Tour d’Afrique: Crossing a Continent by Bike

09
May
2012

A couple of weeks ago I put up a guest post on riding in Africa that was not totally accurate.  So today we’re posting the inside look by someone who’s done it countless times….Paul McManus, a guide for Tour d’Afrique.  Whether you’ve always wanted to do something like this or just want to read about the fantastic adventure of cycling Africa, you’ll want to have a read and check out his pictures.

Crossing a Continent by Bike

by Paul McManus

What’s it like to join a bike tour across a continent?  How do you prepare?  Who does these things?  Are all good questions.  None of them can be answered quickly.  In fact at Tour d’Afrique, where I have worked as a guide for the last 4 years, we have a series of about 22 updates we send to each rider who registers for our tours that answer those questions and a few more.

But let me try to give you the 10,000 foot view here and at the end I’ll throw in a few bits of random advice I’ve learned over the last 4 years of guiding tours for Tour d’Afrique.

One of things you’ll learn to appreciate on a journey like this is the simplicity of life and the daily routine is a part of that.  The distractions of everyday life don’t exist, no facebook notifications or emails.  No phones ringing or tweets pinging etc… It’s always a bit of an adjustment for the type A’s out there but soon everyone adjusts and life becomes quite pleasant.

Here’s how the routine generally goes:

Wake up at dawn:

  • Pack your tent, sleeping bag etc… into the support vehicles
  • Coffee should be ready when you’re done packing
  • Breakfast is ready 30 minutes later

Breakfast:

  • Lasts 30 minutes, Usually consists of oatmeal, bread and spreads, fruit and muesli (that’s granola for you non euro types)

Ride your Bike:

  • Ride the day at your own pace and stop when you like.
  • Depending on the tour we average up to 120 km a day but….

- When we’re climbing the Pamirs in Tajikistan we’ll do more like 60 to 80 km in a day
- When we’re battling the rocks in the Dida Galagu desert we’ll do 80 – 90 kms a day
- When we’re riding through the pan flat Kalahari in Botswana we’ll do up to 203 km in a day
- Of course sometimes you just have to ride naked, regardless of the distance

Coke Stops:

  • We encourage you to stop along the ride, chat with locals, have a coke (if you’re lucky it might even be cold).

Lunch:

  • At a little past the halfway point of the day
  • Usually Consists of sandwiches and fruit

More Riding:

  • After lunch continue riding to camp, take your time and enjoy the scenery
  • Have another coke stop if you like, or take a few pictures, you never know what you’ll see…

Arrive in Camp:

  • At Camp you’ll find your bags waiting for you
  • We’ll have tea and soup waiting for you as well
  • Every evening we hold a rider meeting to go over the next day’s route

Dinner:

  • After 120 kms of cycling your pretty ready for dinner.  Eat lots, since your burning 5000 -
  • 8000 calories a day you’ll most likely lose weight no matter how much you eat

After Dinner:

  • Relax and enjoy the evening
  • Most everyone is asleep by 9 pm (you did get up at dawn after all)
  • Every 5 – 6 days we have a rest day. No cycling, quite a bit of beer drinking.

Repeat:

  • Depending on the tour, repeat the above 42 – 129 times!

A few other thoughts and words of advice:

You’ll Pack too Much:

Everyone does their first tour.  Try to pack as light as you can.  One of the really nice benefits of being on 4 months tour through rural places is you learn how simple life can be, and how little you actually need to enjoy it.  It’s one of the lessons we hope every rider brings home with them.  Living simply is good everyone.

Don’t bring a $5000 bike.  Bring a $500 bike:

When travelling with your bike you want strong, reliable, easy to fix in the middle of the Kara Kum desert kind of gear.  That means steel, not carbon.  Shimano LX not SRAM Red.  The nice thing is that most of the reliable, durable stuff out there is a lot less expensive.

You’re probably in good enough shape now:

It might surprise you to learn that many of our clients are not cyclists.  Some of them become cyclists after their first tour with us, but they are not when they first sign up. You get in shape on tour.  If you commute 20 minutes a day twice a week you can do this.  Of course you should train for something like this.  I strongly recommend it in fact. But certainly don’t let a lack of fitness be an excuse not to do it.  If the time is right, take the plunge.

You might get married:

I know that sounds crazy. But it’s amazing to me how many people meet their wife / husband or boyfriend / girlfriend on tour.  Social life on tour is a big part of being on tour.  At the very least you’ll make some lifelong friends.

Adventure is not always fun:

To expect that everyday will be fun and carefree is a mistake.  This is an expedition in the truest sense, an adventure.  And like most adventures there will be parts of it that suck.  It’s hard to have an adventure without some real mental, physical or emotional challenges and our tours usually will present you with all three. Your boundaries will be pushed in ways you can not expect or prepare for.  It’s what I like most about our tours but if that’s not your thing well…

So that’s it, a cross continental bike tour in a nutshell.  Each tour is a very different experience. It’s the people on the tour that make it great and I think that’s what really separates a tour from a solo trip.  If you have question or advice of your own I’d love to hear it in the comments section below, or you can email me directly at paul@tourdafrique.com.

 

This guest post was put together by Tour d’Afrique tour director, Paul McManus.  Paul designs and guides cross continental bike tours for Tour d’Afrique Ltd, best known for their annual Cairo to Cape Town Tour.  Check out their website, www.tourdafrique.com and be sure to contact him with any questions you have.

Enjoy Your Ride

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10 Responses to “ Tour d’Afrique: Crossing a Continent by Bike ”

  1. Roger on May 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    How do i get a job as a guide for the tour d’afrique?

    • Paul J McManus on May 9, 2012 at 5:22 pm

      Hey Roger,

      We hire between 5 and 8 contract staff every year. Everyone starts as contract staff. They pay is terrible and work is damn hard. If you come back for a second year the pay gets better but it is certainly not something you do to get rich. You can apply via our website.
      Hiring usually begins in September for the following year. Mostly we hire:
      1) Experienced Medics (nurses and paramedics),
      2) Chefs (trained chefs, the fact that you “love to cook” or “cook a lot for friends” does not count, not when you are cooking for 80 people in the middle of a desert.) 3) Communications officers – People with proven photography, writing and social media skills. Having your own (successful) blog or experience working as a freelance writer is a big plus.
      4) Experienced Bike Mechanics (again you need training and time working in a shop) and
      5) Assistant tour directors – this is a broader category but you should have leadership experience, a lot of travel experience, some first aid training and some basic skills as a bike mechanic.

      All candidates need to have travel experience (if you’ve never left your home country don’t apply) and wilderness first aid training is a plus.

  2. Sam on May 9, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    I have a question for Paul. I do a fair bit of riding but have never been on a tour like you explain in this article and I am concerned that I won’t be able to keep up. Do you have any kind of prerequisites that must be obtained before coming on the tour or how can I ensure that I will fit in?

    • Paul J McManus on May 9, 2012 at 5:27 pm

      Hey Sam, I thought I replied to your question earlier but the comment seems to not have gotten saved.

      We do not have any prerequisites, though everyone who registers is required to fill out a medical form that we’ll review for potential issues. A big goal for us is to make adventure bike tours accessible to as many people as possible and our support system is designed around that idea. Not only do we want everyone to be able to experience Africa by bike but the more diverse the group of people on tour the better the tour experience is for everyone.

      If you regularly ride 3 days a week or more you should have no issue. In the rider updates that all registered riders get we have advice on training and preparation.

  3. Greggor on May 9, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Nice naked photo. Looks like a lot of fun had on this tour.

    • Paul J McManus on May 9, 2012 at 2:32 pm

      Yeah :). That naked ride has become a tradition on tour now. Usually its just for a mile or two. This years group took it a bit further with one woman riding naked all day (80 km) and a group of riders even stopped at a local snack stop without any clothes on and had a cold coke with the owner.

  4. Ben on May 9, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Touring Africa by bike has been on my wish list for some time now. I hope to look you up soon on this. Nice preview of what is to come for me.

    • Paul J McManus on May 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm

      Thanks Ben. You can always find out more info over at the Tour d’Afrique blog as well.

  5. Vance on May 9, 2012 at 5:36 am

    I rode for a couple days on the Tour Divide last year with a man and woman who had completed this. The stories they had were amazing. However, to put it in perspective, even though the Tour D’Afrique was 3 to 4 months, they both said the Tour Divide was infinitely harder.

    • Paul J McManus on May 9, 2012 at 8:18 am

      Thanks for the comment Vance, that must have been Torey and Paul you met on tour divide?

      Seems like its becoming a trend for people to ride our Africa tour and then do the tour divide as we have at least one client finishing up his Cairo to Cape Town tour this week who plans to race the divide this year as well.

      Coincidentally we are touring the divide next year on our Alaska to Mexico tour (called the North American Epic) Its not official just yet but we should be announcing that in a few weeks on our website.
      I can imagine the Tour Divide is a much bigger physical challenge. I would say the pace of our tours is moderate for a fit cyclist. Opinions vary though.

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