Motorcyclists treasure those moments of solitude when our mounts transport us to uncharted places. But it may be difficult to imagine traveling across five countries on dangerous dirt tracks, rocky roads, and some of the most brutal desert landscapes in the world for 15 sleepless days, just to say, “I did it.” However, that is precisely what the intrepid competitors who undertake the legendary Dakar Rally set out to do.
This unique event pushes riders and machines beyond all reasonable limits of endurance. The field not only includes the planet’s off-road elite, but also amateurs whose passion compels them to join as paying customers—at close to $50,000 a throw. As the event’s founder, late French motorcycle rally pioneer Thierry Sabine, stated: “It is a challenge for those who go, and a dream for those who stay behind.”
Team Rally Pan Am team manager Charlie Rauseo described the requirements for paying customers who joined TRPA’s pair of sponsored riders. The fare includes an entry fee of over $15,000; and the event demands a year’s commitment—rider preparation and fitness being as critical as the equipment. “In our San Francisco shop, we build five KTM-based rally bikes; redoing basically everything from the crankshaft up. We provide a turnkey service, including riding and navigation training, transportation, mechanics and spare parts during the rally,” he explains. “So, you just show up with your boots, suit and helmet.” However, in a wry tone he adds, “But you do have a little work to do along the way.” (Click image to enlarge)
This year’s quartet of client-riders followed a profile Rauseo describes as “lifelong motorcycle riders, entrepreneurs in their late-30s to early-40s who had to be fit, and learn navigation, like compass and log book reading, so they can find their way through the desert. Some prepare their own bike. Others have us do everything; they just show up and ride.”
The challenge is unequivocal. “Always be on top of your game, even if you’re operating on almost no sleep,” he says. “You have to be completely focused.” With accommodations no more than a bivouac, plus riding and servicing the bike every day, discipline is fundamental. The reward is memorable. “It’s one of the greatest challenges you can ever give yourself,” Rauseo asserts. “It’s a test of stamina, desire, and stubbornness. And the scenery is some of the most beautiful in the world.” For those who dare, the Dakar Rally is more than the ultimate off-road adventure; it’s a life-altering experience. Rauseo adds, “It’s physical. It’s mental. It’s emotional. Everybody struggles. Everybody falls. The machines break down, and some people just lose it completely. A lot of people get hurt; some, unfortunately, die.”
TRPA team rider Casey McCoy, an experienced U.S. rally competitor on his first racing foray in Africa, brought the PAi-sponsored bike home in a respectable 31st place, in a field where attrition exceeds half. “Every day’s a bigger challenge,” he reflects. “You feel a sense of dazed relief when you realize you’ve completed one of the toughest rallies in the world. But it’s all about finding the one reason to keep going, instead of listening to the inner demons that tell you give up.” McCoy’s most vivid memory is emblematic. “I was riding through a terrible sandstorm, and suddenly I saw three nomad tribesmen emerge in the middle of the storm, serenely waiting for it to pass,” he recalls. “And I wondered, ‘How do they exist?’”
It is a fitting question from a motorcycle adventurer most of us can only hope to emulate. The invitation is there—and the desert awaits.