12 May 2010

The Big Adventure - Part 1

It's May 2009 and the idea of trip somewhere on the bike takes root. My holiday calendar is already full for the year, but that means there's plenty of time to plan a trip in 2010.

The question is where to go? There are lots of interesting places to see and ride though but doing it on a hired bike just isn't the same as your own machine. Mainland Europe is convenient, but much of it has been done before. The 990 Adventure is a capable off-road bike, and wherever we went we wanted to be able to take advantage of that – why have it otherwise?

Gradually the idea of a trip to Iceland took shape: it's not too far away, many of the roads are marked as suitable for 4x4s only, it's not a particularly common destination and with volcanoes it was bound to have some amazing scenery.

Time passed and the big day dawned in April 2010: We boarded the aircraft and headed to collect the bikes... in southern Spain; destination Morocco!

Two weeks earlier we delivered our bikes, five KTM Adventures, to Southampton where they were to be taken to Cómpeta, not far from Malaga, on the Mediterranean coast. Between us we had the full range of KTM Adventure twins: A 950, two 990s, one 950S and one 990S. The S models have longer-travel suspension and, in the case of the 990, lack ABS.

The five members of the team were Gareth, Mark H, Mark L, Jason and me, Gordon. We knew each other, vaguely, through the UK KTM Forum but weren't what you might call best mates.

So to D-Day: our departure from Cómpeta, ride to Algeciras, ferry to Ceuta and ride to the Moroccan border.

The day dawned (eventually – we had an early start from our hotel at the airport) bright and sunny as we wound our way up in to the mountains. The bikes were in the care of local trail riding firm Redtread Honda, whose owners I've known for several years, and all five were there along with a mountain of luggage. Knowing that there are no KTM spares dealers in Morocco we decided to take some of the more commonly required parts with us: wheel bearings, fork seals, spokes etc. because it would be too bad to get stranded in Morocco for the want of a basic part.

As we shuffled things in to panniers, clipped them in place, got changed in to riding kit and wheeled the bikes out on to the drive, there was an air of quiet excitement.

Photo by Gareth Jones

I slotted the key in to the ignition, turned it, waited for the fuel injection and engine management systems to do their self-checks, pressed the starter, and nothing happened. Flat battery.

With all the people present, and a long downhill drive, bump-starting the bike seemed the easiest solution – so that's what we did. Unfortunately the bike had other ideas, and even once it was running it was clear something wasn't right. For some reason there wasn't enough power to run the fuel injection and keep the engine running, let alone put some extra charge in to the battery. It was a brand new battery too after similar problems in a very snowy Wales back in January.

We took the battery out, put it on charge, then did what any sane person would do in the circumstances: put the kettle on.

As the morning progressed, our plan to spend the first night in Morocco faded and we hatched another plan to spend the night near Algeciras and cross the Straits of Gibraltar the following day.

A few hours later, and (we hoped) with some fresh sparks in the battery, we tried again. It still needed a bump-start, but at least this time it kept running. We had already located the nearest KTM dealer (Malaga) and decided to call in there to see if they could give my bike the once-over.

The road down to the coast is one I have done many times in hire cars, and this time I was riding down it on my bike. The holiday had begun!

Rolling up outside the dealer, in an apparently trendy part of Malaga, we discovered that the workshop wasn't open on Saturdays. However my bike was now starting normally after a run along the Motorway, so we decided to push on and head for the ferry next morning.

Gareth's relatives own a villa in a gated development not far from the Gibraltar border and about an hour from Algeciras. After a very windy (alarmingly so at times) ride along the coastal Motorway, we found the house eventually, tucked away behind a tall hedge, and parked the five bikes in the garage before setting out to the supermarket for some dinner.

Spanish supermarkets aren't all that big on convenience foods, so we settled on a sort of pasta bolognaise with bread and beer for dinner. As the only proper meal of the day, it did the trick and we took an early night ready for tomorrow's sprint to the port.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, and still windy, and we packed ourselves away, wheeled out the bikes, I pressed the starter and... nothing happened. Bother.

For over an hour we pushed the bike up and down the road attempting to bump-start it, we took a battery from one of the other bikes and we also tried jump-starting it, but all to no avail. My 990 was going nowhere.

So what did we do? Wait for the dealer to open on Monday? Leave me in Spain while the others went ahead? Keep trying to get it going and carry on to Morocco?

In the end we split-up: Gareth very kindly agreed to stay with me in Spain in the hope that we could get my bike up and running at the local dealer on Monday, while the two Marks and Jason set a course for the ferry.

Feeling rather downhearted by this point I was coming to terms with the fact that this could be the end of my trip. Months of planning, and not a little money, gone to waste. Even if we did get the bike going again, would we be able to catch up the other guys? Had I inadvertently ruined Gareth's trip too?

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