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Have Rally, Will Travel

Mike Buehler is a two wheel fan from Newfoundland. He's been riding motorcycles for 15 years and pedally bikes for many many more. He earns a living as an industrial climber among other things and can currently be found recovering from landing on his head. If you can find him at home he's usually riding something fun.

Have Rally, Will Travel

Written by
: Mike Buehler
Photos by: Mike Buehler

I have the dreams that many do, dreams of riding in big rallies like the Dakar. You know, just like I wrote last year, riding through the desert trailing dust clouds behind you in countries you’ve only seen in National Geographic.

Earlier this year I got the go ahead from my girl to chase some of these dreams and I immediately went to work trying to make some headway in that direction. Having read “To Dakar and Back” by Lawrence Hacking and Bob Bergman’s first hand account of their respective experiences in the Dakar I sent Lawrence an email looking for some advice.

“Hey Lawrence, do you have any suggestions for someone looking at trying for the Dakar in a 5 year plan?” To which he replied, “go enter the Rally Mongolia, it’s an 8 day offroad rally and it’s the cheapest and easiest of the big rallies.” Ok, sounds like a plan!

Game on, as they say. I dove into planning and dreaming and finding out the price of a plane ticket to Ulaan Baatar. I’m sure I was driving Lawrence a little crazy with all of my questions, but who else did I know that had been there and knew what it was all about? He put me on to Teru of Japan Racing Management to get a rental bike lined up for the event. Now I was really onto something big.

Teru returned my emails in short order and said he’d let me know about a bike. It didn’t take long before he got back to me again with the offer of a Honda XR 400 or 450 all ready to go. That was followed up with the cost of it all-the bike and the rally. It was looking like I could go racing for less than $10 K, which is cheap in this racing world. The really nice travel agent who got me tickets to Argentina found me flight options for about $2500 too.

But how quickly the dreams get put on hold: the responsibilities of a homeowner to an insurance company to keep the home in good repair; for me that was a new roof. So regretfully I emailed Lawrence and Teru to tell them I was pulling out for the upcoming rally, but that I still had plans of getting there next year.

As the year progressed towards summer I picked up a little sideline of work and my first job for this company was going to take me to Japan–Tokyo, the home of Japan Racing Management and Teru the nice guy on the other end of the emails. I got in touch again to ask if I could meet him while I was over there to talk a little about going racing next year.

He replied saying they were spending a lot of time at the HINO factory getting their vehicles ready. Hmmm...must be their support trucks? Sounds good to me. So when I got to Japan and figured out my schedule a bit I dropped him a note and he said I was close to them and he’d pick me up to go to the factory. As we were talking in the car I was asking him what he does mostly to which he replied that he does fundraising for his dad. Ok…for his dad to do what? “Race trucks” And what else do you do? “Drive trucks.” It was slowly dawning on me that he and his dad race trucks in the Dakar! I was a little taken aback at it all, wondering what the hell I was doing there? So off we go to the HINO factory where they’re in full swing getting ready to ship the trucks to South America for the 2010 Dakar. When we roll into the factory he pointed this out to me, where it was waiting for sponsors’ decals.

Ok, here’s me, rally neophyte, basically a nobody sitting in the car with a Dakar truck racing regular wondering where I fell into a worm hole? We drive on a little further and we wind up at the bay space where his dad’s truck is being worked on by their crew of 5 mechanics and they’re packing spare parts in the metal footlockers we’ve all seen on TV when they show the bivouacs.

Teru popped in a video of truck highlights from the 2009 race for me to see and it was an eye opener of just how difficult last year’s event was. We were joined by the head of the Dakar activities for HINO, Shigeo Matsumoto, and he took us to lunch where all 3000 employees eat. I was the only visitor I could see there, but no-one seemed to mind and the noodles were good. I was given a few little souvenirs too:

including one of the products of his search for sponsorship.

After lunch Teru showed me around his truck and like a kid in a candystore of I got my chance to sit in the driver’s seat and see how that felt, I still remember as a kid seeing the random bits of rally coverage on TV and being glued to the bikes and the trucks with no idea what it was all about except that it was riveting. No, he did not give me the keys for a test drive.

These trucks are not small and there is a lot of technology and information to pay attention to by both the driver and the navigator. I was interested to find out that they can change tire pressures on the fly on any wheel; and they have auxiliary oil pumps for extra cooling on demand too. The round yellow button is for the Sentinal system to warn the bikes they’re on top of them; I had instant visions of scenes from Boorman’s “Race to Dakar.”

There’s nothing extra on these machines for comfort and every effort is made to cut weight wherever they can. In the small truck class these particular HINO’s are now underpowered by quite a bit compared to many of their competitors so they have to be smarter to make up for it. Teru must be one of the wileyest drivers out there to have come second place in category last year; not to mention he's never rolled a truck either.

When he was done what he needed to do at the factory for the day Teru took us on our way back into the city, and he asked me if I wanted to stop in at their office? Of course I did, I still wanted to do some planning for Mongolia.

We pulled up outside a small double garage with the office upstairs and the first thing I noticed was the wall of history starting in 1983. I was speechless.

We go upstairs where I’m introduced to the couple of people inside including Yoshi-san: a vibrant and cheerful man. They were doing a short interview for some media type, I figured I’d piggyback on that one.

I was allowed to wander around the little office and ogle the plethora of Dakar icons and memorabilia scattered about and we talked about the various rallies they’re involved with either as drivers or support. I was in awe of Yoshi-san as I realized he has to be one of the ultimate Dakar personalities and this record proves that he’s second to none when it comes to driving trucks.

This record shows just how good he is on the world stage and how long he’s been that good. Teru is no slouch either when you see it laid out on paper like this.

I took my leave to catch the subway home still in disbelief of where I’d just spent my day. Teru and Yoshi were incredibly generous with their time and I the tourist took plenty of pictures to remind myself that dreams can come true.

I know, you’re asking yourself what this article has to do with motorcycles? Well, not a whole lot really, it’s more about these two men I had the fortune to meet who spend a lot of time and effort fundraising to keep their dreams alive and keep racing. It gives me hope that I can fulfill some of mine riding a motorcycle across the plains of Mongolia when August comes. Lawrence Hacking is the only Canadian to have entered the Mongolia Rally and I hope to be the second, if you want to go too just have a look at the organizer’s website SSER.ORG. Maybe I’ll see you there!

There's the very talented Lawrence Hacking top left above from his run through Mongolia in 2007. He's been making good on his dreams forever and has been kind enough to write about them often for us to live vicariously with more to come; that scenery is calling me like a Siren.

But before I can make good on mine they will be making good on theirs and I’ll be able to see some of it on the paltry half an hour OLN dishes out to us Canadians each day of the event. Join me at the TV for Dakar 2010 in cheering on these two hardcore drivers who were nice enough to share their time and space with some random guy from Canada.

Yoshimasa Sugawara

Teruhito Sugawara

Links of interest:

- Team Sugawara

A Review of "To Dakar and Back - 21 Days Across North Africa By Motorcycle”

Written by: Dan M

A Bit of Background

I got a copy of Lawrence Hacking’s new book, “To Dakar and Back – 21 Days Across North Africa By Motorcycle” a little over a week ago and couldn’t put it down until it was done. If you have even a passing interest in the Dakar you should take a look at this book!

Now, you don’t need to know who Lawrence Hacking is to truly enjoy this book but once you’ve read it it’s hard not to talk about the man behind the book when talking about his Dakar story. He’s what you might call the “Wayne Gretzky” of the sport of off-road bikes in Canada. His resume is impressive to say the least.

A Short List of some of Lawrence’s Achievements:

- Competed for the Canadian National Team in the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) World Championship in 1985 (Spain), ’86 (Italy), ‘90 (Sweden), ’91 (Czechoslovakia), ‘92 (Australia) and 2002 (Czech Republic). He finished each time, earning Silver and Bronze medals from the FIM.
- Worked for Yamaha Motor Canada and Yamaha Motor Europe between 1980 and 1990 in their marketing and racing departments. Since then, he has worked as a consultant to other manufacturers including Honda, Kawasaki and Triumph, and to the Parts Canada Superbike Championship.
- In January 2001, became the first Canadian to complete the Paris to Dakar rally. He finished 58th overall and 13th place overall in the first-timer classification.
- In 2005 and 2007 he entered the Beijing to Ulan Bataar International Rally across the Chinese Gobi desert and won the 250-cc class.
Was one of the key organizers of the 2007 FIM World Enduro Championship, held in Canada for the first time.
- His motorcycle exploits have been featured in various media outlets such as CBC, CNN International, CityTV, Moto Verde (Spain), Moto Vert (France), The National Post, Speed Channel, TSN, TV5 (France) and The Toronto Star.
- Participated in the Targa Newfoundland.

On To Dakar!

Hacking competed in the Paris-Dakar Rally in 2001 and, on his first attempt, he finished it, thus securing his place in the history books as being the first Canadian to ever finish the event. I might add he did it at the age of 46 too and as a privateer without a support crew to help him out along the way. Sponsors supported him partly but they weren’t there in a truck following along with the rally like the professional teams. He didn’t have a mechanic waiting for him at each bivouac to fix his bike at the end of the day so he could relax and prepare for the next grueling day. He had to fix any damage to his bike each night after travelling distances of up to 900 km in a single day.

He spent a year preparing for Dakar, nine months of which was full time work dedicated to working out, travelling to Europe, researching the race, securing sponsorship, and bike preparation among a myriad of other things. His bike of choice was a custom prepared Honda XR650. He thought the bike was a great product, and it was. He could have chosen several other bikes but was impressed with the Honda. The bike was new at the time and had just won at Baja. It also had a kick start in addition to the electric start, a feature lacking on the KTM’s. He worried about an electrical problem in the desert and getting stuck, so having a kick start as a backup was a logical thing to have. He kept the swingarm, frame, and engine stock but changed most of the other pieces to meet his requirements and the Dakar specifications. The big main fuel tank and rear auxiliary tank were key requirements of the Rally. His XR was fitted with a 54 litre tank, which when full held about a hundred lbs of fuel. That much weight in those types of conditions would have to be a real handful to say the least but essential because of the huge distances covered.

In 2001 the Dakar covered nearly 10,000 km’s of mostly off-road riding. It travelled through six countries in some of the most challenging terrain in the world in its 21 days. Approximately 6,000 of the kilometers were special stages (otherwise known as competition stages). Given these facts it's no surprise that it is billed by some to be one of the world’s top five adventures; right up there with climbing Mt. Everest. It’s a race where as many as half the competitors don’t make it to the finish line. The race has even claimed the lives of 48 of its competitors and some spectators as well.

Getting to the Nitty-Gritty

I may be a little biased as I’ve admittedly been fascinated by the Paris Dakar Rally since I learned about its existence in the early 80’s when the ferociously fast Group B rally cars had their short lived heyday. They were just too fast and dangerous and were only around for four years. Sadly I do not have the skills or abilities that Lawrence Hacking has. But I jumped at the chance to pick up the book and read about a Canadian’s experience with the Dakar.

If you look at the list of competitors and their placement in rally's gone by on ASO’s website (TSO was the organizing body at the time of Hacking's 2001 race) you’ll see where everybody finished but that by itself is a little dull. The list of who won and their times doesn’t tell all the stories about the preparation, trials and tribulations, near disasters, sleepless nights, sand and grit, the desert, dunes, rocks, and all the amazing sights you pass though in the 21 days of the Dakar and the days leading up to it. To Dakar and Back tells that story from one man’s perspective. For 274 pages you’re with him on the bike throughout it all; experiencing in some small way, all the highs and the lows.

The first thing I noticed when I got the book and thumbed through it was the little symbols that appear alongside the page numbers. While not explained in the book these are very important symbols in the Dakar; they are a piece of information that appears on the road-book that participants get and remain secret until given to the riders. If you don’t follow the road book and stop at the checkpoints you’ll be given penalties up to an including exclusion from the race. The symbol is one piece of the information that appears and indicates the trail, terrain, and landmarks for a particular section. These little hieroglyphics are called tulips and they’re something that every rally participant needs to become very familiar with. Why are they called tulips you may ask? It dates back to the Tulip Rally (Tulpen rally) of the 1950’s.

I won’t wreck it for those who decide to get the book, but Hacking’s 21 days weren’t without drama. The book is full of unexpected events and challenges that need to be faced - all under the pressure of sticking to the rules and keeping within the allowable time. There were several incidents that threatened to end his rally before the finish line. His perseverance, preparation, and perhaps a little bit of luck all combined to get him to the finish line.

Final Thoughts:

I’ve already said that I enjoyed the book. I really did, it’s a great read in my opinion and very reasonably priced at $17.95. The writing is clear and easy to follow, no doubt aided by the efforts of Wil De Clercq whom Hacking credits with turning his pile of notes into a story that "accurately conveys the message." The writing includes a fairly detailed account of each days race events; who won in each category, what their times were, and some of the major events of the day. Some readers may not find that element quite as interesting as Hacking's personal story in the race. He has an eye for detail and recalls the types of vehicles, names of riders he has conversations with, dates, and places. Something I really appreciated.

Even the typesetting of the book adds to its personality and enjoyment. If you have an interest in the Dakar rally this book gives a real perspective of what it’s like to be there. In terms of things I didn’t like about the book there are really only a couple of minor things that would have increased my personal enjoyment of the book. would have liked to have seen a more detailed account of what Hacking brought along with him. Chapter 3 reviews some of his preparations including what he did to prepare the bike. This was really interesting material that I would have liked expanded to include details on all the items he took. Maybe it could have been included in an appendix? And, though noted in some cases, I would have appreciated knowing each day’s start time throughout the 21 days. Those are minor points though and you may not even miss them.

On a side note – Hacking, who’s 53 years old, is planning on doing the Dakar again and was going to follow the 2008 race from Lisbon in a rented car as part of his preparation. Hmm, I wonder if the rental company knew about that plan? But as you may know, the 2008 running of the Dakar - which was its 30th anniversary, was cancelled for the first time in its history because of terrorist threats. I’ll certainly be watching closely to see how that story unfolds. With the Dakar being held in South America in 2009 and the 2010 running through Mauritania still questionable it'll be interesting to see what Hacking does. He was hoping to use the 2008 race as part of his methodical pre-planning. The event in South America will be a whole new challenge and with a relatively shortened time to prepare and plan.

Where Can I Get a Copy and How Much is It?

To Dakar and Back is published by ECW Press and can be purchased at major booksellers everywhere. Price as indicated on the back cover is $17.95

You can get it via Amazon Canada here:

Some other interesting links:

Official Dakar website.
Robby Gordon - Dakar Dictionary site.

Dakar Rally - One of the World's Greatest Adventures

Mark your calendars folks, the Dakar rally, a grueling (approximately 5,700 mile race) starts on January 5th and runs until January 20th. There’s only one rest day scheduled during that time. 2008 marks the 30th running of the Dakar. It is billed by some to be one of the world’s top five adventures; right up there with climbing Mt Everest! It has been challenged by some 3,000 people! Only about 40% of the participants get to the finish line, the other 60% don’t make it for many reasons – many get lost or can’t finish the race because of exhaustion, mechanical failure, injury, or even death. The race has claimed the lives of upwards of 48 participants and several spectators during its history.

Quick facts:
- Over 570 teams with people from 50+ countries.
- Over 5700 miles (9273 km's) of racing through 5 countries.
- Fewer than half of the participants are expected to get to the finish line.
- Organized by the Amaury Sport Organization.
- Riders are required to post their blood type on their bike and helmet!

In 2008 the race will start in Lisbon (Portugal) and run through Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, and finally end in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. It's open to amateurs and professionals; with amateur's making up the majority of participants (~80%). You need some deep pockets though because entry isn't cheap! There are three major competitive groups who take part in the Dakar; those being, the bike class, the car class, and the truck class. I’ll focus in on the bike class but all the racers are pretty exciting to watch. There are approximately 245 motorcycle participants scheduled for 2008.

Canada made its mark in the history books in 2001 when Lawrence Hacking (a motorcycle racer, journalist, and author) became the first Canadian to finish the Dakar – incidentally a book is scheduled to be released on the adventure in February 2008.

There are speed limits in place for motorcyclists this year and they cannot exceed 95 mph and 30 mph through villages. The route this year will involve skillful navigation and dealing with a lot of sand.

The motorcycle brand of choice for the majority of the top placing riders in recent years has been KTM. They’ve recorded 7 victories so far. Yamaha still leads the way with 9. BMW has 6, Honda 5, and Caviga 2.

Our neighbors to the south may be wondering about Chris Blais who appears to be absent from the list of participants this year. Chris is an American born racer, who finished 3rd place overall in 2007. There has been a serious and unfortunate turn of events in 2007 for Blais. It's not a mistake that he's not on the participant list this year as he won't be able to compete this year because of a series crash and resulting injuries he experienced pre- running the Vegas to Reno race on Sunday August 5, 2007. He crushed his T-7 vertebra (middle of back) and a broken collar bone and has been in recovery since that time. You can check his progress on his website. It’s another somber reminder of the dangers of this sport and the risks these guys take every time they ride.

Don’t forget to tune in the Dakar in January!

Here's a couple more interesting links you may want to take a look at:

- Official Dakar Rally Website
- Here’s a video of the route – runs approximately 1 min