It started on last year’s East African Classic Safari Rally. Charging around in Landcruisers, following the Tuthill Porsche team for two weeks, it soon became apparent that the easiest way to track this event with a camera would be on a motorbike. A 4×4 is effective for carrying the inevitable equipment and personnel that go hand-in-hand with rallying, but you see little of the country and meet very few people, given the miles we are covering. Using a bike to recce the route for a week or two beforehand and then getting back into the stages on it to catch all the right pics would be a great way to go.
Over dinner one night, I was talking to my friend Eric Nesbitt, an experienced traveller and native Kenyan who was guiding Race4Health on their epic programme to bring free opticians and spectacles to many of the villages along the rally route. Eric has a couple of bikes and had done some great tours with friends through the famous Amboseli Wildlife Park: a trip that needs special permission, as you can imagine. Eric shared stories of riding just off the dirt roads we were using to get around Kenya, where his group saw more than 300 elephants in one herd and enjoyed countless other wildlife sightings on their various tours.
That conversation took place at wonderful Lion’s Bluff Lodge in the Taita Hills, probably my favourite night stop of the rally. Sitting on the high veranda with my friend, fellow Irishman and adventure rally specialist, Ian Moore, and the Scottish engineer who had designed and built this magnificent lodge, perched on the side of a bluff in the Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary, we enjoyed a few small ones in the midst of a gigantic thunderstorm over the plains in the pitch dark. Nothing can prepare you for these captivating experiences. I decided there and then that exploring Africa and following the rally on two wheels had to be a thing.
Adventure Biking Bucket List
Once home from Kenya, I headed off to southern Spain for an end-of-year sabbatical and started researching adventure biking. My last bike was a Ducati Monster, so not an adventure machine, but I have done a little bit of off-roading on other bikes and it was a lot of fun. I tried to get a few off-road rides in around the desert interior of Fuerteventura but it never came off. That is still on the bucket list.
Sharing my thoughts with EB Motorsport’s Mark Bates in early 2016 was the worst idea I’d had for a while. I knew Mark was a devoted off-roader, but he also turned out to own a mint BMW 1200 GS Adventure. The seeds of destruction were sown. Once my school run days ended in July of this year, I bought a nice F650CS to get back into riding after five years away. I soon got into flinging that hugely underrated single around the local back roads and started looking at the bigger GS boxer twin models, which are easier to travel long-distance on.
Discussing my thoughts and market findings with Mr Bates, it turned out Mark had owned an 1150 GS Adventure before the 1200, so a combination of his very bad influence, some little used Öhlins GSA suspension (above) sitting in the EB workshop and a nice 2005 R1150GS Adventure appearing on the UKGSer forum, just when I had been let down on what looked like the perfect GS, meant I ended up with a GSA in the garage.
BMW R1150GS Adventure Seat Height
Theoretically, a GSA is the wrong bike for me. I am 5’9″ in thickish socks and not the strongest bloke ever, so a huge 250-kilo trailie with a seat towering 860mm off the ground should be a no-no, as it’s a 33-inch saddle height versus a 31-inch inseam. Had it not been for Mark’s button-pressing, I would have run from the Adventure and stuck with a normal GS to begin with. But this bike came with a very slightly lower Sargent seat and I was determined to keep pushing my comfort zone. It is just too easy to play it safe every day while life trickles away imperceptibly, and I’ll need to push through all my self-preservation instincts to start skidding bikes off-road. Start as you mean to go on!
After two weeks and a few hundred miles with the two-wheeled tower block, I’m glad to report all is well. I fit alright on the big BMW and it is a beautiful thing to ride, with simple non-CAN bus control systems, a great engine and gearbox, lots of added kit, good BMW history and the right tyres to get started. I’ve done quite a bit to it already, and there is more to come, but that is a story for another day. And another blog too, maybe. The GSA may not be the bike I ship to Africa – need to research shipping vs hiring one locally – but it’s great for what I want at the minute.
Good to know so many Porsche guys are GS people too. Shout out to BM fans Mark and James, Aaron, Paul and Rich for their moral support on Facebook 😀