My first forays into the world of rally racing began this winter in Peru when I chased Rally Dakar on my DR650. Fascinated by the event, I’d decided to give rally racing a go myself despite having zero previous experience, the “wrong” bike, and an ever-dwindling budget with no support or sponsors to speak of. Still, having learned that nothing was impossible during the ten mad days of Dakar, I was determined to at least try and find out what the obsession with rallies was all about.
Since March, I’ve done two roadbook navigation rally training events and one full-on rally race in Europe. I have survived the Trans Alentejo Rally roadbook training in Portugal, Hellas Rally Raid in Greece, and Bosnia Rally roadbook training camp in Bosnia so far. Both I and the DR are still in one peace – and eager to enter more rallies in 2020. As a fairly new rider, I hardly possess the skills, the talent, or the speed required to make any serious marks in the rally racing world. Top positions and international racing fame just aren’t in my future, but I’m cool with that. It’s the other aspects of rally that have me spellbound: the enormous drive to be better and faster than myself yesterday, which adventure riding doesn’t quite conjure up; the bivouac camaraderie and friendships; the insane pace and rhythm of a rally which makes you push your own edge further than you’ve ever thought possible; the challenge of roadbook navigation; the rally spirit itself which is so hard to describe but it so sharply felt during the rally days.
At the same time, what I’ve learned in Portugal, Greece, and Bosnia, is that rally racing is not an unattainable dream. Sure, it’s a bit more involved than riding the Trans American Trail or noodling around the TET. It’s a tough test for the bike and the rider, it’s not cheap, and it’s not effortless. But it also is not impossible, and I’d love to see more adventure riders, especially women, trying their mojo at rally racing.
Here’s where you can start.
Trans Alen Tejo, Portugal (March-April)
Organized by Horizon Adventures (a Portuguese team of riders), the Trans Alen Tejo is a three-day roadbook training event which mimics rally conditions. During the three Trans Alen Tejo days, riders navigate 600 kilometers of off-road trails and single tracks using roadbook and tackle varied terrain ranging from gravel tracks to rocky hill climbs, sand, and forest trails.
Trans Alen Tejo is ideal for complete rally beginners who want to figure out roadbook and have a taste of what rally racing will entail without the pressure of timing. Although the distances are fairly short, the diverse terrain and the roadbook navigation is more than enough to get a glimpse into what rally racing is all about. Because Trans Alen Tejo itself is not a rally but rather a rally training event, the safety measures include a GPS tracking system and, if need be, local ambulance service. Riders are required to have their own insurance (make sure your insurance covers motorcycle riding). Motorcycles complete with roadbook navigation equipment are available for hire during the event for those who prefer to fly and ride.
A lighter alternative track and GPS navigation are available for large adventure bike riders.
Number of participants each year: 25-30
Entry fee: 495 Eur (approximately 550 USD)
Bosnia Rally, Bosnia (July)
Organized by Austrian rider and tour guide Stefan Rosner, Bosnia Rally, much like the Trans Alen Tejo, is a non-compete roadbook training event.
An ideal next step up from Portugal, Bosnia Rally is tougher and more challenging than Trans Alen Tejo: the event is four days and the special stages cover over 1,200 kilometres. While Bosnia Rally is not timed, the conditions are as real as they get – rough technical stages, a long marathon day, tricky navigation, tough mountain terrain, wide open grasslands, and single track are all thrown at riders each day.
Bosnia Rally has three versions of the route: full rally version, rally with shortcuts over technical sections, or lighter version for large adventure motorcycles. Bikes with roadbook navigation equipment are available for rent.
Safety measures during the rally include two medics in a 4×4 truck, two medics on motorcycles, two track Marshalls, and a GPS tracking system. Riders are responsible for their own insurance.
Number of participants each year: 100-120
Accommodation: hotel or bivouac camping
Entry fee: 600 Euro (approximately 665 USD)
Hellas Rally Raid, Greece (May)
This is where the training wheels come off: Hellas Rally Raid is the largest amateur rally in Europe attracting over 250 participants annually including racing pros like Matthias Walkner and rally stars like Lyndon Poskitt and Chris Birch. Organized by Greek rally fanatic Meletis Stamatis (I’ve heard riders refer to him as Rally Papa at the bivouac), Hellas Rally Raid is one of the most important European rally racing events of the year. Seven days of racing include over 1,670 kilometers of gravel tracks, mountain and forest trails, technical sections, single track, water crossings, and rocky hill terrain. If you’re ready to be thrown right into the deep end, Hellas is a FIM-licensed race with several different classes: FIM class for pro riders, 6 amateur classes covering bikes from 250cc to 1200cc, Hellas Lite class for beginners which offers 70% of the rally route and GPS navigation back up, and finally, the Adventure Raid, a non-competitive class for adventure riders.
In essence, this makes Hellas a four-in-one rally: you can enter the FIM class as a pro rider, try any of the amateur classes, choose Hellas Lite if you want to compete but feel you might need shorter stages and a GPS backup, or give Adventure Raid a go if you simply want a taste of rally without the pressure of timing. The four layers of Hellas enable riders to progress in rally racing – you can start off with Adventure Raid or Hellas Lite, then work your way up to the top category. A neat surprise are product prizes for the class winners, the total value of which amounts to 2000 Euro (approximately 2,225 USD).
Safety measures during the rally include 45 medics on motorcycles, quads, 4×4, cars, and ambulances, two mobile clinics, four local ambulances, and a helicopter on standby. There are 45 track Marshalls spread throughout the route each day, eight recovery trucks for motorcycles available, and traffic is closed in 95% of the route. Each rider is provided with a GPS tracker with direct communication system. Riders are required to have racing insurance (available at the administration office).
Motorcycles with roadbook navigation equipment for rent as well as technical support throughout the rally are available.
Number of participants each year: 230-250
Accommodation: free bivouac camping with shower and bathroom facilities on-site or hotel
Entry fee: 800 Euro (approximately 890 USD)
So, which one should you choose if you haven’t tried roadbook navigation rallies before? If roadbook is completely new to you and you’re not a fast off-road rider yet, Trans Alen Tejo is ideal to get started. If your off-road skills are decent and you want to tackle more technical terrain, have more riding days, and longer distances along with roadbook navigation, Bosnia Rally is your best bet.
And if you feel you’re ready to race, it’s time to fill out the Hellas Rally Raid entry form and go for it full throttle.
Featured image: Motors and 4×4