A Dakar Rally With Teeth

I’ve been watching the Dakar Rally with great interest once again.  It’s always a wicked competition that has more in common with the Isle of Man TT than it does any other sporting event.  From a Hemingway perspective The Dakar is the real deal.

I enjoy the Dakar more for the battle than I do the singularly focused professional factory teams.  This year’s high profile dropouts have cast light on just how speed focused the rally has become.  With rally drivers and MX racers charging across a carefully chosen course with fairly straightforward navigation and off-road dangers minimized, recent Dakars have felt more like day by day sprints for that faster set than a cross country adventure.  Ever rising speeds and increased completion rates seem to support this.  Thanks to a Marc Coma designed course, this year’s rally seems to have come back to Dakar’s core philosophies.

The completion of a Dakar is a mighty achievement in and of itself.  Winning a Dakar is a team achievement that depends on a lot of complex pieces coming together perfectly for weeks at a time, but I’ve felt like the vehicle operators were increasingly specializing in speed over everything else.  Just throw yourself at the horizon and let the mechanics sort it out.
  

You don’t want to be pushing so hard
that you’re breaking the vehicle and/or
yourself and depending on luck to not
have that happen.  That kind of racer-
think might work on a closed course,
but the Dakar is something else.  You

need some pride to keep you going
when you’d otherwise surrender.  The
meek don’t inherit The Dakar.

In recent years, with rally drivers infiltrating the ranks, it feels like the race has moved toward a higher speed, less nuanced approach – hammer it and throw money at the damage and then complain about anything on the course that slows you down seemed to be the way it was going.  The course Coma has set up this year has the speed bunnies getting lost and damaging their machines because they are all go and no slow down and consider.  The return to a more thoughtful Dakar that rewards navigation and terrain reading (because the terrain isn’t pre-screened to favour speed bunnies) makes for a better race.  Finding way points and completing timed sections should demand intelligence and terrain reading as well as a racer’s touch.  During a Dakar you should sometimes have to slow down to win.

These complexities had me trying to think through how you approach a Dakar.  The speed bunny approach tends to lean heavily on pride, hand-eye coordination and balls-out courage.  If the race organizers did anything other than design speed sections that catter to your approach you complain about it.  Luck was taken care of by influencing speed focused course designs that take you on prepared trails and less intensive navigational challenges.  This year’s Dakar is stressing humility and a considered approach to crossing some truly wild stages.  You still need the hand-eye coordination, strength and endurance, but you also need to bring along your strategic thinking.  Mashing the throttle and flying over the terrain doesn’t work when the terrain isn’t pre-screened for you.  It pays to be more than a racer in the Dakar.

One of my favorite parts of the 2015 Dakar was the blast across the salt flats.  Many of the speed bunnies complained bitterly about it because it was hard on the machinery, but this race isn’t just about pinning a throttle.  The journey is the destination on the Dakar.  Too many were only focused on getting to that destination and making the rest incidental.  If they want to race short, closed course rallies, go do that, the Dakar is and should be something else, something bigger.

The Dakar Rally continues to evolve into something better and better.  I hope it keeps embracing its uniqueness by focusing on the adventure rather than catering to the wishes of a small subsection of hard core racers who can see nothing other than how quickly they can complete a rally stage.  Make it hard.  Cross the wilds.  Make the winners think about something other than pinning the throttle in order to win it.

The Dakar is happening right now (January 2nd to January 14th, 2017).  You can watch it on the Dakar website, and Red Bull TV is also doing daily updates.  It’s also playing on varied TV channels across the world (but not so much in North America).  Daily Motion is another excellent online place to follow the event.

Why else follow the Dakar?  It’s one of the few motor sporting events that goes out of its way to consider its environmental impact.  If you like a considered, intelligent adventure, you should be watching this.

Étape 6 – Dakar Heroes – Dakar 2017 by Dakar – Riders like Lyndon Poskitt are why I love The Dakar

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Dakar Dreams

I just finished this year’s Dakar and it always starts the itch.  As a bucket list item it’s well beyond my ken, but I still sometimes think about it.  The cost is in 1%er territory and a school teacher from Ontario isn’t likely to find support from advertisers that would allow him to compete.  But hey, what’s mid-life for if not your last chance to do the impossible?  The other day a buddy said, “you don’t want to be sitting around when you’re old wondering what you might have done.”  Even an attempt at a Dakar would be special.  Finishing one would be a crown jewel in a life well lived.


In an interview during Charlie Boorman‘s Race to Dakar, one of the competitors says he does it because it’s two weeks of singularly focusing on one thing, which he found relaxing.  Simon Pavey, Charlie’s teammate, said he does it just so he doesn’t have to do dishes for two weeks.  I get the angle.  Being able to singularly focus on something is a luxury few of us can afford.  Life is a series of compromises and multiple demands on our time.


I’ve been watching The Dakar long enough to not harbor any illusions about winning it or even placing well, but I would certainly hope to finish.  Having a Dakar finishers medal puts you in a very small circle of excellence, and toughness.  The people who know what it is would have mad respect when they saw it.


To get there you need to take on the almost religious piety of a professional athlete.  I’d give myself two years to get the experience and fitness levels I’d need to give it an honest try.  I know I wouldn’t stop unless circumstances stopped me (I’m perverse like that), so it would simply be a matter of preparing as well as I could for it.  I turn 48 this spring, so I’d be doing a Dakar in 2019, the year I turn 50.  My goal would be to complete a Dakar and document as much of it as I could in the process.  From the beginning to the end I’d be making notes that would eventually turn into a book:  Mad Dogs & Englishmen: A Middle Aged Man’s Dakar.

A Zero electrically driven Dakar Rally bike?  Yes please!

Maybe by then there would be an electric motorcycle that could manage the stages with quick battery swaps at the stops.  Maybe I should be asking Zero if they’d like to consider a Dakar run.  Being the first electric bike to finish a Dakar would be something.  Electric cars are getting there now.


Finding sponsorship with companies I already have a relationship with would be a nice way to make this attempt a more personal one.  Everybody runs KTMs, Hondas and Yamahas, but I’d love to ride a rally prepped Kawasaki, Triumph or maybe a CCM; all companies who have had an impact on my motorcycling career.  Getting some degree of factory and dealer support in that would be fantastic.


A lot of riders gopro their experiences from within the Dakar itself, but I think it would be cool to get some next level media out of the event.  Running a 360 degree camera would be a goal.  Having a small, agile, media production crew along who could capture drone footage and support the 360 footage from inside the race could eventually lead to an immersive video of the event that gives some idea of how it feels to be in the Dakar; an everyman’s view of the race.  Dreamracer does a good job of this.  I’d try to emulate that approach with newer technology.  Since not a lot of Canadians participate in the rally, I might be able to drum up local support that other rally riders could not.


Deep winter, mid-life dreams about doing something impossible… all I’d need is an opportunity.

LINKS



Where to find your rally kit:  Rebel X SportsNeduro

Sample Dakar budget, another sample budget


A 2017 Dakar how-to video series by Manuel Lucchese

What Dakar riders wear article



Dakar advice on putting together an entry:


Before setting off in an active search for sponsors, it is important to define your project clearly by

answering the following questions:


Why am I taking part in the Dakar?
What are my motivations?
What are my objectives?
What are my assets in achieving those objectives?
What sort of crew do I want to set up?
What resources do I need to achieve this?
It is important to detail the various cost items in order to have a clear idea of your expenses (Vehicle preparation – Registration – Trip – Visas and passports – assistance vehicle(s) – mechanics registrations…) After this stage, you must have answers to the following four questions:


What is my budget?
How should I present it to my potential partners/sponsors?
What are my available funds?
How much should I ask for from my potential sponsors?
Your potential sponsors must be targeted : better to count on your relational, personal, professional or regional fabric rather than “major sponsors” who may be less inclined to support you. Make a list of your potential partners and characterise them:


What do they do?
Why would they be likely to help me?
What specific arguments should I put forward?
What funds do they have available?
Which companies should I see as a priority?
“Do not make mistakes in what you say or who you target”. There is no point in talking about your potential sporting achievements if you are taking part in your first Dakar! Your aim is to finish, not to be placed! So, assess what you say and in particular your media exposure: amateurs will be the subject of one-off reports, they are frequently mentioned in the local and regional media but do not promise the TV news or a daily sports newspaper!


Prepare a personalised dossier to present your project. This presentation must be clear, concise, persuasive and imaginative; it must make them dream of the rally but also convince them of your personal qualities.


You need to highlight your special features, your motivation :


What is original about your entry?
Why are you passionate about motor sports (and cross country rallies in particular)?
What previous experience do you have?
Consider presenting your sporting profile: draw inspiration from statistics on Dakar 2015. Put yourself into the rally: in terms of age, type of vehicle, number of entries, status (professional or amateur). Stress your nationality and your region! Identify potential media spin-off: media statistics can help you identify press, radio or even TV spin-off in your region.


Regional media are frequently looking for a potted history of amateur competitors; so do not hesitate to contact them and suggest an interview, your potential sponsors will only be more impressed!


Present your arguments to justify sponsorship:


To give out a good image of the company at local, regional or national level thanks to media spin-off. The company’s name (and/or one of its brands) is associated with your entry and the adventure of the rally.
To change or strengthen the company’s image internally. To advertise the company’s main values, the directors can use event sponsorship to motivate employees and/or associate the company with values such as courage, surpassing oneself, competition, human adventure,… which characterise the Dakar.
To build a relationship with their suppliers/customers. Sponsorship may be a way for one of your suppliers/customers to build strong links before or after the conclusion of a partnership.
To involve your sponsors indirectly in the adventure. The Dakar is a mythical trial in which everyone who is interested in motor or extreme sports will want to take part one day… These fans, potential sponsors, will be all the more inclined to help you in this challenge if they can live the adventure by proxy.
To enable the partner company to enjoy tax relief. Depending on the country, sponsorship offers tax breaks. Consider putting forward a small sales pitch to demonstrate these tax breaks according to the legislation in your country.


Highlight the benefits of financial support or support in kind :


Visibility of their brand/company name on your vehicle, your clothing, your helmet, your Leatt-Brace, your trunk, your assistance vehicles…
A free trip on a rest day or on arrival: for the most generous sponsors, a day at the rally is a weighty argument for those who want to taste the atmosphere of the Dakar!
Event organisation: exhibiting the vehicle before or after the rally, or a photo exhibition…
Finally, do not forget to…
Keep them up to date with your exploits during/after the rally (sell IRITRACK!)
Give them a DVD collection of Dakar articles, or a detailed press review, or a photo album to thank them.

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A Year of Living Dangerously

Work’s been heavy as of late, and I’ve got the middle-aged itch to do something profound before I’m too old to do anything interesting.  As usual, money and responsibility tie me to the earth, but in my more imaginative moments I wonder what I’d do with a year off and the money to do things that one day I’ll be too old and creaky to manage.

If I finished work at the end of June this year and had a year off I’d be back at work the following September.  That would give me the better part of fifteen months to explore three of my favorite aspects of motorcycling:  road racing, endurance riding and long distance adventure riding.  In chronological order, here’s my year of living dangerously:

It’s seat forward, middle & back,
in ergocycle but it looks like I *really*
like that Daytona.


1… Road Racing:  This spring get my race license, get a bike sorted and complete in the SOAR schedule over the summer.

A 12+ year old Triumph Daytona 600 would be a nice machine that fits into specific age (lost era) and displacement categories and wouldn’t be what everyone else is sitting on.  I also fit on it quite well (see the suggestive gif on the right).


Road racing would sharpen my riding skills and let me wrap my head around some of the more extreme dynamics of motorcycle riding in a controlled environment.  


Familiarity with high speed on a bike wouldn’t hurt for what I’m planning to do next, and racing over the summer would also focus my fitness training which would be helpful in building up to #2.


Costing a road racing season:  ~$20,000 (including race prepping a bike and racing in a local series)

Less than 50% usually finish, it’s
difficult, astonishing and viciously
exhausting, but finishing puts you in
a very small and exceptional group.

2… Race the Dakar:  Happening over New Years and into early 2017, finishing the Dakar would be the kind of thing that not many people manage.  Dreamracer puts into perspective just how difficult this can be.

Leaving work at the end of June I’d be full-on training and preparing for the race.  There are a number of Baja and other sand/desert focused races that would get me ready for the big one.  There are also a lot of off road training courses available well into the fall.  My goal would be to get licensed, certified and experienced in as many aspects of motorcycle racing as possible in the six months leading up to the Dakar.


Doing a Dakar would also be a fantastic fitness focus.  With a clear goal in mind, it would be a lot easier to schedule and organize my fitness.  A personal trainer and a clear targets would have me ready to take my best run at a Dakar, one of the toughest tests of mind and body ever devised.  It would do a fantastic job of scratching that middle-aged urge to do something exceptional.


Costing of a Dakar:  ~$98,000 Cdn

3… Ride Home:  The Dakar raps up mid-January, the perfect time to begin a ride back to Canada!  After resting up from the race I’d head south to Ushuaia at the beginning of February (summer time there) before riding back up the west coast through Chile.

A stop in Peru at Machu Picchu and then up the coast through Ecuador and into Columbia before loading on the Ferry in Cartegena to Panama around the one roadless bit in the Americas.




Once landed in Panama I make my way through Central America before pushing all the way up North America’s West Coast to the Arctic ocean in mid-summer (lots of sunlight!).  The last leg has me finally heading south again and east across Canada and back home.

 
 
The new Tiger would do a sterling
job of taking me the thirty three
thousand kilometres home.

All told it would be just over thirty three thousand kilometres.  Leaving Buenos Aires at the beginning of Februrary, and averaging 500kms a day (less on bad roads, more on good roads), I’d be looking at 68 days on the road straight.  Fortunately, if I wrap up the trip at the end of July I’d have more like 180 days to do it, leaving lots of time to enjoy the magic I’d find along the way.

Cost of a trip like this?  A week on the road is cheaper in South and Central America than North America.  If this is a 160 day trip (with 20 days for potential slowdowns to stay within the 180 day/6 month goal), then the money can be roughly estimated using these approximations:

  • $150/day (gas, food, lodging, expenses)  in South & Central America
  • $250 a day in North America

The raw numbers break down like this:

  • 14,500kms in South America (43% of the trip)  –  69 days = $10,350
  • 5600kms in Central America (17% of the trip)  –  27 days = $4050
  • 13560kms in North America (40% of the trip)   –  64 days = $16,000
For a total of $30,400 for the trip + $15,000+shipping to Argentina for a new Tiger
 
For the low, low price of about $150,000, I’d have a year of unique challenges, once in a lifetime experiences and get a chance to do three things that will only become more and more impossible as I get older.  Some people like the idea of a holiday where they can do nothing, but that isn’t for me.  I’ll take the challenge any day, if only I had the money and the time money gives.
 
The goal once I was home and back to daily life would be to collate the notes and media from this year of living dangerously into written and visual mediums.  Being able to produce a video and book(s) out of this experience would be the cherry on top.

Besides a fantastic set of memories, some new skills and the material needed to write an epic tale, I’d also have a race bike ready to compete on again the next summer.  That year of living dangerously might persist.

The Professional

When an under funded amateur produces better results than professionals,
it calls into question the idea of where we find excellence.

I recently watched an interesting film on the Dakar Rally. In this film a skilled amateur takes on the most challenging endurance race in the world. Most competitors in this race are corporately funded professionals with teams of mechanics and loads of extra equipment, all designed to mitigate failure and ensure the success of the brand they represent. By contrast this guy struggled to find enough money to go, found a second hand motorcycle and proceeded to complete a race that many of those funded, enabled professionals did not. It got me thinking about where we find human excellence. I suspect it isn’t behind a professional pay-cheque.

 

The Blanchard quote in the picture above notes the difference between curiosity driven experience and results driven experience.  Curiosity might get you started, but at some point you’re probably going to want to judge your skills by harsher criteria than merely whether or not you feel like doing it.  Competition does this, but it does it in a very binary fashion producing as many winners as it does losers, especially in sports.

The professional athletes who perform in that binary competitive environment are often trotted out as examples of excellence.  When someone has a certain inclination everyone else gets quite excited by their talent, more so if it appears easy for them.  When a particularly coordinated young person shows an affinity for a sport they tend to get an awful lot of support even though the vast majority of them will never earn a penny playing it.


The few who break into the moneyed world of professional athletics tend to be so specialized, supported and hyped that their being there is more a matter of investment than it is of skill.  Moneyball does a good job of revealing this hype.  A draft pick with buzz can leverage ridiculous sums of money even though their fundamental skills (as show in statistics) are suspect.  Like most human activities, it’s what others think about you rather than what you are that matters.

I often wonder where professional athletes fell in society at any other time in history.  Within the confines of a carefully constructed game that they are ridiculously compensated for they are highly motivated and virtually infallible, but in more open ended, rigorous situations without the support and confined success criteria where would they be?

Games themselves are crafted to reduce chance and focus on very specific skills.  The less chance the better, really. Professional athletes are the people with natural reflexes and strength who are best able to thrive in that very restricted and focused environment.  We admire their commitment, but it’s a very blinkered existence that they live.

You hang on, no matter what, even when you shouldn’t

Watching something like the Dakar Rally puts the limited nature of most professional sports into context.  It is typical for more than half the competitors not to finish the race at all.  An average of two people die in the event each time it is run.  Attempting to do this race, even with full sponsorship, the latest equipment and years of training, is dangerous.  Trying to complete the race on a shoestring budget, alone, with second hand parts seems mad, but Dream Racer points to an aspect of human excellence we really don’t see in professional athletes.

At the end of the film the rider is in tears.  He is exhausted, battered and elated.  He has finished this gruelling race, but he has done something that dozens of fully supported professionals could not.  I find something like this a much better example of human potential than a win by a group of wickedly overpaid specialists versus another group of wickedly overpaid, myopic specialists.

Our societal love of professional athletes has wormed its way into the classroom as well.  We limit learning to clearly defined criteria and limit chance whenever possible.  We praise those students who find school easy whether it be through socio-economic advantage, family circumstance or natural ability.  With BYOD we encourage sponsorship of advantaged students and then praise their superiority over others (attend any graduation ceremony and enjoy the litany of awards all going to the same students).  We don’t value effort or imagination over defined results and we glorify instruction that emphasizes clarity and limited outcomes over non-linear, discovery based, often unexpected learning.  Bafflingly, we don’t rate learning itself, we rate static achievement.  The student who learns more and improves the most is inferior to the student who already knew the material and put in half an effort but scored higher on tests.

The professional student, like the professional athlete, is a myopic specialist who excels at a very limited set of skills.  Beyond the walls of a classroom those good-student habits won’t get them far in a world that demands resiliency, creativity and agility.  The most successful student is what we are trying to produce, and that student, like a professional athlete, trains exclusively in a specific set of skills in order to hit restricted, carefully defined outcomes.

Maybe that’s why watching something like Dream Racer resonated with me.  It was a man battling real-world limitations to enter a challenging competition that offers failure as the likely outcome.  When he achieves success in spite of everything against him, I got teary too.  Too bad we can’t offer failure as a likely option any more in the classroom.  It would make success that much sweeter and produce students who are genuinely proud of their accomplishments.