Touring Africa on a Motorcycle and Riding Gear Recommendations

MC Garage

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Ron Ayres, BMW

Escape 2 Africa
Q After losing my job to the worldwide monetary meltdown back in August, I'm taking a break from the progressively depressing process of looking for a new one to visit friends in Namibia later this year. I have some savings stashed. They have plenty of everything, including a guesthouse in Windhoek just waiting for me. I have a stock 2006 BMW R1200GS and a standing invitation to come visit.

I'm planning to use up a three-month tourist visa, so time won't be a problem. Accommodations and such are gratis, so money shouldn't be either. The GS and I have a fair bit of mileage under our belts on- and off-road, but we've never taken on a mission like this. The bike will be outfitted here and shipped ahead of me since there's no way I'm riding all the way to Africa. Advice? Am I crazy? Recommended reading? What accessories, modifications or additions to the BMW tool kit are essential for exploring the Skeleton Coast? There are lots of things to learn and I don't expect to learn them all here. I'm just getting started, so any resources or mission-critical information you can pass along would be great.
George E. Corby
Southfield, MI

A If there is an upside to being abruptly unemployed, it sounds like you've found it. But since Africa holds more potential menace for the unwary and the dim than, say, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, seeking expert advice is the best way to stay out of trouble. In this case, our elected authority is Ron Ayres of Ron Ayres Adventures (www.ronayres.com), world-class professional tour guide since 1999. Here's his advice...

"No, you're not crazy. I envy you! Namibia is a safe, clean and very hospitable country. The food is great, the people are friendly and English is widely spoken. It's the country's official language, although German, Afrikaans and Oshiwambo are more common in some areas. Namibia is a great place to enjoy your GS. There are no four-lane highways. The few "B" roads are well-maintained two-lane highways. "C" roads are usually gravel with occasional patches of sand and are usually in reasonable condition. The more numerous "D" roads are always dirt or gravel and the condition ranges from passable to something suitable only for 4x4s: GS Heaven. Although there are speed limits, unless you're passing through the infrequent town or village, you can drive at whatever speed you feel comfortable without fear of being ticketed. The Skeleton Coast is a worthwhile ride, but it's not nearly as daunting as the name suggests. Most of it that's accessible by motorcycle is paved, but it's very isolated. There are other areas of Namibia that offer a more interesting visit: the giant sand dunes at Sossusvlei, The Brandberg, Fish River Canyon and Fort Sesfontein, to name a few.

"Recommended reading? Pick up a copy of The Lonely Planet Guide to Namibia for all the information you'll need on the history of the country and a description of the most interesting sites, along with recommendations for reasonably priced accommodations and meals. There is only one BMW motorcycle dealer in the country, but it's a good one, located in Windhoek (pronounced 'vind-hook'). It's not necessary to make special modifications to your GS. If you intend to spend a lot of time exploring the "D" roads, get a set of Continental TKC-80 dual-sport tires and carry a tubeless tire repair kit and a portable air pump. If you're going to be especially venturesome, take some tubes along, with equipment needed to break down the tire. I carry the BeadBrakR and Cycle Pump from Best Rest Products (www.bestrestproducts.com). My wife Barb and I have been riding in Namibia regularly for more than 10 years and have traveled through most of the country on various GS models. We love the place. I'm sure that you will too."

Got a question for answers? Send It To Mcmail@Sorc.Com

Street Clothes
I am 35 years old and ride a new Kawasaki Ninja 250. I have about 10 years of riding experience. My riding outfit consists of a full-face helmet, Vanson leather jacket (with no armor or padding), jeans, Alpine-stars Gore-Tex boots and gloves. I have been looking at riding apparel lately and would like to upgrade my outfit to one that contains more protection.

I mainly use my motorcycle to commute to work and it appears that I have two clothing options: I can either get riding clothes like those in Alpinestars' city collection that look like normal clothes, or I can get a suit to wear on top of my regular clothes. Am I missing another option?

There appears to be a bewildering array of different items from many manufacturers. Could you recommend a set of riding gear for a non-racer who commutes and seeks greater protection?
Vic Anand
Lansing, NY

There's at least one more option that works around our offices: Stash a set of work clothes near your desk and show up early enough to do a quick wardrobe change. That may or may not be feasible if your work environment is a privacy-free cube farm, but think it through and ask the powers that be. Otherwise, slip an Aero-stich Roadcrafter suit (www.aerostich.com) over your normal business duds. Starting at $797 for the one-piece model, it's not cheap, but neither is a trip to the emergency ward. The armor alone will make a huge difference in the event of a tip-over. Everybody who rides to work in this office has one, along with a story or two of how it spared them from grievous bodily harm. Unlike most off-the-rack alternatives, Aerostich offers various custom tailoring options, along with a list of other extra-cost options that make it fit the ride as well as the rider. Plus, the company is in Duluth, Minnesota, so if you're unlucky enough to scuff up your suit, send it back and they can fix it.

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