Cycling the Sahara on Fat Bikes part 1 - Bike Magic

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Cycling the Sahara on Fat Bikes part 1

James Bebbington (kayaking World Champion) and Richard Harpham (multi-tasking adventurer) are on a mission to cycle the Sahara on Fat Bikes (and why not). We’ll be featuring their regular updates from…well anywhere and everywhere they can find an internet connection.

Richard Harpham fuelling up ready to cycle the Sahara by Salsa Fat Bike.

As we write they are somewhere between Marrakech and dehydration…


So Three days in and two incredible campsites, one in the scrub at the side of road and the other at 2030 metres on a mountain plateau, plus a small local hotel.  This update was mainly written in our little Vango tent with a tiny Mac Air balanced on my knees.

Tomorrow should all be downhill with increased mileage and a wash in the stream about 10 metres from the tent. We have been reflecting on our decision to make this about quality not quantity and enjoy the miles we do rather than push hard to smash out 1000 miles.  Since we are making a film about our adventure by Fat Bike it also seemed that otherwise we would be cycling rather than filming.

James Bebbington, kayak World Champion, on another great adventure, this time by Surly Fat Bike.

There’s so much to tell about our trip so far.

We have been spoilt so far on our journey with tasty mint tea, the most juicy oranges on the planet and many more goodies.  James (aka Pringle) doesn’t eat any meat or anything cooked, he prefers fruit and vegetables, which seemed a little bit extreme for my liking. But already just three days in I have abandoned my usual ‘go to’ treats such as Harribo and have been sated by dates, oranges and nuts.  Interestingly I feel good and strong for it.

Bedding down for the night.

Our first day was hampered by my admin and last minute ‘must do’ tasks before we set off. We also took the opportunity to pack and repack, desperately trying to shed weight. Given our objectives of filming, being self-supportive on Fat Bikes it is hard to see where we might save a few pounds. For example tonight we are camping in the mountains, amazing campsite number 2, and it would be a real hardship and pretty tough without our Paramo down jackets in the chill mountain air.  So I think other than risking it with no spare tyres or tubes, or less camera kit, we are stuck with bikes weighing about 35-40kg with water and food.

Our first night was wild camping on an escarpment in a small group of trees perched on the edge of the mountain road. We wanted to avoid being close to villages and towns. As we wheeled our bikes into the scrub we were somewhat surprised to find Arabic music filtering through the trees. We found a local man enjoying the view just before sunset, listening to music and enjoying a drink. We want to remain fairly anonymous so were vague as to our plans.  We chatted about life, the universe and everything in my broken French for almost an hour before he headed off.  As he departed we were offered a place at his house but the option of retracing 10kms downhill made this impossible. Friendly chap though.

Many of the locals seemed surprised to see us with our bikes in the mountains with so much kit.  We have only received messages of “good luck” and “great courage” as encouragement for our endeavors.  Most of the trucks and vans have beeped, waved and a few have even saluted. It is great that human powered adventure receives that support and recognition all around the globe.

James Bebbington making the first big ascent on the duo’s ride towards the Sahara.

The second day was 35 miles in winding mountain roads flanked by grey, red and other ridges of the steep and multi-coloured variety. We worked hard in the saddle for two hour stints not managing much more than 5-6 miles an hour uphill but pushing hard to achieve even that. The final bends before the summit were a series of switchbacks, hairpins with the top never seemingly within reach. Around one bend near the summit we passed a large articulated lorry that had snapped its trailer. The trailer and load sat next to a massive drop…scary!

Each time we stopped for a breather or a drink, Berbers keen to sell us fossils, crystals and rocks welcomed us. No matter how hard we tried they never seemed to lose their determination to sell to us. Seriously, with such heavy bikes fully laden do we really need any additional weight?  The mountains have become more arid and less populated as the scenery changes the further from Marrakech we pedal.

A sign of things to come. It’s going to get a whole lot drier and more remote where James and Richard are headed.

Day three was mainly downhill and we managed to crank up the mileage to almost 60miles, at which point we reached Ouarzazate, the city on the other side of the High Atlas Mountains. It is famed for such movies as Prince of Persia, 10 Commandments and even bits of Gladiator we are told. We found a hotel along the main street and haggled the price down to just over a tenner. Bargain price for steaming hot showers and wifi.  The final 40kms were barren moonscape and if it wasn’t for the occasional truck or car you could have been on Mars.

We are pleased with our progress but still have over 200 miles to reach the iconic sandy dunes. We have decided to trim weight further, my book (already finished), duplicate maps, knife, spares, are being left at the hotel to help speed us up. According to the map it should be easier going but not to be underestimated.  We are as always constrained by a tough schedule and a plane ticket at the end.

Not sure when we will find internet again…

About Cycling the Sahara

James Bebbington (kayaking world Champion) and Richard Harpham (adventurer) wanted a new year’s resolution with a difference, to cycle a fair chunk of the Sahara desert.  In February 2013 the pair of accomplished kayakers will take to Salsa Fat Bikes and cycle over 1000 miles of the Northern Sahara. Their route will see them cycle over the Atlas Mountains, the Anti Atlas mountains, and then follow the Northern East edge of the Sahara desert.  Their adventure will see them start and finish in the historic Medina of Marrakech.

Richard has a passion for adventure and has kayaked the English Channel 3 times, kayaked 1000 miles of the Inside Passage from Vancouver to Glacier Bay Alaska, canoed the Yukon and also completed London to Marrakech by bike and kayak, almost 2400 miles.  His most recent adventure saw him sea kayak over 500 miles with fellow adventurer Glenn Charles from Niagara Falls to the Statue of Liberty, NYC which engaged thousands of people across New York State. He was also the manager of the Ghana Ski Team  at the Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010 and co founded to raise aspiration in young people.  Already Inspired Life has helped over 13,000 young people and was awarded the London 2012 Inspire Mark. 

James Bebbington is the current world champion in freestyle kayaking and a former World Cup Champion.  James has been a kayaker since the age of 10 and is now also a professional film maker who has a thirst for pushing the human body to its full potential.  For James cycling has always been a means of cross training for his competitions but the recent Tour De France has reinvigorated his desire to challenge himself on a bike.

The pair aim to raise money for SportsAid, who help fund emerging talent in sport, as part of giving something back. They will be documenting their journey and adventures by bike on film using state of the art cameras to capture the action and scenery.


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