7 Things to Know When You're Planning a Trip to Morocco

Apr 7, 2019
by Michael Fox  
Freeride Morocco Guide Jonathan Wells navigating one of many tight switchbacks there are about ten million such switchbacks in Morocco
Freeride Morocco Guide Jonathan Wells navigating one of many tight switchbacks (there are about ten million such switchbacks in Morocco.)

Words by: Michael Fox

Moroccan Mountain Biking Is Good, But Different

I'll get straight to the point: there is some excellent singletrack riding in Morocco. You can ride the high alpine trails in the Atlas Mountains well into late October or early November, a time when your home trails in Europe or North America are likely cold, wet, muddy, and otherwise unpleasant.

There are several guiding outfits that have scouted out all the best trails, and who will also arrange all your logistics from the moment you touch down at Marrakech International. I recently did such a trip with Freeride Morocco, whose logistical support was invaluable.


Rider Adrian Reed demonstrating how to ride a hardtail.
Rider Adrian Reed demonstrating how to ride a hardtail.


But don't book your ticket just yet. If you’re expecting to ride purpose-built mountain bike trails and to enjoy the kind of comfortable accommodation available in places such as Canada and Switzerland, you’re in for a bit of a surprise. This isn’t your local trail centre, this is Morocco, and things are a little bit different. Here are a few tips that I’ve assembled based on my recent experience.


Tip Number One: This Isn’t the Hilton

Do you enjoy flush toilets? A comfortable bed at night? Hot showers?

Well, that's too bad, because you won't be enjoying any of those luxuries while you're biking from village to village in the Atlas Mountains.

The villages of the Atlas Mountains are beautiful and remote. Exploring these villages by bike is tremendously rewarding, as is the privilege and opportunity to stay in the local “Gites” and to experience first-hand what life is like in these villages.


Rider Jana McLean trying to look comfortable on a mattress made from . . . cement possibly
Rider Jana McLean on a mattress made from . . . cement, possibly?



However, don’t expect to enjoy luxuries such as central heating, hot showers, flush toilets, or even comfortable beds. Many villages are only accessible by dirt road (or by donkey-path!) and as a result it is difficult and costly to transport materials and supplies in. Your Riad in Marrakech may have a nice mattress and a hot shower, but up in the Atlas Mountains it’s a very different story.

This absence of luxury is more than made-up for by the jaw-dropping mountain views and starry nights. You’ll also come to appreciate the chance to experience the hammams in each gite: a spartan room, heated by a wood-burning stove, with warm running water to wash and relax at the end of a long day on the bike.


The villages are located in some beautiful spots.
The villages were located in some stunningly beautiful spots.



However, if you’re not prepared to accept slightly rougher accommodation than what you might be used to, you'll want to re-think whether Morocco is the destination for you. That expensive refugio in the Italian Dolomites might be worth a look after all . . .


Tip Number Two: Know Your Bike

Can you fix a snapped chain? Straighten your rear mech? Swap out your brake pads?

If you run into mechanical trouble in Morocco, you're on your own. Don't count on being able to buy anything at all in-country (not even chain lube!) Nor will you find a local bike shop that can do a quick repair whilst you sip a latté at the café next door.

Bring all your kit with you and be damn sure you know how to use it! Also do a thorough service before travelling. If you experience a preventable mechanical while out on the trail, you'll not only ruin your own holiday but you'll be a drag on the rest of your group!


Tip Number Three: Know Your Limits

Can you ride on a trail that is thoroughly covered in loose stones? How about bouncing down along a riverbed with no real trail to speak of at all? What about riding along a very thin line of “singletrack” (i.e. a goat trail) that is carved into the side of a steep slope with tremendous exposure below?

The trails in Morocco are not purpose-built mountain bike trails. Rather, they are a network of ancient routes, used by locals to travel between villages and by nomads to herd animals. They were not designed with 27.5-inch wheels in mind.


Rider Altaf Abbas dodging loose stones
Rider Altaf Abbas dodging loose stones

Rider Bari Khan dodging loose stones
Rider Bari Khan dodging loose stones



Many of these trails happen to make for some spectacular riding, but they come with challenges, including washouts, exposure, tight switchbacks, slippery piles of donkey dung, and more loose stones than a gravel quarry!


Freeride Morocco Guide Ibrahim handling the exposure.
Freeride Morocco Guide Ibrahim handling the exposure.

Rider Adam Bowler handing the exposure.
Rider Adam Bowler handing the exposure.



Adjust your expectations accordingly. The trails are fun to ride, the scenery is spectacular, and the uniqueness of the location is unbelievable, but these trails aren't meant to be compared to purpose-built mountain bike trails that you may have ridden in Europe or North America.


Tip Number Four: Pack Your Chammy Butter

Singletrack abounds in Morocco. But accessing it often involves lengthy stretches of pedaling on dirt roads.

Lube up your rear end, slip into your most well-padded chamois, and sit your ass in the saddle and start pedaling. You're going to be there awhile.

Depending on where you start out from and which trails you're aiming for, you might spend as much as 70-80% of your day pedaling on roads. It's a lot of road pedaling but the singletrack bits are quite rewarding.


Expect to be doing a lot of this.
Expect to be doing a lot of this . . .

Expect to be doing a lot of this.
. . . and this.



There is very little in the way of singletrack climbing trails. When the roads end, but you still have some climbing left, chances are it's going to be a hike-a-bike situation.

If you're the sort who can't stand long pedaling sessions, if you prefer singletrack climbing trails (or, better yet, uplifts) then you'll be in for an unpleasant surprise.


Tip Number Five: Embrace The Tea Breaks

Do you like an ambitious day's riding schedule? Hate stopping for unnecessary breaks? Have you ever considered urinating from the saddle of a moving bicycle just to avoid having to stop for an extra 30 seconds?

In Morocco, that's all out the window. Each day, after two to three hours of riding, your entire group will stop for what you might think is going to be a quick snack, but for what will in fact be a 45- to 90-minute long tea break.


Day 1 Tea Break This isn t so bad is it
Day 1 Tea Break: This isn't so bad, is it?

Day 4 Tea Break Enough damn tea already
Day 4 Tea Break: Enough damn tea already!



During said break you'll sit and wait for an inordinate amount of time before finally being served mint tea (choices include “with sugar” or “with extra sugar”) as well as some delicious Moroccan bread-type products and associated honey and spreads.

Depending on your personality type, you may struggle to accept these lengthy breaks. Please remember that you’re being welcomed into the home of a wonderful host who is going to all the trouble of making tea for a dozen filthy mountain bikers.

As much as you'll be antsy to spend as much time out on the trail as possible (especially as you're in a country that you may never get a chance to visit again) you may as well sit back and enjoy a hot cup of mint tea and some delicious snacks!


Tip Number Six: The Cuisine is Tagine

What's your favourite post-ride meal? Burgers and beer? Pasta paired with a nice merlot? A hearty burrito washed down with a refreshing cerveza?

Morocco is a dry country. Although piss-poor beer and cringe-worthy wine can be located at select locations by determined drinkers, you may as well resign yourself to little to no alcohol. And the food? Well hopefully you like steamed meat (or vegetables, for the vegetarians in the group)... because that's what you'll be eating for dinner, every single night.

Tagine is basically a giant plate of steamed vegetables (potatoes, carrots, leeks, onions, etc) served on a bed of couscous with accompanying meat. It's a nice dish, and Moroccan spices definitely add a nice flavour, but it can certainly grow tiresome after a week straight.

Perhaps this is a critical factor for you, perhaps you couldn't care less. Just don't expect your trip to be a foodie's paradise.


Tip Number Seven: Mind the Chickens!

Mountain biking is a hazardous sport. Mountain bikers know and accept that fact. What most riders don't count on, however, is the possibility that a suicidal chicken may unexpectedly dash in front of your bike as you’re riding at high speed on a loose, uneven dirt road into a village.


Alarmed poultry flee from the path of rider Maxime not all poultry we encountered had such good sense and in fact often ran toward the bike rather than away from it
Alarmed poultry flee from the path of rider Maxime (not all poultry we encountered had such good sense, and in fact often ran toward the bike rather than away from it!)



In the case of our group, we had two chicken incidents in the span of the week. Fortunately, no chickens were killed and no riders were harmed, though one chicken was reportedly dazed after it clipped the side of the bike. Arguably, the rider got the worst of it as she (a true animal-lover) was quite traumatized from having come within a feathers-width of rolling right over the chicken in question!

Throughout the rest of the week, chickens (and other various forms of poultry) would routinely present themselves on the trail suddenly and without warning. The only predictable feature of these “chicken runs” were that they tended to occur in and around villages.

Keep your eyes peeled and be aware at all times. Typically, when you're approaching a village, you tend to let your guard down as it means that either you’re going to have a reprieve after the heinous climb you’ve just done, or it means you've just made it through another stretch of exposed, nerve-wracking singletrack and you can relax your frayed nerves.

Don't be fooled. Chickens are out there and they're a real hazard. Danger doesn't take a holiday!


Final Thoughts

Is Morocco worth it? Yes, absolutely, without a doubt. It’s a beautiful country, the people are warm and welcoming, and it’s a wonderful culture to experience.


Rider Adrian Reed getting rad -- treat the riding as a bonus but not the main attraction of the trip
Rider Adrian Reed getting rad -- treat the riding as a bonus, but not the main attraction of the trip!

Rider Maxime descending down towards one of the many stunning villages in the Atlas Mountains.



There also just happens to be some awesome riding -- but consider that to be a bonus, not the main attraction. If you go to Morocco, keep in mind that you’re there for the overall cultural experience, and the riding just happens to be a good way to immerse yourself in that experience.

Of course, the fact that you’ll get in some rad singletrack now and again doesn’t exactly hurt, does it?

callofthewildphotos.com


48 Comments

  • + 27
 This kind of article could save a lot of people a lot of money and heartache for many different types of trips for both the type of rider that would be better off not going and the riders that would be better off if said rider isn’t there.

I know even local trails I really like where “...treat the riding as a bonus, but not the main attraction of the trip” would be a good thing to tell people before having them join.

Thanks!
  • + 23
 I'm a Mtb Street/park Rider From north Of Morocco ! i never been yet on Atlas Mountain ,and already Got some Enduro and DH Friends They organizing Some Trips And Camping There and It's totally Worth to Visit ! The Trails and View and People are so Welcomed, and Yes Bring with your Own Bike Tools Bcz There is a Few Professionals Bikes Mechanics In Morocco (Casablanca,Rabat),and Please If you planning to bring Drone or something like That bring with you Licence or Don't bring it ! (many of bikes athlete that i meat them before they lost their Drons in Airport Customs) They need a Certificate or something like that ,,,However if you ride Mtb Dirt or Street and you planning to visit North of morocco ! you just hit me up and you will be weclomed ! so ride on guys !
  • + 18
 Had one of those chicken incidents in Nepal. Suicidal chicken ran into the front wheel from the middle of nowhere. Villager comes running out of his house pointing at me yelling murderer, murderer (lucky my Nepali mate was with us to translate). Thought maybe it was just dazed, until the blood starting oozing down the side of its beak. Then the negotiations started. Turns out you don’t just have to pay for the chicken but potentially 5 generations of chickens that it could have produced. Ended up costing 20 bucks, well worth it for the good story. My Nepali mate killed a duck and it ended up costing him like 150 bucks, so be especially careful of them :-) after we paid the villager packed up the chicken in a plastic bag. i was like “nah mate I’m good” didn’t want to have to ride around for 5 hours with some dingy dead chicken in the back, so i said “why don’t you guys have a good bbq tonight on me”
  • + 1
 lovely story, worth 20 kwitts mate
  • + 7
 I guess im not surprised this event wasnt mentioned, but it sorta needs to be if youre going to convince people to go.
  • + 2
 Disagree that violence needs mentioning since it happens everywhere no matter the reason. Holidays are dangerous holy shit.
  • + 3
 @browner: I would say that is a cop out man. These places are marked as danger areas to tourists for a reason.

Visit the US! You might get robbed in the subway. Danger is EVERYWHERE.
  • + 0
 @leviatanouroboro: I don't thnk it is a cop out, and needs to be pointed out in every article. anyone that goes somewhere a bit off the beaten track such as Morocco should do a bit of research into the place and understand the risks that are involved. This could be crime or violence against tourists or just access to medical care should the crap hit the fan. I think it highlights that if you go somewhere a bit more unique, how important it is to where possible travel in bigger groups and when going into the sticks, have a local guide. As you said Danger is everywhere, it doesn't need pointing out all the time.
  • + 4
 @leviatanouroboro: Or shot by a local, you know it happens as well. But I guess it´s less frightening because it´s not on allah´s name ...
  • + 10
 Ok then. I'll take switzerland or canada. Not to disrespect your article, experience or morocco in any way... However, Doesn't sound like much of a bike destination to me.
  • + 2
 Right!I would be scared to see what I would have to wipe my toosh with.
  • + 3
 Over here it's the moose you need to look out for.
  • + 1
 @bishopsmike: how about bears?
  • + 2
 @nug12182: You could try a feathery chicken carcass...
  • + 2
 @xice: yeah ...or drunken hunters from France like in Andorra Wink
  • + 2
 @nug12182: Old jersey or left hand. T.P. is your best friend, don't leave home without it, especially when spices are involved.
  • + 6
 I’ve done this trip, or very similar, I recognise quite a few photos. The riding is awesome but definitely not bike park, it’s more like the Pyrenees or backcountry Alps. Definitely more serious- you have to make grownup decisions about whether to ride some sections or not , the consequences would be very, very serious- more than any place I’ve been before. Some folk on our trip really got the fear. It maybe the best trip you’ve ever done or it might not be for you.
Enjoy! Or go to Whistler, it good there too!
  • + 4
 Morocco is a crazy place. I can’t say Inloved it, but it was fascinating. There were some really cool sights, smells and tastes, but it definitely was not comfortable.

It gave me this really distinct nostalgic feeling, and I have dreams about it from time to time.
  • + 4
 Did a trip with Freeride Morocco and absolutely loved it. The itinary we did included some fantastic singletrack along with the big 'up' bits. One day was pretty much uphill all day but next day.. oh wow simply awesome riding!! We had a truck uplift up to top of one pass too. Food, yup, a bit grim to be fair. We took our own coffee and aeropress which was a life saver! The gites were really basic but the hammams were fab.. toilets, grim once again. All in all a wonderful adventure!!
  • + 2
 Agreed @browner, I get the impression that the writer of this piece didn't like it and is driving the report from that direction. Having done the same trip last year with a group of 14 friends who all loved it, I feel this is a little negative and driven somewhat by the emotions associated when "not feeling it". It's definitely important to add balance instead of saying everything is great all the time but it's got to be a fair representation to the reader.

Our group are not exactly park rats and are quite used to more natural feeling trails, although no one is a thoroughbred mountain goat, we're from the south haha. We had no doubt the high mountains were going to be a challenge but in the end it was smiles and fist bumps all round, yeah there were some long climbs but umm, err... it's the mountains and the descending was incredible.

Donkeys were more of a hazard than chickens, could often hear a shout of "DONKEY IN THE TRAIL" from up front.

The trip was absolutely all about riding! Guided backcountry riding, all day, everyday for a week, just as described on the website.
  • + 1
 This was a great story! I had the pleasure of camping all over Morocco by van with my parents as a kid. I’ve never been a roadie and I’m afraid I don’t know how to ‘lube my rear end’ and would probably make a mess of it. For that reason - I’m out.
  • + 3
 wow, this guy writting the article sounds pretty sour, cheer up dude, not a lot of people get a chance to ride around the world.
  • + 1
 it was a tough tour but I came away feeling truly blessed for the experience & the great folk on the trip including Mischa Fox (who took some incredible photos not included here). does come off negative but a lil tounge-in-cheeck I'll say. Mischa is also from Whistler btw so that lucky b-stard has high standards lol..
  • + 1
 @a-d-e: i've traveled with profesional athletes and photographers to some places (back in the 2000s) and they were for sure no whiners. Living in Whistler has nothing to do with it.. sorry
  • + 5
 Dont get your throat cut when alone in the Mountains
  • + 0
 one more guy spreading stereotypes about a place he doesn´t know at all. Do you feel smart ?
  • + 2
 @savatman: He's correct.
  • + 1
 @SupraKZ: www.bbc.com/news/uk-33765943

still dangerous to be in bulgaria as well ^^
  • + 1
 Great pics and an interesting read about an area I hope to experience some day. But there’s a quite an emphasis on the relative lack of creature comforts. With such amazing views and opportunities for intense riding, why is it assumed that adventure travelers will be disappointed if they’re not pampered?
  • + 4
 :O ... a woman in short trousers in a tea room ??? JEHOVA !!!
  • + 3
 Strange tone, basically the world is different depending on where you are. Ride your bike and don't be an idiot?
  • + 1
 Just wanted to point out there's a lot of older 26" bikes featured in the photos here. These guys know what's up. Save the money for going on a trip and riding your bike!

Awesome article dudes.
  • + 1
 Having a hard time seeing why anyone would plan a vacation here to ride. There are many first world countries with control of their borders and devoid of significant humans rights issues that have objectively better riding
  • + 1
 tough ride but awesome laugh the whole way. guides were absolute legends - I actually cried (in private lol) when I left had such a blast.
  • + 1
 the bacon isn't very good
great coffee & tea!
the tacos suck
plenty of sun!
you have to learn how to eat again
hardly any microbrew pubs
pigeon pie is worth trying
  • + 2
 Great hash destination if you don't get caught.
  • + 4
 Legal here at home, so, yeah, I’ll ride Cumberland while smoking the Afghany.
  • + 2
 Hahaha ya the sky is blue too.
  • + 0
 You might get beheaded like the norwegian/swedish girls from a few months back.
  • - 2
 So I shouldn´t visit bulgaria either then, I´ve read some stuff about murders there as well.
www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/wave-of-murders-darkens-the-start-of-bulgarias-presidency
How stupid is that ?
  • + 1
 @savatman: Mobsters taking each other out being compared to the massacre of innocent tourists. Maybe you shouldn't visit after all. Bad reading comprehension is gonna get your ass whooped.
  • + 0
 @SupraKZ: shit happens everywhere, even at your place, that´s what I meant. I went to this very place to hike lots of time, never got beheaded, never felt unsafe. But you´re free to believe morocco is the same as syria if you want ...
  • + 2
 @SupraKZ: would not worth it anyway this trip. I don't want to carry everything except the frame with me.

My uncle was there two year's ago, hiker group in front of him get killed by someone and the group behind them get robbed at the night. This is no place I would visit like many others. Not even the landscape is that interesting.
  • + 1
 This looks like a trip in planning!
  • + 1
 do it!!! brilliant experience. perfect for fit competent rider. more of an adventure & cultural experience.
  • + 1
 Might consider bringing the old 26"...
  • + 1
 Poultry is dangerous

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