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ADV Prepping10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Trying Out Rally Racing

10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Trying Out Rally Racing

 RTW rider takes on new challenge of rally racing - here are the lessons learned.

Published on 06.25.2019

Rally Racing on Suzuki DR650
Photo by Actiongraphers

I’m a world traveler with zero previous racing experience. While I do ride off-road quite a bit, especially in South America, I’m by no means an expert rider, let alone rally racer. Equally, my Suzuki DR650, “Lucy”, isn’t exactly a rally machine. It has an oversized Safari tank, a comfy Seat Concepts seat, a steering damper and adventure footpegs – all set up for long-distance travel, not rally racing. Still, I was hellbent to do the Hellas Rally, excuse the pun.


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After chasing the Dakar Rally in Peru this year, I became so fascinated with cross country roadbook navigation rallies that I decided to enter one myself. As an adventure rider, I knew a multi-day enduro rally would be a whole different experience, and I wasn’t sure I had what it takes to finish one. But the only way to find out was to just do it, so I shipped Lucy to Europe from Chile where I was at the time, and filled out the registration form for the Hellas Rally in Greece.

Rally Racing on Suzuki DR650

The Hellas Rally is one of the largest cross-country roadbook navigation rallies in Europe and has been the starting rally for current Dakar superstars like Matthias Walkner. The seven-day enduro race includes plenty of challenging terrain, technical stages, deep river crossings, long distances and demanding roadbook navigation. In an effort to bring more riders into the sport, the rally offers a Hellas Lite class for amateur riders. Competitors in the Hellas Lite class do 70% of the rally route, and they are allowed to have a GPS as a backup to roadbook. I chose to enter the Hellas Lite class instead of the full rally version because of my bike – the DR650 isn’t exactly a rally machine – and because this was my first serious roadbook navigation rally and I wasn’t fully confident in my roadbook skills.

Hellas Rally was a tough challenge. Although I came last in my class, I am insanely proud to have finished it. However, there are a few things I wish I had known about rally racing before the big challenge:

1. Speed vs Navigation

Rally Racing on an Adventure Bike
Photo by Actiongraphers

During the Dakar, Edwin Straver, winner of the Dakar malle moto class, told me “I’m a fast rider, but I can’t ride faster than I can navigate.” During Hellas, I finally understood what he meant. I’m a slow rider as it is, but the navigation slowed me down even more simply because I wanted to make sure I was always right on track. On the other hand, some of the fast riders got lost a lot more, which cost them overall time. When you are preparing for your first roadbook navigation rally, just keep in mind that speed and navigation need to match as well as possible so that you are both riding fast and staying on track, because getting lost will cost you time.

2. Malle Moto vs Rally Support

At the Hellas Rally, riders could either go malle moto – work on their bikes themselves – or hire a support team. Another option was to hire a rally mechanic directly with rally organizers, which was a cheaper option – $450 for the whole rally (a private support team will cost $500 and upwards). Since I’m on a very tight budget, and since Lucy has been fairly indestructible so far, I decided not to have any support and go at it alone. It was a mistake. Although my bike did hold very well and I had no major issues during the rally, there were all these minor things that needed to be taken care of: roadbook holder installation, brake pad change, tire change, broken luggage rack, bent rear brake pedal…

Rally Racing on an Adventure Bike
Photo by Actiongraphers

I am eternally grateful to a Mexican rally support team, Nomadas Adventure, for lending me a roadbook holder bracket and helping me install it, and Enduro Greece team for giving me a hand with the luggage rack. I had to pay for all the other minor fixes, however, and those things quickly add up, not to mention the stress of coming back after a stage and not knowing whether a mechanic would have the time to work on my bike as they were very busy with their own riders. For my next rally, I am hoping to learn more about bike maintenance myself and invest in some tools, but I will also save up for at least basic mechanical support. If you aren’t a bike mechanics genius, I recommend you get someone to help you during a rally – it will make a big difference.

3. Roadbook vs GPS

Rally Racing on an Adventure Bike

Initially, I was intimidated by all the Rally navigation equipment but roadbook navigation isn’t as complicated as it may seem at first glance. However, it takes a couple of days to really get into it, at least for me. Before doing Hellas I had done a non-competitive roadbook navigation experience called the Transalentejo Rally that helped me learn roadbook quite quickly. And while I still only understand the basics of it, I made very few navigation mistakes in Hellas – and not because of my GPS back up. In fact, I preferred navigating by roadbook over a GPS track during the race. The Roadbook provides more detail about hazards ahead and how many kilometers you have before making your next turn, so you can focus on the trail rather than constantly looking down following a line. I strongly recommend you learn and stick to roadbook, not GPS, for your first rally. The Roadbook is faster and safer for navigation. Just use your GPS as a back up in situations where you lose the track.

4. Roadbook Equipment: Buying or Renting

If you are entering your first roadbook navigation rally and you’re not yet sure whether you will continue racing, buying roadbook navigation equipment just for one rally may not make sense. A full roadbook kit includes a roadbook holder, an ICO tripmaster, control switches, and a GPS receiver, and costs from $1,000 upwards. In addition, you will need a bracket and handlebar mounts, or a full navigation tower, which will significantly add to the cost. I was lucky to be able to borrow the roadbook kit, but if you can’t do that, consider renting. Most rally organizers offer roadbook navigation equipment for rent specifically for their rally.

5. Special Skills Training

Rally Racing on an Adventure Bike

Before Hellas, I had a couple of enduro riding sessions with Mykolas Paulavicius, a Lithuanian Erzberg Rodeo and Romaniacs rider and coach. Although they were just two short sessions, they helped me feel much more confident, especially in sand, and I feel that it made a difference. However, although I did not mind the technical terrain at Hellas, my speed was far too slow and many riders have advised me to get some motocross training to fix that for my next rally. If you’ve been riding off road for a couple of years and are confident on rocky terrain, steep hill climbs, sand, and mud, and if you aren’t a slow rider like me, you probably do not need any extra skills training before a rally like Hellas, especially the amateur class. But if you feel you lack speed or confidence in certain terrain, training can make a big impact.

6. Shipping Your Bike vs Renting Locally

Depending on where you are, shipping your own motorcycle to the rally can be expensive. In Europe, most companies will charge 500-600 euros to transport a bike (say, from Germany to Greece). If you’re shipping from another continent, however, the costs can be 3x that or more – and that’s just for a one-way. An option you should consider is renting a motorcycle for the rally. For the Hellas Rally, a KTM 450 EXC complete with the navigation equipment would cost around 2,500 euros for the whole rally, including basic mechanical support. If, however, you have the time and want to make a trip before the rally, riding there is a great way to get into the mindset and hone your skills along the way.

7. Pain Management

Rally Racing on Suzuki DR650

During a multi-day rally, fatigue starts to set in around day 4-5, and you are likely to begin experiencing some pain. For me, hand and wrist pain was the worst, especially after spraining my clutch hand on day 5. While adrenaline can do wonders for the pain, do pack some strong painkillers for those last few days. I tried to stay off of Ibuprofen for as long as I could and use Copaiba essential oil instead, but by Day 7, I caved in and took some strong painkillers every 3 hours to manage the pain.

8. Gear

Even if you are a very skilled rider, you will probably come off the bike at some point during the rally, and it’ll likely be at speed. Make sure your protective gear is in top condition, because the risk is very real. I am extremely happy with my Leatt knee braces and chest and back protector, because Hellas Rally special stages involved a lot of hard, rocky mountain tracks and I crashed multiple times. I’m also loving my Sidi Crossfire boots, and not just for the level of protection: during a multi-day rally, you may spend 8-10 hours on the bike each day, so you gear needs to be as comfortable as it is safe. However, because I had no elbow or shoulder protection, I wore my Klim Artemis jacket over the Leatt chest and back protector. Not an ideal set up – you need to move quite a lot, and it’s usually hot – so keep that in mind when you select your gear.

Rally Racing on Suzuki DR650
Photo by Actiongraphers

9. Sleep and Nutrition

Recovery is extremely important during the rally, so don’t skimp on the zzz’s and the calories. Even if you don’t feel hungry, eat a big breakfast in the morning. If you don’t, you’ll be suffering from hunger and lack of energy by about 12pm. For the race, pack a healthy snack like a couple of bananas or good quality energy/protein bars and plenty of water. Hydration is crucial, so try to sip water throughout the day even if you don’t feel thirsty. Energy gels can help too, although solid food is always better. Finally, you may feel like celebrating after you finish a stage, but instead of drinking beers till midnight with your fellow riders, have some water and go to bed. Cut out beer before 8pm, drink water, and go to sleep before 10 pm to recover best. The deepest, most restorative sleep happens between 10pm and 2 am, so use that to let your body heal itself before you ride to the start line again in the morning.

10. Emotional Rollercoaster

Rally Racing on Suzuki DR650

A rally is a mental game just as much as it is a physical challenge. You will have great days and dismal days and experience extreme ups and downs in a very short span of time, and it takes a toll. For me, day 4 was the worst: I crashed hard and sprained my hand, and because I was the last rider to start, all the other riders as well as quads and SSVs had gone before me leaving the track mangled beyond recognition. It was raining, too, so some sections had become a swampy nightmare of mud, and by kilometer forty, I was falling over every few meters. Finally, the bike got stuck in a deep muddy rut, axle deep, and I just couldn’t drag it out. I sat in the mud for a few minutes, staring at the fallen bike and wondering what the hell was I even doing here, feeling small and useless. I didn’t make my time that day, which means I wasn’t allowed to finish the stage, and coming back to the bivouac felt like defeat. However, the next day was fantastic with fast flowing tracks and incredible scenery, and I got my mojo back. These ups and downs continued throughout the rally, and I certainly wasn’t alone in this: the mental and emotional rally rollercoaster is something that every rider experiences, and you need to be mentally prepared for that.

Rally Racing on an adventure motorcycle
Photo by Motors and 4×4

However, crossing that finish line makes up for everything – the pain, the fatigue, the emotional toll, and the crashes. Racing in a multi-day roadbook navigation rally is ridiculous fun, and the bivouac camaraderie is second to none. For me, Hellas Rally was an incredible experience, so much so that one day after the rally ended, I filled out the registration form for another rally in July. The fun factor, the bivouac friendships, the ultimate challenge to yourself and your bike, and the realization that nothing is impossible, makes it all worth it, but be warned: racing rallies comes with high addiction risk.

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 “10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Trying Out Rally Racing

  1. Great story man. Love the go for it attitude and checking your ego at the door was so cool. Would probably rather hang with you than the win-at-all-cost bros…Now i gotta do one of these..

  2. Good for you for even trying it. When I watched Lyndon Poskitt attempt the 2017 Dakar I couldn’t help crying when he was sitting there so defeated, yet he kept going. I can only imagine what you went through just to finish. And the value of what you learned. Podiums don’t measure that. Great report. I have a feeling it’s not your last road book dependent race.

  3. Pingback: Roadbook Rally Comparison: Training vs Racing ADV Rider