Tour d’ Afrique

Cycling Expeditions Around the Globe: Tour d’ Afrique

By Beth Simmons

Oriental Express 2009 team in Budapest. Photo by Jim Pearce.
Oriental Express 2009 team in Budapest. Photo by Jim Pearce.

If you’ve ever wanted to take a really, really long bike ride then Tour d’ Afrique may be for you. However, leisurely bike riders need not apply because these tours take the “long bike ride” to a new level by hosting cycling tours throughout Europe, Asia, South America, North America, and all the way down the long continent of Africa.

Keeping their name from their 2003 flagship bike tour that crosses Africa from Cairo to Cape Town each year, Tour d’ Afrique now has multiple tours around the world. Experienced and aspiring riders can register online to join their upcoming expeditions. Riders from ages 18 to 80 have participated in the past and tour groups range from 20 to 65 people depending on popularity and available professional support.

The tours vary in price but the services are all the same –riders will have all of their accommodations and food taken care of on route. Tour Director, Paul McManus explains, “On every tour we have a tour director like myself and depending on the size we’ll have one or two assistants, chefs, and mechanics for extra support. On large tours there’s usually twelve staff while small tours have four to five staff. Medics and mechanics are really important in Africa because it’s so remote.”

Up for the Challenge

Rough roads of northern Kenya. Photo by Paul McManus.
Rough roads of northern Kenya. Photo by Paul McManus.

Make no mistake; some of these routes require a test of your mental, physical, and bike strength. The varied terrain and mileage speak for themselves, with Africa’s epic tour including rocky, muddy, and sandy surfaces with a grand total of 7,500 miles in length. There are shorter, more comfortable tours available for amateur cyclists such as the European tour with the majority of its roads paved and wifi access along the way.

Still, know that whichever tour you sign up for it’s not going to be a breeze. These expeditions are long enough to require a time commitment ranging from ten days to a number of months. It will be a test of endurance but with the right training and determination, anyone can do it.

Tour d’ Afrique recommends that riders train beforehand, especially on the bike they plan to ride during the tour. It’s also important to increase intensity and distance each week leading up to the excursion for better stamina. Visit Tour d’ Afrique’s “Training to Ride and Race” page for more detailed exercise advice.

Preparation and Navigation

A 'drinks break' in rural France. Photo by Jim Pearce.
A ‘drink break’ in rural France. Photo by Jim Pearce.

All bike routes are carefully mapped out ahead of time. So riders won’t be stopping for directions, saving cyclists from getting lost and stopping to check the map hundreds of times. Tour d’ Afrique works hard to create these courses to include what McManus says is “a mix of physical challenges and a little off the beaten path. We stay in places that represent the areas that we’re in.”

McManus explains this detailed planning process, “One of us will have an idea or our clients will on Dream Tours and from there it’s a lot of emails and arguing in the office over where to start and where to finish, should it be epic or easier? What’s the focus? Is it site seeing or physical challenge? After our informal debate we pull out maps and then another person will look for accommodations along the routes.”

Global Friendships

Group Photo a the Uzbek border. Photo by Paul McManus.
Group Photo a the Uzbek border. Photo by Paul McManus.

Sometimes it’s less about the route and more about the good company. This is the case for McManus who says, “The people make the tour. It’s pretty unique and we become family.” Tour d’ Afrique’s international tours reach people from all over the world who come together for the adventure but find they leave with a new circle of friends crossing countries, continents, and even oceans.

New Horizons

Experienced cyclist, Lani Schultz of Canada first heard about Tour d’ Afrique from a friend during Tour de Canada, a cross Canada bike tour. 59-year-old Schultz took on and conquered the challenge of the Tour d’ Afrique’s legendary route from Cairo to Cape Town.

Besides great physical challenges and friendships, expedition bike tours like Tour d’ Afrique’s is a great way for people to come in close contact with nature. While abroad this foreign contact can be a really eye-opening experience, whether it is with locals, landscapes, or animals.

Lani Schultz on a typical dirt road in Namibia.
Lani Schultz on a typical dirt road in Namibia.

Among the great sights and adventures, Schultz recalls a favorite memory in northern Namibia, “a pair of zebras galloped along the fence as I was going downhill on a dirt road. It was so beautiful to see them in their own habitat, and being alone in the huge field makes you feel insignificant. They were not at all bothered by my presence, crisscrossing the road, jumping over the barrier fence and disappearing to the mountains beyond.”

After conquering Africa, Schultz continued to ride with Tour d’ Afrique, completing the Silk Route that begins in Istanbul, Turkey and ends 2,572 miles east in Samarqand, Uzbekistan. The Amber Route followed, beginning at the historic Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and ending at the Doge’s Palace in Venice.

The very last ride reaching Ponta Sablioni, with Venice in the background.
The very last ride reaching Ponta Sablioni, with Venice in the background.

Schultz’s next cycling adventure will be the Indian Tour beginning in January 2011, where she and other cyclists will ride from Agra in northern India to Kanyakumari in the south. She’s also got her fingers crossed for a proposed Dream Tour to come true. What are Dream Tours? It’s a chance for riders to propose ideas for new routes, comment on others’, vote for favorites, and ultimately make dream tours come true.

An Experience of a Lifetime

Fellow Tour d’ Afrique cyclist, Jim Pearce of New Zealand might be 62 years old and retired, but that doesn’t stop him from conquering difficult routes such as the Orient Express that totals 2,485 miles, stretching from Paris to Istanbul, and includes challenging mountainous regions such as Romania’s Transylvania. He’s also participated in other routes outside of Tour d’ Afrique’s within the United Kingdom and Australia.

Pearce already has his spot booked on the Tour d’ Afrique’s 2011 North American Epic Tour alongside his two sons, Craig and Brett. This tour is the company’s most recent addition and is strongly anticipated by riders. Starting out in San Francisco and ending in Newfoundland, this tour stretches the North American continent from coast to coast, adding up to a total of 4,971 miles.

Jim Pearce with the locals in rural Romania.
Jim Pearce with the locals in rural Romania.

Riders will cycle along the California coastline, Joshua Tree National Park, the Grand Canyon, up the Rockies, and through the American plains, all the way to Canada and finally Newfoundland. Again, this tour and all the rest require days, weeks, and months of your time, so be prepared to take that leave of absence from work you’ve been dreaming about in exchange for adventures on the open road.

If this sounds too daunting to you it’s because it probably is, but also don’t fret because this tour and all the rest offer condensed routes within the full tours. Meaning, cyclists can do a portion instead of the entire duration.

Looking back on his past cycling tours, Pearce reflects, “sharing exotic places or tough experiences with like minded people. They are as keen, determined, successful and as stupid as me!”

Pearce’s special memories include, “sharing my 61st birthday with friends from Canada in a roof top restaurant in Istanbul after 49 days cycling together, climbing to 2,200 meters in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, sharing a beer and a red wine in Bucharest after a hard days riding –for rehydration of course!”

Tour d' Afrique cyclists outside of Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the start of the Amber Route. Photo by Paul McManus.
Tour d’ Afrique cyclists outside of Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the start of the Amber Route. Photo by Paul McManus.

Grab a friend or do it alone, however you choose to embark on your cycling adventure, be prepared for challenges, new experiences, fun, and new friends!

The Tours

Tour d’ Afrique: Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa
Start peddling along the ancient pyramids, ride along the Nile, push yourself through the heat of the Sahara desert, and through the sand dunes of Fish River Canyon, until you reach the Atlantic Ocean in South Africa.

Orient Express: Paris, France to Istanbul, Turkey
Begin with a guided bike tour of the City of Lights, peddle through medieval towns, ride along the Danube River, through beautiful Eastern European countries, until reaching exotic Istanbul.

Silk Route: Istanbul, Turkey to Samarqand, Uzbekistan
Experience the history of the ancient trading route, the Silk Road from your bicycle, peddle across deserts and through mountains, until reaching Uzbekistan of Central Asia.

Camping by the River Inns near Linz in Austria. Photo by Jim Pearce.
Camping by the River Inns near Linz in Austria. Photo by Jim Pearce.

Vuelta Sudamericana: Buenos Aires, Argentina to Lima, Peru
Start in Buenos Aires and head northwest towards Chile’s countless beaches along the Pacific, through the white salt plains of the dry Atacama Desert, to ancient Machu Picchu, and finish in Peru’s capital.

Amber Route: St. Petersburg, Russia to Venice, Italy
From Russia’s beautiful Winter Palace to Doge’s Palace of Italy, ride through picturesque Eastern European countries all the way to Italy’s floating city.

An Indian Adventure: Agra, India to Kanyakumari, India
The adventure begins outside of the infamous Taj Mahal, then peddle through desert cities and gorgeous beaches to get an up close look at South Asia’s beloved India.

North American Epic: San Francisco, California to St. John’s, Newfoundland
Begin at the Golden Gate Bridge, ride along the Pacific coastline, then head west through North America’s diverse landscapes including deserts, the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, national forests, Canada, and Nova Scotia until reaching Newfoundland.

Orient Express riders checking out Paris before leaving for Istanbul. Photo by Jim Pearce.
Orient Express riders checking out Paris before leaving for Istanbul. Photo by Jim Pearce.

Spotlight on Turkey: Ankara, Turkey to Istanbul, Turkey
Starting in Turkey’s capital city take a tour of the country, seeing its many ancient ruins, through the Taurus Mountains, along the coasts of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, and finish in the country’s largest city.

Spotlight on Namibia (North): Windhoek, Namibia to Windhoek, Namibia
Start in the capital of Namibia and come full circle after peddling through deserts and mountain ranges, and national parks.

Spotlight on Namibia (South): Windhoek, Namibia to Luderitz, Namibia
Begin in the capital of Namibia and head west through mountain passes, gorgeous rock formations, then head south through the desert and national parks, until finishing at the rocky Atlantic coastline.

Samba Tango: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Buenos Aires, Argentina
Start off in Brazil’s capital and ride through South America’s natural landscapes including rain forests, sandy beaches, and mountain ranges until reaching Argentina’s capital city.

Further Information:

Visit Tour d’ Afrique’s website for more details and to sign up for upcoming tours!

Beth Simmons
Beth Simmons

Beth Simmons is an editorial assistant with GoNOMAD and attends the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts. She writes the Travel Reader Blog.

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