If you know, you know, and feel free to skip this post. If you aren’t familiar with Rally Navigation, here is my attempt to explain just what I’m up to in this year’s NORRA Mexican 1000.
Cross-country Rally Navigation is at its heart is orienteering on a moto (or car, SxS or ATV, depending on the event). A little different from FIM Car Rally Racing which also uses navigation (but on a predominately road-coarse), the Navigational Rally is Off-Piste (French for ‘off-road’). Competitors use a roadbook (no GPS) to navigate through multi-kilometer, often multi-day, off-road course. All directions are transcribed on a paper (or now growing in popularity, digital) roadbook in form of step-by step instructions tied to distance, landmarks and various specialized notations. The rider has to decipher the notes, monitor their progress against the Odometer (ODO) and Compass (CAP Repeater) to find the way through marked and hidden waypoints. Waypoints is how the organization knows the competitor is not cheating.
The most famous navigational rally in the world is the Dakar Rally. The Paris to Dakar Rally was founded by Thierry Sabine and actually led competitors from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal. Now the Dakar takes place in the sands of Saudi Arabia and over 12 days (11 stages + rest day in the middle) guides the competitors though the most grueling off-road environment imaginable. A few Canadians have managed to finish this prestigious event, including moto legend Lawrence Hacking, David Bensadoun and his co-driver Patrick Beaule (along with Lawrence both the only Canadians to finish the Dakar on Car and Bike).
Back to Roadbooks and Navigation. Below is an example of a roadbook section one may find at an event…
Instructions on the roadbook pictured above are divided into 3 columns – Distance, Tulip/Diagram & Notes. Riders must use all 3 to find their way through the course. For example, Note 3 on the above roadbook would tell a rider that: at 3.84kms race distance (or 2.04kms from previous note), they should stay on the Main Road, heading 173 degrees (almost perfectly South) as they pass though the Y intersection with some rocks (?) on the left side of the road. The note on the right provides a reminder of the speed limit of 60. A day’s roadbook may have hundreds of such step-by-step notes, depending on the length and complexity of the coure.
The Roadbook ‘scroll’ is mounted on cockpit of a bike, directly in sight of the rider, much like a GPS. For this rally my Beta 390RR-s is equipped with a simple handlebar mounting system, a popular solution for riders on a budget. Control switches are mounted on the left handlebar, accessible while riding. The toggle switch moves the roadbook back and forward and the 3 buttons operate the ODO (bump it up or down to re-set/adjust at each waypoint and a mode button to scroll though features).
My equipment was sourced though Rally Moto Shop, a Canadian Authority on all things rally. Matt at RMS actually makes (well, designs) much of the equipment himself and his gear is used by the top riders around the world. Matt is an all-round great guy and provided me with patient tech support when I messed up my installation (I managed to reverse my power when installing the SAE connector, causing lots of unexpected drama). One thing I’d wish though is that Matt was a better sales shark and pushed me to upgrade to a GPS-enabled ODO so I would not mess with the wheel pick-up cable configurations… more on that later.
Back to Navigational Rally… WHY? you may ask. Well, there are many disciplines that showcase outright speed of racers, Navigational Rally combines speed with requirement to think through the navigational instructions. Usually it’s not the fastest rider that wins the rally (or even an individual stage), but one that was able to combine speed with flawless ability to read and interpret the instructions – i.e. not get lost! Also, properly written roadbook provides information on course dangers that may be missed or not at all listed on GPS. Below is an example of dangers marked in the roadbook. In theory, Navigational Rally is supposed to be SAFER for the competitors. I hope I don’t miss any of these notes and have a safe race!!