I've been following the adventures of Winding Wheels since January of this year. At that time, they were exploring Morocco. They both ride a Yamaha T7 and I was curious about their experiences with this motorcycle, and about adventure riding in Morocco. So, I asked them my 10 questions!
Please tell us a little bit about yourselves
Jessica: My name is Jessica, I’m 27 years old and I come from a small town in the north-east of The Netherlands. With our family of six, we didn’t travel much further than one province away from home. As a kid I didn’t wish for more. Just a short drive in an overloaded car and we arrived at the campsite. When growing up, I started to become more curious about other places. I couldn’t wait to finish my studies and to go out to see more of the world. So that’s what I did. After I graduated, I booked a one-way ticket to Australia. The plan was to travel around for just a few months. It didn’t take long before I realized that was not going to happen, I was definitely not going home anytime soon. I alternated work and travel to see as much of the country as possible. Then I continued my journey to New Zealand and on to Asia. After having traveled for 3.5 years this way it felt time to return back home to start a ‘normal’ life there. However, that didn’t quite go according to plan. Maarten and I met at work after we got back from our individual travels and not long after we decided to quit our jobs and start to travel again! Africa was on the top of the list for both of us, so that decision was made easily.
Maarten: Pleased to meet you, I’m Maarten. My story started 33 years ago in the Dutch countryside. I grew up in a family where motorcycling was being spoon-fed to every new family member. I was no exception. In fact, I embraced this world of freedom. Since the Dutch country roads are not much of an inspiration to a motorcyclist, I started traveling further away. Until I was 30, I limited myself to 2-week trips in Europe. Mainly because of a publicity agency that I started when I was 25. I was completely committed to it, as I believe you either do something right or you don’t do it. Although compromises are inevitable in life, I wondered if I was making the right decisions. I was postponing the things in life that made me happy and that didn’t feel right.
Every time I came home I was confronted with the dream I had as a child. There was a picture frame in the hallway with a tiny drawing which I made when I was 13 years old. I had drawn myself on a motorcycle in the desert with lyrics from Bon Jovi above it: “It’s my life, it’s now or never!”. I decided to change course. It was spring 2018 when I set off for a solo motorcycle journey along the silk roads. I had a blast. A once in a lifetime experience! Or not? I was only home for one week, when I met Jessica. We started dating and were often dreaming and talking about traveling to distant countries together. It didn’t take long before we started our Winding Wheels project.
Jessica: Let’s go to Africa and ride all the way down to Cape Town! For us it is relatively easy to set ourselves a goal like this and just go for it. We also realized that’s not the case for everyone. That’s why we have given ourselves a second goal. We want to do something in return for the opportunities we have. Therefor we selected two foundations to support. The first one is foundation “Campvuur” which improves the opportunities of underprivileged children in Kenya. The second one is foundation “Trees for All” which compensates the carbon footprint of our journey with planting new trees in Uganda. Both projects we had planned to visit on our way to South Africa.
Before our departure we organized three events to raise money for these foundations and to promote them. In addition, we searched for sponsors to support us. Gebben Motoren, Yamaha Motor NL, REV’IT Adventure and Mosko Moto powered us among others. For the record, we finance the journey ourselves and the raised money goes 100% to the foundations.
Maarten: We wanted to start our journey on the 4th of April 2020 and had planned to board a freighter from Italy to Israel. From there we wanted to ride to Jordan, into Saudi-Arabia, enter Sudan after having crossed the Red Sea and follow our way down south. So, we quit our jobs, packed our gear and prepared the motorcycles. Everything went smooth, until Covid-19 came along and the freighter cruise got cancelled. No problem, most of the borders were still open at that time. So let's turn things around! We started to look for alternative routes, but every day our world got smaller and smaller. Until all the surrounding countries were in lockdown and we couldn’t go anywhere anymore.
We had to cancel two of the planned events, but fortunately not the benefit dinner. Despite all limitations due to Covid-19, we were able to collect an amount of € 3,127.-. Since we had no idea for how long we had to postpone our trip, we chose to hand over the cheques with the money to the boards of the foundations in the Netherlands.
September 2020, Covid-19 seemed under control and we were given more freedom of movement. At that time, we saw that tickets were available for a ferry to Morocco. We booked it straight away. In December 2020 it was finally time to ride towards adventure!
Let’s talk bikes - what types of bikes have you been riding before you embarked on this journey?
Maarten: Though it wasn’t a motorcycle, my first two-wheeler with an engine was a Yamaha TZR50. Every single moment of spare time I had, I spent on it which was a lot at the age of 16. I couldn’t get enough from this feeling of freely wandering around. A bit later the travel bug hit me, after I took my moped for a trip to France. Since I was navigating on a 1:1.000.000 scale paper map taped on the tank, I ended up on dirt roads quite often. My moped didn’t like that, while I started wagging at these moments. I decided my motorcycle in the future should be more off road capable, yet light because of the limitations in The Netherlands when you get your driver's license at the age of 18.
The first two years I had to ride a motorcycle with a power delivery of not more than 35 horses. I chose to buy an old BMW R65GS on an auction website in Germany. With this 1989 classic I discovered many of Europe's countries. After a couple of years, I started to desire something more exciting, more powerful. I bought an R1200GS. A magnificent piece of engineering! However, this motorcycle has one big downside. It was the feeling I got when riding up a random mountain pass and then notice that every 8 out of 10 motorcycles are the same! There is nothing unique to it that thrills you when you park it on top and not being able to tell which one is yours! In the end it’s not about looking at it though, but riding it. And that was great!
Jessica: The only motorbike I rode before we started our trip was a dirt bike during my solo trip. I just wanted to give it a try. I didn’t even manage to kickstart the bike myself at that time. The first motorbike trip for me was as a passenger on the GS, riding up to the North Cape and back through Russia together with Maarten.
As much as I enjoyed being a pillion on this trip, I was determined that on the next trip I would be riding my own bike! Till now I have never regretted this choice for a single moment. I have experienced different ways of traveling, but this definitely is my favorite!
What made you choose the new Yamaha T7 for traveling the world?
Maarten: I’m pretty sure any bike can be a round-the-world motorcycle as long as it gives you a smile every time you swing your leg over the saddle. That’s the most important thing when it comes to your weapon of choice. Riding an adventure bike gives me that can-go-anywhere feeling with goosebumps. So why the T7? It’s like the R&D department of Yamaha had one single objective to fulfill creating the Ténéré 700. They succeeded in bringing the motorcycle adventure unicorn to the market. It literally ticks all the boxes you are looking for on a world tour. It’s right at that sweet spot you’re looking for when it comes to those nasty compromises in life. It’s agile enough to ride up gnarly goat trails in Morocco, yet also dynamic enough to make the foot pegs scrape the Alpine roads. Well, you get the point.
Jessica: Before we started our journey I didn’t know much about motorbikes. The only thing I knew was that I really enjoyed riding one. So I trusted Maarten completely on this. As expected it turned out to be a great choice. Right from the beginning I was in love with the looks of the Ténéré 700, especially the blue one. So when Maarten told me that this bike would be perfect for our journey, I was all in! We agreed on choosing 2 different colors. Maarten told me he liked the white one the most, but would go for the blue one because he assumed I would prefer the white one (what a gentlemen he is:)). No need for that as I already made my choice.
What is the mileage on the bike so far and what kind of work/maintenance did you have to do during that time?
Jessica: Almost 20,000 km and so far we only had one flat tire, so nothing to complain about. Besides the flat tire, just the usual maintenance needed to be done on the bikes. Most of it we did ourselves. The funny part about doing maintenance ourselves is that before we start I never feel like doing it. Maarten starts with the preparation and while he is working, I start to ask more and more questions. Then Maarten turns into a technique teacher while I become the aspiring student who wants to do everything herself.
Maarten: This is going to be a boring subject, and I’m very happy for it! We just started to do the required maintenance to get the bikes in shape for another carefree 10,000 km through the West African countries hoping the bans on the borders will soon be lifted. We changed the tires and did the periodic maintenance. In the meantime Morocco announced their new border policy. The borders will open again, hurray! Except for the border with Mauritania, bummer… That was the border crossing we wanted to take, it’s the only passage to the south. Due to tensions in the border area, the border will remain closed for tourists.
Now that the borders to Europe will open, we have the opportunity to travel more freely again. We decided to book a ticket on the ferry to Europe, in the meantime we are working on alternative travel plans. For we have the strong desire to visit the projects from the foundations we have supported, we are now considering to ship our bikes to South Africa and ride them from south to north instead to visit the projects in Kenya and Uganda. Again we have to change our plans, but we get very excited thinking about the new possibilities that come with it. With the maintenance done, the bikes are already good to go!
You’ve spent several months exploring Morocco. How did you experience adventure riding in Morocco?
Jessica: What an amazing country! If someone would have told us that we would be stuck in Morocco for 6 months, I don’t think we would have boarded the ferry. So I’m very happy we didn’t know, because I would not have wanted to miss this experience for sure! It has been a great country to improve my riding techniques. We have ridden the Trans Euro Trail a few times in the Netherlands before we left, and I liked the off road tracks a lot, but it also scared me sometimes. Maarten told me not to worry. The paved roads in Morocco would be great as well, so if the off-road tracks would be too hard, we would just skip them. Luckily the fear quickly made space for courage and excitement. We enjoyed it so much and tried to ride as many tracks as possible.
Maarten: It seems Morocco is shaped for off-road riding, anything you could possibly wish for as an adventure rider is here. Seeing Jessica having a blast on the trails tops it off! Imagine being blown away by the breathtaking scenery while riding some of the most beautiful off-road tracks in the world and end up enjoying a delicious tajine with a local motorcyclist you met on the road. That’s only one of the countless wonderful days of our journey through Morocco. The beauty about adventure riding for me however, is to be on the move and to see the environment change around you as you travel from one country to another. But if I were asked to pick one country to get stuck for six months, Morocco would definitely be it.
Which place should not be missed by an aspiring adventure rider in Morocco?
Jessica: The Cathedral. Especially the road towards it, from Anergui to Imsfrane. We started the day by riding through the canyon and expected some technical off-road riding, but the opposite was what we found. A smooth unpaved road stretched in front of us as we left the village. They were working on paving this road. Luckily for us, we saw the road construction workers and the big Caterpillars just a few kilometres further up on the road. As soon as we left them behind us, our off-road party could start!
From here the road turned into a small double track meandering through the narrow cliffs just like the river next to us. Because of some landslides, we had to ride through the river a couple of times which made the adventurous ride complete. At the end of the canyon we were treated to a beautiful view of the cathedral, which is not a building but a spectacular mountain. Guess we don’t have to explain what this mountain looks like. If this road sounds like music to your ears, you better hurry before the whole road will be covered by tarmac.
Maarten: I hope you’re not in a hurry! There are so many beautiful places not to be missed. Ride at least some tracks through the desert to get this magical mixed feeling of frightening and excitement you will not experience anywhere else. If you are planning a motorcycle journey through Morocco and you would like to exchange some thoughts about it, give me a shout!
What is, for you, the best thing about life on the road?
Jessica: I’m not quite a floaty person, but being on the road for a longer time changes the way you see things. At least that’s the case for me. I became a more well-adjusted person. More open-minded, more independent and more confident. Another great thing about being on the road is the people you meet. I continue to be amazed by the hospitality of people. There is always someone around to help you. And when you don’t need help, someone will come over for a nice chat or even invites you for dinner with him and his family. And what better way to get to know a country than spending time with locals at the kitchen table while enjoying a traditional meal.
Maarten: After a long off-road section, I put my bike on the jiffy at the side of the road in a traditional mountain village. With some old plastic chairs and a box we make our own terrace. The old man from the little shop prepares a nice sweet mint tea for us. While taking a sip, I look at my bike, realizing my whole life is in those bags. It feels surreal living this life which feels like a movie. Jessica touches my neck, like if she knew I needed it to make sure I’m not dreaming. I blink at her and feel blessed we are living our dreams. There you have it, the uncompromising feeling of freedom.
And what is the most challenging?
Jessica: Spending time on the road has its ups and downs. Things don’t always go according to plan. We experienced that pretty well because of the whole Covid-19 situation. The challenging part is to stay positive, it doesn’t help to complain about things you can’t change. It almost feels like continuing to change our plans has become a part of our journey. I hope we are still able to handle it when one of our plans finally works out one day. ;)
Maarten: Finding beer! We hardly drank any alcohol in the six months we’ve been here. I have to say that was actually a good thing. In islamic countries you realize how big the social pressure on alcohol is in The Netherlands. It’s interesting to notice that your perspective changes when traveling. I admire lots of what I see around me in Morocco. Though it can be challenging to be submerged in a completely different culture from time to time. At those moments I try to be reluctant with my judgment and ask questions. Mostly there is even more to admire when you discover the underlying meaning of things.
What is your most valued piece of equipment that you wouldn’t travel without and why?
Maarten: That’s easy. My smartphone, much to Jessica’s chagrin. Well, not when I take pictures of her riding her bike down a trail. It’s the device with which I can stay in touch with my family and friends, the purpose of what a phone once was designed for. Next to that I plot routes on it and navigate with it. I also use it for taking photos and videos, social media, listening to my favorite music, reading the news, managing my finances, it’s my workshop manual for the bikes and it’s my torch when I need to pee in the middle of the desert at night.
Jessica: My pillow! Haha no, just kidding. That’s not my most valued piece, but I wouldn’t go camp without it. Actually there is not really one specific item. Maarten and I have both traveled before. Maarten on his motorbike and me with a backpack. We both had to pack light then and discovered what we really need and what can be left home. I think on this trip there is nothing we did not use, except for our first aid kit, which I’m glad of!
Where can we find out more about your travels and follow your journeys?
Jessica: Right now, we are waiting with mixed emotions for the ferry back to Europe... Sad to be moving up north instead of going south, but very excited regarding our new plans. This is definitely not the end of our journey, I see it more as a start. This half a year has been a great off-road course to me, now I’m ready for the real work!
Maarten: If anybody likes to see where our journey will be going next, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Polarsteps.
Nice interview, now I also have to follow Jessica & Maarten ;-)
For me also because like Noraly I am very interested in the real life travel experience with the T7 and the more experiences I see the more the T7WR is coming in to view, after >250K my trusted XT600 really needs replacing. ;-)
And for Maartens big chalange, finding beer, I would say try harder. Untill now we mostly managed to get some on our travels thru Islamic countries, sometimes in the wierdest places.
Safe travels and loads of carefree miles
Hi there! Lovely to read the kind comments on Noraly's interview with us. Thank you! It's great being embraced by the motorcycle community like this during our travels. All the best, Jessica & Maarten
How great an interview was that? I understand Marteen's problem with owning a buisiness. I owned a garage for 50 years and although I did trips away on my bike, I couldn't do long trips. Now retired and 75, don't think wifey would appreciate me being away for a long time. So reading about you both and watching Norally from her start, fulfills some of MY dreams. My oldest mate of 60 years died this year aged 86. His last e-mail to our M/cycle Club was "DO IT NOW, as we don't know how long we have got. Good luck to you all, will start watching M & J as well as 'Our Itchy Boots".Stay safe you all. Jim P.
We’ve been following Marteen and Jessica too and it’s been great to learn more about their story. Well done for raising money and supporting charities along the way 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
@Mike - P. there videos are here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBnbafitbzufWopxOulTcyw/about
Fantastic interview, pictures, and experience, we wish you continued safe riding adventuring. Thank you for sharing.
Must admit I've never heard of them,but will look them up. Respect to them both, nothing has been easy for the last 16 months, and doesn't get any better at this time. Keep well.
You find the most interesting mc travelers to interview Noraly. Now to check out their videos.
Great newsletter as always. Thank you.
I travelled 2 times in Morocco with 4 other friends on our old OTR bikes and I would like to go again, it really is amazing, very friendly people, very cheap and amazing scenerys!