Kit and Bike Reviews - Trans Africa



Crossing Africa from the north to the south on a motorcycle highly exposes the equipment and material to stress and tear.

Given this fact, I would like to review some selected items of my kit as well as the motorbike.

All evaluations are based on my own experiences and can not be regarded as generally right. However they are meant to show what worked well for me and they probably could be helpful for others during their preparation of a similar project.

Basically, on an overland adventure/expedition trip you mostly carry things with an important function on your bike. All parts are more or less frequently used and their flawless performance in the right moment can be crucial for the success of the journey.

To mention the aluminium paniers of Touratech as a positive example. They contain the most important parts of my equipment, ranging from the laptop and the water filter to medicines and spare parts. If such a box was not able to withstand the vibrations and impacts of the hard piste roads and broke off, I would have a serious problem.



Letís start with the motorbike. The BMW R 80 GS Basic is an often used and very proven travel motorcycle. Due to the durability of the flat-twin boxer engine and the maintainance- friendly set up of the machine (1996 model) it is still a very good solution for a transcontinental longdistance ride.


BMW R 80 gs basic (Bj 96)


Oil and Filters:

Complete service at the departure with the odometer showing 14000kms.

I renewed the engine oil after 3500 kilometers in Spain without changing the oil filters and then after a further 6000km I changed filters and oil in Bamako/Mali. I also changed the transmission oil in Bamako after altogether approx. 10000kms.

After another 6000kms I changed the oil in Libreville/Gabon without taking out the filters. From there I drove down to Capetown to have the bike completely serviced again after 20000kms altogether.



That can be quite high on the R 80 GS. Particularly with heavy loads, heat and frequent changes of gears and speed, as conditions are on sandy piste roads through tropical rain forests, the oil consumption goes up to 500mls per 1000kms. This however can be regardedas quite normal due to the design-specifically higher oil consumption of the flat double-piston boxer engine. Therefore it is actually important that you control the oil level regularly andcarry the necessary quantity according to distance and availability to be always able to refill. For me 1 liter was always sufficient. My friend Tacodrove his Africa Twin from Morocco to Libreville without checking the oil once, there the BMW requires some more control. 



Normally this can be neglected. However, in my case the seal which separates the transmission box from the drifeshaft was leaky since Marocco.

Thus I slowly but constantly lost transmission oil, which then collected itself in the rear rubber bellow. Apparently that was not a big problem, I only changed the seal after 20000km in Capetown.


Valves and Carburetors:

I adjusted the valves approximately every 6000kms and also synchronized the carburetors then. I noticed that the synchronisation of the carburetors altered much faster on long, hot and dusty piste roads so I had to readjust them every 2000kms then.

Starting from approx. 1500 meters above the sea the Boxer does not feel good with its normal standgas setup any longer. Particularly not when it comes to start characteristics in damp and cool morning hours. I simply turned up the standgas at both carburetors one ľ revolution before the starting and when the engine was at its temperature I lowered it again. It was never necessary to change the jets.



Bike Handling in General:

On tarmac and curvy roads the R 80 GS is still a motorcycle that, in my opinion, does not need to shrink from the comparison to modern machines. Of course if you presuppose a travel-oriented driving style.

Particularly on roads with narrow curves and moderate tarmac quality I often found myself at the rear wheel of some Sporttourer when crossing down South Africa with the heavilly loaded GS Basic.

With its low center of gravity the BMW behaves absolutely agile in city traffic and on the highway in my opinion driving pleasure is only set a border by the average brakes. The drum brake at the rear as well as the single disk with one calliper at the front are enough when there is enough reaction time, agressive stops as required in emergencies of course do not compare to the perfomance of up-to-date brake systems built in the new GS models.

On the freeway ride one may wish to have a stronger engine on the Basic and somewhat more rigidity in the frame and fork. At speeds beyond the 130km/h and with loading the steering slightly starts oscillating and longitudinal grooves in the tarmac become a little unpleasant.

But then, if you consider that the bike comes with a fork of conventional design that therefor doesnít require much maintainance and also wonít leak after 100000kms unlike many top notch upside down and ďready to raceĒ fabrications and that you have a sturdy engine that is lasting so long because of not beeing totally overpowered, you will be happy that you chose the bike. Especially where there is no support and you need to trust reliability rather than performance.


The only situation where the enthusiast adventure rider might want to improve his bike is on very fissured piste roads. Which of course is no surprise given the all the weight.


The low center of gravity of the motorcycle automatically leads to a relatively low clearance and pothole pistes over 800kms, as you find them in Angola, become a real challenge. Larger ridges and ground waves easily lead to hitting the ground with the bash plate, even with 20km/h in the first gear and with Whitepower suspension in the back and in harder fork springs in the front.

It is very important to take such passages with strongly reduced speed, otherwise one risks a damaged oil pan or a torn off exhaust. The big Touratech bash plate is absolutely necessary when such roads are to be expected!

Even on the rough piste in combination with heavy loads the bike still reacts quite calculably. Only speeds beyond 70km/h are to be enjoyed with caution, traversing sandy ruts in this speed range with an rather longitudinal angle immediately causes strong oscillating motions from frame to handlebar. Through hard bearing straight line and immediate increasing of the rear whee tractionl through the foot brake one normally comes again into the straight ride. This variant has proved itself to be quite efficient with me and usually worked much better than opening the gas, given the 50 HP of the R 80 GS with full loading, a gas impact only affects the handling directly if you drive beyond the 4500 revolutions.

I must remark at this point that these driving conditions are extremes that normaly can be avoided.                                 

The fact that I remained crash free during my entire crossing of Africa, apart from that open sewer in Morocco which I didnít see, is partially due to the outstanding handling of the machine. A BMW R 80 GS Basic is and will always be an excellent travel motorcycle.



The Bike in Wetlands and Tropical Rains.

Constant driving through water holes and mud pools naturally does not represent the intended purpose of a motorcycle. When crossing Africa the length wise it is difficult to impossibe not to get into the rainy season at least once.

Tropical rainfalls usually alternate with hot sun after a few hours again, the roads however remain in a terrible condition further on.

The R 80 GS has got an excellent behavior when riding through mud pools and not even crossing ridges beeing covered by 45cms of water brings the bike easily out of its straight line. Remarkabe for this also was my involuntary tire combination, in the front a Michelin T 63 and in the back a 120 Michelin Syrac street-enduro tire!

The actual problem when crossing through water holes comes from the low air filter box with its intake facing into the driving direction. Starting from approx. 30-45cms of water depth on 3 to 4 meters length of passage water inevitably comes into the air box. In the Congo I drove through water with a depth of around 50cms again and again and my airfilter remained constantly wet over a distance greater than 500kms.

Fortunately that did not turn into a problem and thereby only once the engine died. Then I had water in the combustion chamber, so I had to unscrew the spark plugs, put the bike in the 5th gear and squeeze the water out by spinning the rear wheel.

As an acute remedy in case of emergency one could try to extend the air intake by a snorkel and pull it up laterally at the motorcycle. I havenít tried it.

Because the cylinders are constantly cooled down by the submerged operation, it is difficult for the bike to reach its temperature. For me it has usually worked well to keep the reps upby careful acceleration just before driving through water. Thus you can avoid a dying out in the middle of a hole through undercooling and too much humidity in the air filter.

But care needs to be taken, if you give too much gas and there is already some water in the combustion chamber, that would lead to the damage of the engine. I increased the reps always very carefully listening to the engine.

These experiences can naturally be avoided on most parts of a journey and as said before, watergames are good for jet skis and not for motorcycles.


Starter and Electrics

These two areas put me into larger troubles twice. It is to be owed to the simplicity of the motorcycle that I could more or less solve these breakdowns at the roadside. In Togo my entire electrics burned down, caused by a faulty starter relay. I simply cut the wiring harness out from an old car and again soldered in cable after cable.

In Namibia the Valeostarter of the BMW gave up and was replaced by a nearly identically constructed and used Opel Astra starter. For this I simply had to exchange the part with the mounting and the starterís transmission. Now starting functions flawless again.

The starters made by the company Valeo have the large disadvantage that the magnets of the electric motor are only glued in. Through heat, dust and vibrations these can separate or break. Then you have to pushstart the motorcycle.



If you put the BMW R 80 GS Basicin a cost and benefit calculation and consider that durability, purchase price and relatively low costs of the Carnet de Passage represent very important criterias of a travel machine, then you made the right choice with this motorcycle. If money does not count, today one naturally gets motorcycles with substantially more modern components as well as with electronic injections and intelligent engine management, on the extended journey through the African bush, a machine which can be repaired and maintained easily by the driver will always remain an excellent option!




Photo equipment and electronic equipment


As it is my priority to extensively document my journey I carry two cameras and a laptop on the bike.


IBM Notebook R50e

The Notebook is embedded into a Cordura case inside one of the Touratech aluminum boxes. Nearly 20000 kilometers, partly over the worst pistes of Africa with strongest vibrations could not harm the computer at all.

During outdoor use I exposed the laptop to direct sunlight and temperatures over 40 degrees, to the high humidity of the tropical rain forests as well as to the dry and sandy air of the Saharan dersert.

Often the keyboard was covered by a fine layer of flight sand but the function was never impaired.

Now, after more than 6 months of daily use I still can not determine a weakening of the batterie.


Panasonic LZ2 5Mpixel pocket and Panasonic DMC FZ50 10Mpixel mirror reflex camera

These two cameras are used daily and probably belong to to most most strained pieces of my equipment. Their function is still perfect and even extreme heat and humidity canít doanything to them.


GPS Garmin 60sxc

The GPS unit provides its service most of the time at the handle barl of the motorcycle and is connectet to the electrical system. With the modern antenna of the SIRF star generation the reception is very good. In the deepest rain forests and even in covered parkings! I always got the position indicated. The display does not exhibit one scratch so far, despite mud passages and sandstorms perfect readability is given under all driving conditions.

Also the feature of the altimeter is extremely practical, you are happy to have it in the mountains. By its pocket size and the option to operate the unit with two AA batteries itís just the ideal companion during taxi rides in large cities when the driver naturally has no idea where to go.



Aluminium Paniers by Touratech


They exeeded my expectations. The boxes are still perfectly waterproof after 20000kms, without having the slightest bent.



Camping equipment and kitchen



The tent from Salewa fulfilled its purpose, only the zipper for the inner mosquito net gave up its work already in Angola.So it couldnít be closed any more. The tent was strongly stressed through nearly daily use, nevertheless somewhat more durability would have been desirable.

The tentís groundsheet is sufficiently waterproof during normal rainfalls, when it comes to tropical rainfalls water gets through. For a minus 200Euro tent I would judge the permance to be just sufficient, however the thing with the zipper was a very unpleasant experience in a malarious district.

In Capetown I bought a new tent from Capestorm.


Sleeping Bag of Carinthia/Austria

Carinthia Lite 850. I already used this light synthetic sleeping bag during my bicycle-trip around India. In the warm clima zones it represents the best choice for me. Particularly because artificial fiber dries fast and is not eaten by parasites.

In Morocco I spent therein some nights at temperatures around the zero-degrees and had a strong sensation of cold.

Despite the indicated comfort range of around the 5 degrees I would not use the sleeping bag under 10 degrees without clothing anymore.


Camping Stove

I sent the well-known MSR Whisperlite fuel stove back home already from Morocco . Despite the correct use of the right jet it was not possible to produce a proper flame with locally available regular-grade fuel.As soon as the cooker got warm, for any reason the jet began to block and the performance was not satisfying. Also a proper regulation of the flame was not possible.

I changed to a gas stove from Campinggaz. This small unit cost approximately 20 Euros and now provides its service nearly everyday. Most important, in every African country I drove through I could buy cartridges for it.For me it is the best camping stove, it is light, easy to be regulated and a cartridge lasts for two weeks and costs 1 Euro. 



Motorcycle Clothing


Jacket of Clover

Before I took this jacket out for the long way round I had been using it for 5 years. The waterresistance is still outstandingl and all bags and zippers function perfectly well.

For the Biker, his endurojacket is the only protection against wind and weather and good quality is extremely important here. 


Enduropants of Dainese

Many others were tried, but if youíre up to wear a pair of trousers daily for several hours and for many years , then there is no better choice. By the clever ventilation system you wonít get too hot, not even in the tropics. It is a shame that these top enduropants were discontinued!


Endurostiefel of Alpine Stars - Tech 4

By its treaded sole, on journeys the endurostyle Tech 4 is the boot to go for. If the foot is pushed fast and aggressively into the ground, in order to prevent a crash through a drifting off rear, then one is glad to wear these boots.