Raid Orion

Paris-Ghardaia, the 'Raid des Oasis'

Following the unequivocal success of Raid Orion 1972, it was very difficult to top it, so the organisers decided to do something different for their second meeting called 'Raid des Oasis'

The sticker of the event on the fender of the sidecar owned by participant number 21 of the 97 machines taking part.

After orienting themselves towards the East, this time the direction was South. Spain first, followed by Morocco and finally Algeria, where the official arrival of the event was scheduled for August 19 in the city of Ghardaia located in northern-central Algeria in the Sahara Desert.

The nose of the Precision sidecar of participant number 21

For those who wanted even more, having achieved the goal; two options were available. They could either go further, discovering more of the Algerian Sahara, or ride across the border into Tunisia, taking a ferry in Tunis which would take them across to Marseille, France.

The machines and the BMW assistance truck on the ferry during the crossing between Spain and Morocco, connecting the port of Algeciras to that of Tangier

A fabulous ride of around 6000 km; the notable difference to the previous year being that the choice of itinerary was no longer left up to the participants.

Orion 2 route map

However, in the February before the event there's little enthusiasm for the 'raid' in the French press and to our knowledge, only one advance meeting took place with VIPs like Albert Sarralier not being mentioned.

The banner of a press article dedicated to Orion 2 featuring the logo of Moto Revue, the first and oldest motorcycle magazine in France. The first issue of this magazine was published on 20 June 1913

But in one respect, the raiders were spoiled; the organisers contracted with GESA, one of the best insurers, to repatriate riders and machines in event of a mishap, deliver parts and co-ordinate assistance trucks. Nothing was left to chance. Everything was planned, down to the smallest detail.

One of the assistance trucks (left) bearing the 'La Guilde' logo and displaying 'Pieces Detachees d'Origine' (Original Spare Parts)

There were some oddities connected to this raid. The participants were asked not to shock the local people with inappropriate behaviour. Wearing shorts, for example, was prohibited for women and deemed inappropriate. We can never know if such behaviour would have caused problems.

August - Heading for the Sahara

On 1 August 1973, 97 machines, their riders and pillions gathered on the Champs-Elysees to take the road towards Algeciras in southern Spain.

With the base of the Eiffel Tower in the background, a heavily loaded Honda Japauto 950 SS, waits at the start. Considering the gigantic pile of luggage on the back, it's a good bet he has not left his toothbrush behind !

By all accounts the initial ride proved very boring. Much of the journey took place in heavy rain and the reception in Spain was described as 'freezing'.

Participants at the Paris departure point

The raid really began with the crossing of the Moroccan border, although very quickly, many were disappointed.

Leaving the ferry in Tangier

In Tangier, Casablanca and Marrakech, the marching bands, outrider escorts, official presentations and flags and banners all lacked any spontaneity, and accordingly very few turned out in greeting.

Festivities in Marrakech

As if to console everyone after a succession of rather 'flat' receptions, the long awaited tracks of southern Morocco finally arrive.

After childhood games in the sand, these 'big children' are surrounded by sand again; but this time for more serious adult pursuits

Much to the surprise of some, the sand forced many overloaded motorcycles to turn back or seek tarmac roads in order to reach the stage. A disappointment for many.

There were many overloaded motorcycles, like this Japanese bike groaning under the weight

One competitor boasted of having covered 80km of sandy track with a 300kg motorbike. Surely he must not know that the locals ride this track every day ! Rider and pillion on a beat-up moped with no water bottle and without an emergency jerrican !

In Morocco never be surprised if you see a donkey flying, just say Allah is capable of anything. - (Moroccan proverb)

The track part appealed to those thirsty for a challenge, but a few incidents unfortunately tarnished the overall picture of the raid. One sidecar in particular managed to hit five camels which did nothing to improve relations with the locals.

Moroccans on their camels ... skittles waiting for a well-aimed sidecar.

Atmosphere and machines

The evening stages were compared to a 'Club Med' for motorcyclists.

Apprentice raiders complained that it was too hard, while the most hardcore contingent felt it was too easy.

So much so, that sub groups within the overall raid began to form by affinity. This created several 'parallel raids' with the effect that mutual assistance within the group as a whole suffered.

The raiders rest ... tyred after a long day.

Of the 97 machines that left Paris, 77 succeeded in the rally challenge, reaching the Algerian city of Ghardaia in the M'zab valley. A city that the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir described in her 1963 book, La Force des choses, as a Cubist painting beautifully constructed.

Ghardaia

There were thankfully few serious accidents other than the one suffered by Gregoire Perrin, one of the main organisers, (together with Albert Sarallier), who had to retire following a fall near Marrakech.

A 900 Kawa ended its adventure at the bottom of a ravine in Spain, fortunately without injury to its rider.

The most common incidents, albeit minor, being a host of punctures due to the machines being overloaded.

The famous German brand was fully represented.

In terms of motorcycles, the majority BMWs, (41 machines) behaved well.

The 'Italian tractors' were also part of the expedition

The only Laverda seized up its engine in the heat; and the 2 Urals also broke.

The two Bolshevik machines gave up the ghost

On the other hand, the only Triumph of the Raid did not encounter any particular difficulty.

This splendid Moto Guzzi Falcone 500 also reached its goal without mechanical problems.

Algerian desert as a bonus

Officially, the raid ended in Ghardaia, Algeria, on 19 August.

Forty crews though opted to continue their raid to Tunis in order to take the ferry that would bring them back to Marseille.

Hats off to this Finnish raider who came from Helsinki for this Sahara adventure !

A hard-core contingent left for a long trek in the Algerian desert, supervised by the Motorcycling Federation of Algeria.

They returned to France much later, with enthusiastic tales about this bonus 'off version' of the Raid des Oasis.

Bedouins in prayer in the Algerian desert ... imploring Allah to remove the infidels on motorbikes.

The Orion Raid never ran a third event. It ceased after two exceptional occasions.

We can't talk of an outstanding success for the 1973 version, although it nonetheless paved the way for a formula that was to work well for a few years... the 'raid-amateur'.

The Orion 72 and 73 raids paved the way as precursors to the great rally raids we know today

The Shah-Abbas, the Paris-Aden, the Casablanca-Dakar, the Raid Blizzard which themselves gave birth to the Abidjan-Nice, were the first of the professional raids with factory teams, and to finish the Paris-Dakar, the 'estranged' grandson of the family !

Text & Images:  Jean-Francois Helias & Gilles Gaudechoux
Translation: Jean-Francois Helias