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Tunisia tour provided by: Lionel Miniconi


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Organized off-road trip in Tunisia.

After 110.000 km and 10 years of travels in Europe with my XRV 750 (RD04), I always kept in mind to go back to sandy deserts I discovered some years ago with my XL 600 R.

How good would be the Africa Twin in sand and on tracks? It’s a very stable bike in the sand with great traction, but the weight? I tested it on wide beaches and found it OK, but it wasn’t the real thing!

I re-elected Tunisia for the variety of landscapes; dunes, dry lakes, mountains, on track and off track . And the access is simple.

So I began carefully to prepare the bike starting 1 year earlier, by even disassembling the engine to restart with a renewed bike (I had a little oil consumption). I made the air filter box sandtight, put straps behind the seat (to hold the bike when fallen off), transparent plastic film to the sides (to avoid scratches in the sand), mounted a road book and GPS holder, two Michelin Desert and that was it!

I selected an organizer (medical, mechanical food petrol and luggage assistance) for the trip by it’s seriousness and by the travel proposed and it was «SUD EXPE» in Istres (Marseille). They proposed a good program, going to the far south, close to the Algerian/ Lybian border. (reasonable price around 6000F hotels and boat included).

So, there I was with my AT. in Marseille’s harbor on 27th October 2000, meeting all the other participants (30 cars) and 19 bikes: French, Swiss and Belgian guys. Which bikes? XR 400, DR 350, WR 400, KTM 620 and HVA 610, all half weight compared to my XRV 750!

After 24H crossing the Mediterranean sea while discussing a lot about off road and bike capacities, especially mine in the sand, we arrived in Tunis. I went through Customs and Police controls quickly and the trip began.

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Day 1: Tunis- Kairouan:

Starting from Tunis at 1 PM we reached first track 40 km after. It was a good start in the mountains, rocky tracks, good view on valleys, just like south of France, but sometimes you get lost on dead ends to some small farms or villages, but the worse was yet to come! Mud! sticky deep mud that even impeeds you to walk away from your stucked bike! It was a big field at the bottom of a valley, I went off lines and I realized too late the trap when the bike slowed down despite hard accelerating on 3rd, than 2nd, than 1st and I’m deeply stuck. After attempting to pull the bike with some kids’ help, finally only the organization's 4X4 pulled me off the trap, while two bikes (KTM, HVA) behind me had the same problem.

Finally we reached the first hotel in Kairouan at night.

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Day 2: Kairouan- Douz

Quick liaison 300 km to the south heading to Tozeur, Nefta and Chott el Jerid (wide dry lake) I had the advantage; starting last in the morning, arriving first at the end of road! Then the off-road trip began, no more asphalt!

Chott El Jerid is a place you see «mirages» that makes you believe there’s water at the horizon, of course there isn’t. It’s fast tracks that crosses this desert, with flat fields to the horizon, you draw great donut lines in those fields with your rear wheel!

Than, you hit the sand at the end of the day, going to Douz with the first dunes.

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Day 3: The hard day: Douz-Ksar Ghilane,

We started with a 36km long sandy track, lots of white dust and long lines of deep sand where the only way is to keep accelerated while the bike shakes gently but makes it’s own trace. Than we arrived to the lost and lonely Café Porte du Désert (for those of who know the place) and continued straight to the south through the growing sand dunes.

That will be the day I will know if I can go everywhere with my Africa Twin: I can’t.

I managed to go 10 km in the dunes to the south. At the beginning they were 1 meter high, still ok, big jumps, the fork dives to the max with a big «bang». But when the dunes were 2 meters high, no good! You can’t go straight line any longer so you have to turn around each dune to reach the other, up and down in a softer sand so the problem is: keeping enough speed (more speed than a lighter bike) and turn quick to keep the best line: too much for me. After 5 km of those conditions I gave up when I was stuck in the sand every 10 meters (you can’t get no speed because the obstacles are too close to each other) I was exhausted in the heat so I decided to go back to the start. But what you do one way is even harder the other way because you are more tired! That made 20 km in the dunes; enough for a day! Finally I took a wide 100 km long track to reach Ksar Ghilane the oasis in the desert with a natural pool with warm spring water.

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Day 4: Ksar Ghilane-Bir Ezzobas: A great day with small dunes and long and wide plateaus where we drove off the track on long fields between camel grass: 120 km/h (XRV was the fastest among us in those conditions). Than we finished by the track going along the pipe line, and reached the bivouac in the dunes.

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Day 5: Bir Ezzobas- Tiaret, 200km to the south by the wide track. To heal a bit blisters in my hands, with a mate on a KTM who needed some rest, we traveled together and avoided the dunes on this day. We reached the petrol pumping station of Tiaret and made the bivouac with the others close to a huge sand dune. We didn’t know that the day after we would have to go down some of those huge dunes…

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Day 6: Tiaret- Chouech: The biggest day:

After 30km of the same track to the south we headed to the west (off track) close to the Algerian border which means to the heart of the Grand Erg Oriental for a total off track distance of 120km across sandy plateaus and dune bars. We were all together for more security and followed the organizer on his bike (LC4). Other surprises: small dunes (half meter high) but sometimes very soft sand like powder (fech-fech) that traps your wheels and makes you loose speed or stops you instantly, very scary when front wheel digs in suddenly. But the weightof the bike doesn’t help! After third jump in a row, my arms couldn’t hold the handlebars anymore and I had to stop before the next jump, and what happens then: stuck! The only solution; lean the bike on the side, pull it and point it the opposite way, than pull it back upright (by 35°Celsius) easy with a light single; nightmare with the AT. Hopefully I had some help from the others but doing it alone, I found just one solution; to put a adjustable strap around my waist, an another to the handlebar close to the ground and pull the bike upright with my legs.

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After all those efforts we reached the top of the sand bar and… faced a huge way down the dune 150 meters down! I had the organizer beside me and asked him «Does someone exists who went this way?» He said «yes, you go straight down, aiming the bottom, and accelerate» The only thing that makes you go is considering that you’re not leaving your bike and yourself here, but at this time your brain says: don’t go! You must disconnect your brain and you go. I kept accelerating in 1st gear and maintained 6500 revs while seating maximum rear and aiming the bottom. The impression is great, you slide on the sand while you hear your engine protector skating underneath and scratching the sand. You feel that you’ll hit the bottom with your face, it approaches so fast, but magically, the front wheel goes up and you drive horizontally again! So hard, it was the first time I had a general applause driving a bike. Too scary with such a heavy bike. The organizer was right to show me a passage where nobody went before, because on another dune I even get stuck driving down the dune! Imagine your bike facing the ground at 45° (sand falls down by gravity at 45° that makes 100% way down), you accelerate and you receive handfuls of sand on your back and the machine doesn’t move. So the whole day was great for views, landscapes, sand to the horizon but so hard physically. I couldn’t move the bike any more at the end so the guys made me stop a while for drinking and breath taking again. I was 5 km to the end showed by the GPS and after that last stop I made it straight to the end without stopping. In fact, one difficulty in itself is ok but it is repetition of it which leaves you exhausted. We reached the bivouac, I hardly mounted the tent, and counted my steps to the assistance truck. After dinner I even didn’t find the bike and tent during 3 minutes and thought they were stolen! I really needed some sleep!

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Day 7: Chouech- El Borma-Tataouine:

We started with 80 km of deep sand, but on a track, that makes the difference: if a track exists, no matter what sort of track, the Africa Twin can pass. Where there is no track, big problem. So we reached El Borma (petrol pump) and took the big track 160 km to Remada and then 80 km asphalt to Tataouine; great hotel Sangho.

The AT was great on that track: stability, power, comfort: average speed 100/110 km but careful to avoid stones and vibrations.

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Day 8: Tataouine- Tunis:

530 km to reach Tunis before mid-day; That was a day for me! I made it in 5 hours while the truck made it in 9 and the other bikes in 7. That’s what the AT is made for!

Conclusion?

Great big trip! 2800 km.

The AT is great for on road and off road traveling as long as it is an existing track, even with sand. It’s a great bike if you travel without assistance, with friends, if you have to carry something. But in that kind of meeting, better go with a light bike, cause the difficulty is higher and is permitted by the assistance.

When I came back, I weighted the bike: 247 kg total and 135 kg on the back wheel: that’s the total weight of my XLR 600, only on the rear wheel of the XRV! And that’s the explanation: in the sand you can’t fight against weight! Or be Stefan Peterhansel! and I’m not.

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Advices?

So many that I can write a book! Just contact an organizer and go!

Examples in France:

Amonzevo

Desertours

Sud Expé

I would like to contact other fanA.T.ics who went there to share experiences and start again.

Lionel MINICONI

Atic n° 677

France (Nice)

lionelm@ifrance.com


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