To date there are only six Canadians that have managed to complete the gruelling Dakar Rally. Patrick Trahan is one of those, being the only one of five Canucks to enter the 2010 Dakar on a motorcycle, and finish it. We asked you for some of your questions for Pat, and then came up with some of our own.
To date there are only six Canadians that have managed to complete the gruelling Dakar Rally. Patrick Trahan is one of those, being the only one of five Canucks to enter the 2010 Dakar on a motorcycle, and finish it.
We asked you for some of your questions for Pat, and then came up with some of our own. Rob Harris met with Trahan at the recent Moncton motorcycle show and asked him said questions.
Sometimes we do drastic things to pursue a dream. For Patrick Trahan that meant the end of his marriage and his career, and spending all of his earnings to compete in the Dakar rally, a race that has become his obsession.
With a lot of help from Honda Canada, he was on the starting line of the 2000 Paris-Dakar, becoming the first Canadian to participate in the famous rally on a bike. However, still being a relative newbie to riding (let alone rallying), he retired after just three days when he “stopped hard on the ground at more then 120km/h”.
He tried it again in 2001 with more riding experience under his belt, but still lacking mechanical aptitude. This time his Dakar was over when his engine stopped before the rest day. This year, 10 years later and his third Dakar start, Trahan became only the sixth Canadian to finish this gruelling rally and the only Canadian to finish this year’s rally, which saw a record seven Canadian competitors taking part, two of them in a truck.
Today the Trois-Rivières, Quebec, native lives in Montreal, works as an off-road motorcycle guide in Morocco for Easy Raider, organizes adventure rides and runs the Junior Red Riders program for Honda … when he’s not seeking sponsorship to feed his rally addiction – which to date has included the Atlas, Dubai, Pharaohs and Dakar rallies as well as the Baja 1000.
The Dakar rally originally started out as a Euro-African event, with contenders leaving Paris in France and making their way south to Dakar, the capital of Senegal. This route changed its starting point several times and eventually became known simply as the Dakar rally, as it always included Dakar …
That is until 2008, 30 years after its start, when, due to security threats, the rally was cancelled. It then moved across the Atlantic to South America for the 2009 rally, though oddly keeping the Dakar name.
In 2010 the rally once again kicked off and ended in Buenos Aires, Argentina, though there are rumours that it may return to Africa in 2011.
Trahan used the services of HT Rally Raid, who provided him with a heavily modified Honda CRF450X enduro, consisting of the following:
- Kevlar/carbon fairing and other bits
- Fuel tanks front and rear (Carbon); total of 33 liters
- Front fairing (Carbon)
- Air intake (Carbon)
- Front fender
- Skid plate (Carbon) with containers for water
- Custom made Akropovic exhaust system in full titanium with carbon bracket
- Reinforced wheels and cush drive hub (spokes, hubs and rims)
- Xenon lights
- Upgraded electrical system (more powerful alternator and custom wiring loom)
- Aluminum navigation equipment bracket (made by Mecasystem)
Add to that a couple of 6-by-6 support trucks with all the spares you’d ever need as well as a team of mechanics and you have half of what you need to do the Dakar (the other is you!).
THE 10 QUESTIONS
1) What was his first rally experience?
Trahan has been dreaming about doing a rally since he was 15 but was always too busy either at university, buying a house, or honing his outdoors skills in skiing and road and mountain biking (all to high levels).
It wasn’t until he turned 30 in 1998 that he actually bought his first bike (a used KLR650) with the intention to get out there and finally compete in some of these rallies.
With only a few hours of saddle time but with plenty of time on skis and mountain bikes (both skills that Trahan says transferred well to rallying) and still to get his drivers licence, he decided that he would be the first Canadian to participate in the Moroccan Atlas Rally.
Unsure as to whether the KLR would be able to do such a thing, he went to his local dealer who promptly told him that he was mad (the Atlas Rally on a used KLR650?!), and sold him a new bike … another KLR650. But Trahan’s knowledge of bikes was close to zero, and the KLR appealed because he had one already and thought with its big tank it looked like a real rally bike.
With the passenger pegs removed, and a skid plate and knobby tires installed (the sum total of the bike’s mods), the bike was off to Africa.
Predictably, the rally proved to be a tough go, with the KLR getting stuck in the dunes within the first 10 metres. At one point he enlisted the help of a camel to pull the KLR out after it stalled and the starter motor crapped out (no kicky on this KLR).
The bike made it to the end of the rally but it was essentially destroyed and was missing the muffler, one peg, the shifter (using a vice grip as a replacement), and now had no functioning rear brake, cooling fan or starter!
But he had finished the rally and went home with a trophy for perseverance and a totaled bike which he still had to pay for over the next four years …
2) How does a Canadian jump through the right hoops to have the chance to race in the Dakar (obviously you need talent, but how about what you need behind the scenes, like having the proper connections)?
The Dakar Rally is open to most anybody with experience. All you have to do is send in a resume outlining your related experiences (the Dakar was now the 8th rally for Trahan) but if you’re a good enduro rider then you can get in. Then there’s the cost element, which Trahan puts down to one of two options: you’re either very imaginative or very rich.
3) How did he go about getting sponsored and raising the money to participate in the rally?
The Dakar cost Trahan about C$80,000 all said. $22k of that was a straight entry fee, another $49k to be part of the HT Rally Raid team (that includes $25k to buy the Dakar-ready bike as well as support during the event), and the other $9k for transport, food, etc.
The bulk of the budget came from private sponsors (mainly previous clients from his guided tours in Africa) as well as Honda Canada and their Powerhouse dealer network, and Honda Europe. With another 10% of the budget coming from what little amount he had managed to save himself.
But that left him short by about $10k that he needed to raise a week before the payment deadline. This he achieved by putting the word out there through his blog (which gathered $3,000 in two days!) and by a last big blitz through Honda Powerhouse dealers (netting the remaining $7,000).
4) Was the money spent to do this with the HT Rally Raid team money well spent?
Trahan freely admits that opting to go with an organization like HT Rally Raid was one of the more expensive ways of doing the rally, though in his opinion, the best way – you get the bike prepped the way it needs to be and that all-important support during the actual event.
Case in point was a big crash he had on day two that broke his navigation equipment. He was able to finish the day, but managed to compete the next day as the team was able to fix it that night and keep him in the rally.
BTW, HT Rally Raid will either sell ($25k) or rent ($13k) a rally-ready Honda CRF450X bike to you as well as provide you with support and back-up throughout the rally.
5) Many riders suffered problems with food poisoning as well as bad fuel that made it impossible to continue. What could be done to avoid these problems? Congratulations on finishing.
Patrick J. Cassels
Food poisoning is odd as he ate the same food and none of his team had any problems, save for a mechanic who got sick, but that wasn’t due to food poisoning.
Bad fuel was from a tanker – likely water in the gas – which affected 90% of the bikes and led to many not managing to complete the day and falling out of the rally as a result.
Trahan doesn’t blame the organisers for this, accepting the incident as just another test for the competitors, and citing that plenty of riders still managed to make it through despite the fueling issues (if their engine failed because of it, then maybe the engine wasn’t up to the job, or if they got too tired from pushing, then they needed to be fitter – “it’s the name of the game”).
But even if you take the fueling issue out of the day, it was still one of the toughest days of the rally thanks to very soft dunes – so either way, a lot of riders wouldn’t have made it.
6) Do rally organizers provide all the food or do the factory teams have their own meals? What was he eating on a daily basis and was it sufficient? Congrats Pat!
The organizers provide breakfast and dinner though it’s up to the riders to provide their own food during the day (Trahan didn’t stop to eat, just stuffed his pockets with enough power bars to cover the day).
Since breakfast was served at the ungodly hour of 4 am, he didn’t each much, but when he returned around 5 pm he would have pasta, then shower, then have more food (from the buffet), before completing his road book and then be asleep around 10.
7) It is said that the Dakar Rally is one of the most physically demanding races on earth. What kind of training regimen did he follow to prepare for the race and how ready did he feel physically and mentally to do what you needed to finish the rally?
“I ride for eight weeks a year guiding in Morocco and that is the best training I could have – which includes terrain from the Atlas Rally and the old Dakar, complete with dunes and soft sand, and cover about 8,000 km in those 8 weeks.”
Other preparation includes regular visits to the gym as well as some less conventional stuff. “To get used to the heat I would go to a sauna dressed up in full Dakar gear, goggles and all, which was a bit weird for the naked guys around me.”
To get used to sleeping on the ground he would regularly sleep on the floor with his helmet on. For navigation training he would hit the Quebec woods in the middle of the night (night is harder and more of a challenge) with a random lake logged into his GPS. Once there he made a shelter in which he would sleep, and then he would come back the next day. It proved to be a good way to also see just how tough he was – better find out now than after spending $80k to get to Dakar.
8) How long before the rally did he begin training?
Doing the tours meant that he was always training. For the 2010 Dakar he decided to commit to the event in April 2009 – nine months before the actual event – and he came up with the ideas on how to raise the funding while driving to work one day (in April). Although the final process didn’t quite go as planned, it still all came together in time.
If you’re new to this, Trahan recommends starting at least two years before the event – unless you have the funds to just sign a cheque; then it’s a whole different matter (easier, but you don’t learn as much).
9) Will he return to ride another Dakar?
If he went again, he would likely go to do the best he could as opposed to just finishing. He thinks he could possibly get into the top 20 or 30 if he went with this goal. Either that or just play water boy for a Canadian team.
Rallying is in his blood, not necessarily to win, but to complete. Pat thinks this is the case for 80% of the riders who do these things, though they are still competitive against each other during the event.
He would like to have participated in all the major rallies of the world (has already done many), but has yet to do the Tunisia rally, which is now on his radar, and he could even use the Dakar bike.
10) With such huge costs, is the Dakar in danger of becoming a rich man’s sport?
“I managed to get the funding together and the rest of the riders on my team were not what you’d consider rich either. You just have to be creative and get the right sponsors.”
Pat Trahan will be at the Montreal Motorcycle Show (Honda booth) which takes place on the weekend of 26/27/28 February 2010. If you want more Dakar fix, then may we suggest reading Bob Bergman’s amazing Dakar diary of his 2005 attempt at the rally.