Owner of Puget Sound Safety will ride through 23 nations.
Last winter we featured Bret Tkacs, who was on a four-month motorcycle trip across South America. Since then, he hasn’t stopped traveling.
His current adventure: an epic 22-nation motorcycle journey through West Africa.
Tkacs left for Spain back in early November and plans to travel all the way to South Africa by spring.
Navigating some of the worst roads on the planet can be daunting, but as the owner of Puyallup’s Puget Sound Safety, Tkacs teaches the fundamentals of safe riding no matter where you are in the world.
We caught up with the 45-year-old Tkacs in Nigeria to find out what riding through Africa is like, and the advice he would share with others.
Road skills, rough terrain
Tkacs teaches conserving energy and decreasing your risk while riding — skills that are especially valuable in Africa.
“The ability to be extremely accurate in tire placement, read terrain and ride relaxed is so critical,” he says.
“In traffic things happen much faster here, and it’s common to have vehicles inches from you on all sides. Being able to read traffic and be confident in your riding is essential.
“If you are looking for smooth predictable pavement, look elsewhere. Highways suddenly end, motorcycle-swallowing holes appear on otherwise perfect roads. Main roads may be wet-packed clay that’s slick as oil, or rough enough to cause major failures to your machine.”
The undiscovered country
Traveling West Africa is the chance to experience cultures mostly untouched by tourism, he says. After touring Europe and the Americas, he wanted to go somewhere raw with the challenges and unpredictability of the unknown.
He has wandered among Roman ruins, stood in dense jungles, played with wild monkeys and ridden a camel in the Sahara.
But he says the true highlights have been the children’s smiles and the help he’s received from strangers.
“I have never seen people smile so quickly or genuinely as they have in most of Africa,” says Tkacs. “The poorer the country or worse the reputation, the happier people are to see us and share their homes with us.
“People are surprised to see me and interested in why I have come to their country. More than one time I have been told that I’ve changed they way they see Americans. This is the greatest reward of all: the ability to make people smile and show them that the movies are not who we are.”
The right bike is essential for the area you’re visiting. Tkacs and a Spanish companion chose 14-year-old Yamaha 600 dual sports.
“The bikes are mostly unmodified to ensure the greatest reliability. We choose them due to their simplistic design with no liquid cooling, computers or chipped keys to fail.
“We are using Mosko Moto luggage. We installed IMS Rally footpegs for better boot grip and less foot fatigue when riding long miles standing up,” he says.
Each rider has about 60 liters of gear including medical supplies, tools and spare parts.
“Most people over-think and over-pack personal belongings but fall short on the things that matter like tools and parts,” says Tkacs. “In this part of the world, even finding a simple tool can prove a challenge.”
The internet can be untrustworthy for reliable information and WiFi can be hard to find, but Tkacs uses Horizons Unlimited, blogs, Facebook and cycling support sites for the latest road information along with apps Maps.me and iOverlander from his iPhone.
“The route and schedule are adjusted based on visas, weather, safety, political changes and suggestions of locals,” he says.
Advice for riders
Interested in planning a big overland trip of your own? Advice from Tkacs:
• Do everything possible to improve riding skills.
• Know how to fix and maintain your motorcycle.
• Learn wilderness first aid.
• Practice using your gear before you leave home.
• Travel tired and hungry to know how it affects your riding.
Classes can help you be a better rider
Puget Sound Safety offers daylong motorcycle skill classes for all levels. Find information at PugetSoundSafety.com.
This summer, join Tkacs on an eight-day training trip through the Cascades. Learn more at tourusa.us/tours.