It's a lesser-known fact about photographer Camille McMillan that he loves the moto as much as he loves the push bike. So when we asked him to join our Morocco adventure there was no possibility that a cheap flight to Marrakech would suffice. Instead he turned the 'job' into a 5,000km escapade on his big bad KTM. And all those hours in the saddle gave him plenty of time to have some interesting thoughts about the similarities and differences between the motorcycle and the bicycle. Here is part one of MotoCamille's Moto To Morocco journey.
I was keen to get to the shoot on my bike, do a long ride. I love the long haul and it's been a few years since I have done a whopper. I am all about the journey, roads and non-places. The long journey can strip one down to the essentials of life thinking. I love that.
We who roll on two wheels share many things. I was a bicycle rider, a ‘Bikie’, now I'm a motorcyclist, a ‘Biker’ and I’m often trying to locate that common ground.
Some Bikies are also Bikers, but its not that many and I often get the feeling there is more respect for the Bikie from the Biker than from the Bikie toward the Biker. How often have I seen the middle aged Biker high fiving at the top of a Col with a Bikie looking on in distain.
‘Whats the celebration? That's easy! Anyone could do that...', Bikie feeling morally pleased with themselves in their pedal drunk endorphin chemical haze. But Bikies often forget, the thing about cycling is that it's a great leveller ... anyone can do it. The more you do it, the better you get.
Is there more value in riding the pedal powered bicycle for your pleasure leisure up a mountain pass than riding the moto? No, it's just journey. Often at the top of cols as I watch the Bikers high five and the Bikies take iPhone pictures, I imagine there is an Alpinist high above us, looking down on us wondering why all these cyclists are so pleased with themselves for going over the lowest and easiest route over a mountain.
As cyclists, we have common grounds. We are cousins, brothers/sisters from another mother on two wheels.
We have a direct contact with the road. We cyclists have something the car and truck drivers don’t seem to have. We see and feel the texture of the road, the hard going concrete roads, the smooth tarmac, the rutted surface from a snow plough, the dreaded pothole, gravel, and we respect that camber of the road. A left turn is our most perilous time. We look out for the smell of diesel on the road. The smell of rain, roadkill, pine trees. It's a visceral thing two wheels.
The biggest experience we share, us cyclists, is the weather. Our exposure to the elements. Rain, ice and wind are not our friends, but very much part of the experience of the journey.
There is a big difference however, and when I say big, I mean it. Things happen faster on the moto. The surface of the road, traffic situations and temperatures are all exaggerated, amplified if you will. The smell of diesel on a road is enough to put the fear in any Biker, new or veteran. The speed and fear is greater on a moto. Yes sure, a 50 year old truck hacking toward you on the wrong side of the road is a life reaffirming experience be it on moto or bicycle. It's just that the speeds are not the same. As a kid I used to practice falling off my bicycle so I would roll and not put out my collarbone snapping arm. That practice is not going to happen on a moto.
With the increase in speed is the increase in elements... if it's raining when you're on a bicycle, the rain is twice as hard on the moto. If you're cold on a bicycle you're way colder on a moto. In fact, the ‘Bikie’ doesn't know that much about the cold. This marketing myth, I would like to bust right now... the Biker knows the cold like no other. I have known cold on the moto that has left me so cold my bones would not warm for days. If you're a Biker, then you know.
We cyclists hate the wind, the head wind, the cross wind. The wind is not our friend. On the moto, the wind is always there, but sometimes it can get you so it feels like it's trying to rip you off the bike with one hand, while trying to lift the front wheel and throw it away in another direction. The winds fingers pulling on my front wheel has given me some of my greatest ‘oh f*ck’ moments on the moto.
With this speed comes things that are not obvious to the non-Biker. On the moto I often travel through a weather system, a storm or shower. On the bicycle it is generally a passive experience, you're not traveling fast enough to travel up to or through a weather system, on a bicycle you're subject to the weather.
Obviously with greater velocity comes greater distance than that of a bicycle. For me a big day on the moto is 800kms, on a bicycle 200kms would be big. The moto gives me a better idea of journey and distance, there is generally a freedom from physicality that bicycles don't have, it's very mental. I stop when I’m mentally exhausted, the Bikie stops when they are physically exhausted. The Biker is free of the endorphin hit, it's about mental awareness and adrenalin, whereas Bikies are all about endorphins.
From my place in the south of France its 1600 km across Spain to Morocco, and then about 600 km through Morocco to the Haute Atlas. That's about 11 days riding pedal power or 3 days on the moto.
But lets face it, its three hours on the pedal bike. It's 3 hours because the pedal bike will be taken apart, put in a box and put in the hold of the aeroplane. Riding to Morocco on my moto, that's a journey, that's the trip... it underpins the experience of a destination. The pedal powered cyclist gets a disconnected experience of a ‘destination'.
Maybe that's why we middle age moto-men high five at the top of a Col, because we have journeyed 2200 km to get there.
Part Two of Moto to Morocco is just around the perfectly cambered corner...stay tuned.