Scramble Africa

Want to give your scrambler a proper run out?

How about riding across the deserts of Morocco?

As a teenager I longed to ride in the desert,” says Karles Vives, organiser of Scram Africa's trips for scramblers.

“I watched the Paris Dakar Rally every year and wanted to be out there riding with them. So when I finished building my BMW R100 Scram I thought a good way to test all my work on the bike was to ride through the roads, trails and dunes of the African desert.”

While he was out in Africa he met Pep from Soloraids, a company specialising in organised adventures. “I realised it would be a lot of fun to organise a desert tour for bikes like mine and Pep was was the perfect partner to deal with the logistics of such a trip. So we organised the first edition of Scram Africa with a lot of enthusiasm, but only five riders joined the adventure. That was a little disappointing but the experience of the trip was very intense and our antics caught the attention of many magazines and blogs so we decided to organise a second edition. This time we had 20 riders.”

A typical Scram Africa itinerary is ten days and about 2500km (1560 miles). It starts in Barcelona and once across into Morocco runs from Tangier to Chaouen, Taza, Rekkam, Merzouga, Marabut, Mhamid, Foum Zdig, Dades, Midelt and back to Tangier. There are three tour staff, plus a doctor, mechanic and a photographer and the team have three all-terrain support vehicles – one for luggage, one for the doctor and one for the mechanic and photographer.

“We have 20-25 riders on a tour – from Spain, France, Italy, UK, Norway, Belgium and Australia. The trip is designed for customised bikes like our Fuel R100 or Fuel Scram/7 and classic or neoclassic scramblers such as the Triumph Scrambler and Ducati Scrambler,” says Karles.

“The most difficult part is usually the desert stages with the sand trails. Some of these bikes are old and some are new and heavy so any difficulty with terrain is compounded compared to doing the same route on modern lightweight off-road motorcycles. Besides that, the stages are long and fatigue is accumulated. Scram Africa is for experienced, adventurous bikers who enjoy the kind of challenge it would have been to ride the African desert 30 or 40 years ago.”

As one might expect with such a challenging route on machines that are not entirely designed for the job, the trips rarely go smoothly. “We’ve had mechanical problems with some bikes such as oil leaks, broken foot pegs, battery problems, punctures and broken sub-frames. We’ve had also a few crashes and injuries to riders – a broken arm and broken shoulder. But having a doctor with us meant they were treated instantly. There are also some parts of the trip where riders have had a psychological block and it’s down to the staff to help them overcome this moment to ensure they reach the end of the stage.”

The Scram project started in Barcelona where Karles worked as an art director and creative director for various advertising agencies. Two years ago he quit the rat race and founded Fuel Bespoke Motorcycles. This might sound like a leap, but the idea had been brewing for years. “My relationship with motorcycles started like most teenagers from the age 15 or 16,” he says. “My first bike was a Vespa 125 Primavera and since then I have had all kinds of bikes: road bikes, trail bikes, customs and sportsbikes.”

But Karles felt he wanted something a bit more than a standard motorcycle. “I love the look of boxer engines but wanted something a bit more special than ‘just another BMW’, so with my obsession with form and beauty, I was inspired to create a motorcycle completely to my taste. “I bought a 1982 BMW R100RT, armed myself with Jerry Churchill’s excellent book BMW Two-valve Twins 1970-1993, and set to work.”

‘The best thing about the trip is the solidarity and friendship that strengthens between the riders'

Karles spent three months toiling on his first-ever project bike, first drawing how he wanted the finished bike to look, then scouring for spare parts, dismantling the entire bike and then re-assembling with the new components.

“Thanks to the book, forums, friends and family, and many hours of dedication, I finally finished my first bike, the BMW R100 Scram. It’s a fun bike – reliable and easy to ride on and off-road. It’s a bike with soul that vibrates and makes you vibrate. It makes you dream of the desert and adventures in remote locations. It’s a street-scrambler, a beautiful machine and all mine.”

From that point, Karles decided to dedicate all his time and energy into developing Fuel Bespoke Motorcycles – a brand new bike business than not only created custom motorcycles, but also sold a range of aftermarket gear. “In essence I was going to create an entire new brand,” he says, “so I spent several months seeking out the right pit crew; an engineer with extensive experience in the field of mechanical modifications and people with talent and enthusiasm, passionate about what they do who were willing to commit their time and energy to the project with the same passion and drive as me.”

Part of Karles’ brand is Scram Africa – adventure trips into the desert for classic or neoclassic scramblers and customised bikes. They’re the kind of trips that suit ‘nostalgic riders’ says Karles.

‘I watched the Paris Dakar rally every year and wanted to be out there riding with them’

He reckons that while the Atlas mountains are an inhospitable part of Morocco, they also offer “authentic and spectacular terrain – and the desert is very impressive. It is somewhere you can listen to the silence and feel very inconsequential,” says Karles.

“I think the best thing about the trip is the solidarity and friendship that strengthens between the riders during the trip. The personal challenge to overcome problems and fatigue and the satisfaction of riding in what can be quite harsh terrain makes for a very special spirit of adventure.”