Video: The last motorcycle to reach Timbuktu

Published: 21 September 2016

As part of MCN’s Farewell to the Yamaha XT Special, Nick Sanders talks about riding his XT660R to Timbuktu. 

By Nick Sanders, the fastest man around the world

The plan was to lead 20 riders 4659 miles from London to Timbuktu, turn round and ride the same distance back again. But somehow we were stuck under a veranda, sweating, a few miles from the finish line. A minor violation entering Timbuktu meant our passports and keys had been confiscated by the military. We were stranded in diplomatic limbo, unable to return and at the mercy of our abductors – until I was eventually summoned to the commander’s barracks, deep in the desert. A quick chat and £600 later and we were off again on the final ride to Timbuktu.

The expedition was fraught with difficulties; my original crew abandoned the project two days before the start and a last minute replacement team saved the expedition from imploding.

Midway, our truck got stuck on the banks of the River Niger, sinking up to its belly in mud – taking an entire night of digging to free it before the tide came in. Not an easy feat, considering it’s in the dark that drugs and arms are routinely smuggled vast distances by camel trains across the Sahara.


In Mauritania, the massive fleet of service vehicles supporting the Dakar’s last trek across Africa were heading north, the race cancelled due to armed robbers having gunned down a French family in a town we were about to pass through. Lightning doesn’t often strike twice – we hoped. Mauritania was tough. The dry heat was hard work. Dogs lay curled in the dirt against corners of buildings. The saviour of grey tarmac had long since disappeared and bikes continuously crashed in the sand as we battled with the final 200km. But despite all of the difficulties we faced, the XT never failed me.

Instead it was the one thing I could depend on in a trip fraught with uncertainties. Bike after bike crashed as riders wrestled with their heavy, overloaded machines. But my XT was nimble, lighter underfoot and perfect for simplifying a difficult crossing. Other bikes began to overheat, cables broke and over-developed technology began to fry and fail in the heat.

But again, the XT, with its unnerving reliability has far less to go wrong, with no complicated electronics. It was built to be a bit of a donkey, geared up to take you wherever you want to go with minimum fuss. It skimmed across the desert like it’s been doing since the late ’70s. The thump-thump from its cylinder still powering away through the sand. 

For the full story catch this week’s MCN, out today.

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