Frequently Asked Questions
1—How much does the Dakar cost?
As a first-time privateer, I had hoped to spend around $50,000. My goal was to get by on $50,000 but that is about the bare minimum I could see spending. More realistically it’ll be closer to 55 or 60. Without much effort I could easily double that amount. I am using my own used bike, not a new rally bike so there is significant savings but it comes at a cost. My mechanic is also funding his own ride but to bring one along would be another $20,000 or so. I am saving where I can but it comes to a point when you are severely stacking the odds against you by cutting corners. I feel like I am spending what I need to maximize my chances of getting to the finish without wasting precious resources.
2—What is the schedule like?
The race begins on Jan 6, 2007 in Lisbon, Portugal and ends 16 days and about 5000 miles later in the sub-Saharan capital of Senegal, Dakar. There is a rest day in there halfway through the race where there is no racing. This is a time for pilots and crews alike to take a breath, freshen up their machines and regroup a little. The factories guys will have practically brand new bikes, including new engines installed by their factory mechanics. Us privateers will make repairs where necessary, catch up on much needed sleep if time permits and if there is still time at the end of the day, probably take their first shower since leaving Europe.
3—Where do you sleep and eat?
The Dakar base-camp is called a bivouac. It is actually a mobile city of around 2,500 doctors, chefs, Dakar officials, press corps, translators and numerous others. The bivouac is transported by a handful of gi-mongous Russian cargo jets, Antonov 420's, I believe. They are loaded up and moved every day just like a band of gypsies to hopefully stay a day ahead of the competitors.
When the first riders arrive at the bivouac there is a full French catering outfit open all night long to accomodate the late-comers and a complete medical and surgical hospital to rival any military unit. After all the racers leave in the morning the bivouac is not far behind. What was once a small completely self-sufficient city is now just a big footprint in the sand.
After you leave in the morning, turning around for any reason is not an option. There is simply nothing to go back to. The only way out is forward.
4— How many miles per day do you ride?
On average the racers will cover around 375 miles per day, some as much as 750. Not all of the miles are race miles however. There are sections each day that are called liaison sections that basically connect the race to the bivouac. There may be a hundred miles or more in the morning after leaving the bivouac that is all on paved, public roads. The racers are issued a start time that they must arrive at the end of the liaison by. Once they complete the liaison and the race section begins the racers are on their own.
5—What is a typical day like for a privateer motorcyclist?
Depending on where you finished the previous day that will determine your starting time for the following day. Let’s say I finish the day in 100th position (a good day for me), usually that would mean I start the following day 100th out of the gate, unless the next day happens to be a reverse starting order day. Those days the order is reversed and the fastest guys start in the rear making for some exciting passing throughout the day.
On a typical day I’ll awake at maybe 2 or 4am (I don’t know really but I know it’s super early) and rush over to the caterer to shove as much food and powerdrink into my stomach as comfortably possible. Ideally my mechanic Paul has completed all the work on the bike from the night before. Depending on our maintenance schedule, he may have to replace both wheels, mousses and tires, air filter, change the oil and filters, load up roadbook, do any repairs that may be needed from the previous day and countless other tasks that occur during the night. At a comfortable pace in my garage at home I could easily spend an entire day doing just those things. At the Dakar, an entire day is simply not an option.
Upon my completion of the day’s stages and arrival at the bivouac time is of the essence. Paul will hopefully have a liter of Enduroxx (my recovery drink of choice) mixed up and ready for me to suck down. Next I’ll make my way to the catering tent and make a big plate of pasta for dinner. After that I’ll debrief Paul on what we may be looking at for maintenance for the night. If it is something I feel like he’ll need help on then he and I will knock it out. If not, I’ll let him work his magic.
After we have signed off on the bike I will go to the bivouac and turn in my GPS and pick up my Roadbook for the following day’s ride. There may be 50 or 60 pages of instructions for the next day but in addition to that there are Roadbook CHANGES that you have to have to add in there. These may include dangerous places, road-closings, washouts or detours. Forgetting to incorporate the changes into your next day’s Roadbook can be disastrous. Once I pick up my roadboook I have to prep it. After possibly 12, 14 or 16 hours in the saddle you have to tape together the Roadbook in a usable manner to fit into the holder.
Once taped together like an elementary school project I have to thoroughly go through and make notations with a system of neon-colored markers that will catch my eye at speed and alert me to any changes in direction, compass headings and potential road hazards. The Roadbook coupled with the two odometers, GPS and compass heading repeater makes for a full-time job in the cockpit. From there, jump in my tent and try to use any time left catch some winks.
6—How do you carry clothes and stuff?
Each racer is issued an airplane box before the start to carry all their personal items. These may include powerbars, powerdrink, spare goggles, spare gloves, tent, sleeping bag, alarm clock, cold-weather gear, extra riding gear, backups of all paperwork for you and the bike, spare underwear, spare socks, spare pants and shirt if you can fit and anything else you feel is ABSOLUTELY essential for your Dakar finish. The dimensions of the box are only 30.5” wide, 12” tall and 17.5” deep so maximum efficiency of space is of paramount importance. With only 3.7 cubic feet of space for your entire race whatever doesn’t fit can’t go, period.
The organization, ASO, will carry this box on one of the Antonovs for the duration of the race from bivouac to bivouac. When Paul and the support truck arrives at the bivouac each day he will retrieve my box and set up camp. Anything that a competitor wants to carry over and above what can fit in the airplane box has to be leased out on a per pound basis. There are a number of teams out there that rent out space to carry gear and spares and, like most things at Dakar, it costs.
7—What do you do about gas?
As part of my $18,500 entry fee, the Dakar organization supplies me with gas for the race sections or, "Special Sections", as they are called. I will be responsible for all fuel during the liaisons. My bike will be capable of carrying around 9 gallons of gas at a fill-up and at around 30mpg I will be able to average around 270 miles per tank on a liaison. During the race sections mileage will be dramatically less due to the sand and high-revving conditions.
8—What happens if you break down?
That is always a consideration. On the bike itself I will carry a number of specialized tools to try to offset the possibility of a mechanical failure during the race. In the event of a catastrophic bike failure there is always the sweep truck. The sweep truck is a large truck that literally sweeps up the competitors that for whatever reason cannot continue. They throw the bike on the back of the truck and make their way to the bivouac. The only problem with that is they may be a day or two behind. The sweep truck is your last resort and once it is gone you are on your own. If you decline the services of the sweep you will sign a waiver saying you want to go it alone and that dissolves the ASO of any and all responsibilities should something go wrong. Another part of your entry fee includes getting you back to Europe. It may take a few days but if you break down in the desert and drop out of the race the ASO will somehow, someway get you back. It might be a few days and include taxis, trains, camels and such but you will get back.
9—What if something goes really wrong?
Included on everyone’s bike is a satellite beacon called a Balise. If a racer comes up on another racer that is unconscious or needs immediate help he can send a distress signal for a medical helicopter. The ASO takes its safety record very seriously and makes every effort to accommodate the racers accordingly.
10—What do you get if you finish?
As a rookie privateer, the chances of finishing are not the best. Statistically only about a third of the motorcyclists finish the Dakar and even fewer rookies. The winner and top three finishers of the race receive a handsome prize but beyond that the rest on the field must settle for knowing that they have completed the most grueling race in the world and a medal.