To celebrate Andrew Dalton’s BIG FIVE 0 birthday all the crew at White Dalton had generously chipped in and got him a adventure Motorbiking trip in Morocco.
What could possibly go wrong with Gavin and me “chaperoning” him…
After just a 3 hour flight from Gatwick we arrived to a warm beautiful evening in Marrakesh. The three of us dumped the bags, pulled on shorts, grabbed a beer and pondered over the maps. Despite leaving only a few hours before, the White Dalton Motorcycle Solicitors office nestled in the chilly Chilterns seemed a world away.
Motorbiking around Marrakesh
After a hearty bread and yoghurt filled breakfast, Gavin’s carefully prepared plan commenced. We picked up our 3 Moroccan Mules aka BWM Sertao’s from opposite the hotel and set out to battle the city and escape to the mountains. It was rush hour in Marrakesh and the traffic came at us from all angles.
Without doubt the highlight was swerving round a rogue donkey and then being overtaken by a mother wearing a Djellaba (a long, loose-fitting outer robe with full sleeves worn by the North Africans) on a scooter with her toddler stood on the foot plate smiling and waving. This was a far cry from the M25.
We eventually twisted and turned through a market filled with goats and out of a gap in the red city wall. Instantly the path cleared. An hour later and the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains grew larger out of the horizon. We headed south down the N9 and for the next few hours it snaked up down and round the mountains.
Tizi N’Tichka Pass by motorbike
The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and in just 10 miles it changed from lush green valleys to red rock mountains. At this point you realise you are in Africa. Despite riding all over Europe I had never seen colours and soil like it.
There was no “need for speed” here. Whilst for the most part the road was good “black top” tarmac, there were a lot of “deviations” with gravel sections. Mix that with 600 hundred foot drops, no barriers and you realise this is not the place for sports bikes with low slung belly pans, but exactly what we were on i.e. plodding single cylinder “adventure” bikes with bash plates.
This route took us over the magnificent Tizi N’Tichka Pass. If you do any research on riding in Morocco, this pass will pop up over and over again, and for good reason. The road snakes for miles connecting the south-east of Marrakesh to the city of Ouarzazate through the High Atlas Mountains. The pass lies above the Marrakech Plains and is a gateway to the Sahara Desert, so all in all the views are amazing.
Biking into Aït Benhaddou
After the Tizi N’Tichka Pass, we parked up our 3 trusty Mules and grabbed lunch and super sweet Moroccan mint tea. Bellies loaded and a sugar high we pointed our bikes towards Ouarzazate taking the P1506 via Telouet. Several hours later we had ridden about 30 miles of gravel track, down some incredible mountain switchbacks and past Aït Benhaddou, a fortified village which in on the former “caravan route” between the Sahara and Marrakech (Well worth a stop if you’ve got the time).
As we rolled into our hotel, the sun was just setting over a lake and landscape that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Star Wars film. Our host Idris was second to none and welcomed us with drinks on the terrace that took in the whole panoramic spectacle of Mother Nature. A truly beautiful place.
Our plan had been to go off road and get to Zagora. However, day one had taught us that when riding in Morocco it’s all about hours in the saddle and a “mountain mile” took a lot longer than we had anticipated. So Idris booked us in for 2 nights and we used his hotel as a base.
Atlas Mountains by motorcycle
Bleary eyed and dehydrated from the night before meant a slower start to our second day of riding. We cruised through the dessert to Skoura on amazing “black top” before stopping for more mint tea (a reoccurring theme) and looked at the map. Gav had his heart set on going south off road but with no easy way back I suggested a loop that went north. On the map it looked easy enough and with the Atlas Mountains as a backdrop it looked like a winner.
We sauntered out of town on the P1502 road in the beautiful midday sun. It was winding single track piece of tarmac that lead us through canyons and around the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The villages were poor in places but the people were so friendly. The kids waved and smiled as we chugged past their houses, schools and mosques and I can safely say I’ve never had a warmer welcome anywhere in the world.
As we didn’t want anyone getting “hangry” on our afternoon jaunt, Gav spotted a hotel and restaurant in one the small villages that hug the river passing through the Oued M’goun valley. After a quick chin wag with the owner we were led up onto the roof for a Moroccan banquet of chicken skewers and fresh salad of finely chopped tomatoes, peppers and cucumber salad washed down with… mint tea!
Regenerated we continued with our afternoon “jaunt.” However, at this point we didn’t realise what the afternoon had in store for us. Fast forward an hour and the tarmac stopped. In its place was a barely visible track intersecting with other barely visible tracks across the expanse of a rock stern valley base about 20 miles wide and with mountains either side. Thankfully we had GPS to guide us as for two and half hours we bashed and bounced along (and occasionally fell off) only encountering one shepherd and his herd of goats. This is not a place to ride solo.
Just when we thought the end was in sight we climbed up a peak. At the top we stopped, we looked and we froze. Between us and the prize of “black top” was one heck of a drop – about 500 foot. To get down was a rock strewn track about two feet wide. It was decided I got to go first as my back brake had stopped working some miles before after losing all its fluid. The theory being that if I lost control I wouldn’t take out Andrew and Gavin. It wasn’t a plan I was particularly looking forward to executing, but it was a plan.
For about 30 minutes we gingerly paddled the Mules down the switchback path before taking a break to take on some water and thank our lucky starts we hadn’t fallen to our deaths. It was fair to say we were all a little shaky. After saddling up again, the second half wasn’t quite as petrifying as the path widened a bit and eventually we crossed a dry riverbed of rocks and got back on to a “black top” road. Despite a combined riding experience of over 60 years, we agreed that was the sketchiest “road” any of us had ever ridden and appeared to have been abandoned by the locals (including the goats!) years before despite the paper map and satnav showing otherwise.
Motorcycling to The Fint Oasis (Ouarzazate) by motorbike
After a less exuberant night of tasting the local tipple, we commenced our last full day of riding. Gavin wanted the last day on two wheels to be a winner so he’d planned a different route back over the Atlas Mountains via the Fint Oasis. Whilst I had read up about Fint, you have to see it to believe it.
After bumping along the dry, desolate track from Ouarzazate it was still a massive surprise to see a place so green, lush and full of life grow larger and larger out of the landscape. We followed our noses down towards the river and instantly you can see that water sustains life. Whilst the dessert lurks only a short distance away, here there was an abundance of lush green plants and trees, donkeys braying at each other and women washing clothes in the river.
All good things have to come to an end, so after lamb skewers and mint tea for lunch, we navigated the mountain pass and headed back to Marrakesh where we dropped off the bikes before we flew home the next morning after a lazy last night in town.
As Andrew Dalton summed it up…
“Morocco is a unique and exquisite country which has it all for any biker, from European style roads in places to miles of off road tracks that take you completely into the wilderness. That combined with the friendliest people you will ever hope to meet, it’s a must do for any biker.”
6 tips for Motorcycling in Morocco
Gavin planned the BIG FIVE “0” in Morocco. Here are his top tips:
- What to wear when adventure Motorbiking in Morocco?
If you are on a biking trip, most days you are going to wear bike kit so do you won’t need 5 pairs of shorts and a suit! I recommend one waterproof bag you can strap on the back of the bike.
- How to stay hydrated Motorbiking in Morocco
Morocco can be hot to say the least. Take a camel pack and fill it with bottled water.
- How to navigate while Motorbiking around Morocco?
As well as a good detailed map, make sure you have a sat-nav or a phone with satnav. It will take a lot of the stress away if you end up off the beaten track in the middle of nowhere. As data is expensive if you use your UK phone, I recommend an app called Karta GPS. It can be used offline.
- Best straps for motorbike luggage?
In my opinion, Rok straps are the quickest and easiest way to strap your luggage on. Amazing.
- Do I need to take any tools when Motorbiking in Morocco?
Even the main roads can result with “off road” action so take tools. Every one of our bikes needed something tighten up or adjusting.
- Hire bikes for touring Morocco?
It can be difficult to find good hire bikes in Morocco. Two standout providers appear to be Wheels of Morocco based in Casablanca and Loc2roues based in central Marrakesh. We rented from the latter and they are near the airport making life easy.
BONUS: Check out Andrew Dalton’s previous articles on Travel Insurance for the Adventure Motorcyclist and the things you need to be mindful of when riding in Morocco.