Cape Town, South Africa - April 2007

Four and a half months and 19,700 kms after leaving Kilkenny on a stormy weekend in December I arrived in Cape Town – bike and me in one piece. Below I detail my choices of gear and equipment – and how they performed.

Bike
• First of all the bike. A low mileage 2002 F650 Dakar, there wasn’t much I needed to do to prepare it for the trip. I took care of it, and it took care of me, never giving me any trouble, never let me down. In Mauritania, Nigeria, and Namibia I changed the oil, incl two oil filters. Also changed spark plug twice, air filter three times. Fuel consumption was between 22 and 28 kms to the litre. At the end of the trip, myself and Thomas (www.600.xt.ms) did the equivalent of the BMW 40,000 km service which gives the bike a whole overhaul and check. This included checking the valve clearance, which needed no adjustment.
• Despite BMW advice, I went with the standard rear and front suspension and didn’t have any problems. My payload was approx 70 kgs plus fuel plus rider.
• Front forks. BMW advised against protective fork gators, or socks, as the factory line is it may interfere with flow of air to the radiator. One fork seal began leaking (actually pissing oil over the rim) in Gabon. My attempt at cleaning it (see Updates) kept it under control until Angola when it was stressed a lot, but over the border in Namibia there was a BMW dealer. Learned of another Dakar on same route with both fork seals gone, replaced in Windhoek. Have now fitted neoprene protective socks.
• Headlight had thick clear plastic stuck on to prevent shattering. No cracks. Next time, I would improve the illumination capacity – maybe extra Xenons or something cheaper if available. My practice was never to ride at night, though at times this had to be done. The factory headlight is not adequate for overlanding purposes.
• DID X-Ring chain and carbon steel sprockets, supplied by IDL in Dublin. New sprockets and chain fitted in Dublin before departure, changed in Cameroon for new ones couriered over. I very rarely greased the chain as much of the riding was in dusty or sandy conditions. After 11,000 kms there was still a lot of life left in them, gratefully accepted by Roland the off roader in Yaounde for continued use. I changed the drive sprocket from a 16 to a 15 tooth in anticipation of riding conditions where more control is needed at slower speeds. See picture of used sprocket in
Cameroon Update.
• New brake pads were fitted at the beginning of the journey. The front ones were fairly worn by Cape Town and were replaced. Rear ones fine.
• The original double exhaust with cat converter was replaced by Dion with a much lighter, used Micron exhaust, leaving extra space on one side where I now pack my tent. The noise of the exhaust meant I rarely had to use my horn. I have now muffled it with a new ‘blanket’ and had a washer welded into it decreasing the exit hole size. Still very ‘throaty’ it now sounds more acceptable!
• Tyres were Continental Escapes and TKC 80’s supplied by Cambrian Tyres through Iggy in BMT. I’m very happy with the two options – the Escapes surprised me with their capability on poor and unstable surfaces, and are durable. The TKC’s are great on any loose gravel or mud (unless the mud is too sticky and clogs up the treads!). I fitted new TKC ‘s in Cameroon. The front still had half of its life left until I put a two inch gash in it during an off road galavant in South Africa. The rear is still on with about two thousand kms left. So one set of tyres wouldn’t suit for the whole journey – the Escapes would have the durability but not the suitability for road conditions south of Nigeria, and the TKC’s would wear too quickly on tarmac and wouldn’t last. I am planning a return trip up the east coast and across North Africa and will start with Escapes, with the intention of changing to a set of rougher tyres in Nairobi. I have heard good reports about Michelin Deserts – an off road tyre that is very durable too. However there has to be some compromise - perhaps its hardness makes it unsafe on wet tarmac?
• The wheel rims, standard with the bike, are Behr. Not the lightest they are however strong. I’m amazed to have just one dent in the front after some of the punishment it got. Two KTM 950’s I encountered in Gabon, and a subsequent KTM 640 in Cape Town after a trans Africa, had lighter alloy rims that were quite beat up.
• Replaced battery in SA. Understand its not possible to fit a sealed battery on the F650. This would be preferred as whenever the bike takes a tumble, it loses battery fluid.
• I fitted a protective wire mesh over the radiator (a few euro from the local garden centre) secured with little wire ties through drilled holes in the plastic surround. I had slight problems with the radiator leaking, Radweld keeping things together sufficiently. In South Africa brought it to be pressure tested, two holes repaired from within and repainted - €14.

Bike extras
• Handlebars. Handguards already fitted from factory. Heated grips I was considering disconnecting before leaving, but they were actually useful! Moroccan Atlas mountains, along with a few other cool spots.
• Touratech handlebar risers. I liked the extra height, both for cruising and when standing on pegs for extended periods.
• Touratech auxiliary fuel tanks. These are expensive though TT offered them to me at a generous discount. I didn’t fancy the idea of strapping on extra jerry cans –messy, and destabilising. The extra tanks were very useful and avoided the anxiety of not knowing if you’re going to make the next fuel stop. The fuel is gravity fed to the main tank, with on/off taps. I tested different breather tube options for a while, eventually settling on the original tube in place for various reasons. If anyone is interested in my different trials and errors with it, I’m happy to explain.
• Though confident of the tanks’ toughness – they are made from Elkamet, a material used in car bumpers – I had extra protective bars welded onto the engine crash bars to protect the auxiliary tank mountings from receiving the impact of any falls. I was happy with this arrangement. The two tanks are quite straightforward to take off when you need to service the bike.
• A standard F650 centrestand was adapted by Dion to fit onto the Dakar. This has made things easier when changing tyres, oiling the chain, or doing other work on the bike. I carried a small square of marine ply in the tank bag for placing under the side stand on soft ground.
• Touratech foot pegs were fitted slightly lower, increasing the knee angle when riding and more comfortable long distance. They are quite broad giving a decent platform on which to stand. Very happy.
• I was given a GPS by BMW, and mounted it on the handlebars. Though not absolutely necessary, it was useful to know at any time where I was and what direction I was heading. Handy too leaving a city knowing you’re on the right road in the right direction. Eventually in Gabon, the vibrations damaged the control panel connection, meaning it can now only give small scale picture. I rarely found the lack of a GPS after that a problem. There is nearly always someone around to ask about options at junctions.
• 12 volt socket. I thought it would be more useful than it turned out to be. Mostly charged phone, laptop and camera from AC.
• Spares: Water pump (unused); brake and clutch levers, rear brake lever; fuel, oil and air filters; clutch and throttle cables nylon tied to originals; replacement mirror nuts and bolts; tubes; bulbs, fuses and various other bits and pieces.
• Too many tools, (thanks to Paras Tools) but then what if they were needed. Ultimately if I can’t do the exercise myself (eg adjust the valve clearance), I don’t carry the tool. Apart from a few extra spanners – including a 10, 13, 19 and a 24 socket – the BMW compact toolbag has what is needed. Sharp nose pliers, duct tape, air pressure guage, tyre irons and a small compressor were very useful!


Luggage
• Touratech frame and panniers. Very happy with them – lightweight, quite robust (though have got a bit bent), and simple to put on and take off.
• Strapped across the back seat, a dust and waterproof Ortlieb dry bag was also a success.
• Tank bag €30 from Lidl. Though a bit worn and torn, still does its job! The BMW one I was offered is smaller, has no straps for your back, and its height interferes with the mounted GPS on handlebars.


Gear
• The riding gear I selected from BMW was a Rallye II suit, worn by competitors in the Paris Dakar rally and I presumed suitable for my needs. However, though well armoured, I found it too heavy and bulky in hot conditions (jacket served as decent pillow though). The alternative is to wear strap-on armour and back protector, and a lighter jacket to go over it.
• I had an Arai Tour-X helmet from ‘Extreme 45’ in Portmarnock, with which I am very happy. The main appeal is it combines lightness with quality. Because of the peak to keep sun out of eyes, the visor has remained clear and unscratched to date. It also has a removable inner, allowing the odd wash! Also I wore earplugs.
• I wore Oxstar motocross boots also from Extreme 45 and was pleased I did. The few times I took a tumble, the boots protected my lower leg – at least once for sure preventing injury. They weren’t too uncomfortable either walking around, or in the heat.
• I use a MSR Hubba single man tent, with which I am very happy. It is self standing – handy on ground too hard or soft for pegs - lightweight (under 3lbs), and compact. In warm weather the internal shell was used on its own as an effective mosquito net.
• My sleeping bag is a Vango Ultralight 900 and has been perfect. I use a silk bag liner in warm conditions, and as a supplement to the bag in cold.
• Cooking was done on an MSR Whisperlite multi fuel stove. Very handy and practical as fuel can be easily bled from my tank.
• Keeping hydrated is extremely important. I would hold water in a bladder in my tank bag, accessible to drink while on the move. Based on the ‘Camelbak’, it is a ‘Source’ and has a self sealing valve and tube through which you drink. This is very useful, as the tendency otherwise would be not to drink enough, due the hassle involved in stopping, etc. This, along with the bag, stove and tent were supplied through Padmore and Barnes in Kilkenny.

So that’s a general report on the bike, gear and equipment. Apart from the TT 10 litre water container with special carrying bag to fit onto the TT pannier which I carried through Africa unused still with its labels on, and the Pacsafe - a lockable wire mesh to secure loose or soft luggage similarly unused - there is little I would change apart from maybe a lighter riding suit, extra headlight, side stand lengthened.

What I did discover was that it was just a matter of getting on the bike and heading south. There was little that wasn’t replaceable, or couldn’t be couriered over.

I would like to thank any sponsors listed above and on the ‘Sponsors’ page on the website for their help and support, and to Iggy for coordinating much of it. It is much appreciated. And thanks Louise from Mountjoy Motorcycles who sadly closed their doors for the last time earlier this year.

Hugh Bergin