Safety and the Dakar rally

The safety of the Dakar rally has always been challenged by the media and even the Vatican. The organizers are constantly trying to ensure the safety of the competitors. However, the very nature of the sport is dangerous. These are the reasons if one is to chase the dream of Dakar, he or she must fully prepare themselves to complete the journey as safe as possible; the physical and mental preparation must not be taken lightly.

Following your bliss in life sometimes leads full circle. Completing events such as the Dakar rally or an adventure ride across the North American continent come with great satisfaction, but a measurable risk. The question comes back to – “what are people willing to do in order to complete their dreams?” Exploring the outer limits of human endurance is inherently connected with danger. Also, we would like to pay tribute to those who have fallen from our sport while living their dream. What price are people willing to pay? Fabrizio Meoni was once quoted saying, “if everyone finished Dakar, the dream is over.”

A number of factors must be considered in the interest of safety. First, the distances between check points and refueling; in 2005, in order to meet the A.S.O. regulations the motorcycles had to carry almost 45 liters (112 pounds) of fuel. Most accidents happen after refueling; when the bike is laden with full tanks. Riding a rally machine at speed in these conditions leaves little margin for error. Andy Caldecott, Richard Sainct and Fabrizio Meoni all crashed shortly after refueling. Secondly, the road book and GPS navigation systems should be redesigned with rider safety in mind. Their mounting position on the bike put them in an ideal place to damage the upper body and head in the event of a crash. Chris Blais and Scot Harden will tell you that the road book will knock you out just while you ride along! Certainly, some type of padding to the road book needs to be added or some device worn, in order to blunt the impact in the event of a crash and contact with the rider. Third, the organization should have at least one motorcyclist involved in making the road book; notations for dangers and other hazards look different traveling at 20 mph versus 70 mph.

In 2009, the ASO mandated that all motorcycles be 450cc size thus decreasing the weight and size. Their goals were apparently to level the playing field and increase the safety for the motorcycle riders.  KTM threatened to pull out of the Dakar Rally as much of their research and development had been centered around the KTM 690 rally bike. The other goal of the ASO was to slow down the riders, speed has always been a major factor in crashes, especially when connected with fatigue.

A new type of neck brace is being tested by large companies such as BMW Motorad and KTM. Effective protection of the neck and spinal areas does not really exist, particularly in the case of the rally motorcyclist. The hope is that these neck braces that may protect the cervical spine from such motorcycle crashes. For Chris Blais and Isidre Esteve, the Leatt neck braces probably saved their lives, although they were left paralyzed exactly at the same spinal level. Although more research is needed, it is a step in the right direction. But we must never forget the inherent danger that comes with following our bliss in life, whether it is chasing a rally or completing a new adventure ride across the mountains. The machines we ride are agile, but very unforgiving. Always ride a rally bike with the respect she deserves.

God speed to all of those who have fallen chasing their dream.