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ADV PreppingHow To Chase the Dakar on Your Own Bike as a Spectator

How To Chase the Dakar on Your Own Bike as a Spectator

if you’ve ever dreamed of chasing the Dakar on your bike, here’s how.

Published on 02.04.2019
Anastasiya Nifontova Dakar 2019
Photo by @RTWPaul

The Dakar rally is a dream race for many adventure riders. It‘s known as the toughest and most grueling rally in the world, and this year, the Dakar was one of the sandiest and most brutal of them all: enormously high dunes, 70% sand, long and tiring liaison stages on treacherous Andean roads through trying Peruvian traffic – no wonder only about half of the competitors made it to that finish line in Lima.

For me, the decision to chase the rally on my Suzuki DR650 came spontaneously. I was already in Peru continuing my travels, my bike had just been serviced, and I didn’t have any strict plans ahead, so trying to chase the Dakar seemed like a great idea. However, because I’d decided on the spot, I had very little time to prepare.


Once in Lima, I headed straight for the Magdalena Beach where the Dakar bivouac and podium were already being prepared. The minute I rolled into the bivouac on my bike, I knew I didn’t want to miss a minute of the rally and I would follow it all the way.

It’s hard to describe the atmosphere in the Dakar bivouac: it’s so intense and electric that everything just seems to be running on high speed. The technical support teams worked round the clock to make sure all the Dakar vehicles were race ready, the pilots tested their machines, did their roadbooks and supported each other as best as they could. Over at the Original by Motul (better known as malle moto) class, the Dakar “Spartans” – the unsupported, solo riders who worked on their bikes themselves – were busy going over their motorcycles, sharing tips and advice, and encouraging each other. It was amazing to see the level of camaraderie, respect and support these riders had for each other.

Chasing the Dakar on your own motorcycle

Once the rally began, sleep and rest were cancelled. 4-5am starts and midnight finishes after grueling special and liaison stages, technical issues and solutions, last minute trouble – every single person in the Dakar was working overtime doing their absolute maximum to make the dream happen. To be able to chase the rally, help other riders, maintain my own bike, and create content, I slept little, covered long distances, endured scorching desert sun and ran around sleepy Peruvian fishing villages in search for spare parts, cold Red Bull, or confused support teams getting lost en route to their hotels.

Those ten days of chasing the Dakar were probably the most intense experience of my motorcycling life. I lost ten kilos of weight, burned my clutch, and became addicted to the roar of engines and diesel generators in the bivouac and the sight of Dakar riders – exhausted, filthy, covered in grime and sand – making it across the finish line at the end of each stage. To me, the Dakar was all about realizing that humans are limitless, and that nothing is impossible.

So if you’ve ever dreamed of chasing the Dakar on your bike, here’s how.

The Prep

Whether you’re chasing the rally on your own bike or renting locally, make sure it’s well serviced. You will have to cover long distances with little rest, ride in the sand if you want to get up close to the start and finish lines and some viewpoints, and there will be little to no time to do any maintenance or fix issues. Go over your motorcycle and make sure your air filter is clean, your oil’s recently changed, and that your tires, brake pads and chain and sprockets are still good for at least 5,000-8,000 kilometers or so.

Chasing the Dakar on your own motorcycle

Plan your route. Will you follow all of the Dakar stages or just a few? Usually, organizers release route and spectators’ area information three days prior to the start of the race. Download the Dakar app on your phone; this is where you’ll get your waypoint coordinates and newest information on stage finishes. Often, however, the coordinates will be off by about 20-30 kilometers, but don’t worry too much about it – once you’re in the vicinity, you will spot Dakar vehicles and you can simply follow them to the start and finish lines or the bivouac. The bivouac caravan moves every day and following it is a sure-proof way to not get lost if you’re uncertain.

Plan some of your stays ahead. If you plan to camp, all you need is your camping gear, but if you hope to stay in hotels during some of the stages, see if you can book ahead. It’s easy to find accommodation in the bigger cities the same day, but smaller towns and villages get overrun by Dakar competitors, support teams and staff so your chances of finding an available bed can be slim.

Chasing the Dakar on your own motorcycle

The Dakar is all about the desert, so be sure to carry enough water (add electrolytes for especially hot days) and sunscreen and don’t forget to eat. You may not feel hungry because it’s so hot, but make sure you get some nutrients into your body.

Pack a little “just-in-case” bag for Dakar riders. Chances are, you’ll see Dakar competitors on the road or in gas stations in need of cold drinks, energy gels and bars, snacks, water, or WiFi/phone service. It’s great to have some resources you can share!

The Bivouac Access

If you can’t shell out thousands of dollars for an official accreditation, there are several ways to get bivouac access. Reach out to racing teams and riders and offer help. Can you arrange their stays, help them with communication, or perhaps tag along as an extra support member and be ready to jump in with whatever is needed? In return, they’ll quite happily get you a visitor’s pass to the bivouac.

Chasing the Dakar on your own motorcycle

Before I made it to the start in Lima, I reached out to Lithuanian racing teams and offered to help with whatever they may have needed. I was already in Peru, so figured I could perhaps be useful in any way. Some of the teams responded asking for some local tips, help with hotel and AirBnB reservations, and sorting out Peruvian SIM cards to stay connected.

If it’s already too late to contact racers, just ask Dakar competitors or support teams you meet on the road. Strike up a conversation along the route, see if they need anything, and if they’re friendly, simply ask if they could spare a visitor pass for you. Most of the Dakar people are happy to see fans, especially on bikes, and will help you out!

I was allowed to take my bike into the bivouac during the first few days and podium day in Lima. Everywhere else, the bike had to stay outside so I either parked it at an AirBnB garage or right next to the bivouac entrance. It’s not ideal, but it was worth it.

Chasing the Dakar on your own motorcycle

Once in the bivouac, be mindful about your presence. Most of the time, competitors are really warm and friendly and happy to chat, but don’t bug them if you see they’re busy working on their bikes or roadbooks, are exhausted, or in a hurry. After the first four or five stages, some riders are already banged up or injured – you can see black and blue bruises and taped up ribs as they change out of their gear – so just be sensitive and don’t add to their stress. Instead, see if you can help with anything.

Same goes for all the support teams and bivouac staff. The security people, for example, stand in punishing heat and dust all day long; bring them some coffee in the morning or a cold beer in the evening, and you’ll instantly make friends.

The best days to talk to riders and get autographs or selfies are the registration days before the rally, the rest day, and the final podium day. During the race, put their needs first.

The Chase

Chasing the Dakar on your Motorcycle

Even if you aren’t helping riders and creating content during the chase, your days will still be pretty intense and exhausting. To avoid severe lack of sleep and have some rest, plan ahead a little. If you want to be at the start, the spectators’ areas during the special stage, the liaison stage, and the finish line in the same day, you’ll have to get up before 4am and won’t be able to go rest till midnight or later. So instead of trying to be everywhere, plan what you want to see the most.

Make sure you see the beach starts as they are rather spectacular – ocassionally, cars, quads, and bikes are released all at the same time, and it’s thrilling to see motorcyclists flat out against a beautiful backdrop. If the start is somewhere inland, however, it’s rarely much of a sight.

WATCH: Enjoy the magic of a mass start.

Being at the finish line is exciting, especially if you’re helping riders or are rooting for your favorites. It’s an amazing feeling to see your rider come in after a grueling special stage! Keep in mind, however, that the top riders will be immediately mobbed by the press and the spectators, so your chances of saying hi or snapping that coveted selfie will be slimmer. If you’re there for riders who are towards the end of the pack or the malle moto competitors, they’ll be happy to see you there. Again, pack snacks and water for them just in case!

Chasing the Dakar on your Motorcycle

Spectators’ areas are usually situated in the dunes off the main roads. Befriend locals if you want to pick a good spot; if your bike is heavily loaded, you might not be able to ride up the dunes and will have to park your bike and walk. Sometimes, locals are quick to try and make a buck – at some stages, there were buggies available to take you further into the dunes for $3-5.

Mix and match your waypoints: plan which starts and finishes are the most important, which stages will offer the most spectacular viewpoints in the dunes, and where do you want to be the most. Trying to be everywhere at once can lead to serious exhaustion not even half-way through!

During the liaison stages, you’ll likely see the riders on the road. Be mindful: move over and let them pass you, give way in traffic, and don’t be a nuisance trying to get a photo of them. It’s OK to do a friendly wave or thumbs up (you’ll probably get one back!) or to take photos of them if you’re standing still, but don’t try to ride up next to them sticking your phone in their faces. They have enough on their plates already!

Chasing the Dakar on your Motorcycle

Needless to say, if you see a rider broken down or in distress, stop and ask if you can help. See a rider in a rush standing in line at the cold drinks counter at a gas station? Offer to pay for their drinks and let them jump back on their bikes. In a rally like the Dakar, a few seconds of time can make a big difference, so if there’s anything you can do to help riders out, do it.

Chasing the Dakar isn’t easy – but then, nothing really worth doing is. And it doesn’t matter whether you’ll be able to follow all of the race or just a few stages, get into the bivouac or not, get a selfie with the Dakar stars or not. What does matter is that you’ll get to see the world’s toughest rally up close, experience the camaraderie and the spirit of the Dakar, and make some incredible memories.

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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February 4, 2019 10:11 am

Very cool. Thanks for sharing with the many of us who read this from our desks at work or sitting on our couches at home!

February 4, 2019 11:24 am

Thank you for sharing your experience! Incredible race, incredible competitors, incredible countryside! Oh and fabulous tips for those that follow a well. Always be mindful of racers, their support staff and the people that help put on the event. 🙂

KirK Nichols
KirK Nichols
February 5, 2019 6:02 am

I think its awesome that such a big event will let you almost become a part of it. That’s so neat about the Dakar, as remote of a race that it is, it keeps its fans right there with them.

June 27, 2019 11:39 am

Great read! thanks for all the good tips, Vsss


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