It took three tries, but Andrew Thabo Russell has finally broken the record for the fastest time between Cairo and Cape Town on a motorcycle.
And not just broken it – he slashed five days off the previous mark of 13 days 23 hours, set by Swiss endurance rider Urs ‘Grizzly’ Pedraita in 2016, completing the 11 000km ride on his KTM 1190 Adventure R in seven days 18 hours 52 minutes.
Russell, 34, put his much faster time down to, among other things, improving road conditions, which have seen the record fall sharply in recent years, from 20 days to just over a week.
“Infrastructure in Africa is improving dramatically,” he said. There are now only about 250 kilometres of untarred surface remaining on the iconic Great North Road, allowing riders to use bigger, faster machines, and there’s a new land border between Egypt and Sudan that sidesteps a slow ferry ride up Lake Nasser.
Not an easy ride
But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy ride – it took Russell three attempts just to finish his epic journey. His first effort, in 2015, ended just past halfway, when his passport was stolen at the border between Ethiopia and Kenya.
Russell’s second run, in December 2017, was cut short after only 2000km by a broken chain in the middle of the Nubian desert which caused catastrophic gearbox damage.
“I had to hitch-hike on trucks for five days, with a 240kg bike that wasn’t running, to get it back to Cairo,” he said. “It was very draining but full of rich human experiences; the truck drivers fed me every night, refusing any form of compensation – this happened in countless ways throughout the trip.”
A Sudanese biker gang arrived at one of Russell’s breakdown points, helping him all night to fix the bike.
“They were brilliant,” he said. “They used engineering techniques that you won’t find in any manual – but some things just can’t be fixed without new parts.”
Russell’s final effort – which he described afterwards as a fairly clean run – started from Cairo on 2 January.
“There were even times when I could forget about the record and just enjoy riding,” he said. “The border regions of Ethiopia were amazing, with incredible land formations covered in vegetation I’d never seen.
“The Rift Valley in central Tanzania is one of my favourite landscapes. There are very few people in this wild and beautiful land.”
The journey was not without its challenges, including a front tyre blowout and subsequent rim damage, hitting a Kudu in northern Kenya, and having a terribly close call with a truck in Zambia, while sleep and concentration fatigue were battles at the end of every day.
Nevertheless, Russell arrived safely in Cape Town in record-breaking time on 9 January.
Will his record be broken?
“Yes, but there’ll be lots of luck involved,” he said. “There are so many factors to consider and things that can go wrong when covering 11 000 kilometres through Africa that fast, especially at night.”