Back from the Tuareg Rally

June 6, 2010

Biker in the Erg Chebi

So it is the Armony brothers together again, this time at the Tuareg Rally in Morocco and Spain, March 2010.  My brother Nadav (in this picture with Paul Round), with whom I did the Central European Rally, finished his medical school and was free and clear for an adventure in the dunes.

Paul and Nadav

The Tuareg rally is geared towards a more amateur crowd and draws hundreds of bikers and dozens of car drivers from all over Europe.  It is not as long as the Dakar, “only” 8 days and roughly 2,500 KM, but it is very technical with fantastic dunes and many, many hours in very difficult sand.  This race costs less and requires less logistics, so it is very popular in Europe. 

Another big advantage of this race is that you really have only two camps/hotels in Morocco, and the days start and finish at the same spot.  Which means that if you have a serious technical problem you can work on it and get back into the race the next day, unlike in the Dakar where the whole caravan moves on about 500-800 km a day so any major problem will knock you off the race.

bike and cars steep decent

Which we found very useful, because indeed every day we had at least one major technical problem…

We started from Almeria in Spain and crossed the Mediterranean on a ferry over night.  First racing day took us into the Atlas Mountains and to Misour. There is still snow at the tops of the mountains, the Waddies (dry river beds) were muddy and there is risk of flash floods.  Only problem for the day is that the ECU (central car computer) fails and everything shuts down; this is not uncommon, we have a spare one, which we replace and off we go.

At dawn

Next day a flood blocked our way, so we had to drive around it for about 100 KM to start a very fast day on a dry and high plateau, eventually getting at sunset to Marzuga, home of the famous Erg Chebi.  Nadav and I trained here with Rally Raid UK in 2006 and 2007, so we know the terrain and it sure helps.  Broke a drive shaft but were able to keep going and replaced at camp.

biker ascends erg chebi in the afternoon

Days 3, 4, and 5 are in the dunes around Marzuga.  Day 3 begins badly: in the first few hundred yards of the dunes I feel that the steering is very tough, I run into camel grass and knock a tier of the rim.  Turns out all the hydraulic oil is leaking out of the power steering system.  we refill, drive a few hundred yards more, lose power steering again and again knock a tier off the rim.  More digging… we fall behind and decide to pull into camp.  As usual Pauli the mechanic is super resourceful, won’t take failure as an option, and in no time we are back in the race.  A lot of sand, good technical day, but the steering system continues to leak and we lose steering for the 3rd time for the day, stuck in the heart of the dunes..digging.

digging in the dunes

Day 4 is known at the King Day, it is 100% dunes, very tough and technical day.   Nadav is taking the day off and I ride with Chris, Beady’s brother who came as a mechanic.  we are doing quite well, until somewhere in the middle of nowhere, late in the afternoon, we hear a BANG from the rear of the car, and then a horrible grinding noise, as if someone dropped a knife or a spoon into an in-sink-erator.  Turns out the rear differential is broken (for those of you who know how a functional differential is supposed to look like, see how ours ended).  So now we only have front wheel drive, which is very difficult in the dunes. 

Damaged diff inside damaged diff outside

Chris is determined to get us out of there, so after deflating the tiers to the bare minimum of 0.5 Bar, he scouts the dunes on foot to find the best route out.  Thus, one dune at a time, with front wheel drive only, and with Chris on foot at 100+ degrees heat, we advance about 1.5 km in 5 hours…

Luckily for us back at camp Paul and Martin, who won the stage, heard  that we are in trouble and show up like the cavalry!  We are saved! They tow us out of the dunes, all seems to be going fantastically well, but then the rope breaks, and in an ill-advised attempt to use all the momentum our car has and clear the dune, I crest my last dune of the day too fast and, BANG!, the car lands straight on it nose… for a moment it rocks back and forth, we sense it might fall back on its wheels, but… no.  It completes its summersault and lands on its roof… a bit of damage to the panels and a shuttered windscreen, but Chris and I are fine. 

My car on its roof

Thus I failed my main goal for this race, and like in the central European rally and the Dakar in South America, I managed to flip the car yet again 😦

So day 5 is used to work on the car and bring it back into shape.  Pauli, Ian, and Chris do their magic, and after some hard work but in no time, it is in racing condition again!

Ian works on windscreen Chris and the smashed car

I take advantage of this and switch places with Martin, to ride with Paul as his navigator for the day.  Day 5 is a fun day, short but super fast dune race, same track in the dunes over and over again.  I try to learn as much as I can from Paul.  He has so much experience in dune driving and with this vehicle.  He drives more calmly then I do, seems to be pushing less, finds the ideal way to move around the dune with less energy… i have a lot to learn 🙂

bike crests dune erg chebi

Nadav is back in shape and he drives in Day 6, which starts with one last crossing of the Erg Chebi and then due north to Misour.  Very nice day, we have some sand, Hamadda (a plateau covered with shattered sand stone), and a rocky canyon with huge boulders.  Only damage for the day is another broken drive shaft.

car in canyon

Day 7 is the last day in Morocco, we drive north to the port town of Nador.  We go through fast hard surface on a high plateau with the Atlas’ snowy peaks to the west, rocky Waddies, and muddy plains as we near the Mediterranean. 

bike merges from vally erg chebi

But we are not done with the mechanical problem, yet.  Again we lose power steering, and we finally find out why, when a pressure hose bursts (it was leaking all along).  Pauli, Chris, and Ian manage to find us and fix it.  Shortly after that another problem: the oil leaking from the power steering damaged the alternator, so we lose power and eventually when the battery dies the ECU has no power so it shuts down all systems.  Again luck is on our side, Pauli our savior is not that far behind, and he replaces the alternator and off we go.

Pally works on alternator Roadside assistance

After a night on the ferry, Day 8 is back in Spain we drive a short but scary narrow mountain road down the the Mediterranean, and the Tuareg comes to an end! 

End of the race

The Tuareg Rally is led by Rainer Autenrieth and a fantastic group of volunteer organizers, this is absolutely a great race you should consider, check them out at

bike and dark sky over erg chebi