Taking it to the limits
If it could speak, it would groan quietly under the oppressive weight of what it is being expected to do, while following its intended purpose without a hitch. The home of endorphins and accelerated heat rates for motorcyclists in Niedereschach, prepared my F 800 GS with the most powerful available suspension, a Touratech innovation, specially designed for motorcycles used for long-distance travel at high loads. The Touratech Suspension Level 2/ Explore HP.
Pictures: Rea La Greca, Günther Menn † Text: Günther Menn †
The impending stage of our project trip „NOmadsland“ takes us to the Massai region north of the Kilimanjaro and along the border between Kenya and Tanzania. Ignoring all warnings that it is impossible to cross this region with a fully laden motorcycle, we set off to prove that we could make the impossible possible with our BMW. Only the virtually invisible „speed humps“, barrel-like bumps over the tarmac which reduce the speed of all vehicles for a brief moment, can break the 500 kilogram motorcycle in direction of the „White Cape“, as the highest mountain in Africa is also called. These bumps appear unexpectedly, before villages or where huts are strewn across the countryside over arid lands, and everyone can thank their lucky stars if they remain uninjured and their vehicle undamaged. In Kadjado, close to the Tanzanian border, we turn to the east onto „not recommended roads“ which lead up to the Amboseli National Park. The strongest spring, with 50% harder pre-tension than conventional dampers, throws up sand from the rear wheel along the deep washboard track. The Touratech suspension reacts instantly with its damping frequency to this irritating permanent buffeting, as well as devious rocks peering out of the sand like icebergs, and keeps the machine stable regardless of the mighty load tugging at the frame. In the distance, the glimmering setting sun, sprayed rusty-brown, heralds a lake. Passing the village Lengesim, which has the charm of a deserted gold-digger village, no bushes blowing across the sand, only plastic carrier bags, beofre the duel to come. This is where we spend the night.
Shortly before sunrise, we follow the Massai chief of the community, Johannes, on his 125 cc China Toyo through the village littered with plastic waste. After the last huts he stops abruptly before the vast veld, thrusts his right arm into the air and tells us to always follow his fingers. The tip of his finger ends in an illuminated stripe in the skies. A red sand track leads us directly into a turbulent sea of mealy sand dust which stretches knee-deep well beyond the horizon of our wheels. The hot, still dry wind, which is supposed to bring rain, whips up the red powder into the air, vortexes of fesh fesh sand blow into the leaden skies which hang oppressively over the countryside. Heavily loaded trucks full of building sand from illegal sand pits churn their way to the building boom city of Nairobi, making deep grooves in the tracks during the rainy period which then fill with drifting sand. Massai on the way to the sand pit tell us that the dust caused by the transport destroys their pastures over wide areas, but that their labor as sand loaders assures them a modest but regular income of 4 euros per truck. To feed their herds, they drive the animals illegally over the border into the Amboseli National Park, and when spotted by park rangers they either flee or dig themselves into holes. With lowered tire pressure, the BMW sinks into the wafting soil, the drifting sand is too fine to support two narrow tires.
It sprays apart like water, shoots up like fountains and clouds any vision. Crossing series of high bumps, the motor guard slips over step-shaped holes, deep hollows, sharp-edged sheets of laterite hidden by Fesh Fesh, while we proceed onwards, slipping and sliding with our BMW. I would have liked an even stronger spring to give the F 800 better ground clearance. However, the stress of even harder damping on the damper mount of the pinion and the frame, could damage the suspension despite having installed special high-strhegth screws. But the Level 2 Explore HP dampens everything, except desires. Exhibiting no signs of fatigue, it seems to take the 500 kg BMW beyond its limits of endurance. Following the Amboseli Road leading to the Eastgate of the park, a washboard at best, and lined with the bomas of the Massai, we gain a first impression of their culture. In next to no time we realize that this is culture being offered at tourist prices and that these Massai, derisively referred to as „plastic Massai“, are not our real target group. In Kimana we get to know Juan, the Spaniard, and his wife Bella, a Kenyan Luo. Being a teacher, she teaches at a school built by Juan in the land of the Massai with development aid. This is the key to the Massais, as her contacts give us direct access to a Cultrual Massai Boma, where Massai traditions are taught and lived under the auspices of the government. After eight days of living among cattle and cow dung, we pack up our tent as we need to get back to Nairobi to arrange our departure from Kenya as quickly as possible. The reason being, our visas are about to expire.