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ADV NewsHusband and Wife Team Races O Nosso Dakar Rally In Sidecar

Husband and Wife Team Races O Nosso Dakar Rally In Sidecar

As they say, couples that play together stay together.

Published on 03.01.2022

O Nosso Dakar (“Our Own Dakar”) in Portugal, a well-known rally race aimed at adventure bike riders, saw its 9th edition this year. The rally took 315 riders across rugged Portuguese terrain covering over 400 kilometers in the Algarve area in two days. What was unusual about O Nosso Dakar this year were two sidecar teams racing alongside two-wheelers.

Tracks at the Rally consist mainly of gravel roads, single track, hill climbs, ruts, washed out water channels, and just about everything in between. It’s no walk in the park for motorcycle riders, and for a sidecar, it’s a serious challenge.

O Nosso Dakar motorcycle rally

I spoke to Vanessa Ruck, a British rider and rally racer who took on the Portuguese adventure Dakar piloting a Ural Gear Up sidecar with her husband Alex Ruck as her co-pilot. Vanessa is an experienced rider – just last year, she completed Romaniacs, one of the most grueling hard enduro races in the world, and took part in Rallye du Maroc. However, her sidecar experience amounted to just a few days of training prior to the race. 


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Although the organizers provided several detours around the steepest climbs for the sidecar racers, Vanessa and Alex chose to stick to the rally route – and made it.

Racing a Sidecar

O Nosso Dakar on a sidecar

O Nosso Dakar rally mostly sees riders aboard bikes like the BMW R1200GS, Honda Africa Twin, and Yamaha Tenere 700. When Vanessa got the invitation to race in a sidecar, however, she didn’t hesitate.

“Back in November, I spent three days with Ural Experiences Portugal learning to ride a sidecar for the first time. On the final afternoon of the trip, my best friend Emma and I came up with an idea: why not do a rally in a sidecar? The seed was planted, and it grew from there,” Vanessa shares.

According to her, a sidecar motorcycle handles very differently from a two wheeler. Sidecars have different reactions, unique controls, and a whole extra wheel to think about. It also weighs nearly half a ton and completely transforms the riding experience. “Three wheels may sound easy, but an adventure motorcycle sidecar really is its own beast,” Vanessa explains.

When Ural Portugal invited Vanessa to race the O Nosso Dakar, there was little time for preparations. She and her husband rode a Ural Gear Up sidecar with upgraded suspension, but there were no rally-specific mods on the bike.

Vanessa did one crash-course day of training just before the rally, and she shares it was a steep learning curve. “I had to seriously up my game, learning to use the front brake to turn to the left, sliding the 500+kg loaded unit across the terrain with the throttle on to pull away in a new direction. Get it wrong and it will spit you out,” she explains.

O Nosso Dakar on a sidecar

In addition to her own training, her husband Alex needed to adjust to the co-pilot position quickly, too. A co-pilot in a sidecar helps the rider by flinging their weight to counter the physics of centrifugal forces as well as navigating.

“It’s a shared experience and team work. If either one of us misses a beat, we’re both taking the consequences with half a ton of mass beneath us,” Vanessa says.

Tackling the Portuguese Terrain

O Nosso Dakar motorcycle rally

For Vanessa, racing a sidecar was especially challenging because of her history. Several years ago, she suffered a horrific accident when a car hit her bicycle resulting in years of reconstructive surgery and physiotherapy. Since piloting a sidecar is much more physical than riding a motorcycle, Vanessa had to deal with pain in her reconstructed shoulder and hip.

Several years ago, Vanessa suffered a horrific accident when a car hit her bicycle. After years of reconstructive surgery, she deals with debilitating pain but Vanessa says it’s all about pushing forward and challenging herself.

“Riding a sidecar, you’re constantly actively steering, pushing, and pulling – every muscle is working. It was hard, but I’m not letting my past defeat my today,” Vanessa says. The sidecar race was tough on her husband, too, who walked away with more than a few bruises.

According to Vanessa, while the sidecars were an unusual sight at the rally, both the participants and Portuguese locals met the Urals with camaraderie and support. Even when overtaking, other riders would wave and smile at the sidecar teams; although the sidecars were much slower than the motorcycles, Vanessa says it was an adrenaline drive and an unforgettable experience.

Couple races O Nosso Dakar on a sidecar

“I entered the rally as a complete sidecar novice and finished it with confidence. Sometimes, calculated risks, stepping outside your comfort zone, and trying new things is the best way to progress and learn. I certainly progressed my riding more in two days of the rally than I would have in a week trail riding. So if you’re tempted to try a rally, then I’d say get up and give it a go!”

Currently, Vanessa is planning her 2022 racing season – and a race in a sidecar may be on the cards again, too.

Follow Vanessa’s adventures on Instagram and Facebook.

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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4 thoughts on “Husband and Wife Team Races O Nosso Dakar Rally In Sidecar

  1. Pingback: Rally Racing : Husband and Wife Team Races O Nosso Dakar Rally In Sidecar - ADV Pulse - K레이서97

  2. When I was a kid riding out at Jawbone Canyon, I used to see a couple of Honda CB 750 sidehacks out there. If I’m not mistaken, I believe the Ural rig has a driven 3rd wheel. Very cool. Back in the day, the passenger was known as the monkey

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