Riding a Harley-Davidson through Morocco – Part 2 of 3

continued form Part 1

It is not normal to ride with a Harley-Davidson through Morocco, it is special. While none of the H-D CEO’s during Harley’s 110 year history had Morocco’s infrastructure in mind when designing their Milwaukee metal, these overweight V2’s are so robust that its a special experience to navigate them through Morocco.

We were 9 bikes, 7 Harley-Davidson, a BMW and a Triumph, and only 2 bikes had minor technical problems, the BMW battery was flat one morning, and the bone crushing roads won over the left rear mirror of the Triumph. We saw many heavy motorcycle groups looking for the same adventure as we did, none had a Harley-Davidson with them. BMW and Triumph are the safe but boring bikes of choice, I say boring because they are the safer bet, and they sound like washing machines.

One essential item the other groups had, and I may not go back to Morocco without it, was the luxury of a service vehicle following in safe distance. Not only would a mechanic jump out of the truck to replace your flat tyre, but he would also have a cold drink for you while you waited.

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We encountered really bad roads, and rode through numerous riverbeds, as donkeys do not need bridges. You constantly ask yourself the question: what do you do if you now have a ruptured tyre or broken drivebelt. Your options are very limited if you do not get it fixed yourself, and the chances are high that due to a puncture you end up in a 8 seater Benz taxi, flying home and never see your bike again.

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Day 6 was my Ride Captain day, and the honour was to lead the group from Casablanca to Ouarzazate. Using no motorways and few N roads, we quickly immersed into the real Morocco. Casablanca was a big city with crazy traffic, but if you feel comfortable to ride in Paris, Tokyo or Rome, its not traumatic, and my fellow riders followed my advise: stay very close together, move like one unit. 9 bikes bundled together are smaller then a big lorry, and cars do not drive into lorries just because they are long. Cars push and squeeze in-between bikes if they feel they have the space, but if you do not provide such space and ride with your mates as one confident unit, you have a chance to get out. Safety in numbers, nature shows it to us every day. Remember: in the traffic of big cities, no prisoners are taken.

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The sound of a Harley-Davidson, tuned to perfection by Vance & Hines pipes, has for some only one meaning: Born in the USA. And in a deeply islamic country like Morocco, that is not always the right tune to play.

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Leaving Casablanca we had a wannabe suicide bomber walking to us through the traffic, shouting insults and waving his fist in our direction, making it clear he did not approve of our presence. Bystanders looked indifferent, and we would have had a mob of hundreds following us should we have reacted in any way more threatening. So we sat there, listening with indifferent expression to our iPod and waited eagerly for the red light to turn green, always ready to jump the red light should that fanatic get a step closer.

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When riding through towns and market places, many bystanders waved at us, kids encouraged us the rev up the engine, but you were never sure which one shouted: “Welcome to my town” and which one wished us “Death to the infidel”. This uneasy feeling was often present, and was compounded when small children smiled while throwing little stones at us.

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When approaching some small villages, just dozens of houses next to a single straight road, you could see the inhabitants hearing our approach, turning their heads and children moving out of their houses towards the street in big numbers. You knew you had to keep going, as stopping would have engulfed you in the crowds with a equal amount of jewellery sales, begging, well-wishing, touching and cursing. It felt like you had to maintain a kind of Air Supremacy through noise and velocity, while at the same time you questioned yourself for watching too many Hollywood movies and were most likely just trapped between cultures in a constant misunderstanding.

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I was lucky on my Day 6, we left early and reached the magnificent roads up to the 2,260m high Tizi n Tichka pass mid afternoon. It was a dry, mild and fantastic ride on twisted roads, where I started to feel real love for my H-D Road King, allowing me to chase her up and down the never ending mountain roads as I never did before. We reached Ouarzazate shortly before sundown.

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I say lucky as the next day we left a tad late for a longer 380+ mile ride to Fez. The magnificent ride through the Gorges du Dadès and up the R703 was bought at a high price, as we were back on the N13 far too late. We were 120 miles away from our destination in Fez, when the snow started to fall at 1,750m altitude near Azrou. It turned dark and suddenly felt like you were in the middle of a freezing blizzard. As backmarker I could just see the red rear light of the rider in front of me, but that was it. A few miles later we reassembled and discussed our options.

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Basically we split into 3 fractions: those wanting to wait in a foetal position behind a tree for the sun to shine again, those who wanted to buy the next hotel, rearrange the furniture and fly in minibars, and those who wanted to continue what we came to do, riding to Fez. With my French – thanks again for my parents to have forced me to mastered it – I could learn from the helpful locals that once we go below 1,300 meters altitude, the snow would turn into light rain, and that would be in about 12 miles north. As our real estate investors could not find a suitable hotel to buy during these 12 miles, we made it late but safe and in one group to Fez. The locals were right.

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We learned it the hard way to appreciate one information from our Garmins: the altitude. Just because you are in Africa and more south then you ever were on your bike, doesn’t mean it doesn’t snow at altitudes in March.

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click on thumbnail for full photo galleries

to be continued
In Part 3: the ride back into our comfort zone and lessons learned.

 

 

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One Response to “Riding a Harley-Davidson through Morocco – Part 2 of 3”

  1. You are living the dream! Stay safe.

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