Adventure riding is a seductive thing. First there are the bikes, epic off-road monsters just as comfortable cruising French autoroutes or attacking Swiss Alpine passes as they are battering through filthy jungle swamps in the middle of nowhere. Then there’s the gear, from satnavs to toolkits and carbon fibre helmets to monstrous motocross boots, tooling up for a trip is half the fun.
Finally, there’s the adventure. With a go-anywhere bike, you can live and breathe the environments you’re hacking through in a way no other vehicle will let you. You become a part of the landscape and the culture around you on a bike, and the pleasure’s in soaking it all in in some really challenging environments.
But adventure riding’s also bloody hard work. It requires a huge amount of organisation from sorting visas, to clearing bikes in customs and spending days at remote border crossings trying to bribe your way through en route. And what if you crash? Having a bust bike and a broken femur in deepest Bogota doesn’t bear thinking about and suddenly makes adventure riding look a little bit, well, difficult.
But it doesn’t have to be this way because there are a host of companies worldwide who’ll do all the hard the work for you, letting riders pay and play for the adventure ride of a lifetime. All you have to do is turn up with a crash helmet, a bike licence, and a vague idea how to ride on the dirt and have fun.
BMW is a big player in this market, and when the overall boss of the company’s motorcycle division, Hendrik von Kuenheim – a keen enduro rider – wanted a tough and exotic riding holiday he had his people arrange just that. Being the boss, he also made sure the hotels, restaurants and wine lists along the way were the best money could buy, and then he invited a select handful of journalists to join him. Given the trip involved a week tearing across Namibia aboard a brace of BMW F800GSs, I couldn’t pack quickly enough.
On day one, riding out of Windhoek, the Namibian capital, there was inevitably tarmac to deal with but 70 miles later we hit the dirt, which was pretty much where we stayed for the rest of the trip. This first day was a gentle one, with the trails wide, open and predictable which meant ample opportunity to soak up the sights, smells, and sounds of wild Africa as they floated around us.
With our previously pristine bikes now suitably sand-blasted, we rolled into the Erindi private game reserve that evening in time for ice cold sundowner beers on their terrace.
After a deep night’s sleep in Erindi’s palatial individual bungalows with their terraces opening directly onto the plains and the wildlife wandering by, we hit the trail again heading for Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast. Swakopmund itself is unremarkable, a sort of Namibian Margate, and wouldn’t be worth staying in if it weren’t for the riding to get there which was something else.
Following 150-odd miles of trails to get into the groove, we had left the town of Uis and joined an arrow straight dusty trail heading for the coast. For 70 miles this track never kinked or curved an inch, remaining resolutely, mind-bendingly, hallucinatingly straight.
Above us a giant blue sky stretched from wingtip to wingtip across the horizon, and ahead the road narrowed to a point shrouded in a heat haze where the sky melted into the earth. We chased that point for what felt like an age, speedos swaying around the 90mph mark, rev counters dancing as back wheels endlessly gripped, slipped, gripped, slipped, and gripped again. It was as close to an out-of-body experience as I’ve come on a bike, and more than made up for the impending night in Swakopmund’s drab, grey mire.
Which we gladly left the following morning for what turned out to be the most amazing dune riding session. Dune Seven, just outside of Swakopmund, may have a dull name, but don’t be fooled because this 200-metre natural sand bowl could just be the greatest thing you’ve never ridden.
Sand riding is an acquired skill, but the basics are simple. Lots of gas, and look way ahead – never anywhere near your front wheel, no matter how many knots it’s tying itself in. Follow these basics and you’ll be fine, forget either and you’ll be wearing your bike before you know it. And we don’t want that.
On a giant dune like this, the only additional tip is to add even more gas, which meant we were tearing up this beast of dune flat in third gear tipping 80mph, turning for the base again just as the momentum ran out and surfing back down to terra firma, whooping and hollering inside our crash helmets. An all-time riding high.
Journey’s end this day was at the Sossusvlei Lodge in the southern Namib desert. A peach of a place, the lodge is in the heart of big dune country and lies at the end of a huge, snaking dirt track bordering the Namib-Naukluft national park. A stellar dinner in the middle of the vast and empty desert was a standout here, as was a tour deep into the park itself where the views are spellbinding, especially if you’ve got the legs for some serious dune climbing.
The last day was the trawl back to Windhoek and here the going got tough. We’d crossed the Tropic of Capricorn that morning as the sun blazed high in the sky, and the weather was just as scorching as we scaled the Spreetshoogte Pass which climbs up off the desert floor offering stunning views back across this beautiful landscape. However, as we took a breather to enjoy these very views, our vantage point also allowed us a grandstand view of the massive bank of filthy black rain clouds that were headed our way.
We may have been on 800cc bikes with plenty of punch here, but they would be no match for the natural forces coming towards us and within half an hour the clouds had settled above us and the heavens opened in grand African fashion. The previously dusty, sandy trails we were on became oily, slimy swamps in minutes with river crossings springing up all over the place as the hard ground struggled to cope with the massive amount of water pouring from the sky.
So it was a soaked, filthy, bunch of riders who arrived back in Windhoek that night as the trip drew to a close, but there wasn’t one who wasn’t grinning from ear to ear. Like I said, adventure riding’s a seductive thing.
For more information, go to: worldofbmw.com