Welsh amateur enduro rider, 29-year-old Simon Hewitt, fulfilled a lifelong dream by taking part in the renowned Dakar Rally. Based in Saudi Arabia this year, the novice crossed the finish line in Qiddiya on 17th January, after 13 long days of riding across Saudi’s vast and challenging landscape.
Overland Magazine isn’t about motorcycle sport, but ‘The Dakar’ holds a certain fascination because of the distance and the terrain, and we wrote about Simon at the end of last year when we heard he was going to be testing new clothing from Italian company T.ur, kit that has been squarely aimed at the adventure travel sector. They call it adventouring.
Chatting on the T.ur stand at the MCN London Motorcycle Show less than a month after completing his epic challenge, alongside his Dakar-finishing Yamaha WR450F, Simon talked about his Dakar experience and how his kit performed along the way.
How did your Dakar experience compare with your expectations?
“The sheer size of the whole operation was unexpected. The biggest race I’ve done before this was the Merzouga rally in Morocco – a Dakar qualifier. There, every team could fit into a football pitch easily, but with Dakar, it’s on a whole other level; something that doesn’t really come across when you see it on TV and online.
“But from a riding perspective, I was surprised by how comfortable I felt with the terrain. To be completely honest, the terrain itself isn’t the hardest part, it’s the length of the days. Starting at five every morning, you’re on the bike for 10-14 hours a day – I’ve never done that before, and although I knew it would be long, I didn’t expect to find it so hard. Even in the liaison – the riding before we got to the timed stage – I was sitting there at 110km/h, on an enduro bike, on tarmac, for 130 miles; it was crazy and very tiring.”
Did you have a race strategy?
“The strategy was to just tick every day off as it came, and not to worry about the later stages, just to focus on what I had to do to get to the finish line that day. I think if you go into each day with a complicated strategy, it can become too much to think about. I just rode the terrain, read the roadbook, ticked off the kilometres and it worked for me. Day one of Dakar was my third time on a bike since breaking my collarbone whilst training in Dubai, so I had barely any training in comparison to the other riders. I knew I couldn’t push too hard, so I just had to ease into it.”
What did you most enjoy?
“The feeling of being part of it. I’ve watched the race for so long on TV and online, so being there, seeing my heroes in the same race as me, and just being part of the whole event was the best feeling ever. The riding, for the most part, was also really fun. Two weeks of riding my bike in the desert – I can’t ask for more than that.”
What was the biggest lesson you learnt at Dakar?
“If I had to do it again, I would definitely not break my collarbone two months before Dakar. The lack of fitness was a killer for me, and I knew that if I had been at my usual bike fitness level, I wouldn’t have felt so tired at the end of each day. I also realised very quickly that managing time in the evenings is really important. The alarm goes off at 4am the next day whether you like it or not, so it’s up to you to be as prepared as possible for the best start the next day.”
Any plans for the rest of the year?
My bike has just gone back to France for some work, and then I’ll have it back for the summer. I plan to do the Welsh 2 Day Enduro at the end of June on my Dakar bike, then Serres Rally in Greece this August on my Husqvarna 450. In between those, I plan to do as many local races as I can including some of the British National Enduro and Welsh Enduro Championship rounds – they’ll help me build up my bike fitness as well.”
So what did you think of the T.ur kit and how did it work for you?
“A big plus for me was having the option every day of vented or non-vented kit depending on the weather. I had two sets of kit; one made from a mesh that let all the air through, and another made with thicker, warmer material. The mesh kit was awesome for days where it was getting really warm on the dunes, but for some stages, I wore the thicker kit because some days were very cold. It was awesome to have the option and very handy. It was also great for me to be able to remove the sleeves – it’s down to personal preference but I like riding without the sleeves so being able to whip them off was great.
“T.ur also gave me a set of the waterproof kit that you can buy –which I wore every day as a windbreaker when I needed it, and I wore the T.ur thermal base layers as well which were perfect – they kept me warm in the mornings and cool in the midday heat. My G-THREE gloves didn’t miss a beat the whole race – the ideal choice for Dakar. All the kit is bullet-proof”.