monkey bikes

Two women, two ridiculously small monkey bikes, one kickass goal: to ride across Morocco in just seven days

Kicking off a new series of interviews with gutsy female adventurers ripping up the rule book, Nicola Moyne speaks to actors and writers Georgia Maguire and Molly Beucher, who embarked on a gruelling seven-day motorcycle tour across Morocco in partnership with Education For All Morocco

With its endless sun-drenched horizons, labyrinth-charged Medinas and sea of scarlet dunes, Morocco is a country that continues to incite wanderlust and demand exploration. Unless you happen to have a vagina, apparently. Despite Elspeth Beard circumnavigating the globe on a motorcycle – yes, all by herself – back in 1982, the biggest hurdle Georgia Maguire (pictured above, left) and Molly Beucher (above, right) faced before tackling the Sahara desert on monkey bikes (that’s smaller-than-your-average motorcycles to you and me) wasn’t mapping out the route or overcoming their zero mechanical know-how. It was gender discrimination.

‘A lot of people’s responses to what we were doing surprised me,’ says LA-based Beucher. ‘People being concerned because we’d never ridden a motorbike before – that I could understand, but people were mostly concerned that two women would be travelling alone through Morocco. It definitely turned into a self-empowerment project; a tangible reminder that women are capable of doing anything they set their mind to, even if that is riding a ridiculously small motorcycle across a foreign country.’

‘It’s fair to say that neither of us had any real experience riding motorcycles before we set off. Actually, I’m terrified of motorbikes,’ admits Maguire over a coffee back in London. ‘But that was one of the reasons we really wanted to do this: we were sick of people telling us we couldn’t do something that was out of our comfort zone, so we started from the viewpoint, “What shouldn’t we do and where shouldn’t we go?” That’s how we hit on riding monkey bikes through the Sahara desert. Without men.’

Here, the @monkeybikemafia duo recount their experiences of traversing 1,000km from Merzouga on a route that took them over punishing terrain through the Atlas Mountains and ended in exultation at 12,000m in the rocky peaks of Terres d’Amanar.

monkey bikes

The pre-game

Molly Beucher: ‘The Skyteam Minis we hired, otherwise known as monkey bikes are 49CC motorbikes with a 4-stroke engine, 8-inch wheels, and a seat height of a little over 2ft. Basically, they’re tiny, which actually came in handy every time we fell off.’

Georgia Maguire: ‘Thankfully, we had some basic motorcycle training in the UK with Chris Salt at Dockland Riders first, who was brilliant, and we decked ourselves in the best protective gear from Knox. But we realised that we really didn’t know what we were doing quite quickly. We spent most of the training sessions horizontal… I did have good uphill game, though.’

MB: ‘A part of me secretly expected to do a running leap on to those little bikes and take off into the sunset like a total pro. Sadly, it turns out I’m a mediocre motorcyclist at best and riding a motorcycle on sand is almost impossible. I had very little faith in my ability to even get out of the Sahara desert in one piece, let alone all the way to the other side of the country. But once we got the hang of how to actually control the monkey bikes, they were really fun to ride – we named them Black Beauty and Steven, and even snuck in a few wheelies. I wish I could say they were on purpose but, sadly, it’s just a side effect of releasing the clutch too quickly. And because the monkey bikes broke down every single day, we got really good at miming or replicating noises in an attempt to explain to local mechanics what we thought was going on. In retrospect, some knowledge of Arabic mechanical terms would have been helpful.’

monkey bikes

The long way through

GM: ‘The Moroccan landscape is so incredibly diverse – one minute we would be snaking our way down a tiny gravel Billy-goat track, the next we’d be bouncing through sand dunes the size of houses in the sweltering heat. On our last day, we rode through a snowstorm. It was a complete whiteout and so beautiful, but some days we failed to cover little more than 50km because of the tough terrain. At one point, we were even picked up by a local milk cart after Molly’s bike broke down.’

MB: ‘Tackling those gravel goat trails at 6km per hour on our monkey bikes was hysterical. You could probably run up the Atlas Mountains faster. But we got a lot of help on the route from the head of the Moroccan tourism board in London, Amine Boughaleb. He put us in touch with Reda Jabri, who used to run bike tours throughout Morocco. Reda met with us in Marrakech and suggested the most scenic itinerary, and warned us off roads that weren’t passable. That said, we were reminded very early on to stay alert after witnessing a bad motorcycle accident in a small village. Thankfully the rider was OK, but his bike was totalled and the sound of that crash stayed with us throughout the trip. About half way through we encountered what I would say was our most technically difficult ride on the monkey bikes: we were on a narrow trail with a steep drop on one side; we crossed streams and mud pits, then eventually climbed up a snow-peaked mountain. When we got to the top, a man herding his sheep walked past us, waving. We waved back and I just remember looking at George and saying, “What we are doing is so incredibly strange!”’

monkey bikes

The partnership

MB: ‘We knew from the get go that we wanted this to be a female empowerment trip and we wanted to partner with a charity that shared that same ideology. Education For All Morocco (EFA) is an amazing organization that allows young girls from the remotest villages of the Atlas Mountains to receive an education. It seemed like a perfect fit.’

GM: ‘We were lucky enough to visit the EFA boarding house and meet the girls being educated there [pictured above]. We asked one girl what she would be doing if she wasn’t at the boarding house and she said she would be married. I asked her if she wanted to be married and she shouted, ‘‘No!’’ All the girls roared with laughter. They just want the chance to choose their own fate; to be teachers or pilots or astronauts.’

Because you can

GM: ‘We’re told so often that things are unachievable because of our gender or because of our skillset, but nothing is impossible. Gender is irrelevant. And the experience was pretty purging. At the start, I found riding all day with a helmet on quite lonely, but you’re forced to just focus on the road ahead. It was almost meditative in that respect.’

MB: ‘There was the high of completing this mad journey that so few people, including at times myself, thought possible. Plus, the joy of experiencing a beautiful country in a completely new way – not hidden behind the four walls of a car, but exposed and fully immersed. One of the great things about our bikes being so small was that they were a real conversation starter and made people laugh. Laughter is incredibly disarming and it translates. Without the kindness and impressive mechanical skills of strangers, we wouldn’t have got to the finish point. And if we changed just one person’s mindset [about women travelling alone] along the way, that’s a start, right?’

For more on their monkey bike adventure through Morocco or to help raise funds for EFA, follow @monkeybikemafia on Instagram, hit their Twitter account @MonkeyBikeMafia or head to the Facebook page @monkeybikemafia

See Georgia Maguire in Patrick Melrose on Sky Atlantic and the forthcoming Modern Horror Stories for Comedy Central.

Molly Beucher is currently producing and acting in feature film IRL, out in autumn

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