Safe motorcycle touring in Southern Africa


This section deals with long distance touring on a motorbike in rural Africa . . .

Click here to rent a BMW 650 Dakar to ride the roads less travelled

Quiz Question.If your motorcycle trip really demands a GPS then you do not need to take a compass

** True/False **


Quiz Question.If you have the correct size spark plug spanner, it will fit!

** True/False **


Quiz Question.By unzipping your jacket more and more you will be able to cool yourself down when travelling during very hot weather

** True/False **


Golden Rules for Touring Africa

Lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money. (Susan Heller)

• Your big goofy smile and your "I'm just a stupid tourist, what do I know?' attitude will ease your passage and achieve your objectives. Patience, patience, patience.

• The most important thing on your list of things to take, is information. The longer the tour the more vital this becomes

• Bandits, rebels? No! They are the least of your worries. Your own stupid mistakes will be your greatest enemy.

Your Touring Plan

What you need to take depends on the type of tour, its duration, the towns you pass through and condition of the roads. On a  tour of the great pubs of Cape Town you need Prohep while a tour to Victoria Falls requires a spare motorcycle chain! Because of the added complexity this web page focuses on rural long distance touring in Africa. Shorter tours will not require many of the more extreme items mentioned.

Long distance motorcycle touring in rural Africa differs from any other outing in that it is just you and your bike. That's it! The keyword is 'Independence'. All touring trips in Africa will throw you a curved ball and you must have a reasonable resource at hand to cope with the new circumstance. One trip will demand a repair by duct tape, another an unexpected delay, another a unique opportunity requiring addition resources etc etc.

Successful and safe touring involves a touring plan covered on this page.

Comment bike accidents

"I have photographed numerous wrecked motorcycles. The cause was often gravel, mostly in construction areas. Heavy and overloaded motorcycles piloted by inexperienced riders seemed to score the highest fall-downs"

Ted Simon (Round the world biker)

Note: Check out websites for all manner of touring goodies and gadgets. By far the best place in South Africa is "Tours for Africa" that has many years experience in preparing riders, motorcycle and even vehicles for African overland adventure tours and safaris.  (Find links page on the Navigation page.) 

Comment on Canada

We all know and expect problems touring third world countries but few countries are as anal as Canada. If you add all the bribes you pay on a round the world tour they will not match the inconvenience and expense that you can occur in one tiny, insignificant offence, infringement or omission committed on Canadian soil.

   Motorcycle touring   

What is touring anyway? - for some it is thrashing a Yamaha R6 around the Isle of Man (above). For others it is nursing an old BMW boxer motorcycle along the back roads of Cambodia (below). Some tours have a definite start and end while others are completed in stages spanning years. Some are as basic and rough as a bear's ass while others spare no amenity or luxury.  Each rider has their own definition that is right for them.

Motorbike touring

The Tollgate Curse

As you put your foot down to pay the tollgate attendant beware the oil on the ground. Many a biker, too focused on the paying process, has ended up on the ground with their motorcycle!


Clothing and Protective Gear

It's all about layering and you friendly hiking specialty store has all the information and products to help you.

You have to be prepared for extremes i.e. hot and cold, wet and dry, calm and windy conditions. Over and above this, the motorcycle limits you to fabrics that can fit into a very confined packing space. Your only trump card is your riding jacket which if it is water proof and has a zip-out lining, automatically makes it multi-purpose (thus leather jackets are not the best choice for touring) It is a good idea to shop at your local hiking store for warm, windproof,  lightweight garments. If you are near Johannesburg try "Snow Scapes" in Fourways. This alpine snow skiing shop has state of the art protective clothing that is both warm, light and dries quickly.

Characteristics that you should be looking for when it comes to fabrics and garment construction are as follows

  • Efficient wicking away of moisture from the skin.
  • Insulation. Achieved by many thin under-layers
  • Windproof
  • Light and small for packing.
  • Easy to wash and quick drying
  • Hard, rough fabric against your skin will drive you nuts
  • Draught-free, leak-proof construction incl. pockets

Draughts and leaks are big problems and can cause you to become cold and wet very quickly. Outer garments must be double layered around the main zip - thus cruiser-type leather jackets with exposed, decorative outer zips will leak.  Other critical areas are the cuffs, collar and ankles which should be well elasticised to form a tight seal. 

Bikers Cordura jackets are also an option being almost totally waterproof.  As much as I love my leather jackets I have to concede that Cordura biking jackets are better for touring than leather as they are lighter and usually have a thermal-type, zip-out inner lining. :-(

(see the 'Clobber' page for more about jackets etc)

Top Marks for Thermals

Ounce for ounce, thermal under shirts (vests) with strong wicking properties are tops! They are small and light. Worn next to the skin they keep you comfortable and dry during extremely hot or extremely cold temperatures. They are easy to wash and dry quickly (being cotton free). If you know you are going to have to travel in extreme temperatures, thermal under garments are an excellent decision. Brands like Lowe Alpine Dry-Flo and Capilene come in a light and heavyweight fabrics for summer and winter respectively and  with separate cuts for men and woman. I suggest both a short sleeve one and a long sleeve one regardless of the time of year.

An alternative to synthetic thermal underwear is silk which offers all the same properties in a natural fiber.

The Story about Cotton

Cotton warrants a special mention - the main fabric used for denim and most T shirts. Cotton has zero wicking properties. This means that when it gets wet - it stays wet. Thus a cotton T shirt next to your skin retains the sweat, making you uncomfortable in the heat. It also cools you down in the cold, making you colder. 

Your body loses heat three time faster in dry cotton than in wool, nylon, or acrylic fibres. Wet cotton cools you down nine times faster than damp wool or synthetic materials. 
Basic Essentials: Hypothermia. William W Forgey MD

Denim jeans (which are make of cotton) are heavy, bulky, hot in summer and cold in winter. Washing them during your tour is not practical because they will not dry over- night unaided. Studies have also shown that they do not give your legs protection in a crash and slide situation. All of this means looking for alternative fabrics that have more advantages to offer e.g. garments made of polypropylene

Thus a complete cold weather solution involves a layered approach e.g. your windproof, waterproof biking gear, a warm sweatshirt (Polatec perhaps), a vest and finally thermal under garment (one piece or two piece)

Foot wear

A sensible choice in biker boots i.e. not too extreme, means that you can still walk around town in comfort and when polished, can even be used to a reasonable restaurant. You still however need something more casual. We have found that heavy-duty hikers sandals with buckles and straps on the heel to be the best choice, especially in summer. The better quality ones can be used for day hikes, wading through rivers, on the beach and when using public shower facilities in camping grounds. They are however a bit heavy and bulky and therefore we just use the sandal's own  straps to attach them to a convenient attachment point on the outside of our panniers.

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More about clothing . .

Tours are more about being too hot than too cold. You should chasing the warm weather in your tour planning.

An unlined rain suit is an essential item. This suit should allow body moisture to escape. This can be achieved by large, built-in,  mesh-covered, flap protected vents under the arms and across the back. Alternatively, and a lot more expensive, are the breathable waterproof fabrics e.g. Gortex. They should be suitably elasticised to prevent it inflating with air at speed and letting water in.

Huge fluctuations in temperature and limited packing space is the challenge when motorcycle touring. For this reason long pants where the bottom half zips off to form shorts can save valuable space.

Bikers should take care when travelling in extremely hot, dry windy conditions. All skin should be covered by  light windproof clothing as the hot air rushing over the skin can cause dehydration in less than an hour. It is a good idea to tie a bandana around your neck as it prevents sun burn in this exposed and dangerous area and it is easy to wash at the end of a tiring day.

Longer tours mean washing your clothes and thus a strong plastic container with cold water washing powder is needed. Personally I prefer a bar of pure soap as it cannot soil the rest of your kit (green Sunlight soap bar in SA). It is also suitable for washing dishes.

A small sewing kit has many uses and should be part of your touring equipment.

Take one smarter outfit that you do not tour in. Store it in a strong ziplock plastic bag. That way it stays clean and can facilitate you being able to do or go somewhere special on your trip without feeling like a slob.

Do not forget your hat for when you arrived at your destination! 

A final word on clothing. Equipment to keep you and your bike healthy and moving is far more important than extra shirts, shorts, pants etc On a long tour you can always buy and dispose of general clothing . . . this is not true of a clutch cable for example.

A neck tube is a marvellous item. Small and warm they go a long way to keeping the cold out in the important neck area.


We found existing neck tube warmers too thick and bulky under the chin strap. (After an hour of riding we had to stop for a drink - and some welcome blood to the brain!) Thus the genuine FlamesOnMyTank neck tube warmer was born providing protection both front and back without the bulk!

RIDE magazine Dec 2003 demonstrated that a cold rider is more dangerous than one that is drunk!

All details for ordering this nifty product which packs very small can be found on the specials page i.e.

** Specials **

'(See page called 'Clobber' for more information regarding protective gear.)


Heated Accessories

If you motorcycle in cold weather there are a range of heated accessories to take the bite out of the air i.e. handgrips (often standard), gloves, seats and vests. Your bike will need to be fitted with an 12v power point although some vests are powered by batteries that are sewn into the lining.



Your Motorcycle

You need to take the  'kit' approach here. 
1) Bike repair kit
2) Luggage repair kit
3) Puncture repair kit
4) Cleaning kit

1) Bike repair kit
Your bike's tool bag . . . maybe?! Sometimes the quality of the provided tools is so poor that you may need to replace them with decent ones.  Ensure that the plug spanner does actually fit your particular bike with its own access limitations. Also that you have a full set of torx and Allen keys to fit every size found on your bike. If your bike uses size 8 and 10 nuts, ensure that you have one flat and one plug spanner of each size.

2) General repair kit
Broken plastic panniers etc can be a major problem but with a small repair kit can be easily repaired even on the road.

Cracks or breaks in plastic can be 'sewn' together with thin wire. Make the holes for the wire with a red hot steel needle. Heat the needle with a gas cigarette lighter.

A selection of large safety pins, a tube of contact glue, a reel of thin fishing line, a roll of duct tape, 4m of thin nylon (parachute) cord, 60cm of thick wire, 2m of thin wire (bailing wire if you can get it), 30 plastic cable (zip) ties (3 sizes), sewing needles (large and small) and a spare plastic click-buckle completes this kit. 

A putty type glue that can be used to plug holes in radiators, cracked tappet covers and damaged aluminum panniers. Leaking petrol tanks can be temporarily repaired using a piece of hand soap. Once the tank is empty than a more permanent repair can by made with putty glue

The items above have seen some strange uses over the years of hiking, camping and touring.

A vulnerable area. Take a spare circ clip (on output shaft) and an oil seal (around the shaft behind the small sprocket).

To work on a broken chain you will need a metal file, a 'sharp' center punch, a hammer, spare master links and a vice grip.

3) Puncture repair kit
Two tyre levers, a puncture repair kit for your type of tyre (with fresh glue), an extra tube of high quality rubber cement, a high pressure, push-pull, bicycle pump (also for maintaining tyre pressure in remote areas) and an aerosol can of tyre repair foam. A 6 inch square patch cut from an old tyre tube for larger and side-wall punctures. Also a small pencil tyre pressure gauge (Petrol stations tyre gauges of often inaccurate).  You can also buy a CO2 cartridge system for inflating flat tyres - one cartridge gives one bar (if you fit it quickly enough!). You should also take a spare front tyre tube. In an emergency this can also be used for the rear wheel as well. Also useful if your tubeless tyre gets a large side-wall puncture that is impossible to repair properly. If you will be travelling off road, fit heavy duty tubes as they can often shrug off potential punctures from thorns etc

4) Cleaning kit
One cloth for dirty jobs e.g. chain lubrication and a cloth for clean jobs e.g. the plastics. A small container of hand cleaner. 

Leather boot treatment. Even one day of harsh conditions and your riding boots will take a pounding. Look after them! with a product that maintains your boot's waterproof qualities. You also need a small soft brush that can be used on your boots as well as on the bike.

A product that you use to clean your visor which has a lingering de-misting property should you have to ride in the rain. In South Africa the product 'Mr Min' is highly recommended although the can is very large.


After a long, high-speed trip with the wind blasting the hell out of you, you can arrive at your destination exhausted and irritable. This can be ‘solved’ by fitting a windshield, but this is a more complex issue than one would  think.              

A windshield’s primary role is to keep the wind off that huge expanse i.e. your chest! By protecting your chest you do not have to hang on for dear life. (The added advantage of this is that your arms can be easy and relaxed – vitally necessary for effective control). 

Why would one not install a higher windshield then and keep the wind off your helmet as well? - Your helmet needs a certain amount of windblast to enable its ventilation system to work effectively. In Africa in particular you need that air to flow through your helmet and keep your head cool. You also need a combination of that windblast and some “C Thru” solution on your visor so that you can see in a rain storm. 

The windblast around your helmet however creates its own problems i.e. wind noise which on the dB scale has been likened to a  club on a Saturday night and capable of as much damage to your hearing over time. This can be partially solved by wearing ear plugs available from drug stores. Many aftermarket windshields are now available for specific models that all attempt to solve this unpleasant problem.

The keeping of the windblast off your chest and the damping of wind noise in your ears should result in your arrival at your destination relaxed and ready to enjoy the local sites and attractions. 

A note here on ear plugs. I gave up on the foam rubber sort. Despite reading the instructions and a lot of practice they do not fit my ears properly. The wax type fitted my ears but they needed to be warmed up first. They also get dirty with use and are difficult to store on a long tour. I finally started using wet toilet paper (tissue). Quick, easy, always available they form a perfect seal and are easily removed and disposed of.

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More about your motorcycle . . .

Other motorcycle issues . . .

1) Spares for shorter, more local trips.  
A spare headlamp, spare taillight, set of fuses, chain lube and hand cleaner.

2) Spares for longer trips.  
 Spark plug, can of oil, throttle cable, clutch cable, brake cables, carb diaphragm, front and rear wheel bearings, points, electrical wire, 1.5 metre length of rubber fuel pipe for your bike as well as for siphoning petrol from another vehicle. Various bulbs (broken bulbs attract the unwanted attention of traffic police). Spare set of brake pads - probably rear as the extreme weather conditions will result in excessive use of the rear brake which on most modern bikes has only one set compared to the front which has two. A spare clutch lever - being aluminum they can seldom be straightened once bent and a broken clutch lever means the end of your tour.

NB: Wiring diagram for your motorbike and a small electrical meter (even if you don't know how to use it).

Distilled water for your battery (200ml). On a hot summer tour my battery dries up after 2000km. It is very inaccessible making checking it at the local petrol station impossible. I do this at my overnight accommodation once a week when I give the bike a through going over. Better however is to purchase a battery they requires zero maintenance.

Go onto the Internet and find out what the weakness of your particular motorcycle is and take this spare along with you if possible e.g. some Hondas are well known for rectifier problems, BMW 650's have voltage regulator failures etc etc

Spare motorcycle chain. Note. The weight of this item is so great that I must be honest and say I have never taken one. I always fit a new chain every 10 000km regardless of the condition and take a spare master link.

3) Petrol / gas / fuel.
Fitting a long range fuel tank to your motorcycle is a must for trips north of South Africa i.e. 25 litres or bigger. Experienced round the world travellers recommend a tank range of 400km for the most remote areas!  Remember to allow for a higher than normal consumption when riding into a strong head wind of through thick, soft sand. Also enough fuel should you take a wrong turn or two

There is a rule when travelling north of South Africa when it comes to petrol - 'When you see it, buy it!' (even if you don't really need it) The next town on the map may not be a town at all - just a few houses and may not have have a petrol station. Try to keep your tank above half at all times. I like this suggestion because it always means that the fuel in my tank is not from one source only. Carry a 5 liter jerry can of fuel and keep it full at all times (half empty is more dangerous as it allows explosive vaporize gas and fill the empty space) This is not an item you will want to keep near the hot exhaust pipe

Dromedary bags shown above are a practical alternative to jerry cans. They are strong and come in 2, 4, 6 and 10 liter sizes.

Note also that unleaded fuel can be very difficult to get in some countries e.g. Zimbabwe

Always fill up before sundown if you are forced to travel after dark. Some areas, even in Europe, do not sell fuel after hours - Sunday night in particular.

In isolated areas in Africa do not buy fuel from suspect sources (i.e. cans under a baobab tree, black market etc) -- it could cost you a piston. If you do have to cover a particularly long stretch and will have to get petrol from a suspect source, introduce it into your tank gradually by mixing it with the reliable stuff already in your tank. In practice, this means do not wait until you are on reserve and then fill up with 25 litres of bush fuel that may have a very high alcohol or paraffin content. 

Ensure that your motorcycle fuel cap seals properly and does not allow heavy rain to infiltrate the fuel tank and contaminate your fuel.

The fuel that is drawn in when you change your petcock (fuel tap) setting from "Normal" to "Reserve" comes from a different part of the tank, usually the very bottom. This is the exact place that foreign matter and water collects. This could mean that the very first time you need your reserve fuel your motorcycle just stops dead - choked by all the crap that has been drawn into the system.

Solution - Ride on the reserve setting (with a full tank of fuel) on occasion. The ratio of muck to good fuel will be so small as not to be a problem. This will also mean that the day you need your reserve - it will work!!

4) Your saddle
Standard motorbike saddles are not suited to long distance touring - the exception being the Honda Gold Wing! Various aftermarket saddles are available e.g (Find links page on the Navigation page)

The web site HorizonsUnlimited.Com  has some suggestions on their bulletin board about using a hole saw to cut 2cm wide holes in the underside of the hard foam thereby achieving a decline in the density of the saddle overall. Interesting, never tried it but it should work

Motorbike saddle seat

The Airhawk Saddle Cushion available from Aerostich (Find links page on the Navigation page) We have a thick sheep skin cover that works well.


Infections. Take a general purpose antibiotic in powder or tablet form. Keep it cool. Your friendly pharmacist will oblige without prescription when you tell him your plans to leave the beaten track. If you take it in powder form you will need to add distilled or boiled water when needed. An antibacterial disinfectant soap should also be used to keep infections at bay.

Diarrhoea is always a problem when changing environments. A large supply of an anti diarrhea drug - at least four doses per person in your party. Also take natural charcoal tablets. They are great as they absorb toxins in your system but are not drugs as they do not enter the bloodstream. 

Malaria. These days anti-malaria preventative medication is vitally important when touring certain parts of Africa (contact your travel clinic for details)  Unfortunately side effects like headaches, nausea and tiredness are common and can spoil part of your holiday. Taking these tablets on a full stomach however does help contain these negative effects. Discuss the matter in full with your doctor and mention any health problems you may have so that he can prescribe the correct preventative medication. Also note that some homeopathic preventative remedies are available which are not so harsh on the system.

Do not be passive in your anti-malaria routine and thus also take anti-mosquito coils, candles and lotion. Anti insect candles seems to work very well in keeping mosquitoes at bay but in my experience do little against the household fly despite claims to the contrary. Some natural soaps also have citronella oil in them to repel mosquitoes and other insects. In high risk areas a mosquito net with impregnated repellant is an important piece of equipment. It is also a good idea to take your own anti malaria drugs because while a foreign medic may easily diagnose the condition, he/she may not have the most modern drugs on hand to treat the condition. Note that for extended touring malaria testing kits are available. Malaria MUST be treated early - remember, nobody ever died of the medication.


More about Medication . . .

Bee stings.

Included in the first aid kit should be an anti-histamine lotion and/or tablets. The African bee is not a fellow to be taken lightly and a few stings around the vulnerable neck area can be very serious.

Treatment is simple i.e. stop, take the tablets, scrape off the stings with a blade, apply the cream, drink lots of water, and try not to ride for at least an hour to allow your heart to get over the trauma of the poison.

Inoculations. When travelling in rural Africa have vaccinations against cholera and tetanus. When travelling further north, add yellow fever to the list.  Meningitis and typhoid depending on your destination.. Consult your local travel clinic for up to date information. You can visit the web site (Find links page on the Navigation page)

First Aid Kits. The travel clinic has a very nice general purpose first aid kit (with a general purpose antibiotic) for R300-00 ($40). They also have a sterile equipment kit (needles, syringes, drip etc) for R200-00 ($27) This type of equipment can be scarce in remote parts of Africa and having your own is a good idea!! Both are small, light and come in a nifty, waterproof plastic boxes. You can arrange to have these kits waiting for you at one of the international airports if you fly into South Africa.

See the links page for a first aid kit that you can make up yourself. (Find links page on the Navigation page)

The number for the BA Travel Clinic in Johannesburg is Country (027). City (011). Number 807-3132 or 880-5349

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   Storage on a Motorbike

For any long distance motorcycle tour you will need six types of storage i.e. Secure, Convenient, Cool, Protective, Bulk and Available. (Also see Luggage link for product details)

Pack individual items into fabric bags. Each coloured or numbered bag holds a particular category of item e.g. cooking, toiletries, spares etc. This approach results in no loose items that will get damaged by chaffing during the trip. Then each bag is allocated to the relevant area i.e. secure, convenient, cool, protective, bulk or available.

Items that will be ruined by water should be stored in a thick, zip-lock plastic bags.

1) Secure Storage.
This is a major issue when touring on a motorcycle, particularly in Africa. You need at least one hard lock up pannier. Also a moon bag and a money belt are important. Money, travellers cheques and credit cards should be broken into groups and hidden in more than one place.

A cable lock (approx. 2 meter in length) is also useful for items like your helmet and jacket. By threading the cable through the arms and helmet visor you can lock them to your bike and take a walk or do some shopping. Note that in Africa it is customary to appoint a 'car guard' (an eager local volunteer) to look after your stuff while you shopping etc. I determine the value of the tip to be the cost of a loaf of bread in that particular country for services rendered under one hour.

Experienced bike tourers suggest a dummy wallet while the bulk of your valuables are somewhere else. The dummy wallet has expired credit cards and a few bank notes.

At African border posts your passport need not be readily available! - rather secure than convenient. Keep your bike documents and licence in the same place. If you are stopped on the road, take your helmet off and strike up a friendly chat with the officers while you get out your documents. Even if communication is scantly, this goes a long way to smoothing your travels through remote Africa

2) Convenient Storage.
Money for that day, maps, compass, GPS, camera, liquids and rain gear must be readily available in a waterproof bag or container like a tank bag. Ensure that any magnets in the tank bag will not damage the stuff you in it e.g. keep your credit card well away!

3) Cool Storage.
You should also have a special 'cool' section for items like medication, batteries, camera film and or spare camera memory cards.

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More about Storage . . .

4) Protective Storage. 
Motorcycles vibrate even on excellent roads - now add a poor surface like gravel, add dust, add rain and viola! You have a killer environment for your camera, video camera etc Too much dust and/or vibration and you may just find your equipment jamming/failing in the middle of a once in a lifetime tour. Special protective equipment bags are available that offer moisture, vibration and dust protection. "Kameraz" in Rosebank, Johannesburg have an excellent range. (011)  880-2885

If your tour requires a laptop computer, the "Pelican 1490" laptop computer case is waterproof, dust proof and dent proof.

5) Bulk Storage.
Your solution here will probably be a soft bag with items like clothing, mattress, bike spares and a mosquito proof tent. Whatever you choose, find something that is waterproof. Useful are those models that come with various compression techniques e.g. straps, air valves etc. Note that a soft bag must be attached to a hard, anchored rack of some sort on the back of the bike else it will move around no matter how well you secure it. The bag will also sag on the sides and obscure your flicker (indicator) lights without the support of a rack. Do not use elastic cords to secure your bag but nylon tie-downs or ropes.

(See the page dealing with panniers/luggage for more)

6) Available
You must have a convenient storage place which is available and empty and can immediately absorb a road-side purchase. Personally I find a tank bag the best solution here.

Final Word on Storage
We found that making our own soft luggage system not only saved us a bundle but offered very  real advantages that no other system could offer. Follow this link for more.

Motorcycle luggage

These compression bags available from Aerostich or good hiking stores can reduce the size of sleeping bags and clothing by 50% (back row, uncompressed -  front compressed)

   Equipment List

1) Cell (mobile) phone. Store this where it cannot be easily broken should you come off the motorbike. Do not forget international double adapters so that you can recharge your cell phone along your route. Remember to activate international calls with your service provider before you leave. 

2) Separate telephone number list (not in your cell phone) with the following numbers
     - Towing Association or AA
     - Your dealer or mechanic
     - Your medical aid
     - Your bank and bank manager
     - Your doctor
     - The consulates/embassies along your route
     - Tel numbers of contacts in remote countries
     - International emergency evacuation company
     - Your motorcycle insurance company
     - Ambulance services
     - Emergencies from a cell phone
     - Emergency Police number
     - Two or three reliable, contactable friends at home.

3) ID and / or Passport. Also a 2 or 3 photocopies stored in another  bag.

4) Credit card. See your banker about using it in foreign countries

5) Local and/or international motorcycle drivers licence for both bike and cars. Make a few good colour photocopies of the original and show these to traffic officers. 

6) AA or towing club, emergency services membership card. (Note: The AA membership card does not have their telephone number on it so you should write it on yourself with a permanent pen.)

7) Three light weight, easy to store tie-downs for your bike (without steel hooks or ratchets etc. Also choose differing lengths.) Should you break down and a farmer dude with a bakkie (small truck) offers you and your motorcycle a lift, you can then safely tie down your bike. They also double up in a host of other applications e.g. washing line.

8) Short tours. A can of instant tyre repair foam or slime (not for tubed tyres). Keep this in cool storage as they are inclined to explode when subjected to extreme heat!

For longer tours, a high pressure bicycle pump, tyre levers, tyre repair kit (ensure that the glue is fresh) and a spare front tube (can be used in an emergency for both front and rear wheels. Also for large side wall punctures on tubeless tyres or when a seal is not possible between rim and tyre due to the wheel being buckled). According to the AA in the UK the most common motorcycle breakdown is for a damaged tyre. 

9) Multi vitamins can help boost your immune system which tends to flag on long and tiring tours.

10) An umbrella. If violent thunder storms are likely and distances between towns are great, an umbrella at the side of the road is a better solution than riding. (this is a Ted Simon suggestion and he should know best!)

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Equipment List (cont)

11) Your medical aid membership card

12) Emergency cash hidden somewhere on the bike e.g. behind your number plate. Avoid a single note as smaller denominations offer greater flexibility.

13) Camera batteries, film and / or digital camera memory - more difficult to find than you think. Take them with you or stock up when visiting a city. Remember to keep them dry and cool.

14) Lighting a fire. Matches get wet and gas cigarette lighters are a problem if part of your journey is by air. A flint obtained from good camping stores solves both these problems

15) Also torch, extra batteries, extra torch bulbs, Cyalume Lightsticks, sunglasses, prescription glasses, sun screen, lip balm, address book, money belt, pen and paper, alarm clock, sandals, camera, film (lots), a multi-tool (e.g. Leatherman), compact binoculars, gas cigarette lighter, a candle, roll of toilet paper, waterproof and shockproof watch, small radio, aftershave cologne and water purification tablets.

Two very useful items are a diagonal wire cutter and a small hammer or axe / hammer combination.

A few Cyalume lightsticks are useful in emergencies. The size of a large pen they give off light for 8 hours without heat or flame.

16) Dental floss (waxed). Beside its obvious use, this thread is very strong and thin. It can be used for sewing, cutting, sealing and tying in some amazing situations.

17) A small self defense "pepper" spray (mace) in the shape of a regular aerosol can, if you think that the area demands it. It should be able to fit into your jacket unobtrusively. You may want to remove the original paper label and substitute one from another can e.g. chain cleaner, insect repellent etc if your trip takes you across borders. Note that experienced international travellers all agree - aggressive self defense is a last resort. Courteous, unthreatening behaviour combined with a smile is almost always a winner. Be streetwise and take maximum common sense precautions. This is critical for incident free touring. 

18) You need something that can serve as a picnic blanket. A space blanket (looks like aluminum foil) serves this need very well. They come in a thin single layer style for First Aid boxes and a heavy duty version that has a groundsheet-type backing. While still light-weight and taking little space it can also double as a bike cover at night or in wet weather. Both types can be bought at your local hiking store. Caution. They should only be lain on in a shady area and not in the direct sun.

The Torch and Battery Problem

It is very common for torches to turn on during a long day of bumping around in a pannier. Either tape the switch in the off position or remove the batteries during the day.

Battery-less torches are becoming increasing viable and reliable.


Touring South Africa by motorcycle

Clocolan, well known for its sandstone rock faces, Orange Free State, South Africa.


   Official matters

1) Documents

Expiry Problem

Ensure that nothing official expires during your tour i.e. not your driving license, bike license discs, dated number plates, memberships, visas, passports etc.

Remember all your drivers licences (car and bike), passport and necessary visas. Take you ID book as well but keep it in a separate place to your passport. This is useful to have should you have to go to the South African consulate in the event of your passport going missing.  

You may also need the following. Original bike registration documents (try the copy first. If this is not acceptable, take out the original), A document called the 'Carnet de Passages en Douane' from the AA to speedily move your motorbike through customs. Your international drivers licences from the AA, International air-evacuation and medical insurance that covers biking accidents in foreign countries, insurance papers and towing service membership card.

You must have spare, coloured photocopied copies of every official document. They must be prepared in such a way as to look original. Cards should be copied, cut to size and laminated. When asked for a license etc hand out the copied ones keeping the originals in reserve. If the official refuses to return it (unless you pay him a bride) you are in a better situation.

Motorcycles that are on HP / Lease must have an Official Letter from the Bank or Finance House allowing them to leave the country. If it is fully paid for and in your own name then this does not apply.

If the motorcycle is registered in a company or different person’s name, an official letter from the actual owner / responsible person from the company authorizing by name the rider / driver to use it for that specific event.

If you are intending to rent a motorcycle bigger than 150cc outside the borders of South Africa ensure that you are still covered by your medical aid e.g. Discovery Health will not cover you!

Some third world countries offer a road insurance as you enter their borders. Although not compulsory it seems that it is asked for and even expected at road blocks. Once inside a country ensure that you do not need special documents that will allow you to travel past/near 'restricted' areas. 

Beware of poor third world countries that require you to pay a Carnet 'deposit' in US dollars as you enter their country.  They only refund it in their worthless currency as you exit on the other side without the mechanisms to convert it back into dollars. The Bradt Travel Guides can offer useful information here. (Find links page on the Navigation page)

2) Currency
Credit cards and travellers cheques. Remember to keep a copy of the cheque numbers separate from the cheques themselves. You will need these numbers if the cheques are stolen.

Always leave with at least 40% of your money in hard currency. The more rural the country, the greater this percentage should be. Allow yourself between $30 and $50 a day. Do not keep it all in one place i.e. some should be on your person, some should hidden within in your luggage and some should be hidden on your bike. 

3) Dealing with officials
Officials in Africa do not respond well to impatience. Waiting, walking and standing in line for hours is something that African people do and do it very well!! Being grumpy and looking for first world efficiency and productively will get you nowhere. In all situations take your time to exchange pleasantries. If you are on your motorcycle take your helmet right off and greet the traffic officers or soldiers at a road block. Take nothing personally and keep smiling! Remember that you are the guest and so behave like one.

When travelling north of South Africa take a supply of cigarettes, razor blades, condoms (3 packs), headache tablets (4 tablets per sealed pack) and a few decks of playing cards. They are small, inexpensive and make excellent barter items when things are not going so well and you need to tip things in your favour. Also some hard sweets (candy) for children you may encounter along the way. Avoid ones that get sticky in hot weather.

4) Foreign Phrase Books
Many long distance travellers report the importance of a working knowledge of one of the more local languages. French for North Africa. Portuguese for Angola and Mozambique. Spanish and Portuguese  for South America. French or German for Europe, Arabic for North Africa and the Middle East etc etc. A suitable phase book that facilitates essential basic communication not only gets results but fosters a more sympathetic attitude to your needs from the local population.

The size of a 350ml cool drink can the MSR MiniWorks Ceramic Water Filter shown here screws directly onto most threaded water bottles and bags. The handle works the pump that draws the water up from the river before it filters down into the water bottle below.

"Happiness in Africa is a dry fart." Back of a student tour bus.



Food and drink

1) Food in rural areas

The more rural the area you are travelling through the more difficult it will be to remain in your western comfort zone when it comes to eating. In the USA or Europe you can always look for the familiar 'golden arches' and know what to expect. Not so in rural Africa. Even the larger towns may not even have a western restaurant, fast food outlet or coffee shop.

If you intend to stay in a B + B, guest house or farm try to book into one that offers dinner as an optional extra. These establishments usually have special order arrangements with local retailers and are thus able to offer western type catering.

For lunch or camping dinners you will have to shop at the local open air markets or supermarkets that cater to a more rural clientele. Wash fruit and vegetables well in a mild solution of Potassium Permanganate to prevent diarrhea. (from your local chemist). Always remove the peels.  Locally baked bread is quite safe and more filling than city bread. For the rest you are just going to have to be flexible, adventurous and creative!!

Raisons are an extremely valuable source of energy for those long tiring stretches. They are also said to increase one's reaction time.

One should always travel with at least three emergency light weight meals that you can prepare yourself even if you intend to eat out. Some towns keep strange hours - again especially true of Sunday night where even the a la Carte restaurants in hotels can be closed.

The Braai (barbeque)

We always end up with at least one barbeque per tour even when we intend to eat out. This is not surprising as nothing beats a braai with the sights and sounds of Africa on a clear summers night. Even in rural towns there is always a decent butcher and therefore a braai is an easy shopping choice. (not true North of Southern Africa)  For this reason take a compact pair of barbeque tongs to turn the meat. Also a heavy duty pot scourer (steel wool) to clean the braai grid and pots that you may use in self catering accommodation. The scourer is small, light and will see a host of other uses.

2) Drink and hydration
Biking in Africa is a hot business and you loose a lot more fluids than you think. Keep all skin protected from the hot moving air. Should you become dehydrated you will fall off! Find a water bottle system that works for you that facilitates hassle-free drinking throughout the day. In very high temperatures add a pinch of salt to your water bottle. 

Drink only bottled water and ensure that you open the bottle yourself - don't even let a waiter or shop attendant 'pretend' to open it for you. Avoid local brands in backwater cities as they have the reputation of being local city water in a fancy bottle. The best brand of bottled water is the water that is served by the most expensive hotel in the town / city. When in doubt choose the sparkling water over the still.

Avoid ice blocks as they are make of local tap water. Bacteria survive the freezing process remarkably well!

Ice-cold Iso Tonic Game (a local SA powdered drink for sportsman with added mineral salts) is the best drink by far in extremely hot conditions. It is also good for masking the chemical aftertaste left by water purification tablets.

Water purification
A water purification system is essential if you intend to stray from the main arterial routes north of South Africa. Diseases like typhoid, cholera, dysentery and hepatitis A can destroy your tour as easily as an accident or mechanical failure. The options are chemical treatments, filters or ultraviolet light.

Chemical treatments e.g. iodine or chlorine based are cheap, small and easy to use for large quantities. They tend to leave an aftertaste and do not remove sediments, organic mater or heavy metals. Note that while viruses and bacteria may die in minutes parasites may take up to 2 hours to be effected.

Filters with membrane pores of less than 0.3 microns can remove bacteria, protozoan cysts, viruses, chemicals and heavy metals. They also make the water look better and in some cases, taste better. Over time however they tend to clog up especially when filtering really dirty water e.g. the MSR Miniworks or Katadyn water filter are just two brands available.

Ultraviolet light is a new on the market. and can sterilize a liter of water in 90 seconds. The hardware is small, light and easy to use. On the negative side you need electricity, the hardware is expensive and fragile compared to other options. It also does not remove sediments organic matter or heavy metals.

This can be recognized by the following symptoms which usually occur in the following order.

• Headache
• Cramps usually in the legs and lower abdomen
• Nausea
• Dizziness

In extreme cases heat exhaustion and heat stroke can follow and a day or so in hospital can be on the cards.

If you get any of these symptoms you must stop, find a cool spot and drink! While most liquids will do the trick, avoid alcohol or any drink that has a lot of caffeine or sugar in it  e.g. iced tea as they will only make the problem worse. A quarter teaspoon of salt in a glass of water (or rehydration sachets) will help the cramps and wetting the head, neck and shirt will cool the body's core temperature down.

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Even some well known rural tourist areas are notoriously badly signposted. Therefore the purchase of a detailed up-to-date road map for the area is essential. Experience shows however that basing your entire itinerary on one map alone is risky. On a recent trip of mine the AA map of a difficult and long mountain pass was 63km short! This type of error could have had me trying to navigate the last section in the dark - something you don't want to do on a motorcycle! There are stories of maps showing roads that do not even exist! There are even stories of maps showing a water source in the middle of the Sahara desert that do not exist! You will also find that some maps feature attractions and details that are omitted on other maps. 

A tank bag is a wonderful thing as its clear window allows you have the map in front of you all the time. Their are however other products that allow you to slip the map into a holder that attaches to your arm or leg. (microlight and paraglider pilots use them)

It makes good sense to take two photocopies of your main map. Put one in the clear window of your tank bag and the other in your log book. Keep the original in a safe place where you can refer to it when the lack of colour on the photocopy is confusing.

I also find a compass very useful. When faced with an unmarked intersection I merely take the one that travels in the right direction according to the compass. Remote areas have so few main roads that I find this approach works every time. The only problem is that a compass is usually affected by the magnet in the tachometer (rev counter) and is therefore difficult to attach to the bikes handlebars. Note that an electronic compass is an optional extra on most GPS units.

This rugged alloy bracket holds your GPS securely in place on your handlebars. Try to get one that will minimise vibration being transferred to your GPS

As areas become even more remote (e.g. desert travel) a GPS running off the external 12v power socket on your motorcycle becomes an essential item. It is recommended however that you use your compass and printed maps in conjunction with your GPS. Many Trans-Africa adventures start to become really interesting when the GPS gets lost or stops working. Invest in a GPS bracket that fits to your handle bar that isolates it from the vibration of your bike. Like all electronic equipment excessive vibration over a long period may cause it to fail. The web site has a lot of useful information, gadgets, gizmos and map holders for you to consider. (Find links page on the Navigation page). Having the hardware means nothing if you do not know how to use it properly. The incorrect and poor use of a GPS has already created its own tome of urban legends. Therefore a navigation course is a must if you intend to travel through the wilderness or desert.

Accurate digital maps of Africa can be obtained from Tracks 4 Africa.

A word of caution when taking your trail bike down some deserted beach that extends for miles and miles - note your point of entry on your GPS or compass. From the water side, dunes and paths look all the same and when returning hours later you may find it almost impossible to retrace your route. For the same reason extra fresh water is advisable.

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Spectacles / Glasses

If you wear prescription distance glasses then navigation is a lot more difficult i.e. yes, you can see the pothole 25m in front of your tyre but you will not be able to read the map in your tank bag or the information on the screen of your GPS. There is no easy answer to this. Bi-focal glasses offer some help but they are expensive and bring their own problems e.g. some people find them disorientating. Vari-focals are a modern solution but are more expensive still. They also make your peripheral vision blurred with only the sweet spot being in sharp focus. Personally I found Vari-focals an overpriced luxury.

The murder of Alan Drodskie in Ethiopia - 2002

The incidents that led to this tragedy should be examined carefully so that others can become more streetwise when travelling in Africa. Pre-meditated, cold-blooded murder of foreign tourists is something that happens very seldom in Africa - there are usually extenuating circumstances surrounding all incidents. Below is a list of five things that went wrong in this particular case.

1) Just because a border post is listed on a map does not mean that it exists or is currently in use. Up to date information from other travellers currently on the road is vital and should be actively ferreted out.
2) When your trip is delayed by unforeseen circumstances,  it is better to make a timely trip to a consulate with supporting paper work in order to have your visa extended. If the visa extension will take the whole day or more, wait for it. Jim Rogers in his round the world motorcycle book "Investment Biker" is a shining example of this - his paperwork was always impeccable and he never minded how long it took him to get it correct before he proceeded further.
3) Making a last minute dash for a border post hundreds of kilometres away is not something you can do in Africa. Roads, weather, mechanical failures, fuel and unforeseen circumstances have to have to be built into even the shortest of journeys.
4) Never travel at night. Never travel at night.
5) If you stumble upon an incident, or something out of the ordinary - back off! You do not understand the politics, culture, history, language or circumstances of what is happening in front of you. Rather cautiously approach by foot and enquire whether you can proceed from someone who appears to be in charge (or wait in your vehicle until approached). It is only in novels that Westerners stumble upon a ceremony and rescue noble princesses from local, barbaric rituals whom they later marry at the country club back in London! This advice applies to roadblocks, demonstrations, processions, crowds and vehicles that prevent you from using the road in the normal way.
6) Your sudden approach on a motorised vehicle may be interpreted as the arrival of government officials or rebel forces. Either way it could be 'shoot first, ask questions later'.

Extract from a recent email I received . . .

"I want to add just one thing, and this is what I have learned the very hard way: North of South Africa, you NEVER travel after dark. It is extremely dangerous, not due to bandits but due to vehicles travelling without lights, pedestrians crossing the road at any given time and animals. I have spent a few very nasty days in a Zambian jail after hitting a drunk pedestrian at night."

Cecil Barnard MTN Nigeria

Satellite Phones

Check the links page for the web site of company's that deal in satellite phones. (Find links page on the Navigation page)  

Putting your Motorbike as cargo onto a train

Using the train to cover great distances to get to the interesting stuff works for Carole and I. Follow this link to find out how its done with particular reference to the Johannesburg Cape Town line in South Africa i.e. Shosholoza Meyl

Accommodation and camping

Long days in the saddle call for comfortable sleeping arrangements at night. If you intend to camp take a blow-up mattress with you e.g. the Therm-A-Rest mat which is not only light but self inflating as well! An alternative to this is a hammock which when it is not keeping you off the wet ground has a host of other useful applications as well. Both a hammock or a mattress have the added advantage of being 50% warmer than sleeping on the ground with only a groundsheet.

Less hard-core bikers prefer to make use of local accommodation (seldom in short supply) which if you are careful need not be expensive and is a lot more convenient than putting up a tent after a long tiring day.

The AA travel page is a very fine source of accommodation in Southern Africa ranging from luxury to budget. It strength is that it covers the small towns as well as the big cities. (Find links page on the Navigation page)

Another excellent source is the backpackers guide to budget accommodation in Southern Africa. The book is called "Coast to Coast" and can be obtained from many backpackers hostels. Otherwise get your copy from PO Box 564, Simon's Town 7995. +27 (0)21 786-1742. (See the links page)  

Special camping list

The following list of special items is important if you intend to camp

1) Anti mosquito lotion, candles and net
2) Dishwash liquid or better still, a bar of pure unscented soap that can be used to wash clothes as well
3) Dish drying cloth
4) Bath plugs for baths and toilet basins (they are not the same size)
5) A full roll of toilet paper (NB)
6) Dozen clothes line pegs
7) Something to light and start a fire with
8) Barbeque tongs to turn meat
9) Salt
10) Some rope (min 10m)
11) Small shaving mirror
12) Torch (batteries separate)
13) Pot scourer to clean dirty pots and barbeque grids
14) Hammer / axe combination

Beware, all beach paths look the same from the ocean side! Here GPS co-ords are very useful.

Log book or Journal

Your log book is an important item for your tour. You will need to decide whether to make it purely factual, technical and statistical or whether to add the additional element of a travel journal or diary.

At its most basic your log book should record date, day, weather, town, distance travelled since last petrol stop, total distance travelled, litres of fuel purchased and all costs incurred on the road e.g. petrol, oil, tolls etc. Every other page should be blank for a memo section. It is here that you can record names, addresses, telephone numbers, to do lists and other notes.

Your log book should also have a copy of your itinerary, a photo copy of your route map, useful telephone numbers (see 'Equipment List' on this page), next of kin contact details and a pocket with some of your business cards.

A log book keeps you aware of the day of the week. Some towns close up completely on Sundays which can be a problem if you are camping and need to buy provisions. By contrast some tourist facilities close for business on a Monday after the hectic activity of the weekend. It is also very useful if you are detained by some suspicions official as your route is clearly and authentically recorded.


Motorcycle log book

For the motorcyclist who has absolutely everything. Waterproof paper!  These "Rite in the Rain" Notepads from Aerostich will ensure that your tour journal entries remain unharmed through flood, storm and snow.  

Desert Touring

Desert touring brings its own special challenges and is a big topic on its own. My suggestion is that you contact someone with experience in this area if you are contemplating a desert trip. A suggestion would be Mr Willie Venter. Here is his email address.

Round the World Touring

Before attempting touring on this scale you need to read all 52 editions of HorizonsUnlimited.Com on the net. This e-zine contains the stories of those who have done it, or are in the process of doing it. It has tips for country specific borders crossing and shipping agents. Also an up to date list of countries or areas to avoid. Even if you never get past your state line, this website is great and deserves a visit (Find links page on the Navigation page)

The Iron Butt Association is a motorcycle club for hard-core long distance touring (e.g. 16000km in 11 days!). Their website is also a valuable  source of information. (Find links page on the Navigation page)  


Books by Dr Gregory W Frazier, Chris Scott, Dave Barr, Ted Simon, Ron Ayres and James (Jim) Rogers not only make a great read but are a mine of useful information as you plan your epic journey from the comfort of your armchair!

Off road motorbike touring of Africa

One of the many guides and books available to ensure the best touring experience possible. This range has many titles and is published by Bracht (Find links page on the Navigation page)

Another good book is "Cape to Cairo" by Mike Copeland

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