Ready for Dakar! Every motorrider that doesn't mind a bit of sand probably only dreams about one thing at the beginning of the year… participating in the Dakar Rally. Our colleague Kevin is one of those people. When he sees those spectacular images, all he wants to do is get on a rally bike. To prepare him we asked Miriam Pol to give some tips, because she has ridden the Dakar Rally multiple times.
Although she’s ‘only’ 37 years old, we can call her a real Dakar-veteran. She has ridden eight Dakar Rally’s and finished in seven of them. Mirjam started racing at a young age and at the age of 22 she got on a Dakar motorcycle for the first time. “I had almost finished college, didn’t have a permanent relationship and no rent or mortgage to pay, so it was the ideal time to embark on such an adventure,” says Mirjam.
“Only problem, I had zero experience with riding rallys at all. I had never ridden enduro or learned how to navigate.” Despite the lack of experience she still reached the finish line. The following year she noticed a big difference with her Dakar debut. “I knew what to expect, so I was able to prepare much better.” During her third Dakar participation Mirjam even managed to win the women’s classification. After a break of six years she made her comeback in the Dakar rally in 2018. The plan was to also ride the rally at the beginning of 2021, but unfortunately she had to skip due to the financial difficulties caused by COVID-19.
“Obviously you need a certain amount of experience to ride off-road. To be honest, if I now see someone riding with the same riding qualities as I had during my first Dakar, I would strongly advise not to participate. My preparation for the first rally somewhere around bare minimum. It makes a huge difference when your average speed is higher, because it means that you won’t have to ride through the dark and that makes the Dakar way less hard. Perhaps even more important is to keep your mind at ease, it’s really important to stay calm and use your common sense. I still see way too often that riders ride above their own capabilities. You can keep that up for two days, but it will go south at some point.
The same goes for navigating. When you're not sure about where you have to go, slow down a bit and take a good look at the situation. It will take about ten seconds, but in the end it will save you a lot of time if it leads to you making the right decision. I regularly see other participants make that mistake. You also have to ensure that you find a solution when there is a problem. There are dunes in the route that are almost impossible to take for example. I always try to get over them twice, the third time I turn around and look for an alternative route because I know I won't make it otherwise. If I keep trying I'll waste a lot of unnecessary energy, that’s something you have to acknowledge. Unfortunately that’s difficult for many riders, they feel the need to own those dunes.”
“During the rally you sit and stand on your bike all day long, so you have to make sure that you are in good physical condition. It’s also important that you use your energy sparingly. That starts with your riding position, for example. You can absorb blows more easily by allowing a slight bend in the knees and the elbows to point out. You see a lot of riders stand on fast trails, but then I just sit down. The reason you may ask? Saving my energy. You catch a lot of wind when you stand, so it’s better to hide behind your windshield in my opinion.
It also helps if you have confidence in your own riding. If that’s not the case you are too cramped on the steps. By riding a lot you automatically feel connected with your bike, therefore it takes less energy to sit on it all day long. Something that not many riders think about in advance is clothing. By dressing well, you also use less energy. We start really early in the day, when it’s really cold in Saudi Arabia. I therefore use heated gloves, a windbreaker and a rainsuit. It takes 15 minutes longer to put everything on, but my body doesn’t have to work as hard to keep me warm. That can make a serious difference when it starts to get tough.”
“This isn’t really a tip, but it’s something you have to be. And I don’t mean it in a physical way, although that’s obviously also very useful. But no, you must be able to switch quickly if certain plans cannot go ahead. In the morning you get on your bike and it may occur that you can throw all your plans away after just 10 seconds. What do you do then? Do you worry about this failed plan or do you create a different mindset? A good example is my 2018 Dakar. It was my first race in six years and I was really well prepared. Everything was right but early in the rally I had to deal with a small crash. It was really unfortunate and at a very low speed. Nine times out of ten you get up and hop back on your bike, but this time I broke my forearm. It ruined my Dakar rally while I really wanted to achieve a good result. I could have been cranky about that the entire time, but that has no use whatsoever. I set a new mission for myself, all I wanted to do was finish this Dakar. Every day my performance got worse, but in the end I succeeded. It wasn’t a nice Dakar, but afterwards I proudly look back that I persisted. You’re already a winner if you finish the Dakar in my eyes. “
“A road book doesn't say “turn around” when you take a wrong exit. Rally riding obviously is largely about navigating and I'm proud to say that that’s my specialty. As preparation for the Dakar Rally, it is smart to drive the necessary kilometers with a roadbook. It’s no rocket science, but you do have to ride and navigate. It’s quite different from following a mapped out route. When you practice you will also know how to act when you ride wrong, because that will happen for sure. Top riders mainly ride on the tracks of those in front, so you often see that the first starter is caught up again. This is because they must put more concentration on the road book than the riders behind. I’ve had to start first on various rallies and it’s a really different way of riding. The first time I made three mistakes in the first six kilometers, I was way too distracted. I learned from that experience and started with a different approach the next time I had to go first. It wasn’t without any reason I got to start first, that means you’re fast enough to ride in front. In the end, I thought it was nice to start, since there aren’t any deviant tracks that distract you.
“Do you have little or no off-road experience and still want to pursue your dream of riding a Dakar? Then draw up a multi-year plan. I wouldn’t recommend rallying if you have yet to start at 40, but it’s not impossible. It’s all about gaining the necessary experience. Start with some training and take part in off-road rides. Build it up and make sure you cover as much kilometers as possible. You will run into failure, but don’t let that stop you. That is part of the game and you can only learn from it. When you get this way of riding under control, you start thinking about the next part: navigating. Sign up for a smaller rally and get the feeling of riding with a road book. And do not forget, you will notice the weight of a heavy rally bike. That is also something you have to take into account. With a full tank of petrol of no less than 32 liters you are riding with a completely different machine, so it’s good to experience that once in a while. I would also like to give you as a tip that you don’t just ride in the Netherlands. Search abroad, you’ll really learn from it. Abroad you will find much more variety in the field of off-road riding. Of course it’s also good to get to know your bike on a technical level. Keep in mind that you don’t have to become a mechanic to fix your bike. The last and most important tip I can give in the field of preparation is: go for it! If you feel like you’re ready to take on the adventure, do it. Everyone can have an opinion about you, but in the end you decide for yourself. This was also the case with me when I started with Dakar. According to everything and everyone I had zero percent chance of making it to the finish. Eventually I finished anyway. Technically I wasn’t ready for it, but luckily I also have other qualities. I never give up easily, I'm terribly stubborn.
Although in recent years he was mainly found riding on the streets and the circuit, ChromeBurner employee Kevin van Eijk has been riding mostly on unpaved terrain recently. ”It’s really fun to do”, he says. “With an old Honda Transalp I rode a part of the TET route (Trans Euro Trail, ed.) in Northern France which was very beautiful.” It even made him buy another bike, the even more off-road oriented KTM 690 Enduro. Kevin carefully converted it to the perfect bike for his future rides on loose ground. To prepare himself better he was lucky to spend a day with Miriam Pol. The multiple Dakar rider provided him with the necessary riding tips. Afterwards, Kevin immediately noticed he was more confident on his bike. “I actually didn’t really know how to properly ride off-road. I watched some Youtube videos but then you don’t have anyone who actually sees you riding and corrects you. That’s why it was very nice I could ride with Mirjam today. She immediately saw that my riding position wasn’t good. I always get problems with my thighs very quickly, because there was too much tension on it. I learned to keep my head in the direction of the wheel a lot more which made a big difference. In addition, Mirjam helped me to get a good sitting position. The wheel is now much more digging into the sand, so I now take turns with much more confidence.” Kevin was mainly amazed at Mirjam’s level during the first minutes of training. “At first when you have a chat with her you don’t really realize that she is a Dakar rider. Once she puts on her rally outfit she just transforms. It’s pretty intimidating when she does her thing, she goes so fast! I can only dream of that.”