By Scotty Breauxman
After a few years of posing as a moto-journalist in Baja CA and covering the major races there, I found a minor niche and thus, a place in the scene as a promoter of “the bikes” in the off road scene. Low and behold I found myself on a paid gig to the 2011 DAKAR Rally and instantly fell in love with the rally-raid style of motorcycle racing and the navigation aspect.
I’m especially infatuated with anything and everything having to do with rally navigation so I’m keen to jump at any opportunity to cover an event that takes me to a new destination. The magnitude of the DAKAR and the concept of a 5,000-mile race that lasts for 2 weeks is something that cannot be replicated, but the allure of an organized ride that tries to capture the essence of this event is appealing.
Enter Jeremy LeBreton and the folks at AltRider, a Seattle-based manufacturer of hard-good accessories for the adventure/dual sport segment. Along with multi-time DAKAR stage winners Jimmy Lewis and Johnny Campbell, Altrider just hosted its second annual adventure ride in the Nevada desert aptly named “Taste of Dakar”.
I’ll jump on any opportunity to cover something new and unique so I traveled with rally racer Peter Hardy out to Pahrump, Nevada to see what this event was all about.
So, what does the DAKAR taste like? Is it the sleepless nights on the ground or the taste of repetitive cafeteria food that reminds you of the worlds biggest off road race? Or is it being counted in the majority of relatively slower riders compared to a top few who would ever make it to the podium. If that doesn’t taste a little like the DAKAR then maybe it’s the taste of sand in your teeth or trying not to get lost. Dealing with the many challenges of the DAKAR is mentally and physically taxing. And that’s not even including the racing part of the race, which tests the human spirit on every level.
With the promise of long routes, camping under the stars and roosting around with Dakar gurus Johnny Campbell and Jimmy Lewis, Taste of Dakar lived up to my expectations. The entire weekend is catered to larger-cc adventure bikes but the overall mix was well spread out across the spectrum from 400cc all the way up to full-blown BMW GS1200 with all the coveted accessories.
Riders convene and register in Lakeside RV Resort in Pahrump NV and ride 2 miles due south to the dry lakebed for a day of moto training with Jimmy Lewis tailored specifically to the bigger ADV bikes. The training consists of various exercises and practice drills and lasts until sundown. It wrapped up with a skills competition designed to test riders on their newly learned abilities.
Friday evening – Its happy hour at the Lakeside, tents go up, gear gets checked; the keg is tapped. As we got to Friday’s night’s bivouac, I was impressed with how well set up most of these bikes were with aftermarket knobbies, skid plates and hand guards. Have you ever seen an XR650R with a dual sport kit AND a USB adaptor? Many of the bikes and their pilots were seasoned off road vets while a handful were fresh off-road rookies.
Welcoming introductions and riders briefing are followed by a buffet style dinner.Then it is back to the bonfire and keg.
Saturday 7:00 AM- It’s not as cold as expected. Riders have breakfast and are separated into 3 groups based on bike-size and ability and given a final briefing before departing out of Pahrump. The advanced route headed straight to the Spring Mountains in Clark County, NV and we crossed over Wheeler Pass with patches of snow up to 6 inches deep lining the trail. It was slippery at times and certainly no walk in the park, especially on a big bike.
The scenery around the Southern Nevada desert is as versatile as it is varying with changes in geology and vegetation as well as elevation and climate. Saturday’s long routes each turned out to be entirely “scenic” and appropriately named for their difficulty: Advanced, Intermediate and “scenic”.
The advanced trail proved to be pretty tough for a big bike, which only a few opted for. I struggled in a few spots with the snow and ice and almost went down a few times. Fortunately, I deployed my newly refined skills of balance and dexterity to stave off a few likely soil samples.
Cycle World’s off-road editor and all around moto-guy Ryan Dudek tried to wring the life out of the Kawasaki KLR650 he was riding. Who knew the KLR could handle that well through high-speed washouts and rougher off road conditions? Johnny Campbell was on his HRC CRF Rally 450 and ended up doing the intermediate trail first before riding back south to intercept the second half of the advanced morning route.
Saturday lunch- Rendezvous in Crystal NV at a roadside café for sandwiches and chili. Johnny Campbell arrives after finishing 2 of the routes and bikes are re-fueled. JC rolled up on his HRC showpiece (virtually identical to the bike he just rode at the last DAKAR). The minute he walked away from his bike, a few of us mounted the CRF450 Rally for vanity pics.
Each group takes off for the afternoon loop. Next stop: Big Dune, a fitting namesake for a riding area. Winds increase and a sandstorm ensues. The Taste of Dakar turned into a mini-adventure as a controlled Tsunami of dust and sand enveloped the Nevada Desert, which was followed by a real live dust storm and 40 MPH wind gusts.
Amargosa Sand Dunes (aka Big Dune) – Riders got organized while Johnny and Jimmy prepared to spend the next 2 hours giving a demo in the sand dunes and photo-op for the media, thus giving some of us a taste of DAKAR-style “sand sandwiches.” Jeremy took his GS 1200 through the paces in the sand and put on a show for photographers as well. Many of the riders simply watched the display, opting out of riding through the dunes. A bit little later, the wind subsided and riders embarked on the long, scenic ride back to Pahrump. With the clear skies and setting sun casting a picturesque backdrop on the mountains and valleys north of Pahrump we were all treated to a safe and leisurely ride back to the bivouac in Pahrump.
Saturday evening – Happy hour back at the Lakeside followed by dinner and awards ceremony for Friday’s skills competition. After dinner Johnny Campbell gave an audio-visual presentation on his career with DAKAR highlights and did a special signing, hamming it up with the crowd.
Jimmy joined Johnny for a seminar on roadbook navigation followed by a round table forum and Q&A session. Johnny and Jimmy’s insight to the nuances of the DAKAR Rally captivated the audience and there was no shortage of questions from the inquisitive members in the gallery. After that, the bonfire blazed well into the morning and the keg went dry.
Sunday AM- Riders get their final breakfast and pack it up.
The idea behind Jeremy’s original plan was to get more adventure riders off the pavement and on to dual sport routes with a small taste of Dakar. Credit goes to Lewis for his creative imagination and knowledge of the area and planning memorable routes. The team at AltRider is organized and friendly and I can say that I made at least a handful of new friends to stay in touch with.
The older I get the more appealing navigation and adventure riding become. I can see the value of taking longer trips on bigger bikes with other riders looking to ride to new destinations. It makes me want to drive down to the BMW dealership and pick up the new water-cooled GS1200.