When former soldier, pilot and business owner Johan Steyn decided to retire from working life, the last thing he planned on doing was sitting around enjoying the Namibian sunshine. Instead, he celebrated his new-found freedom by travelling the length of Africa and on to Germany onboard his beloved 2008 BMW R 1200 GS.Johan’s pre-trip planning spanned almost a year and took in visas, vaccinations, insurance, medicals, training, and more. Everything which needed to be carried on the bike was weighed to ensure it would not be overloaded, and when they departed from Windhoek on 5 July, 2014, the bike with rider weighed 400 kilograms.The GS took the ride in its stride during the five months and 20,500 km (12,738 miles) journey. There were times – especially in the Chalbi desert, along Lake Turkana and the dirt roads in south-eastern Ethiopia – that Johan could not believe a motorcycle could absorb such brutal treatment.Botswana and Zimbabwe were crossed in quick succession. A visit to the Cahora Bassa dam in Mozambique was followed by some leisure time in Malawi. Early riding in Tanzania was pleasant but became harder as the roads deteriorated towards Kigoma.“On this particular route,” Johan says, “because of the deep mud and potholed tracks, I fell four times. The potholes were filled with fine dust and the front tyre lost traction, which ended in a fall.” Johan laughs when recounting how everything had to be off-loaded from the heavily-laden GS in order to get it righted every time he lost control of the bike. A four-day stay in Kigoma was needed to help mend a broken toe.Officialdom at the Burundi Border made this border crossing challenging. While in Burundi, Johan visited the southernmost source of the White Nile and camped out in the wild. Rwanda followed and it was, without doubt, the cleanest and most organised country in Africa. Visible policing was everywhere. “The genocide monuments gave me periods of shock and shame…” Rwanda has a zero-tolerance to corruption policy and it was noticeable.Uganda's dirt roads followed. The deeply forested areas of the Murchison’s Falls National Park provided exhilarating riding, although he was attacked by swarms of tsetse flies who made themselves at home in the mesh material of his jacket. Tsetse flies cause sleeping sickness and their bites sting worse than that of the African Bee!The border crossing from Uganda to Kenya 10 days later was intense and extremely busy, with hundreds of trucks on the road. Ebola checks undertaken by medical staff at the border brought home the message of another threat to people living in Africa – and visitors passing through.The road to Nairobi is, according to Johan, a nightmare from hell. “Drivers have absolutely no regard for anyone else. A simple ‘size matters’ pecking order is followed, with motorcycles occupying the lowest rung.” He reached Nairobi after having been forced off the road at least a dozen times.In preparation for tackling the Chalbi desert and the Turkana area of northern Kenya, Johan sent 25kg of gear back home in order to free up space on the GS for an additional 15 litres of water and 13 litres of fuel. This was the toughest part of his journey where he rarely got above first and second gears for nearly 1,000 km (621 miles).At the border town of Ileret, between Kenya and Ethiopia, came the start of the rainy season. Tracks were washed away and rivers flooded, with strong currents making crossings “a bit of a nightmare”. He was also caught in a flash thunderstorm while in the last mountain range before the Sudanese border. The downpour was so strong the rain found its way into his boots and filled them to the point where water poured out over the tops of them.Crossing the Sudanese border brought with it inevitable ‘fixers’ and a night camped inside the customs compound. His route further north to Wadi Haifa was made worse by daytime temperatures around 46°Celsius but incredible hospitality from local farmers (who allowed him to sleep outside their homes and shared their dinner with him) left him humbled.The border crossing between Sudan and Egypt proved to be expensive and difficult, but Johan’s frame of mind was lifted in Cairo when he met up with his son. After visits to the pyramids at Giza and diving in the Red Sea, they travelled two-up to Port Said and took a ferry to Iskenderun, Turkey.While in Istanbul, Johan was contacted by BMW Motorrad staff, who were aware of his journey, and a plan was made for him to meet them at the BMW Museum in Munich. It was a few days later on a cold and wet November day that Johan and his R 1200 GS concluded their trip – a journey that took in 20,500 kilometres (12,738 miles), 18 countries, and just over 1,000 litres of petrol.Johan has nothing but praise for his BMW R 1200 GS. He experienced absolutely no problems with it and at times could only shake his head in disbelief at the hardship the bike had to endure. "The trip was self-sponsored and without any back-up vehicles,” he concludes. “I did about 4,000 kilometres of very bad off-road tracks and fell too many times to remember but the motorcycle performed flawlessly.”
January 2015 | © BMW Motorrad
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