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ADV NewsMatthias Walkner Nabs Impressive Finish At Romaniacs On Dakar Bike

Matthias Walkner Nabs Impressive Finish At Romaniacs On Dakar Bike

The Dakar legend wrestles his ‘unconventional’ bike to a Hard Enduro podium.

Published on 08.03.2022
Matthias Walkner races Romaniacs hard enduro on KTM 450 Rally motorcycle

Known as the world’s toughest Hard Enduro Rally, the Red Bull Romaniacs wrapped up last week with an appropriate number of thrills and spills. 

Graham Jarvis won in the premiere Gold class for a historic 7th time, coming back as a privateer this year after tearing his ACL in a crash during the 2021 event. (Can we just take a moment to appreciate that Graham, one of the most decorated riders in Hard Enduro history, is 47 years old and still showing all the youngsters how it’s done?)

Another awesome outcome was Hard Enduro first-timer Matthias Walkner taking 3rd place in the Bronze class on his KTM 450 Factory Rally bike. Yes, that Walkner, the 2018 Dakar champ and 4- time top 5 finisher who’s also a 2- time FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion. 

Matthias Walkner races Romaniacs hard enduro on KTM 450 Rally motorcycle


Despite his extensive career competing in off road events, Hard Enduro proved an entirely new challenge for the Austrian rider. He’d been watching Romaniacs for years as a fan and finally wanted to experience it for himself. The event would also be a unique opportunity to sharpen his technical skills while testing his rally bike in extreme and varied conditions. 

Matthias said ahead of the race that he and his crew would be making adjustments to his rally bike, noting that its Dakar-prepped condition is meant for desert flying. “In normal rally spec, the first gear is good for around 60 kph!,” he explained. His team geared the Rally bike down and also softened the suspension to be better suited to the slow, technical challenge of Romaniacs. 

Another concern was the “shape of the bike and how it performs over some of the obstacles… the bottom fuel tanks and skid plate are both low and wide and that might be a problem in more of the tighter, rougher terrain.”

Matthias Walkner races Romaniacs hard enduro on KTM 450 Rally motorcycle

Evidently not enough of a problem to keep him from kicking ass. “It’s up there as one of the toughest things I’ve done in my life for sure,” Matthias said of the event. “My goal this week was just to enjoy more time on my rally bike and experience this adventure. Without question I’ve done that. Results wise, honestly I wasn’t expecting to fight for the podium, so to finish third in Bronze is the icing on the cake.”

Bronze class this year was of particular interest with the Dakar legend competing against Pol Tarres on his purpose-built Tenere 700 adventure bike. On paper, the Yamaha, certainly, and even Matthias’s 450, were outliers in an environment that favors 300cc 2-strokes.

Pol Tarres races Romaniacs on Tenere 700 adventure motorcycle
Photo: Javi Echevarria

For long-time fans of the Romaniacs Rally, its Prologue, run on the first day in the city streets of Sibiu on a man-made obstacle course is a spectacle that’s not to be missed. And this year’s course was crazier than ever, perhaps because its creators had two extra years to dream it up after Covid precluded the special in-city stage in 2020 and 2021. 

Online videos of Pol Tarres delicately popping and floating the relatively huge T7 through this stage are solid gold, looking more like a Cirque du Soleil performance than a rally stage. Pol placed 3rd in the Prologue while Matthias landed 12th in a field of 29 Bronze class riders that took on the challenging course. 

Everyone looking forward to watching Pol’s performance, the second time he’d raced a T7 at Romaniacs, was crying in their popcorn however when the Seeker phenom crashed in the first stage, tearing ligaments in his left shoulder. At the time he was battling in the top 3 and kept racing for another half hour before “the pain was too much.” In ever-humble Pol style he immediately apologized to his team, friends and fans and vowed to come back stronger.

Pol Tarres out of Romaniacs after crash
Photo: Trece Racing Society

Another legendary racer and adventure bike ambassador who had an amazing result was Chris Birch, no stranger to Romaniacs with five podium finishes, including a win in 2010. Chris rides large capacity bikes off road like a champ, too, and offers classes around the world to teach everyday riders his techniques. Chris bagged top spot in the Silver class this year on his KTM 500 EXC, another relatively big bike for the narrow forested trails and steep terrain of Romania’s Southern Carpathian Mountains, but a featherweight compared to the 1290 Adventure R we’ve seen him use to accomplish so many seemingly-impossible feats

It was another great show this year in Romania, with the next two stops on the FIM Hard Enduro World Championship series right here in North America. First up is the Red Bull TKO in Tennessee August 12-14, then it’s up to Calgary, Canada, for Red Outliers August 26-28.

Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

Author: Jamie Elvidge

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August 5, 2022 5:10 pm

Congrats to all the aforementioned especially Graham Jarvis! To accomplish winning this grueling event at 47 amazes me. I’ll keep saying it; These guys are tremendous athletes!


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