I am just back from two days of rally training in the Mojave desert. August doesn’t seem like the best time to be heading out to the scorching desert to train, but if you are going to ride in the Dakar, you better be prepared for that kind of heat and worse.
No, I have no plans for Dakar, I am just preparing for the second Baja Rally in September. But Rally Management Services (RMS) is Dakar bound. Their riders Ian Blythe and Scott Bright are training for the 2015 rally. They were kind enough to allow me to come out and tag along for a couple of days.
RMS has picked up two genuine KTM 450RR rally bikes for the riders. These are the real deal and something to behold. Both are slightly used, coming from last year’s Dakar. They are the previous generation twin cam, carb bikes. Some day I will have to get the chance to ride one of these beauties. But as the team has just acquired these two and were doing the first shake down, it did not seem like the time to be begging a ride.
For me, I was doing the shake down on our 2015 KTM 450xcw with added rally gear from RMS. This was the first outing with the full package set up. The bike is awesome. There are many little details to figure out in getting all the rally paraphernalia installed, but so far it all seems just about right, no problems at all. Our Moto Lab suspension feels great, even with the added weight.
In a few spots, the stock 450 could use a tad more power. The tall 15/48 gearing keeps it from pulling 6th in any sand. But all things considered, the bike is amazingly easy to ride and seems to do just the right things the majority of the time, so I think I will just leave well enough alone. Race speeds will probably be somewhere around a 45-50 mph average, so I have plenty of power for that.
On top of that, the 450 handles fantastic. It feels light in the bars and never needs too much attention. In the more technical terrain it really shines. The extra weight actually helps it track straight in rougher terrain. Over the two days of training the 450’s fuel mileage averaged about 36 mpg.
Rally As Art
As I have been working on this project, a couple of people have asked why I am spending so much time in rally prep mode. I don’t really expect to win the thing. But if I do something I want to be good at it. Last year I arrived at the rally with almost no real preparation. I just bolted on the gear and went for it. Even so, I took to it pretty well.
Yet, there was so much more to learn. Rally racing is really a form of motorcycle art. I find that aspect very interesting. It takes a fun activity, much like dual sporting and adds a race component. It is also quite like old school enduro, but without the sometimes mundane time keeping aspect. It is always a race.
I makes me chuckle as I write this. When I really got back into dirt bikes years ago, it was because a coworker wanted to go do some local dual sport events. So I bought an old DR350 and started to tag along. I had been away from knobbies for a decade, riding street and adventure bikes. Yet it was only a couple of dual sport rides later that I found myself racing with my buddy through the events. So I headed off to find some real racing.
Now here I am, all these years later, trying rally racing. Just about the same thing as racing through a dual sport event. Frankly, if it were not for the demise of time keeping enduros, I probably would not have ended up here. It is just the next best replacement. Route chart (road book), odometer, compass, big tank and a wide open desert in front of me, what more could you ask for? Just point me to the start line.
The Learning Curve
Dual sport and enduro taught me many of the basics for rally racing. But there is an entire lexicon that is unique to the sport and that throws an added twist in the works. It is just one of many many things there is to learn. I dare say that you can never run out of things to learn here.
Day one of our training started out with a big wrench in the machine. For the first couple of miles my route mileage reading was way off from the road book. It took a while for it to dawn on me that I had the wheel size wrong on my ICO rally odometer. For the Baja Rally last year we worked in miles. But for all rally worldwide, kilometers is the standard. The ICO works in km, and you have to do the math to convert the wheel size to read miles properly. Fortunately we just made a quick trip back to the van and re calibrated the wheel size correctly for km.
My co rider for the trip was local desert racer Brad Pace. He is a far faster rider than myself and well prepared for a couple of hard days riding. Plus, he grew up in the Mojave area and was much more familiar with the areas we were riding. For all of our navigation loops, there was someone riding ahead of us. So there was already at least one tire track on the route.
I spent my time following the road book and trying to ignore the tire tracks. Brad’s job was to shadow me and watch the terrain. That is to say he would watch the tire track. If I made a mistake, he would often see it before me, because he could eye the fresh track better. It made a good ride plan. He would often just stop and wait for me to see my error and make my way back to him.
Frankly, the art of following the tire track is a huge part of rally racing. If you ever follow stages at Dakar, you constantly hear how the lead rider struggled because they had to open the route, letting riders behind gain time from the benefit of following the tracks and having to worry less about the actual navigation. That is the downside to winning a stage, you start first the following day.