View Full Version : Cape Town to Kaokoland and back, KTM950 & AT. pt.1

31-03-2006, 07:21 PM

The most important thing is to set a date – and then tell everyone.

After that everything falls into place. If you start working the other way around, as in go when you’re ready, well, you’ll never get it off the ground.

Craig and I used to live together as students and have been fast friends since. We used to be river guides at one stage too. When we lived together I used to have XT500’s and later a Honda CB900. I was always on his case about getting a bike as he used to be a courier in London for a while but drove a cage when we lived together. Then we moved apart and I lost the bikes, gained a car and he did the opposite. Now the shoe was on the other foot, he was the one ragging me. We had always spoken of doing a big African Bike Trip and in Jan of this year (2005) he sent an innocuous if a little sarcastic email;

When are we going to set a date for our Great Namibian Off-road Motorcycle Expedition (GNOME ?) and who is invited? Okay, I guess there are certain entrance requirements - like a bike, for example - but since I know you are going to get one in the first half of this year that counts you in for sure.
What about planning something for 2006?

I was immediately very distracted and unproductive at work and mapped out a route to the GreatKuneneRiver in Namibia – this being a section of the world that we had seen as guides but never on our own time.
And I set a date; 16th December 2005

I still didn’t have a bike; the only bike thing that I owned was an old helmet.
It took a lot to get organised. As a student for the 6 years that I rode, I hadn’t ever bothered with useless things like a licence and insurances. The bikes were built up and never registered. Getting a bit wiser and less stupid had changed my risk tolerance for that kind of stuff and if I was to get this trip off the ground I would have to get legal. So a frustrating time was had trying to hurdle the bureaucracy of becoming a legal biker. I suppose one of the pressures to become legal was also from my bank as they would be loathe to finance a bike without the necessary licences and nobody would insure me without one either.

Almost a year passed and after many hours of internet searching, piles of bike magazine reading and lots of kicking tyres in bike shops irritating the sales people and with 3 weeks to go to THE DATE, I popped for a brand new silver KTM 950.

My very understanding wife when I told her thought that I had bought a CD at first, “Weren’t you off to buy a bike? Katie M? I haven’t heard of them are they a local band?”

She at least agreed with me that the shiny Silver Dream Machine was a pretty good looking bike once parked in the garage.

Late in the game I learnt that the trip was actually going to be the least expensive part of the adventure; it was the gear that was going to do the damage to the credit card. I read somewhere that; “if you can’t afford the gear, you can’t afford the bike” Isn’t that the truth?

Things moved very fast from there, loads of planning, paperwork, packing, prepping and before we knew it D-day had arrived.

This is the account.

31-03-2006, 07:37 PM
Day 1
Started off on a sour note, woke up late as the alarm on the new GPS didn’t go off, but worse than that I had been up most of the night with a dose of diahorrea. Kissed and hugged Berns, it really bought home to me that I would miss her more than I cared to admit and wasn’t quite prepared for the tug of emotion that I felt. Off to Craig’s with the bike feeling pretty heavy but comfortable. The weather was not the usual sunny summers day but overcast.


Still in Cape Town on the way to the N7 I stopped to get my visor cleaned at a petrol station and wanted a squirt of Mr Min, the lady in the shop said no, so I bought the can and on to the back of the bike it went. That can stayed with us for the whole trip, it appears on a few of the photo's stuck under the bungee on the back of the bike - looked quite out of place.

The plan was to ride to a friend of ours, Carlos on the Orange River; he has a camp there and of course a bar. So that first day was going to be a 700km drag. But as we both know the road very well it shouldn’t have been a problem.

On the way, Karoo veld, yep this is the stuff that tire gets its name from.




A headwind had started and was to stay with us till the end of the day.

Initially as Craig had done very little gravel and that was to be a big feature of the trip, I was keen to take a detour just to get a little practice time in. But as we had started late and the destination was now calling – that idea was binned.

The bike was running sweetly and though I had been warned by that rabid pro-KTM-and-nothing-else-is-good-enough bunch that I would have to wait for Craig’s Africa Twin, he was not hanging around. We settled into a comfortable 135 -145kph cruising speed which puts the 950’s rev range just above the buzzy 5000rpm mark.

I didn’t have a lot of "bum time" and I could feel that I was way off riding fit but the end was getting close, the camp was just a mere 180k’s on the GPS when Craig was no longer in my mirrors. I found him by the side of the road peering into his bike. He said it just sputtered and died. Not a good way to start the trip. We checked the fuel level, there was no issue there. So as Craig was very well prepared he had bought along his Hayne’s Manual and we dove into that. I felt that it had to be something with the filter system and could see us pulling the fuel lines out and having to check that. I had done a bit of reading and had heard that the AT’s fuel pump could give hassles.

Before we did anything drastic we waited a few minutes and tried to fire her up. Would you know! She started and off we went. Well our first mechanical issue was dealt with very easily, but I could see from Craig’s body language that he was worried.

50k’s on -just on the turnoff to Springbok we were cruising off the main N7 and had our helmets up, Craig cracked on the pace a bit and as I brought the flip- up down, I realised that I had lost the visor? Disaster! There is no way that I could ride the rest of the trip without a visor.

It was a 800m stretch from the turn off and after riding back and forth 4 times on either side of the road I could not find it. Craig came back after filling up, he thought I was mucking around at the speedway circuit just off to the left but dutifully started looking when I told him what had happened. Almost as soon as he started looking I found it. The relief at finding it was great, phew! Potential disaster averted. The visor didn’t have a scratch on it. It had landed in a clump of roadside grass that was difficult to see. I was very lucky.

On other trips as guides we had stopped just about 30k’s from the gorge on a plain that gently slopes down to the magnificent Orange River, so we had to stop and do it again.



And from there it was a nostalgic short trip down to the border post across the river and then on to the camp.

Craig disappeared as soon as we arrived and before I’d gotten off the bike he was back with iced glasses full of ice cold beer – what a travelling partner!


The camp was empty and it was good to relax and chat with old friends.

I had sent up a pair of TKC 80’s and it was not long before I was trying out changing tyres for the first time. It took quite a bit of beer and sweating to change the tyres. I don’t know how I would do it without another bikes side stand to rely on to break the bead. It took the full weight of Craig and his bike to get the rear tyres bead to break.

The bear? His name is Snot, stands for “Seriously Nice Okes Touring”. Old joke from the paddling days. (Okes is vernacular for guys).

There was a compressor to inflate the tyre but as this was a test run for the real thing in the bush, we used the bicycle pump… Jeez! To get to 300kpa took a lot of sweat, we were both dripping before the bead popped on. The front was very easy compared to the back one.

Total for the day 753k’s

Day 2


The previous night there was way too much tequila due to an old friend called Tanya and the morning was not the early start that we had planned. As this was both of ours’ first long trip, packing was still a new science and getting to
grips with what went where best was still being formulated. Also, we had figured out that we had brought way too much stuff so we dumped a bucketful of kit at the camp to be sent back down to Cape Town with the tyres that I had taken off. I don’t think that we got away before 9am and with the sun beating down, off we went into the hugeness of Namibia, with the adventure starting proper.



It was 150k’s to Grunau before we turned onto the first gravel. Within the first 100 meters Craig stopped- very uncomfortable with the gravel. I had ridden behind him to see how he would do; he was too tense and had not mastered the idea that riding on the "middle mannetjie" (the middle bit of loose gravel that collects between the car tracks) was not really the place to be. This was a serious challenge to the route as 90% of the rest of the trip would be on gravel. Plus there was going to be (hopefully) the route next to the Kunene River which is very serious 4x4 track.

I gave him a quick Gravel 101A and soon we were beetling along at a stately 40kph. Looking at the GPS with the remaining 5000k’s to go- this was going to be long trip. After 10 minutes or so I stopped him again and got him to practice crossing over the piled gravel in the middle of the tracks and to let the handlebars do their thing. The bike shimmies a lot doing this but if you trust the bike it will do your bidding.

We were up to 60 now.

I had to give myself a talking to about not trying to push him too hard too fast. We stopped again and I got him to practice emergency stops trying to feel for the point where the front locks and also to see how the back reacts to strong braking.

The lesson shows just how much more braking you can do than you think with the front and also shows just how useless the back brake is in the same context.

We were now just into the 80kph when he suddenly stopped and bolted to the side of the road and started puking?

He said it was the tequila taking revenge from the night before. But it was also maybe as a result of the nerves needed to deal with the gravel. He put on a brave face and off we went again aiming for the Fish River Canyon. We were now into the 100kph on the straights, just quick enough for me to get onto 6

th gear without the engine bogging down. This might just work! We took a snooze for an hour in the heat of the day to help with the last of the tequila and then off to the Fish River Canyon. (second largest canyon after the Grand one)


After the Fish we made our way north aiming for somewhere close to Windhoek. By now we were riding mostly side by side to stay out of the dust and Craig was doing really well. We were maintaining about 115 with a few visits to the 125 mark.

The gravel roads in Namibia are remarkable for their consistency and width and are in amazing condition. 115 seems a bit quick on gravel but is a very safe speed to travel on these roads that are mostly 3-4 lanes wide. With 200k’s of gravel behind us and with the late afternoon sun we knew that we were never going to make Windhoek so we packed another 250k’s into the GPS before we stayed at a noisy camping site in Mariental.


Dinner was at a local restaurant – the steaks in Namibia are not small, they must grow their cattle very big here. I thought that we had climbed into our tents fairly early but it was closer to midnight.

Total for the day 792k’s

Part 2: