I have been a regular visitor to Morocco, being lucky to spend a couple of months each winter in the country for the last eight years. Driving to Morocco in a camper van is a challenge of distance and time but always worth the effort to enjoy a safe, friendly country with stunning landscapes and undiscovered biking opportunities. Mountain biking in the Atlas Mountains is well known but less so are the increasing road bike opportunities now that many of the smaller back roads have been surfaced. With the emergence of “Adventure Sport” bikes such as the Mason Bokeh a combination of road, piste and off road exploring presents great opportunities.
My favourite biking locations are the coastal mountains and valleys at the Western end of the High Atlas between Agadir and Essaouria and the Anti Atlas Mountains lying south of the High Atlas and north of the Sahara Desert.
This blog describes a short backpacking trip in March 2018 used as a test of bike, kit and equipment in preparation for longer unsupported events later in the year. I hope it gives a flavour of Morocco and its beauty and opportunities for road biking.
The Anti-Atlas is a desolate world of rocky outcrops and lunar landscapes. Dry and barren. It lies to the East of the Atlantic Ocean and runs 500km inland. Home of the Berber people it is thinly populated and one of the least visited parts of Morocco’s mountain scape. Tafraoute is the main town set in the beautiful Ameln Valley. Elsewhere the barren mountains are interrupted by lush oasis valleys with some of Morocco’s most beautiful Palmeries.
After a few weeks on the coast with my sons at the small fishing village of Imsouane I headed inland to a campsite on an organic farm a few kilometres West of Taroudant – a spectacular walled city. I arranged to leave the camper with Michele the friendly French owner of “Le Jardin de la Koudya” at Lakhnafif.
My plan for day one was to ride about 200km over the Anti Atlas via Igherm to Tata which lies on the desert plain of the Sahara close to the Algerian border and sits at the foot of the Bani Mountain range. Camping there overnight I would then head north and west to Tafraoute for the next stop before heading back towards Lakhnafif via Ait-Baha on day three.
The planned ride was about 500km with 7000m of climbing. I was on my Mason Definition 2, carrying a tent and sleeping bag with all the other kit I thought I might need to test – kitchen sink included! The Mason Definition 2 comes in just under 9kg but my total load was close to 20kg. I ran a SON Deluxe Dynamo hub on Hunt Wheels for lights and equipment charging (Garmin and phone etc) via an Igaro USB power converter. Tyres were Swalbe G1 30mm and the Di2 ran a 11/34 cassette with climb friendly 48/32 Absolute Black Oval chainrings.
Day 1 Lakhnafif to Tata
A bit of a false start at 0630 finding the camp gates locked and no sign of the guardian. I forgot the sun cream too so a restart via a gap in the prickly boundary hedge! I took the old road towards Taroudant and stopped at 30km for omelette and cafe au lait at the Afriquia garage.
The road to Tata starts with a long gentle climb, enjoyable in the warming sunlight, and then up some good climbs onto the high plateau towards Igherm, a busy mountain town sitting at 1780m elevation and 100km into the ride. Time for lunch so I scouted around and found a good place for a welcome tagine of meat and veg with Moroccan bread and a coffee.
From Igherm there were two route options. The main road, R109, was quite a few km longer than the P1805 which had more climbing and an unknown road surface. The cafe owner said the shorter route was a ‘bon route’ and it turned out to be an amazing descent towards Tata with spectacular mountain scenery and Palmeries. The mountain road exited onto the plain and then, with a northerly wind following, I flew along all the way to Tata arriving early evening.
Tata is the gateway to the Desert and a bustling town. I found a small hotel with adjacent camp ground just outside the built up area and booked some supper and pitched camp, a one man Nordisk Tent with mat and sleeping bag. Also camping was Kareem, a Canadian cycling from Norway to New Zealand! Interesting guy and we enjoyed a good supper together.
194km, 2330m climbed, 8hrs 53min riding.
Day 2 Tata to Tafraoute
After a good first night I was up at 0615, ready for 0730 breakfast and away just after 0800. Reducing the time faffing about and getting organised is a skill I need to develop. The early morning was calm with a light breeze for the first 25km.
I was heading north west and a strong, brutal northerly headwind picked up. A small whirlwind near one village and needing to pedal hard just to keep going on a slight downhill made me anxious about reaching Tafraoute with its big climb to 1850m before descending into the Ameln Valley. The route was turning to the West so a headwind became a side wind with some nasty gusts but then came the magnificent ride down into the Ameln Valley and short climb to Tafraoute.
I planned to stay at the Salama Hotel and was lucky that the famous Almond Blossom festival had finished the previous day so a room was free. Supper of soup, omlette, tagine and fruit salad was good and much needed.
157km, 2484m climbed, 8hrs 52min riding.
Day 3 Tafraoute to Lakhnafif
Breakfast at 0730 and away by 0800 the last day was going to be a big descent once I had climbed the 700m out of the Ameln Valley. It turned out to be spectacular with the first segment descending for 20km and after a bit more climbing there followed another 40km of fast descending.
Ait Baha was a good lunch stop where another Tagine was the order of the day.
The remainder of the return ride was pretty flat along the Sous Massa valley with a following wind making for quick kilometres.
Arriving back at the camper I was met by good friends Dave and Marie-Helen and another superb Tagine cooked by Dave!
166km, 1506m climbed, 6hrs 56min riding.
This was my first unsupported bike packing trip. The Mason Definition2 with Hunt Wheels delivered everything I had hoped for. It was a good kit test and I learnt some useful lessons. The spectacular landscape and friendly Moroccans and fellow travellers were exceptional. A country and adventure to fall in love with!