Update 3rd November 2006

The departure date is fast approaching now, my efforts focused on pulling various tasks together. Where do I start!

Well the bike preparation. To date, myself and Dion the Lateral Thinking Mechanic (pictured right), have dropped the BMW catalytic convertor and heavy exhaust, and replaced it with a smaller, lighter (and less muffled) Micron exhaust pipe. This has freed up space on one side, lightened the bike significantly and gives a very MACHO sound - nobody will step in front of me in a hurry! We’ve modified a standard GS centrestand to accommodate the higher suspension Dakar. Next step is to weld a wider foot onto the side stand, to support the bike on softer ground. Handlebar risers have been installed including a longer steel braided front brake cable. My reading of various forums indicates this leads to a more comfortable riding position over long distances with less strain on the neck, as well as obviously providing more control while standing. A rider stands on the footpegs when traveling over unstable surfaces - lowering the body’s centre of gravity from the seat to the footpegs.

BMW serviced the bike two weeks ago in Joe Duffy Motors, Finglas. Conor the BMW Motorrad manager and Stewart the ace mechanic did a thorough job, including checking the valve clearance and changing the headstock bearings which had developed a slight ‘notch’. They also fitted an accessory plug, the Navigator II GPS, tank bag and luggage seat - all of which BMW generously supplied. For a non mechanic, it was an invaluable training day for me and reassuring to have the engine ‘demystified’ - fuel line, filter and pressure regulator, air intake, injector into cylinder, spark... 

The bike is such a pleasure to ride - my car has sat virtually untouched for months - and I’m getting used to the loud exhaust. I consciously try and avoid starting up the bike if a pedestrian is walking by - the scream of two girls in Carlow town was one thing, a kid jumping into the traffic or an old person’s heart attack is quite another! Heads do turn and I can only imagine the reaction to my arrival in some small bush village in Africa.

Four weeks to go and I’m still awaiting delivery of my panniers - I wont be going anywhere without them! As well as not being able to pack to judge the capacity, I’ve resigned myself to not having the time to get used to riding with them on a daily basis before the trip (maybe even doing a little sand or off road?). Looks like I’ll be getting used to the heavier and wider load on the journey. While this shouldn’t be a problem, I realise the more familiar and comfortable the bike, the less anxiety there is and the more I enjoy the riding. I’m sure this is not the way to prepare for a trans Africa trip! While a little anxious, I am grateful to the nice folks in Touratech Germany who are discounting 60% off the price of the panniers and the expensive auxiliary fuel tank. I jumped at their offer (“if you can haf Touratech address on side” - eh, no problem!). The tank hugely increases the range of the bike, avoiding the need to strap fuel jerry cans onto the load - awkward for weight distribution, inconvenient and messy. I’ll breathe a little easier when it all arrives! The picture above is of me fitting a new chain and sprockets at Blakestown Tyres' workshop. The smaller, lighter exhaust can be seen on the left, leaving space on the right side for extra storage.

One hiccup was the news just yesterday that Hagon, who were going to supply a customised shock absorber, claim they wouldn’t have the time. This leaves me with a concern over the capability of the original BMW shock, but have decided to ignore informed advice to beef up the suspension. I consider myself a careful rider and don’t hammer the bike, although I do anticipate putting the fully loaded machine through some unavoidable punishment over bumpy terrain.

My passport is still with the French Embassy getting Mauritania, Burkina and Gabon visas - four weeks now. It has yet to go into the Nigerian Embassy, and I wonder if I’ll have time to post it to London for a Cameroon visa. The carnet, in effect the bike’s passport in some countries, has yet to be posted to me from the RAC in the UK although they say it shouldn’t be much longer. Sponsorship is fairly slow going, with lots of effort going into raising the profile of the sponsorship drive with a frustratingly slow response - nobody told me it would be this difficult to get business to part with donations! Iggy in Blakestown Tyres is doing a great job spreading the word among the biking fraternity, with support coming from biking forums, motorcycle clubs (including the Gardai) and equipment suppliers. 

Although my tendency is to leave things to last minute (why do I do that?!) and things could have been progressed earlier, I believe things are in hand! Let there be no panic. We’ll see how things stand with two weeks to go!