A DIFFICULT JOURNEY, 23 DAYS AND 4,601 KM LONG; A SUCCESSFUL UNDERTAKING, NARRATED BY JOURNALIST KLAUS NENNEWITZ WHO MET THE PAIR OF TRAVEL ENTHUSIASTS AT THE 2023 VERONA MOTOR BIKE EXPO.
March 2023 – Eclectic and unstoppable engineer-journalist Klaus Nennewitz has a great nose for news that our readers will love. Like this story about a truly original couple he discovered, Mirco and Alice, two-wheeled travel enthusiasts. In the last ten years they have travelled all over Europe from north to south, including the Balkans and then Africa all the way to Senegal, not to mention crossing South America. And then, “love at first sight” for the Piaggio CIAO 50 moped that had been slumbering in the garage for 30 years… from there, the fantastic adventure began that Klaus tells us about.
Article by Klaus Nennewitz: A motorcycle trip in Africa is difficult and demanding, on a moped like the 50cc Piaggio CIAO it turns into a big challenge. Especially when the trip leads to Dakar in Senegal during 23 days in summer covering almost 2,900 miles. And that is exactly what Mirco Targon and his wife Alice Zanni did.
I planned the encounter at the Verona Motor Bike Expo in January 2023 to meet this fun Italian couple. Mirco, 48, and his wife Alice, 39, who rode two Piaggio CIAO mopeds from Paris to Dakar in August 2022. These two are just bursting with energy and positive charisma. I'm puzzled and can’t withhold my curiosity: "What prompted you to undergo such an undertaking?" Mirco explains with great composure, “We have been driven for a long time by a strong need to live our passions together and do what we love most: travelling on motorcycles, discovering new things, meeting people and, getting involved. We were aware that the trip to Dakar on mopeds would be a very difficult journey, but we were open to accept anything that fate had in store for us. Facing the good and the difficult sides of live with a positive attitude is what pushes us.” OK, I say, but for such a trip you need a motorbike, non a 50cc... “We have made many trips on real motorcycles in recent years, where everything was well organized and planned ahead,” continues Mirco. “The CIAOs allow us to ride at a slow pace, giving us the chance to rediscover the joy of riding carefree and without pressure to reach the next destination. On the mopeds we enjoy everything that surrounds us in a completely different way. Every change of colours, smells and climate is much more direct, and we really inhale every single moment that the road offers. We ride only on back roads and through small villages, where we experience direct contact with people and arouse their curiosity.”
Image source: www.facebook.com/23miral
The CIAO revived. In Autumn 2020, Mirco starts cleaning up the garage and comes across his Piaggio CIAO, which has been vegetating there for about 30 years. Love, passion, goosebumps: he completely restores the moped, which does not go unnoticed by girlfriend Alice: she also falls in love with the shy, ringing sound of the engine, and shortly afterwards there is a second CIAO in the garage. The Italian couple took off for the first marathon trip on the now fully restored CIAOs to the North Cape in summer 2021, a favourite destination for scooter and motorcycle riders. But on that trip (which is already quite an undertaking to face on mopeds), the sense of adventure they were looking for was still missing and so, upon returning, they immediately started planning their next trip to Africa.
Having Dakar hero, Franco Picco, as a neighbour. The encounter with Dakar legend (2015 FIM Cross-Country Rally Legend) and neighbour Franco Picco (editor’s note: famous motorcycle racer specialising in rally raids: 29 participations in the Dakar Rally, two wins in the Pharaohs Rally, including the first on Gilera in 1992), and his stories about his African adventures led to the decision Mirco and Alice took in January 2022: they decided to ride the route from Paris to Dakar, in summer, on two mopeds! The trip started on July 31st in 2022 under the Eiffel Tower in Paris; on the first part of the journey they managed to cover about 200 km a day on the French country roads to the port in Sète, where they crossed the Mediterranean. On the sixth day they set foot on Moroccan soil in Tangier and headed south along the Atlantic coast. On the bumpy back roads, the CIAOs without rear suspension soon took their toll: bolts came loose due to the vibrations and flat tires repeatedly forced repairs at the side of the road. Via Essauira and Agadir, they reached Tantan on the eleventh day, where the sandy winds were a particular problem, forcing Mirco to set up the tent on the side of the road every time he needed to clean the carburettors.
The enemies of mopeds: wind, sand, heat, bumpy roads. With the small tanks holding just 0.6 gallons of fuel, the range was limited to approximately 55 miles. So, spare fuel cans with an additional volume of 5.2 gallons were fixed on the delicate bikes making up for a fuel-range of almost 500 miles!
In Mauritania the V-belt of Alice's CIAO collapsed and in addition the strong winds from the Atlantic Ocean tortured the two globetrotters while riding at a maximum speeds of 15 miles per hour. On day 14, the longest stage took them to Dakhla with temperatures well over 100°F, finally there was some time for a detailed service.
In Mauritania the most difficult moments: the two continue on their mopeds, between bad roads and puddles…Behind Nouakchott both mopeds stop working due to watered down petrol. Hours of pushing, uphill in sweltering heat, demanded the last of their strength, topped only by the three-hour wait in customs to enter Senegal. Mirco explains, “The mopeds are not really suitable for the roads and weather conditions we faced, so man and machine need to be prepared exceptionally well. This includes good fitness as well as a certain ability to suffer. Heat, wind and sand, the punctures, the road conditions and the border crossings constantly challenged us. Every day in the saddle we saw the sun rise, and in some cases even the sunset, but even with big problems, fatigue, exhaustion, sweat and sand, we never lost our smile, because we had dreamed of this experience and planned it for a long time. Nothing could dampen our joy at finally embarking on such a unique journey and making the most of every moment.” This is the spirit of true adventure travellers!
The destination: Dakar!On the way to Saint Louis in Senegal, they got caught in a monsoon-like rainstorm while riding at walking speed with honking cars constantly overtaking. One of these cars disappeared a second later into a manhole without a lid!
On the 23rd day of their journey, the two brave finally reached Dakar, with “mixed feelings between joy for what we had achieved and sadness because of the end of the adventure.” What has really struck them the most during the three-week adventure tour? Alice chimes in, “The beautiful and ever-changing landscapes. After starting in the bustling and colourful city centre of Paris, we travelled through wide, cultivated stretches of the French countryside all the way south, where deep gorges, small hills or well-tended vineyards were a beautiful setting. In Montpellier we reached the sea spending two days on the ferry during the crossing, and then continued the journey through the now Europeanized Morocco, a country with hospitable people who have a strong desire to grow and develop.
The further south the journey went the more the landscape changed: the flora faded and eventually disappeared to give way to endless expanses of sand, wind and rocks. In Mauritania, soldiers and sand in all possible shades dominated the days until Nouakchott, where the disorderly city traffic and the huge cesspools on the streets represented a harsh and rough impact with the African continent. Then in Senegal we found rich fauna and flora again with people who at first glance possessed nothing, but who in truth carried a great wealth hidden behind the caring and attentive welcome of the stranger, namely an unshakable joy of living.”
The heroic mopeds. During the trip, Mirco spent about an hour every evening maintaining the two fragile CIAOs. Heat, wind, sand, but also the humidity, the road conditions and of course the borders were the biggest challenges on this trip. Nevertheless, the technical problems were quite few and limited to: A few ignition contacts, 1 V-belt, 1 spark plug, 3 flat tires and 1 rear tire to be replaced, centrifugal weights of the variator, a broken GPS mount, a broken main stand, and the loss of some screws. In the Western Sahara and Mauritania, air filters had to be cleaned at 1-hour intervals, several adjustments to the carburettor jetting were also required, and sand had to be removed continuously from ignition systems and variators.
At Moto Bike Expo 2023 (in the photo), Mirco and Alice their book that tells the story of the fantastic trip on the CIAOs from Paris to Dakar (100 pages, in Italian) that can be ordered for €20 (excluding shipping) from Mirco Targon (message through WhatsApp at +39-340-3396606). The proceeds go to the Aid organization Energia e Sorrisi - energiaesorrisi.org - which supports projects in Africa through motorcycle journeys and raids.
In the end, a quite indiscreet question: how does a "normal couple" from Italy manage to raise the budgets to finance world trips on motorcycles or crossings of Africa on mopeds (total cost of the trip around €6,000)? The key is again the common passion: some time ago Mirco and Alice sold their big house and moved to a much smaller one, renouncing luxury and using their complete savings for the trips. They just share the common dream of discovering the world on two wheels and to this they subordinate everything else in order to be very simple, unpretentious people, just like the moped Piaggio CIAO, which – since 1967 – has put whole generations of Italians on the road with its ingenious simplicity. Klaus Nennewitz.
We wish to thank the author and the protagonists, Mirco and Alice, for this wonderful story. Photos by Mirco Targon and Alice.
Klaus Nennewitz - Motorcycle Press International:
Keep an eye on those two: their next adventure could be on a Vespa.
Contact info for Mirco and Alice: