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BMW S1000RR to Morocco and back in a week

Escaping the snow of London to travel 3200 miles to the baking hot Moroccan border and back in a week. Why? Well, because I said I could and no-one thought I would.

The whole of the UK is snowed under and struggling. I’m under the weather and struggling too. Nursing a bit of a hangover and reluctant to get out of bed. It’s snowing in London and I should be outside with my mates pelting them with suspiciously icy snowballs. Instead I’m picking up BMW’s flaming-hot new superbike.

I feel sorry for the pristine S1000RR for what I’m about to put it through, most of them won't see winter but it's not all one-sided: the S1000RR is sporting a brand new pair of fresh-from-the-mold Metzeler Racetech K3s. That's just the icing on the ice.

As we run through the formalities it starts to snow even heavier outside. 20ft visibility. I get escorted off the industrial estate by a couple of BMW staff in their cars.

My knees are around my shoulders, I’m getting cramp in both thighs, the bike wants to sit in the ruts of the broken road and go sideways. I want to go back to my car and go home. It says 8mph on the dash as the S1000RR lumbers along - no-one wins a prize for not making it out of the car park. Snow’s gathered thick on my half-open visor after just two minutes – I’ve never had that before.

Riding the S1000RR home in the dark, with snow coming at me head on, I’m in that constant state of being on a theme park ride when you drop into darkness. You’ve half a moment where your eyes can’t adjust and you’re slightly anxious about what’s coming next.

Except I have that feeling for 40 minutes up the A3 as I head back into London. I manage 70mph at one point, I can’t resist opening the bike up a bit at the sight of a gritter. Despite being pelted with increasing ferocity, it’s flashing orangeyness is a beacon of safety. It’s actually comforting being pelted with grit and for a moment I feel safe, in control.

In reality I spend most of the journey at 55mph. I look at the S1000RR gently steaming as I pull the garage door down. I’ve just ridden a superbike through the snow. It was easy. Well, now I'm inside and gripping a warm cuppa, it feels that way.

Monday 11th January

Monday 11th January

I don’t know how many miles it is from London to Folkestone. Not many. It wasn’t hard, it wasn’t enjoyable either. The woman lining me up for the Eurotunnel looks annoyed I’d not followed her exaggerated airport-style signals to reach the front of the lane. Exciting as it would be to cut my way down the virgin snow of the motorcycle-only lane, I stick to the well-trodden path of the seven motorhome caravans already parked up, ready to set sail through France.

A boiling kettle whistles in the back of a Romahome 3000. Radio 2 echoes from the cabin of another. This is the early morning sounds of a Britain bent on reaching new lands. It’s me and 14 OAPS about to invade France. No-one looks remotely bothered.

First the good news. Unlike the UK, France is not closed. The sign says 320 kilometres to Paris. Easy, surely? About an hour later it’s 304 kilometres to Paris. Well, it feels like an hour. My Adam’s apple is about as fragile as a Christmas tree bauble. The ends of my fingers have already shattered off and are being held in place by my gloves. I reveal this to be a lie when I take my gloves off at the first petrol station, but it is minus two outside. Still at least my fingers aren’t the coldest thing I’ve got to worry about. There’s always my front tyre.

I didn’t bring a GPS device for this trip. I hate them. I can get well and truly lost on my own, it only adds insult to injury when you do it having ignored the GPS. I’m amazed I make it to Paris Bercy train station without one wrong turn. On the Périphérique I stick the S1000RR into SPORT mode, the first time out of RAIN mode and the throttle response is completely different. The bike comes alive, charges on and has a massive bottom-end appear where before it was restrained. It’s a completely different bike. I muck about on the Périphérique driving on hard in all the gears, then doing top gear roll-ons from 50 to 100mph.

I arrive at Paris Bercy to check the bike onto the AutoTrain, so I can cut out the big block of thawing ice that is France, and reach Spain that bit quicker.

When I check in the S1000RR, the AutoTrain rep marks it down as having damage on both sides. Underneath the caked layer of salt, mud and general shit on the fairing it’s in perfect condition. It just looks hanging.

Get a transfer to Paris Austerlitz where the overnight train is leaving at 10pm. Find my sleeper carriage, can’t sleep one bit. Like trying to sleep on a washing machine. Get max two hours sleep.

Tuesday 12th January

Tuesday 12th January

Arrive 06:15 Narbonne. Met another biker from Paris called Jorge, actually Portuguese but lives in Paris. He’s aiming for Lisbon. Bikes arrive on a separate train to us at 07:30am. We unload them by 08:30am, mine’s showing -5-degrees on the dash. I’ve had just two hours sleep, sun is just rising, the ground is freezing, -2-degrees on the sign in the arrivals hall. Jorge and I agree to aim for Valencia.

First fuel stop I can’t get filler cap open, think it’s frozen. Spray with chain lube. I’ve got 15 miles left in the tank so I head another 10 miles to the next service station. It opens at the next service station. Its 3-degrees C, still seriously cold. Starts to rain around Barcelona.
Cruising the motorways at 95mph, I take it up to 120 mph overtaking an HGV and get done by an unmarked cop car. I don’t realise who he is at first. All I see is a brown Seat approaching behind, but not that fast, and a guy waving out of the window. I think he’s just some annoying punter who wants me to wheelie. But it’s a bit windy so I don’t bother, then he gets alongside and I see him scrabbling around with something. I think it’s a camera and he’s trying to put it on the roof. But it’s a flashing light and it won’t stick. It’s getting caught by the wind, dragged along the roof then flapping down the side of the car. The cop reels it in then tries again, then gives up. I pull over and get a 210 Euro fine for 178kmh.

After the ticket it starts to rain heavily. Jorge splits half an hour later and is gone. My mission is still to reach Valencia despite the driving rain. Keep meaning to switch from a dark to a clear visor but keep forgetting every time I fill up with fuel.

Rain and wind very strong around Cartagena. I’m being blown across two lands without any time to react. Come really close to central reservation, lose my sense of humour, drop speed to 50 mph, stream of trucks now sat up my arse. They slowly overtake and I’m caged in among trucks battling the strong wind to stay in my lane.

Wind dies down so I speed up to 80mph, overtake the trucks then the wind picks up again. I slow down and the trucks overtake me again. This goes on for an hour/50 miles. Coming into Almeria, right on top of hills on coastal motorways, properly exposed, winds are so strong. Trucks are straddling lanes, tree branches are flailing across the carriageway. I do the last 20 miles at 40 mph. It’s more dangerous to pull over and wait than carry on going.

I come off the motorway at the first sign to Almeria. Happens to be 10 miles away from town, so I ride those 10 miles on the back roads. Get into town, aim for the port and check in at the first hotel I find.

Wednesday 13th January

Wednesday 13th January

Wake up late, miss breakfast. Shattered. Go to a travel agent to find out about Almeria to Nador ferry. One crossing at 23:00. Check the map. Jorge mentioned the Tarifa to Tangier ferry, 15 minute crossing approximately four hours ride away. Almeria’s windy but dry. Leave Almeria at 10:30am, short stretch of motorway before it turns into a road more like an A-road.

First time I get the S1000RR on twisty roads, but loads of roadworks and HGVs hamper progress. I stick it into SPORT mode and get stuck in before I completely square the tyres off. It’s properly lively, I want to try out RACE mode but keep it to SPORT and disengage the anti-wheelie so I can hoik a few up coming out of the sweeping bends.

Even though it’s dry I stick it back into RAIN mode for the remaining motorway stretch as it’s so relaxing and easy to ride. It starts to bucket down at Algeciras, I’ve got just a 30 mile ride to reach Tarifa for the 3pm ferry. The road to Tafira is seriously twisty, bumpy, it’s slashing it down, windy and foggy too.

I either sit among the cars and deal with the spray and dodgy driving or cut my own path. So I aim to get in front of the traffic and make my way to Tarifa. The equivalent of finding your way to the bathroom at your mate’s house in the pitch black after too many beers. I make it to Tarifa but the fast ferry is fickle and won’t sail in this weather.

Tarifa is a windsurfing hangout. It’s January and it’s shut. Nowhere to get a drink or eat, so I kill two hours down by the beach waiting for the news on the 5pm ferry That’s cancelled too. I ride back to Algeciras down the same road in the same conditions. It’s so wet I’m in danger of losing the front on a kipper. I make it to the ferry there ready to sail at 20:30. It’s tanking it down now, the bike looks clean from the rain. Amazingly I’m completely dry, bar a bit of water running down my sleeves into my gloves. The S1000RR waits patiently for the ferry, wondering what it’s in for next. We make it to Ceuta. I’m so tired I think I’m in Morocco. Looking forward to speaking French as I can’t speak Spanish. Everyone speaks Spanish in the hotel. Next day I work out I’m still on Spanish soil.

Thursday 14th January

Thursday 14th January

I want to head to the border to step onto Moroccan soil. I head out of Ceuta and am presented with a circus of riot vans, armed police and a Shell petrol station, 20 metres from the border crossing. At the border I get herded into a lane with a load of Dutch motorhomes. I instantly get pounced on by a Moroccan wearing a djellaba and a fez with a ‘tourist information’ ID card. You couldn’t make it up.

He speaks to me just one word at a time. Come. Go. Follow. He points at a different lane, confuses me. Why do I need to be there? I’m on the back foot. I instantly check for my wallet, passport and other valuables and look like a complete tourist. I park the bike up, him and two friends come up to me. I know they want to fleece me. They’re not from the tourist board.

I tell them I want to cross over the border and step on Moroccan soil. Okay, follow, is the response. Fill. He points to a form and hands me a pen. Passport. I get my passport out and am reluctant to hand it to him. He takes it. I go with him, but then turn back and snatch the keys from the bike.

But my bike I say, I want to lock it. 'My friend,' he says. 'My friend watch your bike'. Great. I think. Crossing the border seems stupid now. I can just tell everyone I’ve done it and not do it. But I can’t fake it. I get in the queue, get looked up and down. Look stupid for being the only person in the queue not wearing a djellaba. The border’s not what I expected. It’s hectic, but there are no goats, no horse and carts. The most modern car I can see is a 1970s Mercedes. It’s a taxi and it’s got about 7 men in it smoking. At the sight of me and the guide they jump out, the taxi driver wants us to get in. I wave my hands with the international sign of, fuck I don’t like this, I want to go back to Europe. I join the queue to head back into Spain. It takes three times as long. I get my passport looked over, and looked over again. It gets an exit stamp right over the entry stamp. The border guard looks at me like I’m an idiot. I am.

Mission accomplished, I’ve been to Africa. Kind of. I head back to Ceuta port and get a ferry straight away to Algeciras. I’m back in Europe by 11am.

I don’t know why but I want to head to Gibraltar. I spend little more than an hour there. I grab lunch, a crap pizza served with typically lazy English service. Gibraltar reminds me of a warm High Wycombe circa 1987. It’s Daily Mail territory. There are two types of blokes walking around: ones wearing salmon coloured chinos, a polo shirt and a jumper draped across the shoulders, or ones with a thinning pony tail bordering a bald patch, loads of gold and a leathery tan. If you like biking for its freedom and individuality, then like me, you’ll loathe Gibraltar. The only thing it’s got going for it is cheap petrol. 80p a litre. Nice. I wind up back in Almeria that night.

Friday 15th & Saturday 16th January

Friday 15th January

I’m doing well for time. I don’t have a massive amount of miles to do, about 300 to Valencia. I treat myself to a fresh pair of boxer shorts. I’ve been wearing the others for four days. I’ve taken three T-Shirts and a polo shirt with me. I’ve been wearing all three T-Shirts every day just rotating them around. They all stink. I stink. Still, no one to impress. Valencia comes up fast. I get there about 4pm. I come off the motorway a junction early and head through an industrial estate.

Big wide polished roads with roundabouts. It’s warm. I put the S1000RR into SLICK mode. I don’t know exactly what it does but I’ve got half an idea. The tyres are meant to be slick, they’re not, but the road is so that’ll do. I head up and down the road, tipping into roundabouts around 50mph in second, confident the electronics will see me right. I pick the S1000RR up slightly earlier each time and gas it up. Every time the back end squats, drives hard and then the rear tyre lets go, slides out what feels like a foot but is probably more like an inch and squirms up the road.

After hours of rain and motorways, babysitting the S1000RR in RAIN mode, this is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had on a bike. I feel like I know what I’m doing. In reality I don’t. I have a few more runs at this and like the first time I did a skid on my BMX, I pull over, walk back up the road to see if I can see the line I just drew. I can’t and I don’t risk trying it again. That’s the last time I put the S1000RR in SLICK mode. I feel like I got away with it.

I shack up in Valencia overnight. It’s the first time I’ve got to a town early, so I head out and do a bit of sightseeing.

Saturday 16th January

By the time I reach Barcelona it’s raining hard. I check into a hotel early, hang my gear out to air and head into town. I come back a few hours later to find my T-Shirts and boxers have blown off the balcony. They’re soaked. Slightly beaten I treat myself to a new pair of boxers from Zara. I rig up the hotel room hair dryer in an incredibly dangerous way and leave it drying my T-Shirts for an hour. After hanging up my leather jacket I find an iron.

Sunday 17th January

Sunday 17th January

I feel I’ve let my mileage slip. The last two days have been recovery from the massive Tuesday where I did all of Spain. So I set myself a target of reaching a small town called Oradour sur Glane just outside Limoges in France. Well, I say just outside, it’s 15 miles away. This time a week ago 15 miles would have been a bit of a chore. Now anything under 150 is simple.

I left my earphones in the hotel room in Barcelona, but I do have fresh pants on, so I can’t complain. I put my iPod in the clear tank bag pocket, turn the sound off but press play. I look down to see the song and try and hum it to myself. This seems like a good idea at the time. I realise I don’t know what 99% of the songs are on my iPod and that I don’t know the lyrics to the 1% of songs I like. I spend a good 300 miles singing all sorts of shit to myself. I’m about the only person on the motorway. I take the S1000RR up to 170mph from a 20mph top gear roll on. I am alone on a vast motorway and it feels slightly scientific. I realise I just did that in RAIN mode and so it probably took twice as long as it could have done. I bottle another effort. I am really bored of myself right now.

I press on to Limoges. France is still seriously cold. I forgot that when I was in southern Spain planning on riding back through France. As soon as the sun goes down my fingers start to freeze. I’m so cold I pull over and put the leg of a pair of four-day-old boxers over my head and slide them onto my neck. I put the Buff neck tube over the top. I don’t care about hygiene. I want to stop my neck from snapping off. The boxers work well.

I make it to Oradour sur Glane at 8pm on Sunday. Being French, it’s shut. This is a haunting town with a horrible history. In 1944, the Nazis were tired of the hardened locals sabotaging their supply lines. So they stormed the village, rounded up the men, led them to a barn, shot them all in the legs, then set fire to the barn. They then took the women and children to the church, crammed them in and killed them all with machine-gun fire. A pre-empted, cold-blooded slaughter of 642 people. The whole town was then set on fire. The French have never touched the place since. It stands as a monument.

I rattle the window of a hotel and a man wearing a Freddy Krueger hat appears. He’s nice enough, gives me a bunch of keys and sends me off to the hotel just down the road. The town is empty, it’s dark. I let myself into the hotel. I’m alone and shitting myself. I can’t wait to check out the old town. I let myself out of the hotel and cross a field to get to the drystone wall surrounding the old town. I’m too scared to jump over the wall and check it out. I chicken out.

Monday 18th January

Monday 18th January

I get up at 6:30am, it’s pitch black. I want to clock the old town at sunrise. Sunrise is two hours away. The only sign of life in the new village is at the bakery, I sneak out of the hotel to the new town. The gates to the old town are locked. I clamber over the drystone wall, ripping my trousers open in the process. Good start. As I leave the hotel the S1000RR is covered in a thick fosty lacquer. I walk into town. Pushbikes lie rusted on their sides by small mounds of grass. A pram sits by a rusty bed frame in the front room of a house. Saws hang from a butcher’s shop wall, the scales upside down and broken on the floor. It doesn’t feel right to be here. I’ve never seen anything so raw. As the sun comes up I grab the photos I want and scarper.

The woman who runs the hotel had to set up breakfast just for me, this weird English bloke who’s probably lost and clearly doesn’t realise Oradour’s visitor centre is closed in January. I scoff everything: two croissants, baguette, all the jams, butters, coffee and sugars. I feast like a crow tearing roadkill apart.

I leave the hotel around 9:30am. 600 miles back to Putney. I scrape the frost off the BM with my bank card. The fog in the fields as I leave Oradour to Limoges is thick – 20 metres visibility. Progress is pathetically slow, 600 miles becomes unthinkable. I plot my progress to Limoges, 20 miles away instead. As I hit the motorway at Limoges, visibility increases to around 100 metres, I stick to 70mph. The kilometre signs dangle Paris at me, it’s massively far away. Depressingly so. After 60 miles I pull in for fuel. I shut off the anti-wheelie light as I rejoin the autoroute, a car moves over to the outside lane and I decide to treat him to a decent motorway entrance. I gas up the S1000RR and it breaks sideways. I forget it’s still about 1-degree. Conditions are perfect. For a fuck up. The bike snaps back into line as quickly as it snaps out. I throw up but keep it in my mouth. Apricot jam and coffee. I activate the traction control & anti wheelie light, chastise myself for being a twat and vow to not fuck about again. Ever.

The journey back to Calais is simply fog, the whole way. Maximum 200 metres visibility. Trucks coming at you out of nowhere as you bear down on them at 90mph as they crawl uphill at 40mph. It becomes surreal. I lap the Paris Périphérique twice as I miss the turning. Reaching Calais I push the tank range to the limit, not filling up with 35 miles to go. But the signs to Calais aren’t going down. I start to blame the French for me running out of fuel even though I haven’t run out – yet. I bottle it at three miles left on the trip. Even though Calais is 7km away. I pull off into the deserted town, no locals know where a petrol station is. The bike ticks down to one mile left. I find a petrol station, escorted there by a lad on a scooter. He wheelies away. I fill up and don’t. As I join the motorway I leave 200 metres later for the slip road to the Eurotunnel. If I just had the balls to hang on. I get to Folkestone at 17:30. Back to London 19:00, totally knackered and not entirely sure what I’ve achieved.

Read about the gear that endured my Moroccan trip