AltRider Taste of Dakar 2014
The Dakar Rally, there are those that have heard the name, there are those that know the intimate details of this event and there are those that have never heard of it all together. If you are the latter of that list, there is a good chance you are an American. The Dakar Rally is a 6000 mile race that traditionally ran from Paris to Dakar and is considered the worlds most difficult off-road endurance race. It is open to professionals and amateurs, occurs once a year, lasts two weeks and is a true test of man and machine versus the elements.
Organized by AltRider, The Taste of Dakar is a one day, 180-mile ride through Nevada/California desert. Primarily designed by Jimmy Lewis, podium finisher of the Dakar Rally and Overall Winner of the Baja 1000 and Dubai Rally, the course contains every terrain imaginable.
Morning Briefing Before Training
Before heading into the Taste of Dakar, I was fortunate to join a number of fellow riders for a one day intensive course taught by Jimmy Lewis and his amazing team. Much of what I learned in this course I had already reviewed but Jimmy’s hands on approach and teaching method forces new and returning riders to confront bad habits, learn and master skills, and approach riding from a new perspective. It was an intense and highly valuable day.
Class began promptly at 8am with Jimmy going over details of off-road riding and safety measures. If there is one thing Jimmy stresses more than anything in the beginning of class it’s balance and how much control you can exude on your motorcycle through the foot pegs and body position.
Our first exercise was to try and balance our bikes in a stationary position with the side stand up. On a bicycle I can do this quite effectively, on a 300lb KTM 350 SX-F it was surprisingly difficult, and I cannot even imagine trying to do this on a big BMW R1200 GS. Jimmy, as bad ass as he already is, could balance on two wheels like he was standing on the ground. Truly remarkable. My skills bordered on balancing the bike for about 4 to 5 seconds before loosing it entirely.
The Balance Board
We all geared up and headed toward the dry lake bed where class would be held for the first half of the day. We all burned through a little trail section before arriving on the bed and met with Jimmy for a little pow wow before we began our lessons on the various methods of braking, steering, clutch-play and application of body position and balance. Our training course was a ¼ oval circuit on the dry lake bed marked out by cones. We had all the space in the world to play around in.
In a couple exercises, Jimmy came up beside me to give me some critical pointers on how to smoothly transition body weight and apply the front and rear brake more efficiently. He also told me to slow down and really focus on burning these actions into my muscle memory. “It is the only way you will become a skilled rider.”
The most awkward exercise of the day was locking the front wheel and engaging the throttle to experience exactly what NOT TO DO on a motorcycle. Under no circumstances, whether you are on the dirt or on the street, should you engage the front brake and apply throttle. The exercise was to demonstrate the feeling of something very wrong occurring while still being in control of the bike and how to recognize the problem when it occurs in the real world.
After a number of valuable lessons and practice runs we lined up for the last exercise, a start/stop drag run to our designated coach about 500 yards away. Up until this point the weather had been cooperating and none of the storm systems had passed our way, that changed. Halfway into the exercise the rain came in hard and fast. The coaches were in full round up mode signaling for us all to get off the lake bed. For a moment it felt like a meteor was about to strike and the coaches has advanced warning and were trying to save us all from imminent danger.
I looked down at the dry lake bed and what was once a hard surface began to transform into a sticky, sloppy, slippery, pancake battery clay. I noticed my man Fonzie in his van bustling about with his camera equipment, I rode over and told him, “Fonz, you gotta get out of here man otherwise we’ll be van camping out on the lake bed tonight.” He started up the van and made haste to get off the bed. I proceeded in front of him only to come upon numerous BMW GS riders that were dropping like flies in the muddy mess, it was like witnessing the downfall of titans. I was far more fortunate on my little KTM. I simply skated across slippery surface with ease.
The Muddy Mess During the Storm
We proceeded out of the dry lake bed area and over to the a local pizza parlor for lunch. The whole ride was very wet and very cold.
We stopped, we ate, we enjoyed each other's company, dried off (as best we could) and we saddled up for an afternoon of more learning.
We snaked down and few highway and found ourselves in a dirt quarry with 30 degree inclines on all four sides. It was the perfect place to practice some very fine-tuned actions on a motorcycle, of which were: getting a fallen bike down off an incline, performing a hill start on less than favorable terrain, hill climbs, more slow speed maneuvers and wheel lofting.
So Wet Beyond Wet...All DayPhoto by Alfonse Palaima
Orange Hand Courtesy of Lee Parks. Still the Best Gloves EverPhoto by Alfonse Palaima
I did well in all these except for the wheel lofting. It was a technique I need constant practice. While I did not drop my bike or lay it down heavy as in previous adventures, I ran into my dreaded "focus zone". For me it's a moment where my competitive nature to push limits and hand eye coordination become finely honed and I get a fine feeling on everything around me.
The problem with this is that I begin to go faster than I should at this beginner phase of my learning. My coaches to date have been surprised that I have not epically wrecked a bike for someone so “young” to adventure riding. Jimmy Lewis was not delighted in my hot dogging. He told me later in the evening. He also told me what few other have told me too that I have some very real potential to be great. I think it finally sank in.
Figuring It OutPhoto by Alfonse Palaima Front Wheel LoftingPhoto by Alfonse Palaima Slow Speed Turning...Or Dropping. Whatever.Photo by Alfonse Palaima Rippin' ItPhoto by Alfonse Palaima
The evening was spent around the campfire with good peoples but soon we would turn in and prepare ourselves for the day ahead of us. The 180-mile loop that is the Taste of Dakar.
The next morning began with the typical mass morning meeting and ride outs. I put myself in the beginners group so I could focus on the fundamentals and get a real feel for what I learned the day before….the only problem is that my team left without me and I was forced to tackle the route with an advanced team of riders. One of which being AltRider President and owner, Jeremy Lebreton. Others in my group were Brad Barker, Alfonse Palaima, and Scott Rousseau.
Fonzie and Scottie My Crazy Group
The first leg of the Taste of Dakar was super fun, we traversed some intermediate roads through the Nevada desert with numerous twists, turns and elevation changes. We rode hard and fast, well...Scottie, Jeremy, Brad and Fonzie rode hard, I remained focused on taking it slow and trying to figure out the ergonomics of the little bike I was riding. Also, anyone trying to keep up with Jeremy is insane. That's because he is insane.
Jeremy Jumping the GS
Jeremy In a Turn Scottie Jumping the Beta
Unfortunately about 80 miles into the ride my good friend Fonzie took an epic spill that heavily damaged his ride and threw him 30+ feet off his bike. Amazingly, he walked away from the incident with only a banged up wrist. To care for my friend, I back tracked my way to camp to get the van and some whiskey to evacuate him and his beat up husky out of the desert. It is important to note that motorcycling has it's dangers but because Fonzie was wearing full armor and a helmet, he was able to walk away with minor injuries.
Brad Tending to Fonzie
Loading the Beta into "The Van"
A Fallen SoldierThe AltRider Engine Guard did exactly what it was designed to do and because of it, this bike will live to ride another day.
Look at that Crash Bar...Damn.
The experience was not all lost. We ended up finding some of the most amazing beef jerky i have ever had from an RV on the side of the highway and a cooler of beer. After dropping off Fonzie's battered bike we grabbed our camera equipment and headed out to the dry lake bed to photograph the riders completing the final leg of the Taste of Dakar. I hope that next year instead of photographing the riders tearing ass across the flats, I will be the one riding across. If all goes to plan, I will be doing the Dakar on a nicely tricked out Triumph Tiger 800 XC.
Pancake Batter on the Lake Bed Always in Good Spirits A Dude on a KTM The Final Leg of the Taste of Dakar One Last Splash Tracks in the Lake
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