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Herausgeber:  ERSATZTEIL    DIENST       Hans-Peter HOMMES       41363 Jüchen Kamphausen 156 C/2

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Desert off-road trip 2010

 

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© 2010 h-p hommes

 

 Hans-Peter Hommes     2010

 

 

 

With six Wehrmachtsgespanne Zündapp KS 750 through the  Desert Sahara

 

The former trips with our Wehrmachtsgespanne on stony roads in the mountains, to the Kristall-rally in Norway in ice and snow in the deepest winter or our rides on muddy roads in our forests at home had made us to expert-off-road-drivers. What else interesting was there to be captured? Bernd had already been with his Yamaha to Tunisia and had been travelling there in the dessert. This gave us a new idea. Let’s go to the desert with our Wehrmachtsgespanne and cross a part of the Sahara. To be honest, to me sand tracks always were a horror. During some rides on the beach or dunes I got miserably stuck and to get back into driving meant a lot of work. So I did not really like the thought of me going voluntarily to a permanent work duty in scorching heat.

 

Eventually we got to the point to plan the trip. A possible time frame was November – December or March – April. At that time was the best weather for our trip. Spontaneously several wanted to go with us, but as we planned an introductory tour to find out which options we really had with our bikes, we decided to reduce our group to six expert drivers which all had already participated with their bikes in extreme tours before.

To facilitate the supply of spare parts only Zündapp KS 750 should be used.

 

There was Bernd, the youngest driver, who had already gained several experiences with his solo bike in the desert. He took over the planning and the navigation with his Garmin Navi.

 

Charly, at 73 the oldest rider had spent some time job-related in the desert. He had also done a few trips with jeeps there.

 

Alexandro from Madrid, manager at Telefonica, who provided us with satellite phones and speaks very well French, which enabled at least a communication with the Tunisians.

 

Ian from Australia. With him I had already made a few trips in Australia‘s Blue Mountains and the rainforest. I drive one of his two BMW R75s there and when we make trips in Europe he gets one of my Zündapp KS 750s.

 

Torsten from Neubrandenburg. He provided us with some walkie-talkies that proved to be very useful because they enabled us to communicated better on difficult tracks.  For example, let the first bike pass the difficult track and in return receive a message via walkie-talkie how to cope this passage better.

 

And me Peter, responsible for the technical support and the spare parts supply, etc.

 

We went by car and trailer to Marseille, our ferry port. We left our cars and trailers on a campsite. A Tunisian ferry shipped us over to Tunis. Since we had planned an adventure trip no cabins were booked, of course. The room with the reclining seats was our destination. In a sudden action – much faster than all other similar minded ones - we rolled out our mattresses and sleeping bags and occupied the free space in front of the windows as ours. The food on the Tunisian ferry was simple, good and cheap. We particularly noticed this when we went back to France on a French ferry. Badly organized, unclean and with long waiting queues in front of the restaurant, equipped with a minimum off staff. One pizza de luxe with fake cheese and ham, igitt igitt kotz wuerg (yuk, yuk, puke, choke) as the Rhinelander says. Waiting time minimum 45 minutes and the only main meal available for 22 Euros. No thank you. 

 

Bernd had forewarned us so that we had enough food taken with us.  

 

At the arrival in Tunis one can experience the first adventure called entry. Who thinks we live in Germany in a country with a lot bureaucracy is here disabused. A chaotic customs clearance, but it works without any problems in the whole mess. Fill in a few forms here, a stamp there, no not one stamp. Important is to have two stamps in the passport upon entry and that you can prove two stamps at your departure. Otherwise something is wrong. Some explanations, a visa and all this in a confusing mess for us. It takes African patience and then after a final control you are suddenly released and feel free. Now it was three o’clock and we still wanted to do a few kilometers before sunset to get quickly closer to our destination the desert.

 

The traffic in Tunis is a bit strange for us. As we found the right way, we were quickly out of the stinking crowd and on the highway heading south. Because tolls have to be paid there is not as much traffic as on the main road. Even though everything looks pretty chaotic, I must say we did not see the slightest accident during the whole trip.

 

At a stop Bernd raised the palm of his hand against the sun and expertly explained to us that there were still two fingers wide to the horizon. This would mean that the sun would go down in about ½ an hour. So far we had put 250 km behind us. So it was time to look for a place to sleep. A few kilometers away we saw a salt lake with trees. We waited on the main street while Bernd explored the area. Ten minutes later he had found the right place and called us with his walkie-talkie to come and join him at the salt lake. Of course five Wehrmachtsgespanne along the road had been noticed. As soon as we had reached our sleeping place an old Mercedes with three young guys arrived. They appeared to be very impressed by our bikes and tried to convince us to camp outside of their house in the next village. But we did not want that at all and explained them that we had to do some repair work and could not drive any more. Now they asked for cigarettes and beer. We did not get rid of them the whole evening. Only after we had made them unmistakably clear that we were not interested in any more gibberish, they went off.  Not without having given us their address and that they were expecting us for breakfast the next morning. We learnt from this experience and during the following days we looked for our campsite when we were sure that nobody could follow us.

 

Very early in the morning we started and headed towards our destination. Alexandro was not satisfied with his engine performance and I drove his bike for test purposes. I found out that one cylinder head gasket was leaking. Of course it was the one on the right hand side. We stopped and dismantled the cylinder head. We noticed that he had over wound the upper cylinder head screw behind the spark plug and that there were no more threads in the cylinder. After an initial helplessness we found a solution for the problem. We also dismantled the cylinder, filed the thread completely out and put a screw from the inside. The screw head had to be cut off to a 1/3 to fit. Everything was put back together again and worked properly for the entire journey. This repair had cost us a lot of time. In the evening we found a nice sleeping place in an acacia grove.

  

Around noon we reached our desired destination Douz. Here all tanks and jerry cans were filled up, water and fruit were bought and we had lunch in one of the few restaurants. The Tunisians are very friendly and pleasant people. When we ignore the exception with the guys specialized on tourists we only made positive experiences with the people there.  When we bought something in a village we always paid the same prices as the locals without bargaining.

 

At the southern city limit of Douz began the Sahara desert. With the help of our GPS Navis we quickly found the entrance to the track that headed into the desert. There is not – as one may imagine – one track as a clear and definite way. No, there is a variety of tracks which generally lead in one direction, part again, cross each other or simply end at one point. In this area you can only orientate yourself with a navigation system or according to our ancient fathers’ custom with a compass. The track we had chosen was 30 – 50 meters wide. Bernd was leading and got stuck in a sand field after only a few hundred meters. Only with luck I could pass him and churn myself through the sand to the next bit of solid ground. Ian came through too but the others got all stuck in regular intervals. Now the shovelling, pushing and pulling began.

 

To get stuck with all bikes right at the beginning was not very encouraging for the long way ahead of us.

 

 

After all bikes were back online again, we first discussed what we had done wrong. The first thing was we had not driven aggressively enough. We had to drive with more momentum into the sand field; the speed had to be maintained and there should be no loss of power, which meant 2nd gear and full throttle. Then we had driven in our usual way one behind the other in the same track. This could not be the way to do in the sand. Everybody deepened the track more and the following driver overlaid with the bike or sidecar on the sand, which inevitably acted as a brake.

Conclusion: Do not drive in the same track and drive with good momentum. And behold the next 10 km everything went like clockwork. Ian and Torsten had not the courage to let the throttle fully open all the time and a few times got nearly stuck again when crossing a dune. But Ian was the first to realize that it makes sense to jump off the bike just before it stops and to push the bike until it ran free again and had enough momentum. So everyone learnt for himself to defeat the dunes and the sand. When the sun stood two fingers wide in front of the horizon we decided to look for a sleeping place off the main track. Bernd explored the terrain behind a bigger dune and if we had the possibility to get to the other side.  

 

Believe it or not but behind this dune in the middle of the dessert was a wonderful campground and a well. The well consisted of a 8 to 10 meter deep shaft and a primitive tripod of round wood. The well was only covered with an old carpet. We recognized that it could be a fountain because a long rope and a leather bucket were lying in the nearby brushwood. The well had a lot of water and we used it for welcoming refreshment, although we did not want to drink it. It slightly smelled of sulfur, but it was great for a shower. During our trip we met a few four wheel drives and solo bikes. You are seldom alone in the desert. When we enjoyed the absolute silence at our first break approx. 15 Km from the next village an old lady collecting wood showed up behind a dune. She went out into the desert ignoring us. She knew her way without navigation system and without any luggage.

  Koordinaten of the well:

  33.382 846 N         09.053 836 3 E

 

 

The next morning we had to cross the high dune again and three bikes got stuck, because we could only go back using the old track. Only 2 – 3 meters were missing to cross the dune ridge. I had cut a few sand boards from an old multiplex panel. Only approx. 20 cm wide and my mates remarked with a smile that we could still use them for a campfire, because the simple boards did not look like being a big help. But when we used them this morning for the first time we were astonished how helpful these boards were. Three men heaved the sidecar wheel out of the sand and laid a board underneath. Then a second board was placed in front of the front wheel. Unfortunately the boards, of which we had six, were 20 cm too long, so that they could not be pushed in front of the rear wheel. The driver stood beside his bike and switched into the first gear while two or three men pushed heavily at the same time. Once the rear wheel was free, it ran on the sand board of the front wheel and the bike got enough momentum to drive on. Each of us had his own opinion if the obstacles could be passed better with or without differential lock. I drove always without differential lock and got only stuck once in a dune. We all halved the air pressure, which brought significant benefits. Whether with Bridgestone tires or with tires of the Munich Oldtimers both had a good conduct in the sand and we could not see any differences.

 

Exhausting was “this slave work” in any case, so we always used the early day. At sunrise around 6 o’clock we went off. At night you could see a fantastic starry sky, which you can only see in the desert. At 10 o’clock at night you could only hear a regular snoring in the tents.

 

Breakfast consisted mostly of bread and canned meat spread. Bernd had taken a high quality American gasoline stove. But as a newly installed gasket was faulty the stove transformed into a flame thrower at its first operation. Torsten extinguished it with a lot of sand and Bernd was really annoyed that his lovely cooker was unusable. I had taken an old Russian gasoline stove with me. Unbreakable as ever the Russian simple technique worked for all of us from now on. 2 men together cooked their food in the evening. This meant that we opened a tin of soup and heated it up. Popular were a kind of chilli con carne Texasfeuertopf or mutton stew with beans.   As “nightly palaver water” we used our driving wine. Driving wine consists of 50% red wine and 50% water. We had converted two storage boxes with a stainless steel insert and a tap so that 11 liters of driving wine could fit. In order to sit comfortably we all had brought a folding chair.  You can see we were giving ourselves a little bit of comfort too.

 

Eventually we reached a little old fortress, a military outpost of the Tunisian military. In front of it the desert café. They served tea or cold drinks. The track turned to a 90° angle in front of a large dune field to the south. This track was a hard bumpy gravel road and it made no fun to drive on it. So far the sand had been light beige, after the next bend to the east into the dunes the sand was Africa beige just like the colour of our bikes. This sand was even finer. For comparison, an hourglass is filled with pebbles. Some solo bike drivers stood on the edge of the track in front of a dune field staring at us in disbelief as we went by friendly greeting them. Bernd disappeared behind the first dune and I accelerated not to loose him.

 

Now for me one of the best driving sections began quite unexpectedly. It only went up and down in the yellow sand of the dunes. Just to climb the next dune was the only goal. It was like a thrill. Always the fear not to make it and then the joy to be on top of the dune, but there was the next dune already in sight. You drive down the dune and at the bottom there is a step as high as a small garden wall in the only possible driving direction. You cannot slowdown, because then you will not manage to climb. So full power towards the wall of sand, dive into the sand and up again the dune; the adrenalin is pulsating. This drive took only 10 minutes but for me it was one of the greatest experiences of the whole trip. Because it was not always possible to choose another driving track then the preceding bike, the last bikes had much more difficulties and the last driver – Torsten – got stuck on the last dune summit. With the help of all of us the bike was pushed to a small open area between the dunes. From this point he had the possibility to start the bike again and to cross the dune with the right momentum. Since there were only a few meters at his disposal he could only drive in the 2nd gear, because he had no time to shift gears before he had to climb the dune. In this situation one could see the good torque in the lower speed range of the KS 750.  Even though the BMW R75 drivers do not like to hear it but a BMW R75 would have repeatedly given up without any power in the sand where a KS 750 still gets ahead with power. All KS 750s had to undergo a few jumps during the fast rides in the dunes so that the front fork hit so deeply down to such an extent that the lower headset hit the fender.

This would have deformed the front fork of a BMW a lot.

  

From here we went to the next dune field where we spent the night. The next day we took a track of partly 100 m. wide in the direction of Ksar Ghilane  - an oasis, which was our destination. Then we curved again for hours through a labyrinth-like dune field and cruised like a sailing boat against the wind around those dunes we could not cross or did not want to cross because they were too steep. We wanted to avoid too much work in case we got stuck.

The next day at lunchtime our GPS indicated us that there were only 6.3 Km to the oasis.

 

 

 

On the left hand side we saw the old French fortress „Colonne Leclerc“of Ksar Ghilane and in front of us two high dunes. We had to pass through these dunes. Bernd drove up the first dune with a lot of speed and then turned to the left in such a way that he passed between both dunes. He could stop on a small open space with a solid surface behind the dunes. He had a look at the area and informed us via walkie-talkie that the next one could come. It was Torsten. Bernd had drawn an S-shape trail between the dunes and Torsten should follow it. Torsten managed it just before the dune dropped and got stuck. It simply lacked momentum to tackle the deep sand uphill. The trail was really deep now. It was not easy to get the bike running again in the midday heat.Bernd informed us that there was no space for more bikes on the spot where he stood. If the next driver should manage to cross the dune he should keep on going until he found a save place to stop. I was the next and I did not see any chance to climb the dune on the same track. So I decided not take the down slowing S-shape track between the dunes but to cross the dunes on a new trail in a straight line. I drove as far backwards on the solid surface as possible, started in the 2nd gear with a howling engine with full throttle uphill the dune and managed it. My mates looked quite surprised when they saw me 3 meters above them on the top of the dune. But I was not less surprised to have managed this. In front of me it went 3 meters downhill back on the existing track like on an embankment slope. There was not much time to think because it went down in nose-dive to the existing track. I had enough momentum to accelerate the KS for the next and the next and endless more dunes. The next safe place to stop was 2 km away. Another three bikes had to get over the dunes. I saw my mates four hours later because they had had a lot of work 

Alexandro had tried to take the same path than me but there was already my track and he got stuck just before the top.

Charly took the old S-track and got stuck as well. He got sand boards underneath and it happened what nobody expected. He started, sat down on his bike and just drove off and made it over the dune.

 

 Ian had not found the right path and got stuck several times. He was completely exhausted after several hours of hard work in the heat. Only with the help of some Dutchman bike drivers we managed to get also the last bike back on the track.

I was at the other end of this dune field and stopped a tourist group, who wanted to drive this track with their four wheel drives. They drove from the oasis the route through the dune field and then back again. If one of these vehicles had met one of our bikes on this track they could not have passed each other. This would have meant for us another bike stuck on the track. 

Via walkie-talkie Bernd informed me when one of our bikes could go back on the track and I avoided that another vehicle drove on this track from my side.

Alexandro got stuck on the track and a following 40 to. MAN hooked him up and towed him to my place. The Dutch group drove through the desert with 3 MAN special vehicles that had been equipped for the rally Paris Dakar years ago. A 4-, a 3- and a 2-axle truck. These huge vehicles had no problems wit any dune, something with 600 PS and 13 liters capacity and a tank of 8000 liters diesel. Nice people and very helpful.

The oasis in mind, we tackled the last huge dune field, in which two other off roads cars with tourists were stuck. Now we already had enough experience and managed to cross the dune field with all KS 750s. Once in the oasis a new world waited for us. Trees, green and several campsites, that were occupied with four wheel drives and a natural small lake which was fed by a hot water source. We found a lovely camping spot in the adjacent forest, set up our tents and went to one of the small coffee shops for a cup of tea, after that a refreshing bath in the hot water pool. Life can be so beautiful. Everybody marveled how it was possible to cross the desert with these old and strange vehicles.

My driver‘s seat frame was broken and was welded on one of the campsites. Torstens’s foot brake lever was loose on the shaft and prevented a proper gear shifting. We replaced it by a new one with good teething and the gear shifting worked again. Charly changed his spark plugs, because he had had ignition failures on the last bit of track. On Bernd’s bike the centrifugal adjuster was detached, which caused a permanent pre-ignition and the engine had become excessively hot. Ian’s bike lost oil on the magneto. We checked it and found out that it was loose.

 

Before we left the oasis the next day we refueled our bikes at one of the jerry can filling stations. The gas station was a hut full with plastic jerry cans with gasoline. A barefoot Arab filled our tanks. The price was 30% higher than normal but that was fully acceptable in this area.

On the horizon we saw the Dutch trucks disappear like ships in a straight line over the dunes. They did not need a track. We followed the track out of the oasis and into the desert from now on in Northern direction back home. We spent some more exiting and diversified days.

 

 

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Summary:

The Zündapp KS 750 is suitable for a desert crossing.

The sidecar should have as little weight as possible.

Each kilo counts when you have to push the bike out of the sand..

To get a Wehrmachtsgespann out of the sand at least four men are necessary.

Sand boards are useful and are often the only possibility to get the bike going again.

On the next trip I would take a good quality lifting jack to lift the rear wheel out of the sand.

A support vehicle which would transport the heavy goods like water, jerry cans and spare parts, and could also provide towing assistance if needed would save the drivers a lot of work.

 

We all agreed. This trip was a real adventure and despite all efforts and strains no one regretted to have participated in it.
For me it was not the last time that I was in the desert.

The desert can make addictive. Do not ask me why but it is true. 

 

Peter

 

PS. April 2012 we start the next trip to the Sahara - more information click here. 

 

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