I guess I am the ultimate Dakar dreamer. I have been a desert racer, enduro rider and rally enthusiast. I know many riders who have been to Dakar. But the reality is that I will never get there myself. It isn’t such a bad thing. I recognize my limitations and I have been fortunate enough to race many other amazing places.
In North America, the Sonora Rally may be the closest thing to a true Dakar like experience. The wide open spaces of the Sonoran desert lend themselves to rally racing. Dunes and open expanses provide plenty of opportunity for challenging navigation. It has been on my list of events to participate in, so this year I am going to do it.
I have done a couple of rally events over the past few years with some moderate success. As a long time enduro racer (traditional timekeepers) I found the transition to rally quite natural. The basic process of using the equipment and navigating are very similar between the two events. So I already had the foundation.
Learning the rally lexicon was another thing. In my first event I was quite overwhelmed by all of it. It was a learn on the fly kind of experience and I made plenty of errors. In rally racing there is an entire vocabulary of symbols and French language based abbreviations to learn. It can seem a bit daunting, but with some practice I have learned much of it. Of course remembering it all at race speed is another thing! But I enjoy the mental challenge it provides. While I may not be very fast, I can often outthink or outlast some of the other competitors.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any aspirations of glory. Don’t expect to find me at the top of the leader board. This is much more about competing against the clock and trying to ride mistake free. One mistake in navigation can ruin an entire day of solid riding. A good performance is about more than just riding fast.
Bike preparation is a major component of any race. Rally racing has some special requirements to consider; distance, comfort and reliability. For this event, I approach it as more of a sprint race. A full blown Dakar style rally set up is not necessary and would just add weight and complexity. While the navigation equipment is certainly required, the rest of the bike will be minimalist with just the basic necessities added.
I have decided that the KTM 350xcf will be the best choice for me. The new generation KTM 350 puts out plenty of power, almost like a 450. The motor is super responsive. The bike is also very light weight, if I get in trouble I can muscle it around if needed. The 350 also has the added benefit of the six speed transmission over the KTM 450xcf. So I will not have to run overly tall gearing to have good top speed.
Our bike build will focus on comfort and basic protection parts. To make the 150 mile range required I will need a 4 gallon tank. Cooling fan will be added for the desert conditions. To make the diminutive 350 comfortable for my 6 foot frame I will go with tall seat, low pegs and bars. A steering stabilizer, handguards, skidplate, lighting and sprockets will be needed. I will probably come up with a few other personal preference items too. So stay tuned for the upcoming bike build feature.
I am excited to get on with the bike project, those kinds of things are always fun for me. I also need to get out training. I have been riding quite a bit since the first of the year, but frankly Baja tours are not demanding enough to build my cardio conditioning. I also hope to get out on a rally training ride and practice some dunes. There will be plenty of those in Sonora.
Here is a quote from the organizer “Dunes will still be a part of the event, however, we are expanding to even more all new terrain. Competitors will traverse everything from rocky mountains, washes, miles of flat-out beaches, miles of roadless open deserts, the largest most remote sand dunes in the Americas, and more.”
That should be enough to get any desert racer excited. And I am! So it is time for me to get out training and getting ready to build a bike. Watch for more Sonora Rally features coming up.