Motorcyclist Illustrated October, 1975 - The European leg

Motorcyclist Illustrated October, 1975

part 1

by Fergus & Sharyn Reilly

The European leg
5316 klms

Kelty, Scotland
September 3rd, 1974
(day 0 - 4216 klms)


Algeciras, Spain
October 19th, 1974
(day 46 - 9532 klms)

Kelty, Scotland to Algeciras, Spain

With unlimited time and money. preparing a bike to travel 25.000 miles over the world's worst roads could be a far reaching fantasy. However, not having a great deal of either. resource practicalities prevailed; preparation time six months and money limited to £1,500 for two machines. to attempt a ride from Scotland to South Africa. and then after a boat journey, to cross from Western Australia to the East. First priority naturally lay in the choice of machine. A myriad of factors needed to be taken into account and the difficulty was in deciding their relative importance. Tales of roadsters having to be completely stripped down in Tamanrasset, before even trying the worst stretch in the Sahara, confirmed our prejudices against a pure or even modified road machine. so the choice was limited to off-road bikes.

With our brand new bikes, North Blair, Scotland

Ernie Page at his showroom  

The problem of spares, particularly in the southern hemisphere, lends a heavy bias towards the oriental stables. The 2/4 stroke controversy does not reach any quick conclusion and in the end we plumped for 2 stroke in the hope of better reliability. Fuel consumption, weight, carrying capacity. handling and comfort we decided were secondary to strength and endurance. With this in mind. and a handful of test reports we thought long and talked much until the choice seemed to lay between the Japanese giants. However, we had reckoned without the most important consideration, availability!

Living in Scotland does not provide one with the markets of the south, especially when considering specialist machines suited for crossing the Sahara desert, however we were blessed when we called in at a discrete motorcycle shop near Tollcross and met Ernie Page - british representative in several 6 days trials championship. He was quite dismayed when he learnt we had been leaning towards a 4 stroke Japanese trail bike and went to great lengths to persuade us to go with professional enduro-style bikes which would outlast any Asian bike in that environment.

His enthusiasm for our journey led us to choose two Ossa 250 Enduros (which Ernie sold) since they sounded tough. Unfortunately he could only import 6 bikes a year and he already had orders for 4 - we needed them within a few weeks to allow time to prepare them properly if we were to cross the desert in winter. However Ernie persuaded his customers to wait for the next shipment and promised us the next 2 bikes which were arriving soon. Several months later . . . they arrived.

Late May saw the beginning of preparations on the bikes, to carry us and our possessions through varying conditions for nine months. First we needed containers to carry our possessions. Their positioning was hampered by the upswept exhaust passing level with the top of the rear wheel which, although functional. is almost impossible to neatly re-site or re-direct without major coachwork alterations. Therefore we were faced with either a high load or a complicated carrier fitting over the exhaust which would increase the likelihood of breaking up over rough terrain. Since the latter courts disaster in situations remote from a welding workshop, we elected to go for a high load.
the shakedown cruise

Jerrycans necessary for fuel and water to cross the Sahara further complicated the design. Eventually we arrived at a long tall box. with a jerrycan mounted either side, bolted to the top of a 10 gauge steel plate ‘u’ carrier. The short rear frame dictated the carrier's length and two wire cages were added to the top of the box above the cans for light storage space and also provided a thief-proofing system for both cans and box. Spare tyres and two-stroke oil could be slung around and below the cans.

Tank top bags which double as portable rucksacks would hold our valuables and finally a wooden tool box bolted onto the front fork helped compensate for the weighted rear end as well as being easily accessible. Well. the bikes now looked like Christmas trees on wheels. ‘but despite the unwieldy appearance, handling has not suffered too much except at very low speeds and when stationary it is quite an effort to keep it upright. The main problem is finding somewhere to sit. It does feel rather like being a human sandwich!

The underseat compartment now suffers reduced accessibility owing to the carrier over the rear of the seat, but the loss is minimal. The only remaining space is a generous one between the sump and guard which will conveniently house two spare chains. That leaves only tying on space of odds and ends but according to repute these would likely disappear en route. so we decided not to employ this method as limited space means each item carried is of real value.

wiring on the nuts Preparations on the machine have largely been confined to safety wiring vital bolts on the swinging arm pivots; rear unit stays; wheel nuts. etc) wiring the spokes and weather-proofing. The exposed chain has been fitted with a home-made drainpipe cover in the hope of reducing the quantity of sand and dust working its way into and through the rollers and sprockets. The excellent air-filter dust cover has been extended with vinyl and velcro to protect the carburetor. We would like to protect the front forks with gaiters, but it seems there is a shortage of them. The levers and cables are already fitted with practical dust covers and gaiters so no mods were needed here.

A small but potentially dangerous amount of tyre creep was evident over about 1,000 miles of varied use, despite two security bolts per rim. This was cured by drilling both rims and locking the tyres with self-tapping screws.

Ideally we would have liked to fit 5 gallon alloy tanks but the cost was so high as to be unafforded luxury. The efficient Italian sealed beam headlamps were converted to not-so-efficient Lucas globes to allow us to carry spares in a fork mounted box which entailed the resiting of the headlamp.

Sharyn's first test and the chainguard
Then only the spares remained on the bike’s preparation. Ossa is certainly not a common bike and the local garage in darkest Africa is very unlikely to be carrying a store of bits to fit. Consequently we tried to "imagine every conceivable failure/loss. Short of strapping another bike on the side we decided to take a more conservative supply. Spare cables have been fitted in tandem. chains (if they arrive in time) would be carried; 30 plugs of varying types, extra nylon levers bolted to the handlebars. road tyres for the first leg over surfaced roads. lots of tubes. spare globes, footrests, a front mudguard bolted below the existing one. a repair kit for the carburetor. and six air filters were carried. A substantial number of spares remain to be obtained but hopefully we will remedy this when we pass through Spain and then also carry engine spares and rear units with heavy duty springs to take the weight across rough country. In all. the bikes will have to carry around 340lb (150Kg), the equivalent of two twelve stone riders each. An interesting test, to say the least, of the bike's performance over the harsh conditions and lengthy journey! Apart from preparing for the physical aspect of a trans-Africa journey there are bureaucratic and political conditions to take into account. The war (whether dormant or actual) in the Middle East restricts movement in North East Africa. and the famine in the Southern Sahara region led us to think it would be an affront to the poor local people to take our bikes through. So our route is the one taken by most African travelers. with a few deviations that the freedom of our bikes should permit. Once planned. it is necessary to write to the consul/embassy of each country to ascertain conditions of entry. Most embassies take at least 48 hours to issue visas and it seems the most efficient way is to hand them in and collect them personally.

Bureaucracy rears its ugly head in the form of requiring a carnet de passage for most African countries. We solved the problem of guarantee money (1½ times the cost of each vehicle) by paying a small indemnity to an insurance company who act as guarantors. But these red tape operations take time and anyone contemplating this type of journey should begin well in advance.

A medical kit is essential if traveling through any third world country where the luxury of the National Health is not available. We were helped in its compilation by a small booklet from the Ross Institute of Tropical Medicine. Your local doctor can prescribe all the medicines suggested but not on cheap prescription.

Well, the bikes were ready, we had been vaccinated in every limb, so it seems after lengthy preparations we can finally get going. At this juncture I think it proper to credit those companies and individuals who helped us along the preparation route. so our thanks to: Filtron Products. USA; Duckhams: ll & S Accessories; Bosch; Amal; Maurice Arden and Ernie Page.

Customs at Boulougne finished with. we set off on the first leg of our journey to Australia. The weather was not conducive to stopping so we kept up a steady pace across France. which we glimpsed occasionally through the dense wall of rain. On the one clear day we passed throngs of bikes returning from the Bol d'Or at Le Mans many of whom greeted us with extraordinary enthusiasm.

our first campsite in France We got a fantastic kick but our arms grew tired from waving. and although we were going in the opposite direction. the crowds of people watching on the roadside cheered and clapped our slow and cumbersome loads. Although we might not appear racy. we do have an “attention-getting difference”.

At the end of the day we were convinced that bikes were the way to travel; cars shut you off front other people. whereas bikes seem to offer you some sort of brotherhood with other riders and the multitude of people who enjoy watching them.

We crossed into Spain under a clear blue sky. and knew that we were among friends. At the border our Ossas drew the attention of a beautiful old man of 60 or so. dressed in immaculate pale blue leathers riding an equally-immaculate BMW 900.

The ride down to Barcelona on the autopiste was a dream as all 6 lanes were virtually deserted for most of the distance, we could play games overtaking and weaving in and out to our hearts‘ content. Barcelona. however. was hot and crowded with people returning to work after the siesta. We saw more and more Bultacos and Montesas. obviously being used as street bikes. and then finally we saw an identical Ossa. A great boost! Especially when car drivers leaned out at traffic lights and yelled “Spanish, si” pointing to us with huge grins.

Another identical Ossa appeared and escorted us on the complicated route to the campsite. If this was going to be the general reception. we would enjoy Spain! The next day was spent collecting the remaining spares for the bikes. which proved far more difficult and expensive than we had anticipated. It seems that Spain is also suffering under a shortage of trials tyres and spares. although Ossa is in fact manufactured in Barcelona. Still. wine is cheaper than Coke here so any misgivings were easily dispelled!

We decided to move further down the coast to find a quiet campsite. where we could change tyres in order to save the knobbies for rough conditions. Unfortunately this proved very difficult as the coast is chock-a-block with tourist developments. We finally found an empty campsite with a very amiable ‘patron’ whose only, but often repeated, English was ‘OK baby‘. After a hard day working on the bikes, and feeling ravenously hungry. we discovered it was Sunday and all the shops were closed. Dragging our bodies back to the campsite. we met the owner who took one look at us. then raced inside only to return with a 2 foot-wide dish of paella and “OK baby?”.

On the road again we finally began to break out of the highly developed areas. Hazy blue mountains on the right. the turquoise Mediterranean on the left. an excellent road and extreme courtesy to our heavily loaded bikes from other drivers — what more could you want?

After passing through Valencia. we decided to cut across the mountains and leave behind the main coastal route. The road was little wider than a single track, but without Scottish passing places. and followed a tortuous route up and down the slopes. On the way up the first mountain the return spring on the gear lever of Fergus’s bike terminated its useful existence. Halfway up a mountain is no place to start dismantling the guts of a bike. Anyway the job would entail tools which we do not carry. With a bit of fancy footwork. gear changing was possible so we continued on up.

From the top. terraced gardens ran down the slopes on all sides. It must have taken centuries of work to transform the mountain into a multitude of tiers with an enclosing wall for every orange or carob tree. The occasional whitewashed village clung to the hill face. This is the beauty of Spain which is almost swamped by tourism on the coast.

The road where the gear change broke, Spain, Oliva

Although every second bend was a hairpin as we rode further into the mountains. traffic was minimal and the bikes performed amazingly well. considering their loads. Villages appeared to be almost deserted as we passed through and the noise of the bikes shattered the silence. We saw a man carefully leading a donkey which carried his wife who was clothed in black and barely visible beneath a heavy shawl. Then suddenly we were at the coast at Benidorm amongst the plushest hotel towers imaginable.

The next day we left the sea again and rode across an almost barren plain. which slowly developed into rocky mountains. The sun cast pink and blue shadows over their convoluted faces; we had reached the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada.

the Sierra Nevada - bike chainguard jammed

However. the fantastic landscape lost its romantic glow when a broken rest had to be repaired on one of the bikes. Hot weather is great when riding. but relentless when no shade is available and one is lying prostrate on the stony ground With the aid of a handy clump of wood as a mallet. we were back on the road again and climbing further on into the crazy mountains.

We stopped for food in an immaculately white village clustered round a gorge. As usual the bikes attracted plenty of interest. After showing us the way to the bakery. one guy ran off. only to return on his bike and escorted us to the edge of town. Although we might have limited Spanish, the bikes were proving our passport to communication.

Fergus perched on the edge of a chasm to take one last photograph before we left the Sierra Nevada and headed down to the coast. Then his ingenious chain guard became lodged in the back wheel. I thought he was pretending he was about to fly over the edge, until his swearing became loud enough to penetrate my helmet. and I realised he was not fooling around. So we dragged the bike back from the brink and sorted the guard.

Our spirits were flagging by this time. so we turned off to a campsite down an extremely rough track. I rounded a bend to find Fergus sitting hunched by the side of the road and his bike in midstream.

“The frame is broken." he said quietly.

Well, we had learned the hard way — the penalty of putting too much weight over the frame’s rear loop. One side had completely broken and the other had cracked halfway through.

We crawled into the campsite where an angel in the form of the owner's wife helped us drag ourselves off the bikes and then insisted she buy us a drink. Filthy and brokenhearted. the only way you can go is up; especially when the owner returned. saw the bike and said he was a friend of the local welder who was a good man and would easily be able to repair the frame.

Fired by his enthusiasm for our plans we saw the welder the next day who proved true to his reputation. The tubular frame was strengthened internally and externally with iron tubing. We also redistributed some of the heavier spares (such as the spare springs which we would need for riding the bikes without baggage) forward on the bike, wiring them onto the front of the engine cradle, and gave away belongings which no longer seemed necessary in view of the weight problem.

L'Habana campsite - Bike with broken frame, Spain, Adra

on the beach near Fuengirola Three days later. having been entertained in grand style by friends in the local village and after declining the tempting offer of a cheap house in the mountains. we set off for Malaga where hopefully the gear selector spring could be replaced. We finally found the Ossa dealer ten minutes after the three hour siesta had begun. Having little else to do but sit on the steps of the shop located far out in the suburbs. we were very bored and disenchanted; more so when it was discovered they only dealt with new machines.

Some friends had given us a vague address 70 klms down the coast at Estepona near Marbella . so we decided to push our luck for a comfortable bed and perhaps a local mechanic. Fate was with us and after asking various people we found the address; the kind people insisted we stay and a Spanish friend took us to the local bike shop. The patron was a beautiful big man who immediately recognised the problem, quoted us a fair price and arranged a date for us to pick up the bike.

Immobilised temporarily. we spent our time lying around in the sun and wandering around the town. Looking out of the window one day to see what was happening in the plaza across the road, where I had parked the bike next to the steps of the church. we saw a new bride and groom posed happily beside the Ossa, while friends threw rice over both them and the bike. When I hastily and apologetically ran out to move it, the guests insisted it was fine and would I also have a drink to celebrate the occasion?.

On a clear. hot day our friends took us and the remaining bike to the site of an old Roman bath up in the mountains. From the outside it appeared an inconspicuous stone hut. but inside it opened out into an intricately patterned cavern. strong with the smell of sulphur from the translucent blue water gushing through the pool. After swimming in and out of the main pool through low archways. we felt so refreshed that Fergus decided he would see if the bike would also benefit from a dip in one of the shallow outlet streams. Not many trials sections would have such ancient histories! We collected the bike on the day promised. The gear action proved smoother than ever before and the kick starter's vicious backlash had been tamed as a bonus. So, after exchanging grins and handshakes we left, again the proud owners of two fully-functioning machines.

outside the church at a wedding in Estepona, Spain

Fully revitalised we traveled the remaining 40 klms to Algeciras to catch the ferry to Ceuta on the north coast of Africa.

The 1:00pm ferry was full and we considered ourselves fortunate to get tickets for the 6pm boat even though it meant we'd be arriving in Africa after dark.

Our quiescent apprehension was slowly fanned to anxiety as the occasional fellow passengers in the queue warned us of roving bands of armed bandits populating the Moroccan countryside - especially after dark - preying on innocent travelers.

Still, we were fully committed now so with Spain behind us, we sat beside the bikes awaiting embarkation, looking across the water to Africa - the real journey about to begin.

Kelty, Scotland - Kelty, Scotland

previous leg

Kelty, Scotland
Kelty, Scotland
July 7th, 1974
September 2nd, 1974
day -58 to day -1


of the

next leg

Ceuta, Spanish enclave in Morocco
Oujda, Morocco
October 19th, 1974
October 31st, 1974
day 46 to day 58
Ceuta, Spanish enclave in Morocco - Oujda, Morocco