Crossing the Alps on a Fixie? Riding from Prague to Berlin without a map? Conquering the Snow Mountain? Been there, done that. But now, the boys from 8Bar Bikes are thriving for new adventures. Let Stefan tell you the story of their journey to Morocco:
8bar Adventures – High Atlas
In 2015, Stefan, Max and Stefan, the founder of 8bar bikes, sought again a very special challenge. The idea was to get as far away as possible from traffic and tourism with their “8bar Mitte Adventure Bikes”.
Stefan, 8bar: This time we decided on Africa, the Atlas Mountains in the middle of Morocco to be
more precise, as our next destination. The Atlas forms a striking divided line between the relatively humid climate in the far north of Maghreb to the extremely dry Sahara.
The start and finish took place in Marrakesh, which lies about 50 kilometres north of the Atlas Mountains. The main idea was to first cross the mountains straight to the south and to ride along the southern side for a while before crossing the range once again to get back to Marrakesh. Preferably, the streets should have as less traffic as possible and ideally consist of gravel roads. At the end of planning, our trip covered a distance of 840 kilometres, an overall altitude of 12.000 metres and was mainly located outside of touristic areas. As we planned to take 8 days for the whole tour, it meant we had to ride 105 kilometres on average per day
Since this region of Morocco is relatively sparse in population, Stefan, Max and I chose to bring everything we needed in order to camp outdoors. That way we were able to plan our route far away from touristic and paved roads. Specific stops to stay overnight were not planned in ad- vance, we only focussed on reaching our 105km average per day.
Rider: Stefan Schott (founder of 8bar bikes), Max Baginski (projekt manager 8bar bikes), Stefan Haehnel (freelancing photographer und filmmaker).
The 8bar MITTE is the perfect choice if you are looking for a bicycle that you can use as a Road-, Cyclocross- and an Adventure Bike. It can change its Geometry completely and transform from a Road- to a Cyclocross- or even to an Adventure Bike. We would like to invite you to be part of the creation of this truly unique bike by joining our first crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.com.
Equipped with disc brakes, lightweight DT Swiss R32 Spline wheels, all terrain tires and the mounting space for panniers it provides the perfect base for a multi-day bicycle tour. In March 2016 a crowdfunding campaign for the 8bar MITTE started offering you the unique chance of securing one of the very first models. If you are interested in our newest bike, you should register for the 8bar bikes newsletter. How? Simple, just write an e-mail to email@example.com with the subject “Newsletter”.
We expected to face extreme temperature changes, since the route went all the way through the Atlas Mountains. Summer and winter clothes from adidas Cycling were an inherent part of the equipment. To stay overnight a tent, sleeping pads, sleeping bags and cooking equipment couldn’t be missed. All found space in our Blackburn bags. Due to the lack of bike shops along the way we had to be prepared for every conceivable defect and therefore took all kinds of spare parts along with us. Stefan Haehnel additionally had to bring his entire camera equipment to take pic- tures and videos of the trip.
Day 0: Arrival
We arrived in Marrakesh by plane from Berlin and directly drove to our accommodation which we had already booked in advance for the first and last night. Once there, we set up our bikes to check if everything remained intact and to make sure we had not forgotten anything. Fortunately, everything was still in place and our bikes had survived the flight well. We went to a typical Moroc- can restaurant to grab some traditional food and got to bed quickly afterwards as we had planned to leave early the next morning.
Day 1: From the city into the wild
We had to run a few errands in the morning, so it was already noon before we could finally escape the maze of the city. We drove through narrow alleys swarmed with tourists where street vendors were lined up tightly. Up to 50 kilometres, the track was relatively flat and we made good progress, but arriving at the foot of the Atlas we only went uphill for the remainder of the day. With slopes beyond 10% we really felt the load of our bikes and we were starting to doubt if we could actually make it to our calculated first 100 kilometres of the day.
Around 16:30h dawn neared and we went on to search for a suitable place to set up our camp. After we finally pitched our tents it was almost dark. We collected some firewood and cooked din- ner over the campfire, where we spent the rest of the evening. We were surrounded by absolute darkness by then – no better start to a trip like this.’
Tag 2: From mountain villages and shortage of time
Our bike speedometer showed a total of 66.9 kilometres after day one, leaving a gap of nearly 40 km. However, we were confident that we would do better today and could make up for yesterday’s leeway. According to our map we had to go uphill for a further 40 kilometres, but for a longer stretch we would go downhill.
We woke up before sunrise to start the day off early. The first 10 kilometres steadily led uphill with 3-6% on a gravel road. Our map showed a road to the left, over the summit, marked as a smaller side street. But when we arrived at the marked point, there was no clear diversion but only some sort of path. We were not completely sure if this was the right way to go, so we rode a few hun- dred metres up and down to be sure. As there was no other side road around, it had to be this one. After 5km on this nearly impassable trail, we looked at our map hoping for another, better way to get over the ridge. With no other road in sight and the next turn being too far away, we de- cided that all our efforts that were put into fighting the steep hills shouldn’t be discarded. Thank- fully our map showed us that our current path would eventually cross a road about 10km away that seemed to be more busy, so we unanimously decided to go further. At first it was great fun as we were able to drive some interesting and diverse sections. But the deeper we got into the moun- tains, the bigger the rocks became and we ended up having to lift our heavily loaded bikes over the boulders and rocks in order to move forward.
At this rate, we only made 2-3 km per hour. After 10km hike and slide, we were totally exhausted. The sun already settled at the sky when we reached a small town. People here lived without electricity and running water and rarely got tourists to face. Let alone tourists on bicycles. As we rode through the village, people were everywhere and waved to us. In such a mountain village in Germany you would probably not see more than a cat crossing the road, but there it was filled with life. From now on the way became better and was partly rideable fortunately. We were at almost 2,000m above sea level now. And the temperature had dropped to 5 ° C. When we finally got back on the road it was already dark.
There was no way were going to camp that night and so we were looking for a small guest house in the next village. Despite all the setbacks, this day was an unforgettable experience for all of us. The only problem: Our speedometer indicated just 30km for the day. This meant that we had only managed 96,9km after two days from the targeted 220km. Now the question arose whether it was still possible to reach the scheduled distance in 8 days?!? Our return flight was already booked and taking a shortcut was not really an option due to the few routes which led over the ridge of the Atlas mountains…
Day 3: On the Tizi n’Tichka-Trail
On the morning of the third day we went about 20 km uphill on a busy main road. As this was the only road that led over the ridge, there was no better alternative. Because of the good road conditions we progressed quickly and arrived on the summit of the Tizi n’Tichka passport with its height of 2.260m just before noon. Once there, the wind was cold and icy, so after a short break we moved on quickly. We continued our route on a quiet side road and were rewarded with fine gravel. We passed by Moroccan villages that were traditionally built – entirely made of clay. The highlight of the day was passing an old ramshackle fortress, known as Kasbah, which had partially collapsed many years ago. At the end of the day we had managed to ride the planned 100 kilometres for the very first time. However, our overall goal was still far, far away.
Day 4: Morroccean Route 66
On the fourth day our route took us along the southern side of the Atlas Mountains. As we still had to cover quite some kilometres, we decided to solely travel on good conditioned roads. So that morning we inflated our tires and off we went. On the N10, which we baptized “The Moroccan Route 66” due to its vastness and long straight roads, we made great progress. Today’s motto was team-time-trail and we adjusted our targets only having breaks after each 50km ridden. When we left our beloved N10 after 120km that late afternoon, we decided to get as close to the Atlas Mountains as possible so we could start the climb the next day feeling invigorated.
Day 5: Half-time at “Dades-Canyon”
On the morning of the fifth day we directly went in for the ascent. We started off in Dadès Gorges, which is famous for its hairpin turns. We knew that today would be a challenge and our map showed a steady incline up to the 70th kilometre. Meanwhile, the landscape became more and more barren, the air thin and it was noticeably colder. Over time the road changed from asphalt to gravel and was getting steeper and steeper as we progressed very slowly through the loose ground.
In the late afternoon we reached the highest point of the day at 2.895m, which was also the highest peak of our tour. Up there it was freezing and windy, our thermometer showing a chilly -2 °C. Camping therefore wasn’t really an option having only brought our lightweight hiking tents. The next village was 25 kilometres away and the sun had already began to set. We had to hurry to make it there as we didn’t want to end up descending on gravel roads in utter darkness. So full speed we went. Unfortunately, we went a bit too fast and Stefan ended up with the first flat tire of the trip due to a snake bite. By the time we arrived it was already dark, but we did manage to find a hotel. Since the town is 2.300m above sea level, nights can become very cold with temperatures below zero. Luckily, our room was equipped with a wood stove. We used that opportunity to finally wash most of our clothing, drying it in front of the oven.
Day 6: Far away of civilization
On day six of our journey we drove along a plateau of the Atlas Mountains. All day we stayed above the 2.000m mark and enjoyed the silence that prevailed there. Since there are no cars, few animals and rarely any trees or plants causing noise, the silence was deafening to a point where it almost became scary. The few people living there belong to the Berbers, Morocco’s original inhab- itants who are recognizable by their traditional floor-length hooded robes. Because there’s little civilization, we spent most of our day on gravel roads. At the end of the day we finally had a long stretch downhill.
Day 7: Up and down and up and down and …
The morning of our seventh day started with a 15km long ascent. It seemed that after those first 15km, only small height deviations would come up although they seemed to be both up- and downhill.
Shortly before the last summit, the road once again proved to be steep uphill. Due to construction work at the pitch numerous trucks came towards us. We were delighted when we finally reached the top, as we knew the last 10km would be downhill.
Compared to the previous days there hadn’t been any extreme ascents on the map, but due to the constant change between up- and downhill we ended up with a vertical total of 2.385m. A major height difference compared to the other days and the most vertical metres so far.
Day 8: Finish
Although we reached our daily goal of 100km the past few days, we still had nearly 160km left to Marrakesh. Having just one day left, we weren’t sure if we would ever make it. Especially because the road conditions were pretty bad. We started the morning off with a 10km long climb. After that it was mostly flat, but a strong headwind limited us to a speed of just 20km/h. When we took a break at 1pm, we had only managed to cover 70km. After our break we continued in full force on a busier highway. Every few kilometres there was a sign indicating the distance left to Marrakesh: 68, 51, 47…. After a while the wind ceased and we gave all our remaining force and energy. At last we arrived in Marrakesh late that night.
Being back in civilization we could immediately feel the change. The streets were overcrowded by heavy traffic and the crowds and noise was extremely overwhelming. At least, that’s how we felt after having spent a week in absolute silence.
Résumé – everything is great in retrospect!
We certainly did not schedule a 15km hike over rocky terrain, but by taking those paths we did pass small villages where normally only a donkey could take you.
As soon as we got off the beaten track people were incredibly nice and hospitable. Children seemed amazed and kept running onto the streets to wave at us while motorists honked to salute.
At times we regretted not having planned the trip into detail on forehand, but in retrospect every detour turned out to be a highlight of our journey. We certainly did not schedule a 15km hike over rocky terrain, but by taking those paths we did pass small villages where normally only a donkey could take you. Meeting the friendliest people living far outside of civilization along the way.
A perfectly planned tour is a bad recipe for adventure, and adventure was exactly what we longed for. The most important thing is to undertake a trip like this with people that have a similar attitude and on whom you can always count. So if you are planning your next big trip, take it from us and don’t overplan it. Let loose and experience a true adventure that you’ll never forget.
More Information can be found on the 8 Bar Website
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Words: Stefan Schott Photos: Stefan Haehnel