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“So how do I get into this “rally” thing….?” New riders join here.

How could I do that.....? Could I do that...? I could do that....!

The Dakar Rally has finished for 2023. You have seen video of the stars and their extensive support teams on the internet. You may also have followed the stories of the privateers who have spent their lifetime earnings to fulfil their dream of participating in the highest profile motorsport rally on the planet and you are now wondering "how could I do that.....?"

Like all sporting activities, the experts make it seem easy. The depth of their preparation is invisible. The extent of their backing is seldom if ever discussed publicly - but the pinnacle of world level competition is by definition a fairly exclusive activity.

While realistically, the likelihood of an enthusiastic "watcher" participating or even competing in a World level motorsport is vanishingly remote, there are possibilities for enthusiasts to participate, complete and possibly compete in motorcycle rally events.

Different levels of access to motorcycle rally events.

Like most things in life, the way you might go about achieving a goal depends very much on your resources and your determination.

Make no mistake, motorsport costs. It can cost a lot, it can cost a fortune or if you pitch your approach, motorsport can be affordable.

So what kind of events are there?

Fly and ride events.

If you have access to social media you have probably seen adverts for "fly and ride" events where a vehicle of your choice is provided (bike/quad/SxS) along with overnight accommodation and catering along the route of the event. What may not be covered is your travel to and from the event as the event operators will not have any control over where their event participants will come from or how they prefer to travel.

The events are usually staged in a remote and uninhabited area of wilderness, with an ecology robust enough to sustain off road motorsport - a very important consideration these days.

The bikes are supported by a team of travelling technicians and at the end of the event you hand them back to the event organiser and return home. Expect to pay up to $10,000 for a week event including your travel to and from the event and accommodations before and after the event and any riding equipment such as boots and helmets. To derive maximum return from such an event you will already be a reasonably experienced rider with your own bike and equipment. After all, it's only in video games that you can crash, roll, recover and ride again (right?).

Self-supported privateer ride.

Rather than flying down to the desert state and riding a turnkey bike provided for you, you may have your own bike that you have developed over a few years with suspension improvements, your choice of tyres, navigation systems and high volume fuel tanks... You would prefer to ride that in your event of choice?

You need to get yourself and your competition bike to the event, usually in a van. If you are reading this somewhere in the north of North America, you will have a journey of several thousand kilometres there and back again. You might team up with another rider or two to split the travel costs and do a rotating drive to get to the event with as few overnight stops as possible but still the costs of "doing motorcycle motorsport" this way are not inconsiderable.

Either of these approaches gets to to some fairly exotic places (compared to the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest) and the opportunity to ride at speed in a manner that is simply not possible at home. Remember to travel with plenty of accident, healthcare and evacuation insurance.

So, I am not affluent enough to be able to travel abroad for motorcycle events, but I do have a dualsport/adventure bike....

There is a third, developing alternative for motorcycle rally enthusiasts and riders wondering if this might be the motorcycle motorsport for them that won't have significant costs compared to the two previous examples.

This rallying has a long and illustrious history of being the grassroots motorsport and it goes by many names. Road Rallying, Regularity Rally, TimeSpeedDistance Rally and more recently to reflect the recent motorcycle genre, Dualsport/Adventure rallying. It's all the same...

In the past, Regularity Rally was the staple event of sports car clubs, run over public tarmac roads in the dead of night. Routes were shown by "roadbooks" consisting of "tulip diagrams" describing road junctions, distances to be covered and the average speeds to be maintained.

Over a number of decades, this form of rallying evolved into what became WRC for cars, which then evolved further into the desert rallying that has been seen on video lately.

The essence of the sport remains the same though, roadbook navigation, timed passage through stages, quantification of performance against the clock.

We do not have hundreds or thousands of square kilometers of open access, unregulated land in BC. Come to think about it, every square kilometer is owned, regulated and restricted to public access in one way or another.

There is, however a network of gravel industrial service roads across the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and specifically Vancouver Island. These roads have been constructed to facilitate the extraction of felled trees from the interior. With the exception of the southern half of Vancouver Island (where the land is managed by a conglomerate company called Mosaic), these roads are ungated, open for public use and subject to the motor vehicle legislation of the province and the insurance coverage of ICBC.

Are these roads open for public use?

Unless the road you want to use is actually on private property, yes they are - with specific exceptions if there is major industrial activity going on.

If it is a Gazetteered road under BC law and you have ICBC insurance, the BC road traffic laws specifically permit speed-limited "navigation rallies" and ICBC insurance (if it is not "Collector" insurance) is "all risks" ie participation in navigation rallies does not void your insurance, you can go rallying .

BC road traffic laws specifically allow speed-controlled, navigation rallies - provided no motoring laws are broken. This means conforming to speed limits, no head-to-head racing or speed trials, everyone must have a motorcycle driving licence, road insurance and their bike must be registered.

The Sports Car Club of America also organises/sanctions TSD road rallies so presumably this grassroots motorsport is permitted south of the border as well.

Vancouver Island Motosports Events (VIME) motorcycle rallies are run almost exactly in the same way that car road rallies are run.

  • The course is described by sequential tulip diagrams in a roadbook or, if you have entered the tourist class, by a gps course in the Gaia mapping app.

  • The roadbook class entrants are timed around the course using a gps rally timing app called Richta, if they choose. Some people navigate the course by roadbook without timing as a low-pressure practice run.

  • The beauty of the Richta timing app is that the event does not need timekeepers out on the course keeping tabs on participants progress. Their Richta app on their smartphone times them through each of the timing control points around the course.

  • Because each rider carries their own timing system, there is no need for a set starting order or start time separation. To simplify the management of the event, the start time will be say between 0900 and 1030 and in the interests of fairness, riders will be allowed to start at a minimum of one minute intervals and possibly as much as three minutes is the issue of "following" is problematic.

  • Route PDFs/Gaia tracks and Richta passwords will be provided to participants no more than seven days before the event start to allow sufficient time for participants to get their tech sorted out.

Two major differences between car road TSD rallies and Vancouver Island bike rallies are the nature of the roads and the detail of the timing arrangements.

Car TSD rallies are run over tarmac roads (usually) where the nature of the road surface make the task of keeping to a set average time possible or for expert rally crews, probable. A rally car crew comprises a driver and a navigator, the navigator having the major task of governing the car speed and also instructing route decisions.

VIME bike rallies are routed over whatever gravel road "goes". Roads vary from regularly used inland island "highways" to the roughest of recently bladed "tracks"...

While the degree of difficulty of the routes is not at all in the same league as for trials, motocross or enduro events, timed sections will include long ascents and the following descents, for example. The combination of different terrains making accurate speed-keeping difficult.

Another challenge to timekeeping is to avoid locating the Richta timing control points (CPs) at exactly the same place as speed zones change. The purpose of this is to prevent good riders from gaming the system by keeping a close eye on their time progress through any given speed zone, arriving early at a Richta CP and "lurking" some distance short of the CP while the clock runs down.

The speed-control zone might be as much as 10km long, the Richta CP might be anywhere between 400m before the speed zone changes to 400m afterwards. Very difficult to game that situation trying for a zero time penalty score.

Another difference to car rallies is where each timing zone is started.

Typically, car road rallies are timed from the start line with each timed section measured from the start. This timing method means that if a section is completed ahead or behind the target time, the discrepancy can be corrected over subsequent timed sections to arrive at the finish with as close to a zero time penalty score as possible.

The problem with this is the Vancouver Island gravel roads are often hazardous with uneven surfaces, steep drops, unsighted corners and any kind of hazard you won't find on tarmac. The set speeds in themselves are safe enough and always within the posted speed limits.

If you were to take a wrong turn though and loose say 10 minutes on a 10km section and were then to try to make that lost 10minutes up over the next leg, you would be riding at crazy-fast speeds and inviting disaster.

The solution is to time each speed control section from the previous timing Control Point. In this way, each section is stand-alone. Screw a section up and you will score a maximum time penalty for that section. The next section starts afresh. The lost time cannot be made up, or conversely the early arrival cannot be undone.

There is no incentive, need or advantage to be gained by riding the next section fast. If you do and you crash, why?

The essence of these rallies is accurate navigation and accurate speed management. What could be simpler?

There is also the tourist Gaia navigation class, follow the route on the map.

Gaia? Roadbook?? Richta??? What is this sorcery of which you speak???

Smartphone tech has revolutionised this activity. Amongst other things, smartphones come with gps receivers that allow geolocation of the phone.

Gaia is a mapping app that uses the gps function in the phone to locate your position on a map. If you pay the $60 subscription, you can download maps of your area into the phone and continue to navigate when the cell signal runs out. If you have downloaded the route into your Gaia you simply follow the coloured route. You don't need a SIM card in the phone either, download over wifi or a hotspot. This way you can use your old iPhone that has limited battery life - provided you have wired in a usb charger.

Roadbook can be printed up on a long paper scroll and mounted in a waterproof box with a transparent lid. Either a bought, proprietary holder or a homemade lunchbox holder according to your preference. Alternatively, the roadbook can be displayed as a pdf document in an app such as Rally Navigator - Roadbook Reader. Also on an old smartphone with a usb charger.

You won't get the routes by Gaia and roadbook, it will be either/or.

Richta Rally timing is another app that uses gps to fix your position and time. You need to run Richta on a separate device to that which you display your navigation instructions as apparently, two different apps can't use the same GPS input without the risk of complications.

Once you have started Richta, you don't need to look at it until you finish the day's route - so do Richta on your good phone and keep it safe and dry in your pocket. You will be sent instructions on how to join the Richta event with your joining instructions. They are also elsewhere in this blog.

Can't the GPS on the phone be used to cheat the navigation?

Yes it can.... for this reason, in high level events, gps-capable devices are strictly forbidden in a rider's possession during each ride. High level events use either paper scroll roadbooks or sealed pdf reader devices.

Sensibly, at grassroots events where there is no prize money at stake, the spoils of war are simply the notion of "winner", the incentive to cheat and the shame of potentially being caught cheating runs entirely against the spirit of fair play and fair competition.

Should anyone be caught stuffing the bellies of the fish they catch with lead (to use a recent metaphor) they will simply be asked to leave the event and won't be admitted to future events.

There is an important exception to this. Should a roadbook event competitor/participant get horribly lost, the expectation will be that they have a Gaia map on their smartphone. They fire up their Gaia, find their location and plot a route back to the Event Control where they declare their withdrawal from that day's event and go for an early beer!

So the costs for this kind of event?

Bike - $5000, your daily rider

Smartphones - probably already got 'em

Event entry -$250

Travel to and from, accommodation and food - $400ish for the weekend

Insurance - your existing ICBC insurance

Other equipment - a Garmin InReach perhaps? A paper roadbook holder if you choose to be "old school", long range fuel tanks not needed as fuel stations no more than 150km apart, what else could you want?

And the size of the budget you would need to go from your backyard to the Dakar start line...?

Once you had bought bikes and equipment, transport, got to and qualified in lower profile events you would need at least $100,000...

What are you waiting for.......


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