On a whim, I bought my first moto over 15 years ago. A shiny blue Suzuki stole my heart and before long my weekends were consumed with endless track-days and multi-day tours across US. I was fortunate to have a partner that supported my passion and held the fort while I was gone for days in search of the best twisties North America had to offer. A decade and few bikes later my son was born and, like many riders with growing families, I reluctantly shelved the racing leathers and sold the big adventure bike. I couldn’t give up riding all together however, so to compromise I decided to focus on ‘safer’ off-road trail riding closer to home. The bug for speed, adventure and competition didn’t entirely disappear, life just moved the goal posts a little further out.
Years gone by and increasingly enamored with off-road riding, I spent years enviously watching Dakar Rally and scouring YouTube for motorcycle rally videos. By now, totally captured with allure of off-road adventure, I emptied my AirMiles account, hopped on a plane to Peru and joined the 2019 DAKAR Rally as a spectator. The buzz, energy and comradely of the bivouac was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. The race bug was back.
While on the plane back home, I knew that I had to try my hand at off-road rally racing.
After weeks of research following return to Canada, I picked NORRA Mexican 1000 for my first event. Billed as the ‘Happiest Race on Earth’, The Mexican 1000 is a five-day navigational and GPS rally that runs down the Mexican Baja Peninsula. Known for its relaxed attitude, The Mexican 1000, unlike the single-day sprint Baja 1000, offers both picturesque sights and fast, challenging Specials sections – a great mix for my first attempt at rally racing.
Realizing that rally racing was both dangerous and expensive, I made a conscious effort to use 2019 to prepare myself for the adventure.
I adjusted my weekly workouts to focus on exercises to deal with fatigue of hours spent in the attack position (legs bent, squeezing the bike with elbows up, absorbing the energy from the bars). I built my new routine around compound movements with higher repetitions using lower weight, circuit training and high intensity interval training (HIIT) routines. Even Crossfit and dreadmill found their way on the fitness schedule.
Because there is no substitute for time spend on the bike, I knew I had to increase my riding time. While I was no stranger to Iron Butt rides, having finished Gravel Travel’s Roaming Rally – one of the longest multi-day rally events in Ontario, I needed more experience sustaining prolonged race pace. With little open area to practice on, I turned to little-traveled pubic section of local trail systems. “The course” was 25km long, and I diligently ran it back and forth until the tank on my bike hit reserve. This was the best way I had to simulate non-stop racing. Finally, to test my progress, I entered and finished five 2-hour Off-Road Ontario Enduro events in 2019, managing Top 10 finish in my class for each race.
Having proved to myself I committed sufficient time and energy to making this event a real possibility, it was time to rope others into my adventure. Racing in a team is always more fun (and safer) than alone, so I turned to my good friend Harry who raced the Mexican 1000 in the 90’s – at the time on a huge Cagiva Elephant, still proudly on display in his living room. Harry was instantly into the idea of re-living the NORRA 1000 and was excited to share his experiences to help make my adventure a success. He even found two more riders that were interested in tackling the event – each having finished other rally events, exponentially raising the experience level of this endeavor. Team Loonies Racing was born; this was starting to get exciting.
What I wasn’t prepared for was how much it would take to get my moto ready for this race. Rally racing is EXPENSIVE. In addition to budgeting for travel, an astronomical race registration fee and cost of shipping the bike across the country, I needed to transform my 2017 Beta 480 Enduro into a rally bike. This meant a full mechanical overhaul; preparing a ton of spares in case of on-stage mishaps, as well as sourcing and installing many rally-specific parts (enhanced lighting, brackets for navigational equipment, a rally fairing, larger gas tank, etc..) to make my Enduro bike fit for rally duty. I was transforming a well-loved weekend-warrior into at thoroughbred; this is where being a loyal customer with good relationships at a local dealer became game-changing.
The team at Lang’s Offroad, my local Beta Dealer, was extremely knowledgeable and generous with their time in support of my project. Rob and Craig took time to walk me though all that was needed to get my bike in rally shape. Living up to their reputation as committed supporters of off-road racing in Ontario, they had my bike apart and then back together again – almost better than new. Every fluid, mechanical part and spring was meticulously checked, replaced or tuned-up. Suspension was re-sprung from squishy enduro set-up to stiffer springs, heavier oil to handle extra fuel and higher-speed racing over gravel and sandy terrain.
As a veteran mechanic, Rob didn’t hesitate to educate me on many maintenance shortcomings revealed during the bike prep process. It turns out that I had terrible habits of under-oiling my air filter, my chain was in awful condition and most bearings needed re-packing – all maintenance oversights that could have prematurely ended my race. Lesson learned here was to spend more time doing preventative maintenance properly which would in turn increase the longevity of the bike.
While the team at Lang’s was working on the bike, I needed to sort out the finances to support this increasingly expensive adventure. I estimated that the total cost for the event would come in at $10,000, which was beyond the already generous $4,000 summer riding & recreation line item I account for in my personal budget. The delta had to come from generosity of strangers and friends that would believe in my dream and could be convinced to help my broke-ass go racing. I set-up a GoFundMe page, printed some snazzy team supporter merchandise and despite incredible discomfort with the idea, shared my project with my friends, co-workers and colleagues via email. To my surprise, response was so positive that within 2 months the ‘ask’ amount of $6,000 was funded!
For those fundraising for their own racing efforts, it’s worth sharing that where I got the biggest response (to much surprise) was in my work circle. Many colleagues and clients were genuinely excited to help me reach my goal. Instead of awkward conversations I initially feared, virtually everyone welcomed my ask with genuine support and excitement. Even if they didn’t contribute financially, the words of encouragement and support they offered made the whole experience truly special.
Everything was now falling into place – the bike, the team, finances and then came the news… RACE POSPONED. We’ve all been watching the global COVID-19 crisis unfold and expecting it will have an impact on daily events but could not predict the scope of the pandemic and how it would change our lives. Borders closed, travel restricted and events over 250 people were banned by the state of California… sadly, the 2020 NORRA Mexican 1000 was red-flagged before it began.
Even given the fouled plug of a situation the world was experiencing, the news was hard to take. It was now time to un-prep the bike (take off the large fuel tank, re-spring suspension back to woods riding, etc) to get the bike dialed-in for local riding, once the world comes back to normal. Good news was that now my bike was ready to go for inevitable opening of the trails for the spring season and when 2020 NORRA 1000 will now take place in October, team Looney Racing will be ready to race!