The SandRaiders rally raid event was inspired by the adventures of Thierry Sabine in North Africa and the first Paris Dakar race back in the 80’s. Riders bring their “period correct” Suzuki DR600s, Yamaha 600 Ténérés, original Honda Africa Twins and Honda XR’s and other big trail bikes. Pep Segura and his team collect the bikes in a few European cities weeks before the trip and take care of the painful customs formalities for everyone. All the details are handled so riders just need to grab their gear, hop on a plane and get to the first stage of the event in Morocco for this epic travel in time.

Pep the boss, a Catalan guy from Igualada, is a former racer. He piloted the big 4x4 truck in Dakar in 2013 and used it as our assistance vehicle. His fascination of off road racing started when he was 18 and he has participated in many championships in Catalonia and Spain, driving a Golf Oettinger 1 which then evolved to a Mitsubishi Evo VII, VIII and IX. He’s done African raids as well as Panafrica, and Dakar. Pep knows Morocco,  organizing 4X4 trips for years via his company Soloraids, based in Igualada, Spain. Respect, conviviality, friendship, and pleasure are the key words of this real “revival“ of the glorious years of the rally raids in Africa. SandRaiders is not a competition and riders are discouraged from transforming the Moroccon tracks into a motocross ground.

It is still a sporty trip where endurance matters and is full of tricky terrain where everyone helps each other. Riders get to experience the local culinary specialties and completely enjoy a true feeling of freedom which becomes scarce in western parts of the world. This event is open to anybody whose desire  is to ride a vintage motorcycle (Scrambler or trail – no modern – Old ladies only).

At the start of every stage a road-book, GPS, beacon and survival food kit are distributed to all riders. With a starting point connected  with the arrival, the riders leave in bunches of 5 to 6 motorcycles grouped by affinities and/or mother tongue. Each guy rides at his own pace; the groups sometimes languish by forming other groups either because of skills, mechanical troubles, physical performance, navigation mistakes or all the above. Even if riders are not up to the pace, the assistance staff are there to guarantee that it won’t finish too badly! The number of 4x4 vehicles involved is very impressive, making it look like a real competition: one big heavy duty truck for the transport of gear, food, water, beers and motorcycles that didn’t make it; one Dakar support truck; one pick-up for mechanical assistance; one Land Cruiser for press; one medical Land Cruiser; one Land Cruiser super duty for the boss, and two motorcycles for the press (one that I used for 4 years now, a Suzuki DR600- a real strong motorcycle but one that is missing an electric starter!)

In terms of medical staff the team is led by an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in ultrasounds. There is also a neuropsychologist specializing in post-traumatic stress as well as another Spanish doctor. The team is very responsive to incidents and move rapidly in the 4x4 using satellite, GPS and radio.

Safety is a priority. Every participant gets a beacon that’s directly connected by satellite and allows the boss to know exactly where each rider is located, showing up on his digital tablet, even in the middle of the desert!  The whole raid is also monitored in real time by a tech in Spain. This equipment also allows the riders to contact mechanics or doctors at any time and to notify the organization in case of late but safe arrivals. The Moroccan army helicopter rescue is the last option proposed by this electronic device, which is to be used only in case of life or death emergencies.
Riding a red and white Cagiva Elefant, Jordi Arcarons, a true Dakar living legend is leading groups. With 15 Dakar’s as a motorcycle racer who rode for KTM and now working as Yamaha ‘s Dakar rider manager, Jordi helps everyone with sharp advice, a good pace and his presence is reassuring to all that are following him.

On the mechanical side, Pep surrounds himself with true MacGyver’s: two chaps capable of repairing a clutch in the sand, welding a crankcase bare-chested, with sunglasses, a permanent smile on his lips and a fresh beer never too far. One is riding a motorcycle and the other one driving a pick-up. They are reactive and very effective. They operate all day long through many breakdowns then help the participants for the daily mechanical revisions at the end of each stage, sometimes until late at night. The older machines with lots of mileage on them are subject to really tough use. We sometimes start to dream about a 450 EXC last generation. Of course, they are not magicians so everyone needs to know their bike before leaving and bring spare parts.

Pep has an extraordinarily efficient staff. Volunteering to help from the beginning of the raid, they give you everything to make the machine well-oiled without denaturing the adventurous side. No strict rules just that everyone is responsible for himself and to use common sense. The Catalunia team works day and night with little sleep and lots of smiles.
The trip is constantly evolving every day as Pep discovers new tracks, new routes and new horizons. Morocco provides lots of varied grounds. When we left the famous imperial city of Fes for Atlas during a rainy stage, the route alternated quickly with fast and muddy sections. The forests of cedars on the Atlas Mountains were simply magnificent. Riders had the look of intense concentration, required at all times never letting their guard down.

After crossing the Atlas we rode over the plateau of Rekkam where our wheels touched the first sandy zones. Everything was dry as we said goodbye to the rain and wind, which was replaced with blazing sun despite being the spring season. Around Merzouga, at the desert doorstep, we ran into Sebastien Loeb who was testing with the Peugeot Sport team.

The road book took us through a large canyon filled with slippery rocks. We crossed small lost villages made with brown dirt where people lived on rather rudimentary farming. With the sun beating down, small children played in the shade of date palms. They were delighted to greet us in every small town. Caution and respect were the main thoughts as we all throttled down

One stage passed through the mythical “forbidden track” borrowed by those 80’s raids. Rocks sometimes made way for small dunes and “fesh-fesh”. A very fine and light powdery substance, fesh-fesh in large enough quantities can spell instant disaster for an adventure rider.

Everyone had their own version of how to get through it, the experienced riders most of the time at full throttle. It’s in these moments that commitment is needed! The last 25 km left no respite, motorcycles ran on the sandy chaotic sea before that last stretch into our finishing point. After the kilometers traveled on an immense plateau, the enormous volumes of the dunes of the Sahara faced us. All at once, contrasts of pink and orange colors presented the riders with something to admire, enjoying a well deserved rest in the luxury desert camp of Erg Chigaga.

The stages in the sand dunes are a unique experience for whoever rides there for the very first time. The heavy bikes from the 80’s suffer; engines get hot, consume oil and get packed with sand.  Riders fall over easily and quickly lose any energy they have left over, in particular those who do not have an electric starter.

The large cliff-like dunes can cause serious falls if the riders don’t stop at the very top to check. We’ve seen it during this 2018 Dakar in Peru. To climb these real mountains requires real strategy and very good tactical skills. The task is sometimes more complicated with the sun at your back. Also, the orientation can be very tricky due to the circles we do to climb the dunes. The pleasure of surfing an untouched dune is huge. It’s quite similar to the sensations felt by a skier in fresh powder. Sahara offers its best moments at sunrise and sunset. The morning sand is harder and the atmosphere is “fresher” during the ride. The light, colored with one thousand tints of red and orange is gorgeous, almost biblical. Every year, the participants wait for those magical moments with the impatience of a child.

The white beach is also one very impressive place we’ve been lucky to see with the SandRaiders. This year, Pep changed the tracks so we could ride a large 70-kilometer long strip of sand between dunes on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Located at the bottom of Agadir, south west Morocco, just before the Western Sahara where everyone can ride full throttle is an unbelievable feeling of true freedom!

The last off road stage of the trip allowed us to play in some small dunes and cross some “fesh-fesh” before heading to Ouarzazate via the famous Lake Iriki, completely dried up. Having said our farewells to tracks and desert we took the road to Marrackech. A sinuous road of asphalt, passing by the famous village of AïtBenAdou which was a sight for sore eyes while riders and machines got a much needed rest. This transition was hardly appreciated but allowed us to still dream a little before going back to our normal activity. The magnificence of the landscapes, the hospitality and gastronomy are making Morocco a very exotic and dreamy destination at just a few wing flaps from Europe. See you next year!  Soloraids:  Sandraiders:

This story was originally published in Issue 22