RideApart Primer: 2014 Dakar Rally

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Cyril Despres Dakar Yamaha

Most riders will be on modified versions of production enduros like Johnson’s Honda CRF450X, but the top riders will be on bespoke race prototypes.

2014 KTM 450 Rally
The 2014 KTM 450 Rally is all new and uses both saddle fuel tanks and an under seat auxiliary tank. Check out the clear strip running through each, giving riders and mechanics an immediate visual reading of fuel levels.

The KTM 450 Rally has dominated the race since it went 450cc, nevertheless, this year’s machine is all new. Starting with the firm’s signature steel trellis frame (look how huge that is!) and a unique version of its four-stroke 450 race motor, the Rally is equipped with twin, saddle-style fuel tanks on each side and a third, auxiliary tank under the seat. Riders can select which tanks the fuel is drawn from, allowing them to alter the weight distribution front-to-rear throughout each stage. The hefty carbon front subframe carries the lights, as well as the navigation and communications equipment. Competitors navigate via a traditional route book, while a beacon alerts them when they near a waypoint. No GPS navigation here. An onboard alarm also goes off when one of the faster cars is about to pass.

2014 Dakar Yamaha
Despres’ Yamaha is less trick, but is based on a motocross racers, so should be even more nimble than the KTM.

Built by Yamaha France, Cyril Despres’s YZ450F promises to be very competitive. Based around the company’s flagship motocross racer, the bike features a rearward-slanted cylinder to boost mass centralization.

2014 Honda CRF450 Rally
Build by HRC, the CRF450 Rally could give KTM a run for its money.

The Honda CRF450 Rally is a full factory effort built by HRC. Based on the CRF450X, it’s been upgraded with bespoke suspension geometry, and additional fuel tanks low down on each side of the engine. It finished 7th and 8th last year, during its first Dakar. Expect to see a stronger showing this time around.

2014 Dakar Rally
A typical Dakar scene. Why would anyone not want to watch this on TV?

How Do You Watch It?
If you live elsewhere in the world, just tune your television to one of your regular sports channels; the race receives massive coverage in Europe and South America. In the U.S., you aren’t as lucky. The rally’s YouTube page publishes a short recap each day, with some of the best action. That’s a good place to start, but if you’re really in need of a strong Dakar fix, you’re going to have a go a little legally grey. The ADVRider forum is a great resource for torrents of foreign Dakar coverage; you can find the relevant thread here.

Want to check in on the go? Download the 2014 Dakar app for your smartphone.

2014 Dakar Rally
Get behind another racer and this is all you’ll see, for miles on end.

Who’s Going To Win?
There’s a lot more variables at play than simply best rider and fastest bike. With 13 days of racing through harsh terrain and changeable weather, luck plays a huge role too. Despite his unproven bike, my money is on Cyril Despres. He’s proven he has the metal to win time and again and Yamaha France has both the technical ability and motivation to build a winning machine. The fastest man in the race wouldn’t have signed with the team if he didn’t think he’d have a solid chance to win.

Still, the safe money, of course, is on KTM. With three victories under his belt, Marc Coma is the second most successful Dakar racer entering this year. In 2011, Coma even beat Despres in a fair fight.

Who’s your favorite in the Despres/Coma, Yamaha/KTM battle? Do you think Honda’s in with a chance? And, how do you follow the race? Tell us in comments below.

  • El Isbani

    Mike Johnson, Texas!

  • HoldenL

    El Paso with one s.

  • Jose Manuel

    Two words for you… Laia Sanz!

  • Beewill

    Sadly we lost the great American rider, Kurt Caselli, about a month or so ago. All of us who follow this race were really looking forward to watching him run this year with some experience under his belt. He was extremely competitive last year with very little preperation, he won a stage or two even.

    RIP Kurt

    • MichaelEhrgott

      This. I’ve been anticipating the Dakar because of Kurt more than any other event this year. RIP :(

  • Joseph42s

    Hopefully you guys will give it some good coverage. :)

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Sadly, it’s nearly impossible. We’ll bring you a roundup of the best material, but Dakar makes it impossible to create real coverage around its event.

  • Ben Mcghie

    Thanks for this article. I caught snippets of the Dakar last year (I think? Maybe 2012) and loved it. The bikers are awesome, and I also enjoy the 4wd cars and trophy trucks. Not a huge fan of the quads, big 4wd trucks, or buggies.

    The riders though… it’s nuts. If anyone is on the fence, at least check out the highlights. Pretty intense viewing, but I doubt it does the experience any justice at all!

  • Nathan Haley

    I gotta wonder why Yamaha is running an extensively modified YZ450F motocross bike rather than a modded WR450F enduro, which would ordinarily be considered a more suitable starting point for a rally bike. I guess it’s because the YZ has been redesigned for 2014 and they’re looking to test, showcase and take advantage of their newest tech. MX bikes always get updated first.

    Last year I was really stoked to see Honda getting back into it, and now Yamaha! I think both factory teams have a good chance of challenging KTM. Despres is god-like.

    • C.Stevens

      Marketing. These bikes are so far removed from their stock counterparts that it barely matters what they start with. They want the YZ pushed this year for whatever reason.

      • Nathan Haley

        Makes sense. The YZ is new (but from what I gather, not a night-and-day change) so that’s probably why they’re pushing it.

  • 2wheelsgood

    TV coverage in the U.S. Is at NBC Sports network, starting Jan 6 at 5pm eastern.

  • PeteN95

    The entry list shows two other Americans?:


    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Where’d you see that? The main entry list on Dakar.com only shows Johnson.

  • Andrew Elcik

    ADVRider doesn’t appear to be accepting nOOb’s. Can you confirm that? I can’t get NBC Sports and would really like to see some live coverage no matter what language.