Nomad Rally – desert racing by Lambretta: Morocco | FEATURE
When I was a teenager I took whitewater slalom canoeing seriously and I paddled all the UK rivers and most of those in Europe, I was pretty good. When I got to New Zealand and saw the whitewater there, my confidence was put into perspective.
The same happened last month, after all the Lambretta miles I’ve done since my teens I’ve never faced a challenge like Nomad Rally in Morocco.
The first Nomad Rally was organised by Ferrán Silva, a man who was involved in creating and organising the Raids that Sticky attended in the past. It is not a rally in UK terms but a competitive endurance race over six stages, one on each day. The UK contingent included Martin Robinson, Sid Hopper and me; Jim Rose. We were competing against Laurent Candess of France, Thomas Mayer DiPauli and Tino Sacchi of Italy. There had originally been 15 riders attending but only six of us were able to make the journey in the end.
All Lambretta entrants
The race is open to Vespas as well as Lambrettas but all of the scooters there were Lambretta. Tino rode a Series 2, Martin and Sid were on Sevetas, Thomas was on a scruffy 150 Special, whilst Laurent rode an original paint 125 Special with a standard engine and only 400 km on the clock. I had built a mongrel based on a Series 1 frame. Tino, Martin, Sid and I agreed in advance to run Mugello 225 top ends to reduce the need for multiple spares, although Sid was running a reed block version.
We all had Variatronic ignitions. Martin had also decided to test the new-vented rear hub. I’d decided to push the boat out on this particular engine and it was all-new, with Misano casings, fitted with a close ratio gearbox and an LTH clutch. I had it built by Jarv at Lambretta Rehab because I can be a lot cack-handed when putting things together.
Steven Robinson of Robbospeed was a great help to his Dad and Sid, whilst Thomas had a heavily ported Mugello 186; I only saw the photos at the end of the competition and I then understood why it pulled so well in the desert!
We worked out that 11 languages were spoken whilst we were on the trip and I’m barely fluent in one. At the last minute, the organiser asked my wife Pilar Rose-Alcorta to join the trip because she is Spanish (has lived in the UK for 30 years) and she is a linguist. All I can say is it was a good call because, without her language skills, things would have been very difficult.
The riders congregated in a hostel on the outskirts of Tarifa, a port in Southern Spain, and we rode down to get the early morning ferry for a short but bumpy crossing of the straits of Gibraltar. This is where we found that Martin does not have a good stomach for the sea but he has great projection! It took a couple of hours to clear customs into Morocco where the scooters all had to be registered and then we were put into a minibus and the scooters went into a lorry. Marrakesh is a 400-mile trip from Tangiers and I admit I felt every mile. When we got to the hotel we made sure the scooters were safe and then I rolled into bed.
Next day was registration, and checking of the safety equipment and GPS was carried out. The afternoon was set aside for a bit of sightseeing in the city – the highlight of that tourist trip was Martin buying a ‘genuine guaranteed’ Ferrari watch for £4.50. I tried a bit of one-up-manship but failed to buy one for £4.00. After dinner, the first briefing was held. It was decided that the first riding day would be played as acclimatisation, as only one of us had used a pre-set GPS for navigation before.
Fuels in the desert
We set off as a group at 10.30am and three of us were desperate for petrol but our guide had other ideas, thinking that 30 km would be fine. Sid ran out of fuel first and Martin and I were on already on fumes when we diverted to a closer petrol station. Something had been lost in translation because we’d not been given any time to fill up since the scooters came out of the van.
After the first hiccup, things went well. The route today was (in theory) a main road but the surface was breaking up and it gave us a gentle introduction as to what we could expect on the following days. The road surface was mainly tarmacked with concrete patches here and there. Added to that, the corners and random bits were reverting to desert with tracks being holes full of sand and rock. The best part of the 276 km day as far as I’m concerned was towards the end when we went across a desert plain for about 10 miles in a dead straight line on perfect (ish) tarmac. I was able to open the scooter up flat out and just relax at 70 mph-plus for a while.
150 miles to Skoura
The journey was only 150 miles to Skoura but with frequent stops for photos, checking the GPS and having a break for a Spanish style picnic. It was dusk before we reached the hotel, which was a great shame because it was a lovely 300-year-old Riad (Ait Ben Mora) fully restored by its new owner – with great food and a lovely dog called Mr Kiwi. By the time we’d worked out where everything was it was time for us to leave.
Stage 2: Atlas Mountains
Stage 2 was from Skoura to Zagora, 162 km across the Atlas Mountains – climbing in the centre section to 2,100 metres above sea level. We started at two-minute intervals based on our registration number, which put me at number 2.
Navigation in a race situation takes skill; the GPS is loaded with a preset track that all you have to do (in theory) is follow. The screen just shows a track in blue overlaid with where you are in red; there is no topography, no landmarks (because they don’t exist) where we were travelling. I learned this the hard way when I followed the wrong line back to our hotel from the previous night. By the time I’d corrected myself I was at the back, in a foul temper and thrashing it to try and make some time up.
I caught up with Martin whose GPS mount had failed; I left him some cable ties and waved goodbye. You could make out dust in the distance as you follow, indicating someone is ahead but I was disappointed as I chased down a moped two up.
Lost in the desert?
I did catch and pass Thomas who was answering a call of nature but I lost that advantage when I went the wrong way and had to backtrack again. I took a rest when I found the right trail – partially out of relief but also out of concern as to whether I was lost on the outskirts of the Sahara! Martin, followed by the pickup van, appeared and I geared up and set off.
Fit to drop
The next part of the trip was torture for me; the track rose sharply with switchbacks and the surface was littered with rocks and cut through with crevices. I should have reset the carb to compensate for the higher altitude but didn’t bother so it was drowning in fuel.
The idea of trotting beside the scooter as I pushed it up the worst parts was not going to work as I’m overweight, unfit and I chain smoke.”
After about half of the pass I’d dropped the bike so many times I didn’t have the energy to pick it up anymore so I gave in and it was put in the pick-up. I had no idea where the others were but we came across Martin struggling a few hundred yards ahead. We reset his carb and he was off and I saw him again later at the finish.
I was dropped at the top of the climb and set off downhill, the same quality of track but no trotting. The scooter was taking a battering and finally the handlebars slid in the bar risers, the scooter jumped into high gear and I was out of control. Given the choice of a fall over a rock-strewn cliff, or hitting a wall I opted for the wall, so ran into it and broke something in my wrist. When I got to the finish line in the van, Laurent was on the scene with anti-inflammatory gel and tablets. He’d won. Thomas was second, with Martin third. Martin Robinson summed the day up…
This is the hardest days riding I have ever done”
This from a man who has won the LCGB Championship on numerous occasions and is also an experienced motocross rider.
If you see Sid…
The problem was we were missing Sid and Tino. The reason Tino was absent quickly became apparent, he didn’t enjoy the competitive element of the event and had gone his own way to the hotel. The mystery of missing Sid (more miles than the Starship Enterprise) was answered when Pilar received a call from him. Somehow he’d ridden 450 km, or 300 miles in the wrong direction. He did make his way back some of the distance but a taxi was organised for him the rest of the way. He arrived late that evening in a saloon car stinking of spilt petrol, slightly wide-eyed and talking about strange Moroccan customs.
The plan for the next three days racing was that we would be based in the same hotel (no more packing) and the routes would be circular, starting and finishing near to the hotel.
The next morning we found Martin trying to hammer his exhaust back into shape; when that failed he “borrowed” Sid’s exhaust and fitted that. The other competitors insisted on delaying the start until Martin was finished but when the exhaust was fitted there was no compression on the scooter and Martin conceded the day’s race.
Stage three – rocky desert
This third day’s stage was a quick track of only 135 km in the rocky desert, following relatively level tracks of sand and small rock tracks, which was won by Thomas. Thomas by this time was on his second hub lock washer and decided to change his rear hub with one less worn.
Stage four – The African Stage
On day four all competitors were out again covering 193 km on what was called the “African Stage”, a fast track again covered in mixed types of hard track but with a huge amount of dust. It was a competitive event again but a snapped throttle cable put Martin at a severe disadvantage. The new vented hub got its ultimate test as Martin spent some time hammering the wheel rims straight whilst still fitted to the hub.
Stage five – quicksand
The fifth and final day of racing was over a 180 km course, taking the riders into the mountains and on the familiar tracks. This was another day’s hard riding with wheel rims being buckled and exhausts brutalised.
At one stage all three scooters ran into a section of sand where the bikes slowed and sank to their floorboards as the sand was so soft. “It was like sinking in water,” said, one participant. The riders then had to haul the scooters out. The racing was over but the scooters still had to be ridden back to Marrakesh.
An assessment of the repairs needed can be summarised as the exhausts and their barrel studs, wheel rims, one hub and one failed rear shocker (a standard one). We had the help of local mechanics who could weld and bodge pretty much anything with limited tools. Try using the word ‘Helicoil’ or ‘Time-Sert’ and you get a blank expression but they were able to fashion up an M10 repair insert for an exhaust stud, which worked for the time it was needed. The damage was caused by the rocks and the speed that the riders were maintaining. The majority of damage could have been prevented, or reduced if we had ridden more slowly. That wasn’t the point though, we’d come to race and that’s what we did.
The necessary repairs were carried out and the Lambrettas were ready for the last Moroccan ride back to Marrakesh. Ferrán had organised a day trip for us, we visited a place called Mhamid (the gateway to the Desert) with a stop on the way to visit a co-operative pottery. Mhamid is a strange place with narrow alleys designed to cut out the sun, with fully enclosed walkways with no light in places. This is where the phrase ‘Martin, Martin bonbon!’ was coined; ask Mr Robinson about that.
My camel for your wife
I got to see a camel but Sid Hopper wouldn’t let me swap my wife, Pilar, now nicknamed ‘Rice’ for one. At the end of the day, we returned to our hotel for one last meal and a prize giving. Each participant was given an enamel/engraved plaque and the three top riders received a plate glazed with their position and the event name. First place: Thomas DiPauli (Italy); Second place: Laurent Candess (France); Third place: Martin Robinson (UK). The prize winners were also given a discount on the 2018 Nomad Rally fees.
Fancy a go in 2018?
The trip home was a long one and not worth a detailed account. Martin and I are going again next year. Martin, I have no doubt will be aiming to win and I’ll be aiming to finish. Places are filling up steadily and at the time of writing, there are only 10 spaces left for a starting line up of 26 overall. Martin and I are putting together a van to cart scooters to the South of Spain so the riders and any companions they want to book can fly out and save time on travelling.
Contact: Nomad Rally
At this point I’d like to thank the following (in alphabetical order):
Danny D Dexter (clothing and advice), Sid Hopper (stopping me swapping my wife for camels), Hood Jeans (saving my legs with their jeans. AGAIN), Lambretta Rehab (built a bullet-proof engine), Lowestoft Lambretta Works: (advice and dyno), Robbospeed (quality parts and advice), Martin Robinson (for being Martin), Chris Sadd C S Engineering (structural frame modifications), Tino Satchi (quality parts), Ferrán Silva and his family (Nomad organisers and now friends).
Last but not least – the light of my life, the woman who tries to keep me sane, who finds wanderers in the desert, Mrs Pilar ‘Rice’ Rose- Alcorta.
Words: James Rose, Norwich
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