2012 Taste of Dakar Adventure Touring Ride

March 30, 2012
Ken Hutchison
Ken Hutchison
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The ulcers keep piling on for the warden of the MotoUSA asylum. With the inmates running rampant around the globe, Hutch has opted to get in on the madness more these days than in years past and is back in the saddle again.

Dakar may have moved to South America but it’s still a long way to go in order to experience the thrill of riding a big bike through some of the toughest off-road environments on the planet. So, instead of bringing riders to Dakar, our friends from the hottest adventure touring accessory manufacturing company

2012 Taste of Dakar
Yes, there is water in the desert if you know where to find it. Actually, this creek runs almost year round just outside of the Dumont Dunes OHV Area. Here’s Hutch on the 650 Sertao.

AltRider brought a taste of Dakar to the US. This first annual gathering of adventure touring riders took place over the course of three days with our bivouac (Pronounced Biv-ooo-wack) set up in Shoshone California and the off-road rides taking place on the edge of Death Valley. The sleepy little mining town on the border of southern edge of Nevada, adjacent to Death Valley National Park was founded in 1910 and offers a hot spring (although we found it was more of a warm spring) and a hospitable handful of locals running the museum, campground, general store and of course the Crowbar café. The goal of the Taste of Dakar is to give riders a wee-little look at what it’s like to ride at the Dakar and a damn good reason to hang out with a bunch of other people who enjoy riding big bikes on rough terrain over the course of one epic weekend of riding in the desert.

To add some spice to the Taste of Dakar, the Alt Rider crew, led by President and charismatic front-man Jeremy Lebreton, enlisted the riding, planning and local route knowledge of Jimmy Lewis, proprietor and lead instructor for the Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Riding School, conveniently based out of nearby Pahrump, Nevada. They also flew in Manual Lucchese, the youngest Italian to ever race the Dakar Rally. Lucchese (Pronounced Lou-Cheesy), entertained the crowd with his tales of both getting to the Dakar and the misadventures associated with competing on a non-existent budget with no support team and not very much sleep.

Lewis being the sadistic man he is; planned three different rides which included stretches of sand dunes, endless miles of sand washes, rocks, dirt, dust and of course a few unbelievably scenic desert panoramas that made it all worthwhile. According to the Lewis, who actually finished on the Dakar podium back in 2000 this was the closest we could get without drawing blood and leeching oil from the event attendees and their-equipment. In the end, Lebreton and Alt Rider would like to see this become a regular event so the goal all along was to make it fun while still being an adventure.

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The first annual Taste of Dakar event brought riders from all walks of life, together for a weekend of off-road riding fun near Death Valley. Marco and Hutch scrub the film off their teeth after a night of fending off coyotes. Unfortunatley for both, their were no cougars in this region.

“America is a small moto community compared to Europe, we feel a large part of that stems from the fact people haven’t had the invigorating experience that we all get from riding,” explains Lebreton. “So we created these events as a call to action, no more saying I keep meaning to do it, now is the time, ride while you can. You don’t have to ride around the world because there are so many amazing places to experience in our backyard. Our events provide a safe, skill-building, and confidence inspiring environment to connect with other like-minded riders and have a truly memorable event.  End of the day it’s time for the industry to give back.”

It was clear the Taste of Dakar was important to the Alt Rider team. Why the Dakar theme you ask? Here’s the deal. A young Italian off-road racer named Manual Lucchese raced the 2012 Dakar Rally on bike he prepared, on money he earned using his skills as a male gigolo (Just kidding, but he did say he was willing to resort to it if he couldn’t raise the money), and a little help through a social media appeal to the public which in the end made his dream come true. And AltRider helped out too. They developed some of the parts for his Husaberg and the rest as they say is history.
“AltRider connected with Italian professional racer Manual Lucchese at the EICMA and built parts from his DAKAR bike,” continues Lebreton. “We of course became drawn to the dream that is Dakar last year during the product development, so we contacted Jimmy with the idea of creating an event that hints at Dakar; and his backyard, Death Valley was perfect… and 6 months of hard work we had AltRider’s Taste of Dakar.”

Most riders made the journey to Shoshone and hauled their camping equipment on their bikes like real adventure touring riders do, so we made sure our equipment was compact enough to haul on a bike as well. I hate to admit it but we had to bring camera and video equipment so we drove to the Taste of Dakar but we still did our best to suffer along with everyone else so please, don’t light us up because we were trailer queens on this particular occasion.  Our accommodations were a pair of nifty little tents from REI and then chow-down on some MRE’s just to make sure we could survive if we hadn’t actually hauled our bikes to town and ate every meal at the conveniently located Crowbar.

While the bivouac was the epicenter of the event, the desert of Death Valley would be the heart of it. Lewis did his best to capture the essence of Dakar in Nevada. The routes consisted of easy, moderate or difficult terrain. Each attendee was allowed to choose their own skill level based on experience and their willingness to bash up their bike. The primary element in all the routes was the presence of a number of sand washes and the associated difficulty to

2012 Taste of Dakar
The Kawasaki KLR650 proved to be a capable off-road bike during our weekend of Dakar-style desert riding.

traverse them. Lewis explained the difficulty by saying the washes in the easier routes had hard dirt under them so they’d be a challenge for big bikes but not impossible. The harder routes would feature much deeper washes where the sand, gravel and rocks would be a much more formidable. Since we were there to put our middleweight 650 adventure bikes to task, (And we weren’t riding them home), we opted for the advanced route. As you can see in the video the sand washes were definitely a challenge but to our surprise both bikes performed very well in this environment. In fact we even spent an hour in the nearby Dumont Dunes where we taxed the clutches of both bikes and the upper body strength of our aging carcasses.

Along the way we crossed paths with a couple of oldsters driving a F350 pulling a travel trailer way out in the sandy regions west of Dumont Dunes. They were stuck and we were on bikes so we sent for help. Later in the day we saw carnage on the trail where a couple of big bike riders on GS1200s had gotten in trouble with the washes and rocks. The spirit of Dakar was strong here as riders gathered to help McGyver the damaged steeds and get them to the finish line. One group bypassed a broken plug cap on a big GS and I heard rumors of more than a few liberal applications of JB Weld. Make no mistake, this was not a ride for the feint-of-heart and it put a lot of bikes and riders on notice. When you ride the desert, come prepared and choose your course wisely.

The challenges didn’t stop there either. We were joined by a pair of guys on KLX450R and a big-bore KTM thumper as well as a well-travelled rider on a Triumph Tiger 800. This motley crew started off proud but limped home a few hours behind schedule with dusk looming on the horizon. Together we won the Magellan Award because we lost track of our GPS route late in the day and turned our Taste of Dakar into an exercise of navigation and fuel management. At one point we cut across the desert and found the highway to Pahrump because we were running on fumes and already had

2012 Taste of Dakar
We figured the new G650GS Sertao would be right at home during this ride and we were right. It’s multi-purpose and fuel-injected so it had what it takes to tackle Death Valley.

transferred fuel from a few bikes. On the highway, the KLX went dry so I stuck my foot on the muffler and pushed the bike no less than 15 miles down the freeway until the GS went dry. We were less than a mile from the closest gas station so that was a bummer. Then again, the story wouldn’t have been as memorable if everything had gone smooth.

While the riding itself was a fun challenge the real highlights were the the epic desert scenery and the camaraderie of riding with a bunch of like-minded adventure touring aficionados. The AltRider crew did an excellent job of making our bivouac experience fun after dark and it was cool for all the folks who made the trip to have an opportunity to hang out with guest riders like Jimmy and Lucchese. While the event is in the books we managed to make a few new friends, dent a few rims and be inspired to do more adventure touring than we in the past. So stay tuned for our full review of our 2012 BMW G650GS Sertao and Kawasaki KLR650 middleweight adventure touring bikes and an even more challenging full bore Adventure Touring Comparison later this year. This was just a Taste of Dakar so stay tuned…

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If you like the idea of organzied adventure touring rides then you will be happy to hear that this is just one example of many rides that AltRider hosts every year. Check out their website for more information on this and other rides aimed right at the modern adventure rider.