Won the ADV class at the Desert 100 back to back. DNFed my 3rd attempt.
I read somewhere that the Desert 100 is the biggest race in North America and it is very believable. There was somewhere around 1500 riders this year and we all started in two waves Le Mans style, dead engine with the rider 30 yards behind the bike. They hand out stakes for the guys without kickstands and all the bikes are lined up across probably half a mile start line. The opening stretch is through desert, sage, rocks, ditches, and about 3/4 of a mile long. All good things for me. I'm fast on my feet even compared to the 18 year olds and the starter on the SE is awesome, then the bike does so damned well at speed it's not even funny.
To start that many riders all at the same time they use a civil war looking cannon on a knoll. You see the smoke a good second or two before you hear the sound and there is no 10 second warning, so you are left standing there in the ready position for as long as they want. It was about 10 minutes staring at the cannon before it finally went off and a couple of people mistakenly started running every once and while and other people would see them and take a few steps and then have to walk back to the line. I maintained focus and got a great jump off the smoke. I felt like I was halfway to my bike before I even heard the bang! I jumped on, hit the starter, kickstand up, clutch in, all at the same time and clicked into first milliseconds later, I should have left it in first but it was an oversight and when I thought of it I couldn't leave the line to get to my bike. It didn't matter too much because I was one of the first ones off the line and I was BANGING gears! I had not walked the track and the starting straight was almost a mile long funnel through the sagebrush, rock, ditches and general desert, I pointed at what looked like the start of the first turn and held on. I was in 4th gear pretty fast and had it pinned wide open looking around. I was roughly in the top ten bikes to get to the first turn.... out of 600!!!!
I thought I was in first for the ADV class but a guy named Wes, on a 950 SE, was actually the second guy through the first turn! I beat him off the line but he pulled me in the last 3/4 of the starting straight right about the time I was pulling close to 90 mph! That man can ride!!! I never even saw him, hence me thinking I was in first, so I started to put the hammer down! The next part of the track was a bunch of trails cut through the desert, whooped out, rocky, and separated by sage. I was next to a fence pushing a little to hard in 3rd when I hit a bump and my forks bottomed and my back end bucked hard. My feet went flying up until my body was parallel to the ground, I was still hanging onto the bars but I went full whiskey throttle and the big beast did what it does when you pin it back, it started pulling like a nitro boosted freight train engineered by your uncle Steve hopped up on crank! I was flapping like a wind sock behind my bike while it picked up speed. I knew I was going down and I knew it was going to hurt... I hit one bump and started to go down... then I hit another and I was upright and back on my pegs... yeah I meant to do that!!! I rode the rest of the race with little poo in my pants.
A couple of turns later Wes's father Darryl, on a highly modified 990 ADV, eased around me to take second. I paced off of him for a little bit and then he went down and I took 2nd place back. I pushed it for a little bit but my forks were really holding me back. The bike was un-ride able in the whoops and I was bottoming out every 100 yards. Line selection became everything. Darryl and I traded places two more times and then I went down and he took off. I had to wrestle the monster out of some brush and then I got stuck behind some little bikes on a narrow part of the course.
About 5 minutes later I caught up to both Darryl and Wes. Darryl's bike was lying on it's side and they were both standing next to each other. This is the time I realized I had been battling Darryl for 2nd and not 1st like I thought. Like I said Wes is an ANIMAL on a 950, he said he had been waiting about 15 minutes for Darryl to get there! It turns out Wes ran out of gas and this was only at mile 20 or so! I was stoked and put the hammer down again! I rode pretty hard for a couple of minutes and then settled into a smarter pace and really focused on line selection and getting around riders from the first wave. About 5 minutes later Darryl's bike came flying by me but it was Wes on it! They had switched so that Wes could try and win it. I was a little upset at first but then I realized he would be DQed. Now I knew that I really only had to beat one other rider and not crash out or bury it in the mud.
I settled back into my 'smart' pace and avoided anything that was going to bottom out my front end. I actually figured out a couple of tricks about avoiding whoops and picked some great lines. I still had a couple of really hard bottom outs but nothing was stopping me now. Maybe 10 minutes after Wes passed me on his dad's bike I caught back up to him. His dad's bike ran out of gas as well!I was sitting in first with almost half the race to go and I knew I had a pretty good lead. The other rider who would have had a chance had some bad luck at the start, his bike tipped over and he had to sit there and watch it on it's side for about 5 minutes. It was good and flooded.
The only thing left was the course itself and it was pretty gnarly! A lot of baby head sized rocks, hill climbs and some deep mud pits. The sweep riders were out making alternate paths around the mud but you had to be focused or you would completely miss them and some of those mud holes would swallow bikes. I saw more than a couple of bikes with their back fenders almost buried. I picked good lines around all but one of the mud holes, I came into it to hot and couldn't back out. I dropped the Super Beast into first, picked the straightest line I could and bounced the rev limiter through the goo! I was worried going into it but it was easy as pie, I just wish I could have seen the roost going into low earth orbit! On two of the other mud holes that couldn't be completely avoided I had two poor SOBs follow my line... bad choice buddy, I came to win not make friends. I know my roost didn't violently eject them from their bikes like a bad Hollywood action movie gun fight but that's how I like to picture it.
I ran smooth for the rest of the race and never really got fatigued. The ADV class only did half of the course so I only got to do 50 miles but I could have done a second lap and at a better pace now that I knew what to expect. The bike ran very well and I only hit 5 bars on the thermo a couple of times and it dropped back down quickly once I got out of the gnarly stuff. I made a shit ton of passes and only got passed a couple times. The thing that held me back the most was my suspension. My forks are way to soft and I was bottoming out every 100 yards or less. I couldn't go through whoops or loft the front wheel without slamming down hard. I just installed the tractive rear shock and I didn't even touch the clickers so whatever the last guy was using is how I was running it. I doubt messing with it much would have mattered though because my forks were so bad. I know with better suspension I would have been a lot more competitive with Darryl and I think I could have cut Wes's lead in half though beating him probably wouldn't happen (barring mechanical failure or running out of gas). As it was I was right with Darryl and I ran a really smooth race, I only went down once and I missed a turn and had to do a .25-.5 miles of the course twice along with a bunch of other people (but not everyone). I had a great start but I could have done better, I left my bike in neutral instead of first, I didn't really know where the first turn was so I was guessing at where I was going, my forks, I didn't have my steering stabilizer on, I'm not sure about the rear tire I have on there (I wanted to run a 908 but ended up with a Golden Tyre), I hadn't ridden the bike since November of last year, and I was a little cold. Some of those are pretty small things but they all stack up. As it was I ran a really great race and could have kept my pace for another 50 miles but I'm going to be focusing on the above for next year and hopefully give Wes a run for his money!