Top Tips for Riding Africa

I’ve been lucky enough to ride a couple of trips through Africa on a bike. Both a year long. Brilliant fun! Top tips? Well, off the top of my head at least.

OK Everything happens on Africa time. That means, gently and getting there eventually. I didn’t mind because when hanging around waiting for things to come together just made for unexpected people and culture watching opportunities.

On the road in Africa

On the road in Africa

Get the weather right! There are 2 rainy seasons sub Sahara. The long and the short. Try not to be in Central Africa in the Long. No fun at all. Constant wet riding and the dirt roads turn to sludge.

Get a camel pack and sip water constantly. Hottest part of Africa had me drinking 11 litres of water a day and I was still thirsty… You can also get great 1 litre bottles with a filter in the top. You can drink just about any water safely through these. I drank a lot of tea by the way. Must be the English part of me.

Try to get yourself set up with a minimum of 300 miles fuel range.

Use locally bought mini jerry cans to top up on that for the stages you may need extra, and then just give them away. Someone will always be very grateful.

Suggest you ride into, eg Morocco, with whatever tyres you have on and carry spares until then. Then swop over. Unless you are riding on full bore knobblies then the tyres you fit here should last you to South Africa.

Knobblies? I don’t use them, preferring to ride with something like the Avon Gripsters.

If you can, do an off road training course. Even if it’s only for a day or two. I wish I had! Even if you aren’t experienced when you head off you’ll understand more of what not to do! I know I’d have fallen off less.

And taking of which. All the gear all the time. And once the temp gets to 93f then button everything up. That’s your body temp. The Bedouin cover up for this reason. Keep too much open to the breeze and you’ll be making yourself hotter. So you’ll sweat more, heat stroke risk, and risk daft decisions.

Wear a wide brim hat off the bike.

Visas? Yes you can get a lot of them in advance from Embassies at home. Just check to make sure that none are the type that start the moment they are issued rather than when you actually cross into a country.

Start border crossings as soon as they open. Gives all day if anyone wants to play games. They do get bored of you in the end. Borders are fun and interesting. Use your smile and a handshake as often as you can. I share around a bag of boiled sweets. I always learn how to say, hello, please, thank you and goodbye in the language of the country I’m coming to. Amazing how much ice that breaks.

Have loads of photo copies of all of your paperwork. Make sure your frame and engine number actually do match what’s been printed in your carnet!!!

Not lost, just no idea where we were

Not lost, just no idea where we were

Yes have a GPS but Michelin maps are better when combined with asking the way! You’ll need 2 of 3 of them. One for the north west or north east, and the other for the south.

Think about laminating them with clear sticky film. They will deal with the opening and closing better if the atmosphere is damp or over dry.

Set off with the dawn and aim to ride no later than mid afternoon. Dawn light is great for photos. Especially animals. This plan also gives you time to deal with delays. eh a puncture. Stopping early gets you the choice of the cheaper hotels and the chance to explore in daylight.

In the really hot areas I’d also hole up for an hours rest in the shade middayish.

I stop a lot anyway. Too easy to ride past stuff that you may never see again.

A smile moment

A smile moment

People are great. Treat them with respect and they return it in bucket loads. Humbling actually.

Most people love having their photos taken. Ask and inevitably you’ll have fun and get great shots. I would always ask for a postal address and get shots printed to post back to them.

Accidents? You almost certainly won’t have one so long as you learn the rules of the road as you go into each new country. My main rule is ride expecting the unexpected. The others? Never ride when tired or thirsty and for sure never ride after dark!

Make sure you have really good travel insurance that covers you for both the number off cc’s your bike has, and repatriation.

Bike on road insurance? You normally get that from a hut or office at each border. Or the next town down the line. Can be a chore to get but is well worth having if you get stopped for some reason.

Adventure Motorcycle Handbook by Chris Scott? Great book to have!!!

Vaccinations? One of them is a course of 3 over 3 months. I’d get 2 copies of your vaccination and yellow fever certificates. In case one gets ‘lost’.

Spot tracker? I never use one but if you are planning to go really off the beaten track (as in desert) then it might be worth having one.

On the road in Namibia

On the road in Namibia

Build a good relationship with your Bike dealer. Then if you need parts or advice they know who they are dealing with. It’s normally better to courier any spares you need rather than post. Post gets lost…. And the courier deals with the customs for you. If you need a part sending out and it’s an expensive one, email a copy of the page of the carnet for the country you are in, to the dealer. They give that to the courier who can then attempt to get your part into the country as a temporary import as your bike is.

The only other thing that leaps to mind is to plan days with a slow riding pace (it’s not worth rushing) but also be flexible so you can take advantage of the opportunities that pop up.

Dunno if you are planning to camp. I would. A two person tent with two doors, both with mosquito netting doors are the go. You can get a breeze through then. Have an extra ground sheet to counter thorns and sharp stones. Worth having 4 six in nails in amongst your pegs as the ground can be like iron in places. At least a three season sleeping bag as it can get cold at night. A cotton sleeping bag for the hot nights.

You’ll have a ball. Africa is without doubt my favourite continent. Amazingly diverse and full of great fun people. The sense of humour is often perfect Buster Keaton!

You might find a few more tips in my books ‘Into Africa‘ and ‘Distant Suns’ but do remember that I am a bit of a magnet for disaster! Um, unexpected adventures?

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I hope you enjoy this fantastic continent!

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