Chris Rooke tells us about his trip to Morocco to take part in the Tuareg Rally across the Sahara desert on a Trident T150 sidecar combination.
One ordinary day towards the end of 2015 I was contacted by John Young, long time Triumph trident enthusiast, who told me he planned to enter a Trident engined motorbike and sidecar outfit made by WASP in the legendary Tuareg Rally across the Sahara desert in Morocco in March 2016. Would I like to come along?
Morocco? The Sahara desert? A Trident engined WASP outfit that was nearly 50 years old? The whole concept seemed to be completely bonkers – right up my street! Having reflected on such issues as terrorist attacks, scorpions, what the change in diet would do to my sensitive stomach and the protests of my better half, Christine, I decided to join the team. My role would be to support the two riders: John Young and his son, John Young jnr and possibly take a turn in the sidecar. (Unfortunately this didn’t happen as I couldn’t get insurance as they said I was too old! Whaaat?!)
With a week to go and everything booked I suddenly discovered that the rest of the support team had somehow filtered away and that I was in fact the only other person going. This meant I was to be responsible for driving the support van round the Sahara (on my own) and keeping the outfit running. Gulp! Luckily, though, at the eleventh hour John’s friend Eugene decided to come along too – great news, especially as he had done the rally twice before in a custom built 4X4 and so was able to give us really valuable advice. It also meant I wouldn’t be driving the van hundreds of miles across the Morocco alone.
Having loaded the outfit into John’s van (together with many boxes of spares and tools) he began the long 3 day trip down to the start line in Ouarzazate on his own. His journey was nearly 1500 miles through 4 countries but he made it OK with only two ‘spot fines’ from the Moroccan police to trouble him. On the Friday John jnr, myself and Eugene flew out to join him (after a 4 hour delay in Casablanca). On arrival we immediately got the outfit out of the van and reassembled it (it had to be taken apart to fit tin the van). The first job was to mend a puncture in the rear tyre which had happened in transit (!!) A German team with a tyre fitting jig next to us helped out and having removed the rear wheel they fitted a new inner-tube – and then another one immediately after as the first one exploded as soon as we put air in it – not a good sign! We left one of the tyre security bolts out the second time as we thought it was pinching the tube and causing the inner tubes to blow. All the other entrants (about 130) were really friendly and helpful and the outfit was the centre of attention – no-one could believe we were actually attempting the rally on it and thought we were completely mad. They were certainly right there!
We then prepared the outfit for scrutineering. Scrutineering included checking that they had spare fuel, at least 4 litres of water each, distress flares, survival blankets, a spot tracker that could transmit their exact position in case of an emergency and a full medical kit. This was a serious rally! The outfit passed!
Then came the first day of the rally. This was the acid test; would the bike make it across some of the most demanding terrain in the World? As John had rushed to get the outfit ready for the rally neither he, John jnr, or the outfit itself had ever been off road up to this moment! Pre-rally testing had been a couple of days riding on tarmac around Shropshire – not ideal preparation! On the first section they struggled badly and had to stop as the engine was getting too hot due to the thrashing they were giving it. After half an hour they re-started and made it through to the end! This was a major success as no less than 3 other entrants failed to even complete this section, including a fully race prepared 4X4 driven by an experienced professional Dakar rally driver which holed its sump and seized the engine as a result – the driver flew home later that day – probably about £100,000 worth of car and race team and it was all over in less than one mile. That gives you an idea of how tough the rally really was.
John and John then set off on the next section but got lost and then went off the road getting stuck in a ravine and had to wait 3 hours without any shade to be rescued. After this they travelled in convoy with us by road to the next town: Zagora.
The next day was a rest day for the outfit as we were ‘newcomers’ and I spent the day trying to sort out various mechanical problems. The foremost of these was the tappets. John told me that the engine had become quite quiet as we neared Zagora and so I checked the tappets. What should have been 8 and 10 thou gaps were beyond nil – all of the six tappets were tight on the valves. Had we have continued to ride the bike like this it would have burnt a valve out in no time. It showed just how hard they’d had to rev the engine to get through the first stage. I also mended a bad oil leak (loose sump plate) and fitted an extra bash plate under the exhaust to try and protect the downpipes – the damage done to the existing sump plate was incredible but it didn’t fully protect the down pipes and they’d been badly dented.
With the bike fettled the boys began the first stage the next day but had to turn back a few miles in as the going was just too tough for the outfit. Once again we drove in convoy by road to the next town; Mersouga on the edge of a large area of sand dunes. The outfit was the centre of attention wherever we went – no-one had ever seen anything like it! However, 50 miles from our destination we realised that the rear tyre had punctured again! We had little choice but to ride on with a flat tyre. We held our breath and rode on and with the tyre virtually shredded, we made it! I removed the wheel (again!) as soon as we arrived and with other teams in different hotels I entrusted fitting our spare tyre and a ‘Mousse’ – a solid rubber inner-tube used by many off-roaders instead of an inflatable one as it can’t be punctured – to the Moroccan mechanics who accompanied us. It has to be said that the fitting wasn’t exactly perfect, but we needed to ride the bike the next day and so replaced the wheel.
The following day we decided to test the bike in sand rather than attempt the rally itself as we feared it wouldn’t cope. We chose a small sand dune to practice on and it proved near impossible to ride over. Finally, in a brave attempt to conquer the sand John hit the dune at speed and as they came down the other side the front wheel dug in and flipped the outfit completely over. Luckily (very luckily) John and John were OK and the bike only had a broken clutch lever for which we had replacement. No more dunes for us! That evening we removed the rear wheel again (third time!) and gave it to another pro team on the rally to try and sort the tyre for us. They removed the existing Mousse and put a new one in, this time seating the tyre better – although even then it didn’t seat fully until we’d ridden on it for about 30 miles.
The next day we watched the pros tackling the dunes proper – amazing! One of them took me over the dunes on the back of his high performance quad bike – it’s the most exhilarating and scary thing I’ve done in years – simply awesome!
The next day we returned by road to Zagora and then by road back to Ouarzazate as we had to admit that the outfit simply couldn’t handle the conditions (by this time there had been many withdrawals and no less than 5 4X4s had rolled over). John and John crossed the finish line, however, unlike 3 of the entrants in the Newcomer group and ended up coming 3rd in the group and won a trophy! Fantastic!
The whole experience had been amazing and unforgettable. The Moroccans had been so friendly even though they still mainly rode donkeys and lived in mud huts. The landscape was incredible from rocky deserts to the rolling dunes of the Western Sahara to the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas mountains. We had bright blue sky every day and temperatures were in the low to mid twenties – perfect! The food was great, my stomach behaved itself reasonably and there were no terrorists and no mosquitoes!!! (Worse than the terrorists in my book!) Although the outfit couldn’t quite cope with the incredibly demanding terrain (watch the daily videos on YouTube – Tuareg rally 2016 – and you’ll get an idea of just how tough it was) the whole thing was a wonderful experience from start to finish and I wouldn’t have missed it for the World!
Oh, and ‘Yes’ John is already planning to return next year with a new, improved machine! Watch this space!
Chris Rooke, March 2016.
How to Restore Triumph Trident T150/T160 & BSA Rocket III – Enthusiast's Restoration Manual by Chris Rooke.
Completed at home by an enthusiastic DIY mechanic who has great experience rebuilding bikes, this book covers the complete restoration of a Triumph Trident T150V and a Triumph T160. Each and every aspect of the dismantling, refurbishment and reassembly of these classic bikes is covered in great detail, accompanied by a host of clear colour photos. More info.