The plan to go to Morocco had been fermenting for several years. My climbing partner (The Old Boy) wanted to climb Toubkal, Morocco’s highest mountain at 4,167 metres. What made it difficult was that he wanted to ride out there by motorcycle. At this stage he didn’t have a motorcycle licence, which made things even more difficult. By January 2014, he had a licence and a motorbike. The plan was on!
At the November 2014 Bike Show at the NEC I made the first of two mistakes. I sat on CCM’s GP450. I sat on several other motorcycles, but I kept coming back to the GP450. Everything was to hand. From sitting to standing was effortless and when I was up on the pegs it felt as if it was built for me. I didn’t do anything else until April 2015 when I made my second mistake. I rang John Drogan and asked for a test ride. The ride was a revelation. Riding on- road the GP450 was a dream, and off-road it glided effortlessly where my DRZ400 clunked. When we stopped for coffee, I had a silly smile on my face. It took two days to put the order in because I couldn’t decide on what farkles I wanted. But one thing I knew. This was the bike for Morocco.
On a cold September morning we left Bristol heading for the Portsmouth ferry. The GP450 was more than a match for The Old Boy’s Tiger 800, and certainly more agile through the slow stuff. We loaded onto the ferry, lashed the bikes down and headed for the bar. At this stage, The Old Boy started to limp and 24 hours later he could hardly walk; balancing the bike on his left leg was nigh impossible. The only decision was if he should go home on the same ferry and get him recovered from Portsmouth. The decision to return was a hard one, but he wanted me to carry on. It was the right choice as he was subsequently laid up for six weeks with a tendon bursitis. I only had 30 minutes to make my mind up. I hadn’t intended this as a solo trip. I waved him goodbye and headed out of Bilbao.
I headed south through Spain battling the lorries, until I got to the first night’s B&B. The riding was mixed, but the fast roads and dual carriageways were not a problem. The following day was even better; I’d managed to find the small windy roads of Spain and I really enjoyed the twisty sections. The smallness of the bike meant I could park on the gravel shoulders on the narrow sections to watch the vultures flying in the gorges. It was such a joy riding through the little mountain roads, yet I was holding 100kmh effortlessly on the more open roads. The most telling moment was following a GPS route up a narrowing road and suddenly finding a no entry sign in front of me. Effortlessly turning the bike around and heading back downhill was such a doddle.
The crossing from Almeria to Nador was as simple as crossing the Channel. Getting out of the port area was easier than I expected, but the ride from the ferry to the hotel was pretty hard, especially at 22:00 hours. I was glad of the good lights on the GP450 to spot the stray donkeys crossing the dark streets, the big Mercedes ‘grandes taxi’ doing u-turns in front of me, and the unlit cyclists heading towards me on my side of the road.
Next day dawned bright and clear, and I headed down through the hills towards Guercif. Generally the roads were fine, but the odd badly repaired pothole showed how well set-up the suspension was. The final challenge for the day was the underground parking to the hotel which had a 45 degree ramp downwards and not much headroom.
What went wrong with the navigation from Guercif to Midelt I have no idea, but the GPS routing took me on a dogleg towards Fez rather than the direct route which was 100km less. At one point I came round a bend to find two minibuses coming towards me, one on my side of the road, and with not many escape routes. Both took to the gravel sides, and I went down the middle, just like Moses. The road up through Ifrane was great fun, with streams of black smoke pouring from the wagons heading slowly up. The GP450 was spot on here; enough grunt to get the quick overtake in when the opportunity arose. The final run over the Atlas was great, except for the side wind which I had to lean into.
Midelt was finally reached; a 350km day and I didn’t have a sore backside when I got there. The seat on the GP450 is really comfortable. As the evening arrived, the clouds rolled in and there was clearly a thunderstorm in progress. A couple of French riders appeared on enduro bikes which were half covered in mud. They had got caught in the storm and the subsequent mud slides on the high passes and had been off-road to get through. Just as darkness appeared, a couple of Russians appeared on R1200GSs. One of them managed to drop his front wheel into a flower bed and it took three of us to lift it out.
The storm continued into the night, and the people in the Riad advised us that the road to Errachidia was shut due to flooding and mud slides. We waited a little while and then the two Russians and I set off. It wasn’t long before we were in low cloud, and it started to rain. Progress was thwarted by poor visibility and long lines of lorries and buses belching out black fumes. The red mud that had washed onto the road was now mixing with the diesel fumes and being sprayed into the air and covered me and my visor with a pink film. I made the mistake of trying to wipe it clean with a glove.
As we reached the top of the pass, the cloud started to thin out, and suddenly I emerged into a world of sunshine and warm tarmac. The views through the valleys were spectacular, and there was hardly any traffic. I stopped briefly for lunch, and then headed for Errachidia and Erfoud before stopping at Rissani in a little café I’d discovered on a previous trip. Of course it was market day and the GP450 excelled at slow speed manoeuvres through people, donkeys and handcarts. Rissani has the worst streets in the world; endless potholes and ditches, and then all of a sudden you are out onto decent tarmac.
The road towards Merzouga runs across the Hamada (“empty”) and after being hit by a couple of dust storms I spotted the familiar dunes of the Erg Chebbi and I turned off to my favourite auberge in Hassilabied for a few day’s break. We had planned to do some off-road riding, but I was on my own and I’d agreed with my wife that I wouldn’t be solo riding on the quieter pistes.
There was a sense of achievement though; I’d ridden my little GP450 from my home to the Erg Chebbi and it had been a real joy the whole way through. Not for one minute had I wanted a sixth gear, an extra cylinder or a bigger engine. It had been such great fun all the way.