Having been fortunate enough to race the Dakar Rally both with a team and as a Malle Moto rider, I figured it would be nice to share an article about some of the differences between the two methods, rally racing with a team and racing Malle Moto. Let’s first look at the outline of both.
The first way I did it was with a team in the Dakar 2013. I chose to build a new team with other racing friends, chose my own mechanic (my father) and to some extent team members. We went to Dakar with a team of 3 riders and 6 support crew and 3 vehicles, a pretty big team which in turn is quite expensive. You can also just pay to go with an already established team; there are a few out there, some more well-known than others so you would have to research well to ensure you got the right people and the service you expect.
Malle Moto is where you enter without a team. You enter yourself as a rider and your bike; you are typically allowed to carry one box, one gear bag and one spare set of wheels. In the Malle Moto category, the rules are pretty strict, in that you can get assistance from other rally competitors but you are not allowed to get help from other teams or personnel at the rally. Advice is OK, but no physical help. Traditionally, this category has been limited to 20 riders due to the size of the truck required to carry all the supplies for the Malle Moto participants; however, the Dakar Rally doubled this capacity for 2020 due to increased popularity since 2017/2018. Of course the organizations would rather take riders in teams as there is more money in it for them from additional team members and vehicles joining the rally caravan.
I raced Dakar 2013 with the shared team and finished 46th overall, Dakar 2017 Malle Moto and finished 37th overall, Dakar 2018 Malle Moto and finished 32nd overall, and then put everything I had learnt together to build my own team in 2020 and raced the Africa Eco Race, finishing 3rd overall myself and a 100% finish rate for a team of 5 riders. The latter deserves a whole story in itself about being a team manager and also racing because that was a whole new level. Perhaps I’ll write about that in the future or even save it for my book (which I am currently working on!).
So, both methods of competing in the Dakar Rally require the same amount of physical training and, to some extent, preparation. Let’s talk about preparation first. Until recently I have always done my own preparation. The reason for this is that the more you know about your bike, your gear, and your preparation, the more likely you are going to be able to fix the bike when experiencing issues out on the stage, alone. This also holds true for adventure riding, except there is a lot more at stake in terms of investments and sacrifices when racing. If you spend thousands of dollars (tens of thousands, in fact) to go racing, you want to give yourself the best chance of achieving your goals. Nobody is going to come and fix your bike when you are stuck in the middle of the desert, team or no team, and if you cannot fix it you are out of the race.
You can of course choose to hand over some of the preparation of your bike and some of the organizational aspects either to a team or to somebody else, but you would still want to be close to it. I’ve seen it only too often where people think they can just buy a Dakar finish; it doesn’t work like that. You can pretty much buy an entry and a bike but if you want to get to the finish line, the lion’s share of that is on you, the rider, in terms of preparation, knowledge, smart thinking, and dedication. It’s heartbreaking to see those who have cut corners dropping out of a rally after all the investments they have made.
Other than trying to fit all your spare parts into a single 80-litre metal box for Malle Moto, the requirements of the 3 elements of preparation—physical, bike, and organization—are very similar for both Malle and for team racing.
So, at the race, let’s start with the scrutineering, which can be made easier by other people coming along to help (there are no restrictions for Malle Moto riders for people helping at scrutineering). In Malle Moto you cannot just give a load of stuff to your team to put on the truck; you have to carefully think about the minimum gear that you must take with you. Don’t take what you won’t use, and don’t leave behind what you could need. It all has to fit in your box and your gear bag, and this is challenging at first, but the more experienced you become, the easier it gets. Knowledge and simplicity are key. In team racing, you can take all the gear you might or might not need. I’ve seen people riding with teams turning up with 3 gear bags full of stuff—factory riders are a classic example—because space is not limited as most teams have vans and trucks to carry your gear.
Another thing people don’t often think of beforehand is logistics in the run-up to the start of the race. Teams have vehicles and team members to help get people, parts, bikes and gear shuttled around. When you are racing Malle Moto you are often alone at this time before the race. You have to be a little more organized and to have planned everything precisely. When you’re negotiating lifts and using taxis with all your stuff, poor organization or planning just adds to the stress before the start of the race.
Another thing to consider is tyres and mousses. In Malle Moto, the organization will typically carry one set of spare wheels fitted with tyres and mousses for you. Any additional tyres or mousses you might need (which you typically will on a long rally) you must organize yourself with another team. I paid a team from France to carry all my mousses and tyres—at a cost of €1500, another element often overlooked. The typical charge for additional carriage by any team at the race is around €50 per kilogram as it’s a long way to cart all your stuff and weight/space is often limited.
Let’s get the race underway. Once racing, Malle Moto is very simple. There’s no team to deal with, just you and your mind. You are on your own and if you keep it that way, have prepared well, you stay focused, you don’t crash and you don’t waste time, you should have a relatively straightforward run. Still not easy, but straightforward.
Let’s take a look at the race day and split it down into sections, then look at the differences for each part of the day, with a team or Malle Moto.
- Waking up and getting ready to leave the bivouac
- Riding to start of stage—liaison
- Racing the stage
- Riding to bivouac—liaison
- Arriving at bivouac and preparing for next day
- Getting to bed and sleeping well
Starting with waking up, when you are a Malle Moto competitor, you are on your own—you’d better have a good ability to keep time, know when you need to get up to make the start of the stage, and have a good alarm clock with you. Oversleep and nobody will wake you up until it’s too late. With a team, there’s typically somebody looking out for you, to make sure all goes well in the morning.
Once you are up, it’s time to prepare to leave the bivouac, and Malle Moto for sure takes more time. I got it down to 45 minutes from waking up to setting off, but that was a rush; providing I got enough sleep I would like to give myself 1 hour and 30 minutes to do this. You need to get up, get dressed to ride, pack all your bags and tent away, feed yourself, make sure your bike starts, load your stuff onto the Malle Moto truck yourself and make sure it’s all there. Failure to pack your stuff and load it on the Malle truck means it won’t be there for you at the end. With a team, while it’s obviously good to look after yourself and not rely on them too much (as they have their own tasks to do), you can leave your bed unmade and your tent out and to some extent stuff lying around and know it will get scooped up when the team packs away, although you might get the piss taken out of you for leaving your stuff lying around! When racing Malle Moto, you need to be prepared; nobody is around to say “have you got this” and “have you got that.”
Riding to the start of the stage: This is where you’d better have everything you’ll need for the day, tape, pens, food, extra nutrition, water, everything, because once you leave the bivouac you are not going to see that Malle Moto truck until the end of the day. Sure, you can blag something off others en route, but you will not have your own team vans and cars waiting for you en route or at the start of the stage to make sure you have everything, like the factory guys do. Fuel also needs to be considered. In a team, your mechanic can go and get your fuel so it’s one less job for you to worry about before leaving the bivouac, but if you are Malle Moto and you don’t remember to get fuel at the right places, running out might be your only option. Fuel is not always at the bivouac; sometimes it is a short distance away which eats into your allotted time.
Racing the stage: This is where the mindset needs to be different between Malle Moto and team riding. If you are Malle Moto and you break something that needs repairing (but not immediately), you are going to have to do it yourself at the end of the day. For example, bend your handlebars, damage a fuel tank, or more commonly smash your navigation gear, and you have first got to find the parts if you don’t have them in your box, then negotiate the sale of the parts (often elevated in price), and then spend time fitting the parts—which in the case of navigation equipment replacement can take a while to get right. Do a poor job and you have another problem on your hands before you know it. Now, given that you might only arrive in the bivouac at 6 p.m., if you have repairs to make it’s surprising how quickly time goes, pushing everything late into the night and thus impacting your sleep. We call this the “snowball effect” because lack of sleep results in lack of awareness and more stuff starts to happen, navigation mistakes, etc., and the show goes on, slowing things down and making it more difficult, often resulting in disaster and DNF for more than half of the Malle Moto field. You have to ride more conservatively as not doing so will impact on your results.
On the other hand, if you have a team and you bring your bike back smashed up, you simply hand it over for repair and assuming you do not need any repairs yourself (medical treatment), you crack on with the evening’s events, which we will come to. Riding in a team with mechanics and crew, you can push the limits and get away with it more, because you won’t lose time making repairs in the evening as a result. This is probably why we rarely see Malle Moto competitors finishing in the top 30 at Dakar, not because they are not capable, but because they cannot afford to take chances and when they do, it bites way harder than when you are in a team. I know so many stories of riders that crashed heavily or had problems in the stage and said to me, “If I was Malle Moto, Lyndon, I would definitely be out of the rally.” That’s the difference.
So, you finish the stage and now have to make your way to the bivouac in whatever mental and physical condition you are in. Typically, the top teams will have a support vehicle waiting either near the end or on the liaison to make sure all is good, give you some refreshments or any replacement parts you may need, and see you on your way to the bivouac. Not if you are Malle Moto. Personally, when racing Malle Moto or in a team, I would just stop at the time check, fill my bladder with water, throw in my own electrolytes, eat some snacks that I have in my pocket, and hit the liaison straight away. Zero time to waste, team or Malle Moto, the sooner you get back to the bivouac the more time you and your team have to get everything ready for the next day, and this is the biggest job of the day, with the exception of the racing itself. Time is precious.
Arriving at the bivouac with a team (if you have a well-organized team and they are already there) you are pulling into an already set-up camp, having a quick debrief with your mechanic, usually 10 minutes or so of epic storytelling, and then leaving the team to it. They will service and fix your bike and help with anything that needs attention. All you have to do is de-kit and take care of yourself, get a shower, eat, mark your roadbook and input any roadbook changes. If you have a good team, all the roadbook changes, times and any information from the rally HQ should be available within the team area, reducing the amount of time you will spend trekking around finding it. They will also have table space for you to mark your roadbook, sheltered from the wind, something that is harder to find in Malle Moto. Then just make sure you have everything you need for the next day and you can get to bed, earlier than the Malle Moto guys for sure. If you are in a team, they probably already have your tent up for you, or if you are special (or think you are special) you might even have a motor-home too.
Now, if you are Malle Moto, this is a big part of the day requiring concentration, focus and speed. The more time you save now, the more sleep you get. Arriving at the Malle Moto area, providing the Malle truck is there, you will have to first make sure everything is off the truck such as gear bag, box and spare wheels. If it’s not you have to go climbing around to find it, inevitably at the bottom first to arrive! Then you have to put your home up for the night, your tent and bed for the night, get changed and then decide what to do first. You have a list of things such as, service bike, repair bike, cart wheels over to BFG, go fetch new tyres and mousses from carrying team and drop at BFG for changing, finish bike work, and fit new wheels and tyres (which you prepared the night before), go collect spare wheels with new tyres fitted (for tomorrow night) and dispose of old used tyres and mousses (normally have to go back to team that carried them due to customs requirements), feed yourself, prepare your gear for the next day such as bladder, nutrition, snacks and stuff, go and read roadbook changes over on board, mark roadbook and make changes, visit first aid tent if required (prioritize this accordingly), trek over again to the info boards to get start times for tomorrow, make sure you have refueled if required and then go to bed, setting your alarm for the next morning, by which time it’s always later than you expect which limits your recovery time.
Getting to bed and sleeping, the last part of the day. In a team, you know stuff will get taken care of if you have a good team; sure, this is all laid out beforehand, expectations of riders and other team roles, but usually a lot of stuff can be handed over to the team. So this inevitably means you have less to worry about when you do go to sleep, meaning you get a better night’s sleep. In Malle Moto on the other hand, you are always thinking 20 or 30 things through in your head such as “do I need to change my rear brake fluid,” “did I torque the drain bolt properly,” and “did I set my alarm for the right time,” etc. You wouldn’t believe how many times I jumped out of bed to check something or do something again when I was Malle Moto. Even things like keeping your phone and electronics charged as a Malle Moto competitor is a challenge; I used high-capacity power banks in my tent to keep on top of mine, again something you don’t typically think of, not having power.
That’s it, you just repeat that 12–15 times on the big rallies until you reach the end. The big rallies have a rest day where if you are in a team, you can actually have a rest but the Malle Moto guys usually utilize this to catch up on much-needed maintenance on their machines and generally sort themselves out for the second part of the rally. The part of the day that makes the biggest difference is the evening and the time it takes to prepare for the next day. The faster natural rider you are, the easier Malle Moto is because you have the opportunity to arrive in the bivouac earlier meaning (providing you didn’t have any major problems) you can get your bike serviced even before the slower team riders arrive. Sure, you have to be a competent mechanic to do that but I found it helpful to blank out everything going on around me so as to avoid getting distracted. I learned to keep talking to a minimum despite a lot of people wanting to come and say hi or asking for help. I remained respectful but didn’t do anything to impact my progress, often selfish but definitely important.
So that covers some of the standard differences, now let’s look at adding high demand social media requirements, such as filming movies or live video series to an already challenging Malle Moto regime and you take it to another level completely. When everything you do requires filming, this takes a lot of time out of your day managing cameras and capturing all the right kinds of footage you need to tell the stories.
In 2017 one of my biggest mistakes was wasting time reading social media comments and messages; there is just no time for this. Forget it till after the race! That’s how I succeeded so well in Dakar 2018. I learnt in Dakar 2017 not to waste time and to stay 100% focused on the task in hand. It’s not for everyone, but for me, the harder the challenge the sweeter the success and I have a detailed record of my rally projects which have been some of the toughest things I have done in my life.
I certainly enjoyed the two team events I did, especially so the later Africa Eco Race, because it was my own team and built 100% from good friends with similar mindsets. Perhaps my next article can be about that, how it came about and what it was like to be a team manager of a team of 12 (5 riders and 7 crew including a media crew) and still race competitively. This definitely stepped it up a level on the stress meter but as the results showed, having the right team behind you definitely allows you to ride the best you can and get results.
One final point and one that was definitely overlooked and made a big difference for me was the finish. Standing on the podium on your own (Dakar 2017) having finished one of the hardest things you have ever done and nobody being there to share it with you was definitely a big deflation. I much preferred Dakar 2018 when I arranged to have Camilla there with me and even more so in Dakar, Senegal this January when I had the whole team, including my dad and Camilla there with me; this was the most special yet and for sure one of my biggest personal achievements.
If I was to offer one bit of advice to anyone wishing to get into rally, if you can afford it, definitely try it with a team first and get one or more rallies under your belt that way. You will learn a lot about what is required without the pressure of having to do it all yourself. Malle Moto really is like nothing else, it really is the most challenging way to do rally. If you cannot financially justify rallying with a team, then definitely try Malle Moto; research it well and prepare well and you will have a great experience. Whichever way you choose, you will meet some fantastic, like-minded people, make some awesome friends for life and have the opportunity to achieve something special.
Malle Moto Forgotten Dakar Story Movie (Dakar 2017) can be found here.
Dakar 2018 live video series can be found here.