1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves and your amazing journey so far?
Sandra quit her job first wanting to travel the world. We met on Tinder in 2018, shortly after she bought her first Adventure bike, a BMW F800 GS, in the USA. I was still working as a 'Health & Safety Manager' but happy to talk about quitting my job and travel the world instead on our second date. Sandra initially planned to ride her motorbike around the USA and then continue backpacking, but I was quite keen to explore Alaska and the trip quickly grew into Alaska to Patagonia. Shortly before flying out to the USA to pick up the bike Sandra had a serious crash on her street bike in London and broke her pelvis in four places. So we had to postpone our trip by nearly a whole year and backpacked all over South East Asia in the meantime.
In April 2019 we finally flew to Oregon to pick up the bike and start our adventure. Unfortunately it was too cold to ride to Alaska as planned so we only ever made it to Canada before heading south. The pandemic hit shortly after we had sailed with the motorbike from Panama to Colombia. We had covered about 50,000km by then. After spending a month in lockdown in Bogota we found ourselves back in the UK and Germany. We travelled all over Europe and the Balkans during the pandemic, eventually selling our BMW F800 GS and getting our hands on a Tiger 900 Rally Pro back in Europe.
When borders opened back up, we were desperate to venture further afield but shipping our new bike to South America was too expensive for us. So we changed plans and decided to explore Africa first as we knew we could ride to Cape Town without needing to ship. So far we have been riding across the world for 4 years, covering around 140,000km. We don't like crazy long riding days and definitely prefer slow travel which allows us to explore each country we travel through properly. We plan to be another year in Africa focusing on the east coast before shipping the bike out to the Middle East.
2. Why did you choose the Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro motorcycle for this adventure?
The two most important aspects were having an off-road capable bike that we felt confident crossing Africa on and being comfortable enough riding two up fully loaded for long distances. The Tiger 900 Rally Pro meets these criteria perfectly. It's always risky choosing a bike with too many electronics, but so far we haven't had too many issues!
3. Have you made any modifications to the bike? And if yes, which ones and why?
Our bike is fully customised with Touratech accessories. We think it always makes sense to protect the motorbike as much as possible, especially for a round-the-world trip. We bought our first ever Adventure bike, the BMW F800 GS, fully customised and the set up didn't quite work for us as it was pretty heavy (Jesse panniers, Black Dog Cycle skid plate, etc).
We sold this motorbike during the pandemic and with the Tiger 900 Rally Pro we wanted a lighter set up that would still ensure the bike is fully protected. We changed the crash bars, skid plate, foot pegs and added a headlight guard from Touratech. For the luggage solution we have chosen the Zega Evo panniers and waterproof extreme bags on top as they are super light and add more space. For the first time we also upgraded the suspension. I love the Touratech suspension and we couldn't have done this upgrade at any better moment than before crossing Africa!
4. Both of you ride motorcycles, why have you decided to travel through Africa two-up on one motorcycle?
We started our round-the-world trip two-up and we absolutely loved it when Fiona got her license during the pandemic and we could venture off-road on two bikes. I had upgraded to the Tiger 1200 Rally Pro while Fiona was riding a customised Tiger 900 Rally Pro lowered by Touratech. There were a few factors that played into us switching back to riding two-up. But it was predominantly a cost-driven decision. Having to fuel and maintain a second motorcycle makes a big difference to our budget! I also felt that the Tiger 1200 Rally Pro was too big for me and not the best choice to explore Africa on. So we chose to continue two-up again and rent small bikes along the way for some off-road fun. We rented some small KTMs in the Sahara Desert for some dune riding and we are planning to do the same in Namibia.
5. What was the most memorable experience during your travels in Africa?
There is very little tourism infrastructure in West Africa. Often we weren't sure if we'd be able to find a place to sleep at the end of the day. On many days as the sun was setting we would pull into a small village, ask for the chief and permission to pitch our tent for the night. We were always welcomed with open arms! After pitching the tent we would walk over to the well and collect some water for our shower. We would then usually spend the evening around our tent drinking tea with the locals, talking about our travels and learning about their culture. These unplanned evenings in the middle of nowhere are our favourite memories!
6. Compared to other parts of the world, what do you think is so challenging about motorcycling through Africa?
By far the biggest challenge is the difficulty of sourcing spare parts and obtaining off-road tyres for big adventure bikes. We were able to carry out a full service and buy a new set of tyres in Dakar (Senegal) but until reaching Luanda (Angola) you need to rely on local mechanics that aren't always used to working on big bikes, can't assist with spare parts and most certainly won't fix any electrical issues. This also limited our route quite significantly. We didn't explore every region of each country we crossed as we would have liked to, because we had to think about our mileage. Another challenge is corrupt border officials and countless military checkpoints where you can loose a lot of time if you aren't willing to pay a bribe.
When crossing into The Gambia the customs officers requested 10 USD to stamp our 'carnet de passage'. We refused as we knew this doesn't cost any money and after sitting in the sun for several hours and being shouted and screamed at we were finally allowed to go. But we had lost half the day! Another key difference to any other part of the world we have travelled through is that we found riding through West Africa mentally draining. Everyone is very curious and there doesn't seem to be any notion of privacy or personal space so you are constantly surrounded by people that want to talk to you, touch you, touch the bike and it definitely felt very overwhelming.
7. Did you have any serious bike breakdowns along the way? If yes, how did you solve it?
We were riding through Guinea-Conakry and I pulled over in a tiny village with just a few shops to buy water. Two minutes later the bike wouldn't start because the ignition stopped working. We pushed the bike to a tyre shop down the road to try clean it out with a high pressure air cleaner. First we had to purchase fuel and then we could start the generator and ten minutes later we could use the high pressure air cleaner. The button still didn't work so Fiona jumped on a local bike to find a place to purchase WD-40. That also didn't help.
We had the number of one of Touratech's mechanics and Louis was able to explain how to take the sensor apart to access this tiny button that would allow us to start the bike. We continued riding like this through quite a lot of countries before we found a garage to fix the ignition switch. The bike has also started showing a bunch of electronics issues on the dashboard because the front wheel sensor and crankshaft sensor broke. We have been able to continue riding this way but it's always scary to see error messages on the dashboard. We will only be able to replace the broken sensors in Cape Town at the Triumph dealership and hope we won't have any issues until then.
8. What have been some of the biggest challenges you've faced while traveling (two-up) on a motorcycle?
The harder the off-road gets, the more challenging it is riding two-up of course. We got caught out in the rainy season in the Republic of Congo during an 8 hours off-road ride. The dirt road turned very muddy and was super slick. I constantly had to ask Fiona to walk a few difficult sections so she had to keep getting on and off the bike despite suffering from malaria at the time which wasn't ideal.
What also makes it challenging is that Fiona, despite not having a lot of experience, is a very confident and brave rider. I wasn't able to keep up with her from the moment she got her own bike. I often had to walk the bike over some difficult sections that she was able to ride. So I now have a very 'opinionated' pillion rider that constantly wants to encourage me to go faster, pick up momentum and be a little braver. Although it's always meant in a supportive and encouraging way, it can be frustrating having a backseat driver, especially when the off-road gets tough and energy levels are low.
9. What advice would you give to someone who is considering taking a motorcycle trip through Africa?
First of all we would say to pay a lot of attention to rainy season. An easy dirt road can quickly turn into slick, muddy and challenging riding. Secondly, we were both taken aback but how expensive it is to travel through West Africa. The visa costs quickly add up. We paid 135 USD for our Cameroon visa, 250 USD for Nigeria. Hotels are often basic and expensive, meaning we were camping for weeks on end to keep to our budget. It's important to have some downtime when travelling non-stop but we couldn't really afford it in West Africa, so it made the trip super exhausting.
You also need some patience and positive mind-set to deal with countless militarily checkpoints. Many of which will just aim to waste your time in hope for a little bribe to let you through or random chit chat with the goal of obtaining your Whats App number, whilst you are boiling up in 35 degrees Celsius and just want to keep riding.
You should also take healthcare seriously. We got vaccinated for typhoid just before our trip but Fiona still fell ill with typhoid fever. Due to the duration of time we were spending in Africa we were advised against taking malaria prophylaxis during our consultation but Fiona fell ill with malaria three times in the space of four months, and I fell ill twice with it. So that was pretty tough!
Otherwise I'd advise people to carry an extra fuel holder and plan ahead knowing that spare parts can be difficult to get hold of. You can't carry absolutely everything but having a spare air filter and brake pads is easy enough. And of course bike choice is quite important. There is no question that taking a Tiger around Africa is a little risky. We took that risk as we have a lot of time. So if we have to wait for spare parts for several weeks in one place we can manage. But if you have saved up for your adventure and only have a limited amount of time for your trip you may want to choose a bike without electronics that you can get repaired out here!
10. Where can we follow you and read/watch more about your adventures?
We are most active on Instagram where we try to post story updates daily (as long as we have wifi). Our YouTube channel is really behind because we are finding it difficult to edit on the go but we film all our adventures and plan to have a break once we finish our Africa trip to get up to date with it all!
Another great list of ten questions and just as good of answers to Noraly.
Hope you haven't got caught up in the African rainy season yet.
Looks like Sundays video will be an interesting on considering your news letter.
Sure enjoyed your melody, a woman of many talents.
Take care, have fun, stay cool if you can.
It's been way too rainy Wy so far this late spring.
It's so nice to hear you sing, I love it! I also always love when you dance to music while riding the bike. It's so much fun and you got some moves. :) It would be my honor to have a dance with you Noraly. :)
Hello Itchy Boots!
Interesting interview. Since I have been following you on your African adventure and learning what you have encountered so far, it seems that you have come out ahead traveling solo, compared to their experience. It must have everything to do with who you are and how you plan and your overall decision making. Always look forward to reading your blogs and to be honest I don’t know how you have the time to do this with everything else you have going on. Maybe for a future blog you can answer the top 10 questions that people ask about yourself! That would be an interesting read! Thanks for all that you do! Keep following your dreams and passions..we’re right behind you! Cheers from Texas USA❤️❤️
Wow! Thank ladies for sharing your adventures. It's funny when Sandra has to express her most challenging situation riding with Fiona how opinionated she became.😂
The ethics of paying 'grease payments' (to smooth the way) is most interesting. When I used to work in the mining industry, we had to navigate our policy of not facilitating corruption, versus the ability to do business. Sometimes payment had to be made, uncomfortable though that was for our internal compliance stance.
I saw your post this morning about these ladies and checked them out right away and started following. I enjoy seeing countries explored by several adventure riders and their differences in travel. Everyone does what’s best for them but my admiration for Noraly’s solo riding, her bike choice, light luggage, videography and people skills never wanes. But, at the same time everyone’s adventure style keeps my interest and I am always in awe. Great interview!
When they were in Gambia and sat in the sun for several hours and got screamed at, I think after 30 minutes or so I would have just paid them the $10 US and be on my way.
I don't know if I want my worlds to collide but, as much as I'm into motorcycling, there's only 2 public figure motorcyclists that I keep up with; Itchy Boots and Lotte Van Drunen. Would a Q & A work? Lotte Van Drunen is a 15 year old, Dutch, motocross phenom. This is her first year on a 250cc and she's third in Women's World Championship and first in European Women's Championship with P1 finishes in all 4 races, all 8 motos. I bet Noraly could come up with 10 interesting questions and Lotte would have 10 interesting answers.
Well this was an interesting read and viewpoint as we can make comparisons to what Noraly is encountering. I can see where having two people might be advantageous as well as riding two-up vs separate bikes and commend Sandra and Fiona for such an undertaking. On the flip side, I understand even better why Noraly does so well solo. So many complications avoided! Simple is good. For many, being alone would be traumatic but for Noraly, its where she shines brightest. Much easier to stay laser focused on the goal, planning, etc, as the slightest distraction can lead to trouble especially in remote locations. Reading topic #6 about locals in West Africa not respecting personal space....LOL the first thing I thought of was about 1 minute into the latest video S7E36 the guy at fuel stop pushes in looking at Noraly's NAV unit and her eyes are like saucers! Yes we adore your facial expressions! Lastly, this Q&A shows just how critical motorcycle selection is for ADV world travel and Noraly scored an A+ in that category with Alaska (again - Simple is good) as well as the challenging route planning relative to the seasons. But really, dear Noraly you seem to score an A+ in every category. I am learning so much! Thank You for this blog update and for just being you. Peace, Jason Z in PA, USA
Thank you Noraly,
Sandra and Fiona, incredible people living their lives to the full.
I'm a big fan of Triumph a brand that has come so far since their second coming. From what I know they are at the forefront of design and the engineering of motorcycles at the moment with others are having to play catch up. I'm sure they would be interested to hear of the issues that the ladies have had.
It's a matter of engineering solutions to issues experienced in real situations.
Interestingly they don't mention chain and sprocket wear something I would have expected from riding two up in sand etc.