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ADV NewsFirst Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle

First Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle

Vanessa Ruck makes history on her stock Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro.

Published on 11.03.2022

Is taking a stock Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro across a desert for a seven-day rally raid complete madness…or an epic adventure?

According to Vanessa Ruck, a British rider who has done just that, it’s the latter. Vanessa, aka The Girl on a Bike, is an inspirational rider – having endured multiple hip and shoulder reconstructions after a horrific car accident, Vanessa’s obsession with motorcycles grew and has progressed from everyday rider to taking on some of the world’s most extreme races such as Romaniacs, Rally du Maroc and the Tunisia Desert Challenge

Vanessa Ruck becomes first Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle
Vanessa taking on the grueling Tunisia Desert challenge. Photo: Alessio Corradini

Battling dry riverbeds, sand, camel grass, dunes, and long distances over rough terrain every day, Vanessa finished the 1000 Dunas rally alongside her teammate Aled Price, becoming the first female to complete the rally on a standard adventure motorcycle.


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The 1000 Dunas starts in Granada, Spain, takes riders across the Moroccan desert to Merzouga, then loops back to Granada for the finish covering over 1,500km. It’s a seven-day rally where roadbook navigation skills reign supreme and the limits of riders and their bikes are tested. Riders are ranked according to navigation accuracy and whether they finish each stage. Vanessa came in 8th out of eleven finishers in the advanced adventure bike Hard Trail category. 

Vanessa Ruck becomes first Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle

Tiger 900 Rally Pro vs Desert Rally Raid

Vanessa rode the Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro motorcycle from the UK to Spain carrying all her camping gear, tools, and spares with her. Then, she spent one day familiarizing herself with the bike off-road at the Triumph Adventure Experience in Spain, did some minor tweaks on the Tiger, and lined up at the 1000 Dunas start.

Vanessa Ruck becomes first Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle
Vanessa Ruck becomes first Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle
Vanessa rode her Tiger 900 from the UK to the 1000 Dunas rally raid in Spain with all her camping gear and tools in tow.

“Ivan Cervantes, the winner of the Hard Trail category, had his Tiger modified to perfection, while mine was pretty much stock – I used the lower seat setting, we shed a little bit off weight, put handguards and different tires on, and that was that,” Vanessa shares.

Vanessa Ruck becomes first Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle

According to the 1000 Dunas organizers, this event is all about being the ultimate test of how far you can go, and not all riders are expected to finish every single day. The roadbook navigation is tricky, the terrain is hard, and the distances are long.

“Most people were there on more typical, 450cc rally bikes. I was part of a very small group of nutters on large motorcycles – in total, there were only eleven riders finishing the rally in the Hard Trail category,” Vanessa says.

Vanessa Ruck becomes first Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle
The difficult terrain was a challenge even for the smaller, lighter bikes.

According to her, the terrain was incredibly challenging at times, and recovering a heavy Tiger isn’t quite the same as a smaller, lighter 450 or even a Husky 701. “We had a section of small, uneven dunes covered in camel grass where Aled and I were in full survival mode. We got more and more tired, so it was teamwork to recover the bikes at one point – the bikes handled the terrain like absolute beasts, but when you have to pick up a large adventure motorcycle several times a day, the heat and fatigue add up very quickly,” Vanessa explains.

Vanessa Ruck becomes first Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle

Luckily, the bikes held up well despite a few crashes and hard terrain. Vanessa had a minor electrical issue, while her teammate Aled’s chain had snapped and he’d burned a clutch at one point, but all of these issues could be fixed in time for the next start.

The Adventure of a Thousand Dunes

Vanessa shares she would have perhaps hesitated a little more before saying “yes” to entering the 1000 Dunas on an adventure bike if she’d known just how brutal it was going to be. “Then again, I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, so I was determined to give it my all to get over that finish line. However, while I think going into the desert with rocky riverbeds, boulder fields, dunes, hill climbs, and sand on a Tiger is brave, doing it alone would have been stupid, which is why I chose to ride with Aled,” Vanessa explains.

Vanessa Ruck becomes first Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle

Riding as a team, Vanessa and Aled covered the distance and made it to the finish line every single day, although Aled missed one with his burned clutch leaving Vanessa to continue 180km solo. Each day their arrival at the bivouac elicited cheers and support from other riders on smaller motorcycles. According to Vanessa, they had no idea whether the Tigers would hold or whether they would be capable enough for a rally raid like this – yet day in and day out, the motorcycles just plowed on.

“The Tiger is so powerful and comfortable on the big, open tracks, and we were especially grateful for heated grips and seats during liaison stages as it gets cold in the desert in the morning. We learned a lot about how to ride these beasts in the desert and how to handle them in the sand. It was brutal, and I’m crazy proud to have fought on and made it to the end!”, Vanessa shares.

Vanessa Ruck becomes first Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle
Vanessa had to do her own motorcycle maintenance including changing tires or cleaning air filters every night.

It’s not hard to imagine that wrestling a heavy 900cc adventure motorcycle over sand dunes rather than a lighter bike is a much harder job. In addition to fighting it out in the desert, Vanessa and Aled had to do their own motorcycle maintenance and repairs like changing tires or cleaning air filters every night. They had help from the Cervantes’ mechanics team with the bigger issues, but other than that, the riders went at it malle moto-style.

“The feeling of finishing 1000 Dunas is absolutely incredible. Male or female, getting across that finish line is an achievement. Doing it as a female just makes me feel really proud for other women out there and hopefully show some inspiration and encourage others to give it a go. Sure, I have to fight a little harder, I’m smaller and not as strong as a guy, but women absolutely can do it, and it’s a very powerful feeling. I’m utterly exhausted right now but buzzing at the same time,” says Vanessa.

Vanessa Ruck becomes first Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle

“I have to admit I’ve fallen in love with the Tiger, too. The rally was designed to find your limits, and actually, I didn’t find the limits of the Tiger. I now desperately want to work out how I could steal it from Triumph!,” she shares.

As she recovers from the 1000 Dunas challenge, Vanessa is planning an adventure motorcycle tour in South America soon. Come 2023, Vanessa hopes to build her own rally bike and enter the Morocco Desert Challenge, one of the biggest desert races out there.

Vanessa Ruck becomes first Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle

Photos by 1000 Dunas and Alessio Corradini

Author: Egle Gerulaityte

Riding around the world extra slowly and not taking it too seriously, Egle is always on the lookout for interesting stories. Editor of the Women ADV Riders magazine, she focuses on ordinary people doing extraordinary things and hopes to bring travel inspiration to all two-wheeled maniacs out there.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte
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2 thoughts on “First Female To Finish 1000 Dunas Rally On An Adventure Motorcycle

  1. Great to see Vanessa finish! I have been watching her youtube channel for a few months – Great content — anyone who likes On Her Bike or Itchyboots – Vanessa provides a good variety with some serious ‘moto’ content as well as fun such as the Girl’s ride in Belize with that crazy hair girl 🙂

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