush I had to get out of my leathers to get free. I then lost my leathers in the dark. Fortunately the Twin faired better, emerging with only a few minor dents and an intact reputation. Certainly better than I managed.

Bike in Africa

Undeterred by this fiasco I, along with my equally adventurous compadres Ramon and Marc, decided to sign up for our own version of the legendary Paris Dakar. A ten-day trip to Morocco. Call it a mid-life crisis, but we thought this would be preferable to buying a Porsche or snorting cocaine. My Africa Twin has peeling paint and the dents acquired in Wales. Ramon’s Twin is the newest and has the luxury of heated grips. Marks’s Twin is a travesty, lord only knows how it still resembles a working motorcycle. It’s early, and very cold when we leave our village in Catalonia (which is also the home of Dakar Rally winner Marc Coma). We decide to warm our cockles with a classic Catalan brew. Three sigalons: whisky, cognac and Ron Pujol, all mixed with coffee.

We’re booked onto the ferry from Barcelona to Tangier but are running late, because Ramon can’t handle his sigaló and feels like vomiting. Aboard the ferry he asks if I have anything to ease the nausea. I reach into my medical bag, only to realise that I forgot to switch out my veterinary equipment. At first I am annoyed at myself, but this quickly passes, as I realise I can punish Ramon for his lack of alcoholic fortitude. I drop some ketamine in a glass of water and tell Ramon to drink it. I chuckle to myself, knowing that Ramon is about to have the trip of his life! (Don’t worry, I’m trained to administer a safe dosage of the drug, though admittedly it’s normally to animals.) Ramon heads for the WC…

Bike in Africa

Ten minutes pass before Ramon bursts back into the bar, his head and arms wrapped in toilet paper. He falls to his knees and begins to crawl toward us, howling. He then jumps up and shouts: ‘Behold! I am Ramonesses. Mighty Egyptian ruler of the heavens and the Earth. Kneel before your King.’ I grab Ramon and haul him out to the top deck, apologising to our fellow passengers as we go. Marc follows and we start crying with laughter as Ramonesses continues to berate his subjects for not showing him the respect he feels he deserves. This continues until the Ketamine eventually wears off.

After a night of deadly snoring, we arrive at Tangier. As we disembark, we are met by scenes of carnage. Overloaded cars, endless queues of Moroccans coming back home from holiday. Finally! We are in Morocco! Beautiful. This is one of the most diverse and beautiful countries I have been to. We follow the road to Tetuan and find a good place for the first group photo. The wind blows up and Ramon loses a few notes from his wallet to the wind. It’s a novel way to redistribute some of his ill gotten, Western wealth. We make our way to our first stop: Chefchaouen and The Rif Hotel. We rise early the next day to ride an off-road track of 50km around Tambalote mountain. We find snow and then after a while, surprise, my clutch cable breaks. Well, no wonder, because the last time I changed it was back in 2008, when I also went to Morocco. Before leaving Barcelona, Marc convinced me to change the oil and air filter, but the cables? I considered that was to much of aneccentric luxury.

Bike in Africa

We’ve got a spare, but the Allen screws of the exhaust guard are very rusty, and prevent me from changing the cable. We ceremonially apply WD40 to the rusty screw. Nothing... the screws are not loosening. I have to ride about 20km off-road on a high mountain without stopping. Clutchless gear changes are hardly noticeable in the Africa Twin, the clutch could be an accessory on these bikes. Finally, we find a mechanic who cuts the exhaust protection to get access to the cable. It costs five euros. The mountain paths are some of the best riding I have ever enjoyed. We get to let loose as the paths are covered in snow. As we find our rhythm, the intensity increases. Pretty soon we are going hell for leather, snow flying everywhere.

We move away from the mountain and soon get lost in undulating valleys with half-paved roads. We ride through remote villages with amazing panoramic views. We eat in a place with no name then continue dodging holes and bumps between fields of broad beans, olive trees and wheat, everything seems possible here. Finally we arrive at Fez. There’s heavy traffic and it’s quite different from the city we’d been to years before. At Hotel Chamonix we consume three beers, one bottle of local wine, five philly blunts and a boatload of paracetamol for our various pains.

Bike in Africa

Next day we climb into the mountains again. People tell us that the road is cut off by the snow but, having smoked some hash, we don’t trust anyone. The 1991 is wearing Anakee tires at 2.2 Bar (I feel too lazy to take air out). The 1993 and 1996 wear Mitas E09s also too swollen. The 1991 and 1993 fall in the snow, while the 1996 crosses it with style. Of course, I have the excuse my tyres are not off-road ones. Before leaving for Morocco motorcycles should pass the ‘kick test’. You give them a kick and make them hit the ground. If you have no remorse and the bike is not broken, this is a good bike to travel to Morocco on.

At a roadside restaurant we meet a shepherd. He asks us to give him a lift, an off-road excursion of 12km crossing rivers and sand. Africa Twins go great with extra weight, they have more traction and it gives a little more lightness to its heavy nose, so I enjoy having a passenger (not sure the passenger always enjoys it). We pass through the beautiful winding river valley with still water, palm trees, gravel banks. All goes well until the rear brake overheats and disappears due to the fat shepherd riding shotgun. I don’t know why I changed the oil and air filter before leaving Barcelona. This bike is a creature of habit. It likes things to be steady. First the clutch cable, then the brake, and now the starter button melts away, scorched over the years. I put a little stone inside the socket of the starter button. Maybe I should make my little fingernail grow, and use it as a rod.

Bike in Africa

In Efud we meet a man on a 1960 Mobylette. He directs us to the best repair shop one can dream of: the ‘Garage Royal’. They have no brake pads for our bike, but can make them. Cut with the disc, and then welded. In two hours the 1991 has new pads and is ready for the dunes. Custom-made brake pads 30 euros, the experience of seeing this work being done? Priceless. Yesterday’s ‘cat in oestrus’ noise was caused by missing brake pads. The problem is that now we have a new ‘goldfinch’ noise, which can be heard on the left side of the engine… At Erg Chebbi we finally see the proper dunes and cross the abandoned old Dakar track. A short ride in the dunes takes two hours, eight falls and several ‘I am stuck, cojonnes!’ moments. It’s hard to push the Twin out of the soft sand. Current Dakar riders use 450cc lightweights. Pussies, the lot of them. We are herculean old school Dakar guys, loaded on booze and hash, and with these heavy bikes. We break mirrors, bearings, and, almost, Marc’s neck, but the bikes are good. Which maniac would try this with another ancient bike? The Twin is truly a leviathan.

In the sand the Anakee tyres are better than one might think. In the mud they are a pain though. At the end of the afternoon I decide to take all the air out. Finally, it has more traction. The technique for riding a big, heavy bike in the sand is simple. Remove air from tyres, then remove some more. Do not touch the front brake. Put weight on the back. If in doubt, open gas. Having problems? Open more gas. And always stop with your bike facing down hill, you will know why when you foolishly don’t do this for the first time. Our day in the dunes, acting out the Dakar rally fantasy, leaves the riders stiff and the 1993 bike needing minor surgery. The patient survived, but it was a close call, and almost became a small autopsy as the twin cable throttle mechanism is dismantled.

Bike in Africa

The journey continues, through the dunes and valleys, we go down donkey paths, we cross gravel pits, fields and, the extreme hazard, crowded cities with polished asphalt. Beyond any tourist route, we feel truly free. It gives us the feeling that very few foreigners, and fewer motorists, have ever ventured through that region. Keep the secret! Finally, before boarding the ferry home, a couple of days of R&R in Marrakesh. We go home, tired and happy after our mini-adventure. We have lived our African dream, with the best machines you can take there (or almost… at least you do not suffer for what happens to the bikes, they endure regardless). Total distance: 2800km. We did everything, tracks, desert, vans, stones… maybe spent half or more of our time off-road. For this reason we like this bike for its true versatility and sheer refusal to die. All hail the Africa Twin!

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