Dual-Sport Adventure: A Taste of Dakar

Apr. 01, 2014 By Scott Rosseau, Photos by Alfonse Palaima and Scott Rousseau
The southern Nevada desert is breathtakingly beautiful year-round, but add some moisture to its parched soil and the riding conditions are nothing short of epic!

Admit it, if you’re an off-road dirtbike rider with competitive aspirations, you’ve probably dreamed of taking on one of the most grueling and prestigious races in the sport, the Dakar Rally. The Dakar stretches the very limits of endurance for both man and machine, and only the best-prepared competitors can hope to finish the event, let alone achieve the glory of standing atop the podium.

On the other hand, many dirtbike riders never see a starting line or a checkered flag. The majority simply enjoy spending time in the outback, challenging and improving their skills on a diverse selection of terrain. Often, they prefer the versatility of Dual Sport machines or large displacement multi-cylinder Adventure bikes that allow them to legally ride to and from their off-road destinations.

But what if there was an event for non-competitive types to experience just a sampling of the trials and tribulations that Dakar Rally competitors face? And what if that event provided a great opportunity for like-minded individuals to network and develop lasting friendships? How about if it afforded them the chance to rub elbows with honest-to-goodness Dakar heroes who will even go so far as to provide riding instruction to help the attendees improve upon their skills exponentially? 

Taste of Dakar is designed for large-displacement Adventure bikes such as the BMW F800GS on the left, but a lot of riders show up with single-cylinder Dual Sport machines such as the KTM on the right. The smaller bikes are obviously more maneuverable, but the key is making sure that you carry enough fuel.

That event exists in the Nevada desert. It’s called the AltRider.com Taste of Dakar, and it has quickly grown in prestige—though, not size—in the three short years it has been run. For some, Taste of Dakar has become an annual must-not-miss event, and it has begun to draw riders from all over the United States, and abroad, to take part in it.

But there’s a reason Taste of Dakar hasn’t grown in size as well as stature, according to AltRider.com CEO Jeremy LeBreton. According to LeBreton, the intimacy of Taste of Dakar is part of its charm, so he keeps the event fairly exclusive. Anyone can enter, but AltRider typically limits the total entries to 100 riders. The event’s intimacy is part of its charm.

“We are not an event company,” LeBreton emphasizes, “so for us to take on events like these on and have them deliver an awesome experience for the participants is tough logistically. We have limited manpower to pull it off.”

Casey Hilliard came down from the Seattle area to attend Taste of Dakar 2014.

And yet AltRider’s small staff does pull it off, staging three successful events per year, including Taste of Dakar at the end of February, Conserve The Ride in Central Pennsylvania in late June, and the HoH Rainforest Ride in the Olympic National Forest near AltRider’s hometown of Seattle, Washington in August. For 2014, AltRider has also added the one-day, MOA Adventure Ride in Minnesota, and LeBreton is even looking overseas at more opportunities in Europe.

At a cost of just $259 for the three-day event, which includes five delicious catered meals, beverages and all the post-ride beer you could want, these events are not designed to turn huge profits or even to generate loyalty to the AltRider.com brand—although the latter is a beneficial reality. Rather they are designed as a call to action within the motorcycling community.

“We’ve go to get these kids off of their computers and get them riding,” LeBreton said. “You know, we do these IMS shows in New York, LA, Chicago and Ohio, and I stand on stage and say the word, ‘Dakar.’ It just washes over the audience of 80 people like they don’t even know what the hell I’m talking about. I don’t want to get on my high horse, but I just can’t emphasize enough about getting to spread a little bit of the knowledge that we [as motorcyclists] have.

AltRider.com CEO Jeremy LeBreton is one hard-core motorcyclist who wants to spread the gospel of off-road riding to everyone. That’s what Taste of Dakar and other AltRider.com rides are all about.

“It’s tough,” LeBreton continued. “I know it’s a challenge. These bikes are expensive, complicated and they’re a nightmare if you don’t know how to ride them. So if you can, take someone under your wing. We have to pass it on, as they say.”

The inaugural Taste of Dakar took place in 2012 and was staged out of Shoshone, California, near Pahrump, Nevada, but it is now headquartered in Pahrump. This year’s three-day event staged at The Wine Ridge RV Resort, a far cry from the more bivouac-like atmosphere of the host campground at the first one. Personally, I preferred the original venue, but to each his own. I certainly didn’t mind the smell of the awesome Mexican dinner that was waiting for the participants in the meeting room next to the pool when I arrived on Friday night. The food was awesome!

A few Taste of Dakar attendees gather ‘round the campfire to swap stories from the day’s ride. The camaraderie of the participants is one of the highlights of any ToD Weekend.

But camping isn’t the most attractive part of any Taste of Dakar weekend anyway, it’s the GPS-led routes that are created by former factory BMW rider Jimmy Lewis, whose list of accomplishments includes a Dakar podium finish, multiple ISDE gold medals and an overall victory in the Baja 1000. Lewis lays out three routes designed to cater to the varying skill levels of the participants. The Easy route is for those with minimal off-road experience, and yet it allows them to “get their feet wet.” The Intermediate route includes a higher ratio of challenging terrain, and the Hard route is the most difficult. All the routes are laid out with big, heavy twin-cylinder Adventure bikes in mind, but that doesn’t mean that they are as easy as you might expect. In fact, more and more riders are showing up on single-cylinder Dual Sport motorcycles.

That’s what I rode this year, although my decision was based more on what I had available to me than by choice. Beta’s awesome 520 RS was still hanging around after sister sites DirtBikes.com and Motorcycle.com completed their Open-class Dual Sport comparison. I couldn’t have asked for a better motorcycle for the trip.

Strike that. I could’ve used a bike with more fuel capacity than the Beta’s tiny 2.1-gallon tank afforded, something I only found out just before the ride began. One of the event’s sweep riders, veteran journalist Scott Hoffman, informed me that there were no fuel stations anywhere along the route. Like an idiot, I hadn’t bothered to load the readily available GPX files into the Beta’s trick Trail Tech Voyager GPS/speedometer unit, so I had not clue that there were no fuel stops on the first leg of the 150-mile ride. Making the situation even more dire, the only available fueling station was nearly 10 miles, one way, from the lunch stop at Goodsprings, Nevada. A hasty run to the local Auto Zone landed me a 1-gallon fuel jug and a gaggle of bungee cords so that I could strap the jug to the rear of the Beta. It looked hokey, but it worked.

While our Beta test unit was more than up to the rigors of the Taste of Dakar route, its 2.1-gallon fuel cell required that we get creative in carrying extra go-juice.

Fuel hassles aside, I was optimistic about the group I’d be riding with, which included AltRider.com’s LeBreton and a group of video nerds tasked with following him on this year’s route. We were also blessed to have ace photographer Alfonse Palaima. LeBreton is a fantastic rider, having even qualified for AMA Endurcross main events, and Palaima has a lot of dirt experience as well. This was important to me because I had made the mistake of riding with a really inexperienced group at the inaugural Taste of Dakar in 2012, and the ride turned out to be a crash-fest that concluded with us failing to complete the route. I was hoping to avoid that disappointment this year. Lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it?

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