Africa or bust!

Today we booked our one way ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Santander! Departure date 31 October; destination: Banjul, the Gambia!

It feels like a milestone in the preparation for our 5 weeks trip down to the Gambia through Spain, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal. Committing to a departure date really brings home the reality of it all. However, it’s not our first step. In the last couple of months we’ve been budgeting for the trip, we met with expert Morocco adventure biker Tim Cullis for tips, sold our beloved chrome-laden bikes and bought two dual sports.

It was a sad day when my Nomad 1600 was picked up by a lucky eBayer; Chris showed up with his brother in law and quite frankly, the happiness and enthusiasm that radiated through his smile when he saw his new acquisition made my heartbreak much more bearable. The Nomad was going to a good home. Same for the W650; it sold in a matter of hours and it went to a great home too. Mark and his dad, a retired lorry engineer, picked it up during the Jubilee weekend and from our discussions I knew the bike would be well cared for.

So that left us bike-less. Or should I say we were now on the market for new toys. As I explained in the previous post we were looking for two F650 Funduros. From my research I knew that it was a very competent bike which should be ideal for the trip we had planned. It is also a model that can be snatched up quite cheap second-hand if you shop around cleverly. My requirements, to avoid any nasty surprise, was that the bikes should have no more than 25k miles on them, have a full service history and preferably recent tyres.

Our new mounts

Our first acquisition was my bike. I found a nice silver F650 from 2000 with full service history, new bearings, recent tyres and only 20K on the clock. It also had a new Hagon rear shock and was located about 3 miles away from home. The second was a red, 1996 model with full service history, Givi high screen, lower suspension, 26k miles and brand new Metzeler Tourance tyres. Having shopped cleverly (read “stealth ebay bidding”) we managed to get both bikes for roughly the price we sold the W650 for. Not a bad deal.

First impressions

The only problem with Louise’s bike (other than having “PEE” in its registration) was that is was situated in the Peak District, some 170 miles from home. That didn’t discourage us though, the effort required to pick it up would be offset by the reassuring knowledge that we had bought a good bike. The trek back to London was indeed a real effort though. We rode 2 up for about 5 hours, most of it on the boring M1, with showers and a very strong side wind; Horrible riding conditions but it gave us the opportunity to get some good first impressions of the bike.

First off, the F650 is not comfortable for pillions. Not at all. It was no surprise that I was cramped with my long legs but Louise, who has spent quite a few miles on the back seat of bikes (albeit big cruisers), was quickly in pain, her knees seized and she suffered cramps in her legs and a stiff back.

On the other hand, the rider’s position is great! The “sit-up-and-pray” type of position, with the wide handlebars makes for a very natural and comfortable set up. We also noticed that the bike, despite its diminutive 48bhp, is great on highways. First of all the riding position gives the rider a lot of control and great field of vision; the bike is very stable at 70mph and the engine loves being in the 3500-4000rpm range, where it is at 70mph in 5th gear. I was also impressed by the lack of vibrations at highway speeds; I didn’t expect such comfort from a 650cc single cylinder.

Another thing I noticed was how much more stable Louise’s bike was compared to mine; it was so much more composed in corners and in the rain that I thought maybe there was something wrong with mine. I quickly pinned it down to the difference in tyres. My bike was equipped with Bridgestone Trail-Wings which some have coined the “Death-Wings”, while Louise had the much acclaimed Metzeler Tourance tyres. Wow, what a difference! So much so that I quickly ditched my Death-Wings and replaced them with Tourances.

So far we are both very happy to have chosen the F650 Funduro. We still have to take them on long distance trips but our first impressions are really good. We have managed to find a bike that is comfortable for both of us, is well built and promises to be more than adequate on gravel roads in addition to being a good solo touring machine.

Bits, Bobs and Gadgets

Naturally we couldn’t keep the bikes as they were. We had to add some bits necessary for a long touring trip but also some gadgets to make the bikes more practical.

The first additions were panniers. There are endless discussions on the web about the best type of panniers for an overland trip. Basically the discussion revolves around the following questions; which is the most robust in case of a crash and which is the safest against theft? The options are aluminium, plastic or soft textile panniers. We decided to go for second hand Givi Monokey plastic ones. The reasons behind our choice were that we didn’t want to spend more than £1000 per set on aluminium panniers and we felt that textiles panniers might be too vulnerable to the occasional thief walking around with a pair of scissors in his hands. We chose to go with Givi plastic panniers because they have a proven reputation for toughness and longevity and in case they cracked in a fall we could always repair them with some gaffer tape or super glue. The price with mounting hardware was also about 8 times cheaper than aluminium panniers so the decision was pretty simple. Time will tell if it was a good decision but I am pretty confident that they will be more than adequate for the mild off-roading we will do on this trip.

Second were heated grips for Louise. My bike came with factory installed heated grips which I am very happy about. It’s my first bike with them and I will definitely have them on all my future bikes. As I explained in a previous post, heated grips are a godsend in cold weather. The heat keeps your hands cold and radiate through your arms… I even suspect that if you have good blood circulation the heat can reach all the way up to your shoulders and prevent them from seizing. We bought the same Roxter heated grips which we had installed on the W650. They are a bit longer than the stock grips which means that I’ll have to do a bit of DIY in order to fit the bar end weights back on.

Any serious touring bike must have some gadgets on it. One that I am particularly fond of, eventhough I hardly every use, is a power supply. I’ve installed a fused all-weather USB plug on my bike. The USB is actually a very versatile plug as it seems that all our electronic devices (intercom, camera, iPhone etc) can be charged with a USB cable. On Louise’s bike I installed a 12V waterproof cigarette lighter power socket. With this we’ll be able run any device which can be plugged into a car’s power socket. I’m thinking in particular of a 12V tyre inflator pump which will come handy to keep the right pressure in our tyres but also when we have a puncture.

We are taking the bike to the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Ripley next week and that will give us a good first run with the bike laden with our camping equipment. We’ll also have 3 days to meet as many adventure riders as possible and get all the tips and recommendations we can hope for for our trip.

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