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Desert Storm – A Dominar Ride to Moyale

Trip to the north
24 August 2020
Easy Border Ride – To Tz and Back
4 September 2020
By Eric Kihiu, posted on AMD-fb

The journey of 1,000 miles begins with... a push of the starter button...

M y pal Victor (CF Moto 650NK) and I (Bajaj Dominar D400 2019 model) made up a duo of naked street bikes with a plan. The mission: to reach Moyale at the Ethiopian border via the A2 great North Road on a 3 day "desert storm" ride.

Day 1

Nairobi, up before sunrise. First stop, the Total on Thika road near Allsops to fuel up. The blast up Thika road was uneventful. The Dominar works well. It is compact and agile, weaving easily through traffic on the multi-lane super highway. Its torquey motor means you can stay in 6th and pass fast moving traffic for the most part, or drop a cog for more aggressive overtaking (wale wasee wa Prado, bimmer na subaru). It pulls heartily, and reaches its 9,200 red line in short order.

Next stop Karatina. Breakfast at Starbucks. Glorious sunshine kicked in as we started the next leg.

Nanyuki, obligatory photo op at the equator sign - gotta tick them cliché boxes, right? A water break and refuelling stop in town and we were off again.

Beyond Timau the real fun begins. The twisty road to the Isiolo turn-off winds through beautiful landscape that's a genuine pleasure to ride. The Dominar's suspension (USD front forks/rear monoshock) and brakes, (twin channel ABS) inspire confidence, and I relished stringing corners together at pace. Victor, making the most of his much beefier engine, was usually out of sight ahead having just as much fun.

Isiolo. A bustling town.

Lunch at the Landmark hotel, where camel meat is on the menu. No thanks, chips kuku for me. Sevice a bit slow, food's ok.

After refuelling, off we went. This stage for us marked the real start of the trip. Much less traffic, great road, open sky. It's about 260km to Marsabit. Apart from the Ewaso Nyiro, most of the other river beds are dry this time of year. Merille river is the boundary between Isiolo and Marsabit counties. After the bridge is a friendly police check, where we were offered a choice of Covid screening or not.

200km on from Isiolo, fuel range anxiety checks in. At Laisamis, 215km in, there's one petrol station, Desert Oil, on a hill. This is the last chance to refuel before Marsabit...

By 5p.m. we'd reached Marsabit, and checked into the Silvia Inn Hotel. Clean rooms and good food (the beef pilau was great and their freshly blended, sugar-free watermelon juice was the best i've tasted anywhere). Friendly staff. The town is well developed. Good main road (dual carriageway), a well stocked supermarket at the Total petrol station. It's a nice place, with the added bonus of a spectacular (Marsabit) national park if you have the time. We didn't sadly, but i've been there before.

The Dominar showed its touring chops. It's highly capable for long haul trips. Over 530kms in the saddle on day 1 and no aches anywhere. The supple suspension irons out imperfections on the road with ease, but it's firm enough for spirited riding. You can attack corners with confidence. Sporty but comfortable is how I'd characterise it.

Day 2

Leisurely start. Cautious about fuel availability we each took 3 litres of fuel with us, and by 9:30 we were on our way. A few kms out of Marsabit there's a hill with a crater that's worth stopping to check out.

 

The 250km ride to Moyale seemed more climb than descent. Bubisa, and Burgabo (junction), are waypoints to note. At Burgabo shopping centre we stopped to top up fuel from our cans. Amina, a charming young lady came over to chat and sold us bottled water from her shop. Behind the shops, mobile phone towers and a wind turbine rise high above a domed manyatta dwelling, a convergence of tradition and tech.

Pushing on, powerful crosswinds are a real issue, and road signs warn you of this hazard.

 

Along the way we passed a water point where hundreds of camels were massed. It was an awesome sight.

Turbi is a somewhat larger settlement, dominated by a range of hills. We zoomed past 4 young ladies walking, each wearing and different colour dera dress. Tall and elegant, they were an eye catching sight. Domed manyatta dwellings abound. We noticed a filling station there. At the police check we were waved on.

You can go 50km without seeing another vehicle. The solitude, uncompromising landscape and back to basics simplicity of the north clears the mind. It has a unique appeal.

Sololo, about 170km from Marsabit outskirts is the next significant waypoint. You branch off the main road and go in about 6km. It is ringed by tall hills on all sides. There are filling stations, a hospital, chief's office and shops. It has a lovely atmosphere and feels like a place you can spend a few days in. A map check reveals that it actually lies close to the border. We topped off our tanks and pressed on.

From the Sololo junction it is a further 76km to Moyale, the road running parallel to the border. As you close the distance the road begins to climb noticeably, with more curves.

The road is smooth, corners sweeping. All shopping centres have well marked bumps.

By 1:30 we'd reached Moyale and rode to the border crossing point. We had a nice lunch at the Member's Club next to the border. After a refuelling stop we headed back. Now familiar with the road and determined to reach Marsabit before nightfall, we put the hammer down. The return trip was swift and exhilarating.

All along the route there's wildlife to see. Somali ostrich, vulterine and helmeted guinea fowl were among the highlights. We also saw a hyena. Sadly it was roadkill, the one jarring note of the ride.

About 20km from Marsabit we saw heavy clouds, but didn't think much of it. A short while later it was pouring down. Rain in the desert! We had to stop to hurriedly don our rain gear. We beat the sunset though.

 

An interesting side note on the way back: we were stopped at all the police roadblocks for a search. Inquiring why, one officer told us that lots of drugs (weed) are ferried by boda boda bikes from Ethiopia. They were courteous about it though.

Back then when the road was un-tarmacked

Photo by Calvin Queens

Day 3

Daybreak, woke up to a misty Marsabit morning, remnants of the previous night's storm still clinging to the sky. After breakfast, refuelling at Total where a tyre pressure check revealed a rear wheel puncture, which was plugged.

By 9a.m. we were on our way, maintaining a fast pace, charging hard to Isiolo. The puncture repair had come undone and I had to fix it again. From Isiolo we took the Meru route to enjoy the twisties. The stretch from the Isiolo turn off to Meru town is another treat.

Lunch in Meru town, at the Red Tomato restaurant. From here the road gets steep and twisty. The Dominar is happy to play in this environment, and we had fun powering though to Mwea, where the pesky puncture problem recurred. This cost us a couple of hours. We were referred to a repair centre at a small Kobil filling station where the fundi recommended vulcanization. Off came the back wheel and the job was done.

From Mwea, it was a quick and uneventful blast back to Nairobi.

In summary:

1.The trip: Awesome roads. Great fun. Great scenery, interesting and hospitable people everywhere.
2.The bike: the Dominar proved a worthy steed, fast, agile and comfortable. Modifications: A Zana top rack and saddle stay combo and a 45lt JDR top box with brake lights.Total fuel used, approx 75 litres

Total distance covered, approx 1,600km, all tarmac.

 

What's good about the bike? Basically, it works. Quick enough for real world use - you could cruise at 150 all day if the law allowed it 😉, compact and agile enough to scythe through traffic. Amazingly good LED lights if you must ride at night. Seat height low enough for the not-so-tall. The all-digital intrumentation is comprehensive and includes fuel range and dynamic or average fuel consumption. And a km to next service countdown and service due advisory warning.

What would I change on the bike? Not much. Add a hazard switch, USB charging port and outside temperature reading in the instrumentation. And the fuel gauge reading on a slope can be a bit misleading when close to empty.

I plan to add a taller aftermarket windscreen to reduce wind buffeting (and bugs on my visor!).

All in all, now over 11,000kms since new, i'm happy with the bike, and would recommend it without reservation.

Now where's my map? I need another border to touch...

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