Dying to try out a rally race, but don’t know where to begin? You can always train for a rally, fly and rally, and even transform a monstrosity of a bike into a rally beast; but so often, I get messages from people who would love to enter a rally race but feel overwhelmed and intimidated because there’s so little information on what rally racing actually entails and costs. Mind, I’m not talking about the big desert races like Rally Dakar or the Africa Eco Race. I’m talking about mid-level, amateur-friendly rallies like the Baja Rally in Mexico or Hellas Rally Raid in Greece. These rallies have several different classes open to newbies and amateurs, and you can race them on any bike between 250 and 1200 cc.
There are quite a few things to think about before entering a rally race, and there’s always the budget to consider. However, some things are simply not necessary, and this is what I want to focus on in this article: how not to rally, especially if this is your first race. Here’s my list of rally don’ts:
Time and again, I see riders embarking on a noble – and sometimes fruitful – mission of building the rally bike, attending the rally school, and getting all the gear and gadgety items imaginable to make sure they’re 100% ready. No doubt, prep is important, but so often, people get stuck in the perpetual state of perfecting things and never actually race. The reality is, if you’re entering your very first rally race, you’re not entering to win it – you’re entering to gain the experience, learn your lessons, survive, and finish. Doing one rally will teach you more than all the forum discussions, bike builds, and training put together, and for the first race, you don’t really need that perfect rally bike or several trial runs with a famous rally school. Done is better than perfect, so when all is said and done, just go ahead and race – the rally will teach you more about your bike and skills than anything else.
2. Don’t Doubt Yourself
Me doing my first race, the Hellas Rally Raid, was a bit like a penguin trying to ice skate: doable, but boy was it painful to watch. Prior to Hellas, I’d only ridden “light” off-road (gravel roads, dirt trails, nothing too technical), and I was never particularly good at it. I finished Hellas in Lite class, however, and although my sporting result was miserable, the experience I gained was invaluable. A year later at Hispania Rally, I did better; still at the back of the pack, but not dead last anymore. When I get messages from riders asking about rallies and doubting their skills, I usually get a sense that most of these guys are probably much, much better riders than me; but because there’s so much mystique around rally racing, and because Toby Price does appear to be an extraterrestrial, the anxiety is understandable. Thing is, if you’re entering a rally race in the amateur classes, you’re not going to be racing Toby Price. You’ll be racing Joe, Jack, and Jill, guys and gals just like you. If you can comfortably ride gravel, sand, and some single track here and there at reasonable speeds, you are good enough for a rally race.
3. Don’t Be Plagued By Visions of Grandeur
On the other hand, going the other direction – thinking a rally race is a walk in a park – is also a mistake. Ask any rally organizer about the most common rookie mistakes they see, and they’ll tell you it’s riders who tear off at breakneck speed right off the bat and think it’s sustainable long-term. It’s not. A rally race is a five, six, or seven-day game; it’s about strategy and endurance as much as it is about speed. Speed alone won’t get you over that finish line – strategy will. Pace yourself, because when fatigue sets in and you start making bad decisions, you may pay for the mistakes quite dearly.
4. Ride Your Own Ride
When you line up at that start line, adrenaline pumping, lizard brain taking over, it’s easy to get carried away and chase after faster riders or follow others if you’re unsure about your roadbook skills. Don’t give in to the herd instinct: ride your own ride, follow your own roadbook, and come up with your own plan. I’ve seen packs of riders fly by me only to encounter them later on hopelessly lost; just because someone looks like they know what they’re doing, it doesn’t mean you should follow them. The same goes for bike maintenance advice in the bivouac. People mean well, but at the end of the day, you know your bike best, you know what tire pressure works for which terrain, you know how often you need to change your oil. Listen to the vets, take all the advice you can get, but in the end, it’s your bike, your race, your decisions, and your gut instinct.
Have you raced a roadbook navigation rally? What were some of the key lessons learned? Share in the comments below!