13 days of racing covering over 3,000 miles of the toughest off-road racing in the world. The Dakar returns to South America this year, with the race starting in Argentina this Sunday, passing through Bolivia and finishing in Chile on January 18, 2014. Here’s what you need to know, what you can expect and how to watch the epic 2014 Dakar Rally.
This is the most exciting thing about Dakar 2014 — more factory motorcycle teams are racing now than any time since the 1980s. 12-time consecutive champion KTM will be present, of course, joined by Honda, which re-entered the race last year. But, this year also marks the return of Yamaha, who’ve hired five-time winner Cyril Despres.
This should excite history buffs: The only person who’s won the Dakar more times than Despres is fellow Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel, who rode a Yamaha to victory six times during the 1990s.
Mike Johnson, of El Paso, Texas is the only American rider competing this year.
The only American racing a motorcycle this year is Mike Johnson, an engineer from Texas. He’ll be riding a CRF450X for satellite team HT Honda Rally Raid and his goal is simply to finish the arduous race.
Where Are They Going?
After struggling to stay on its historic pan-African route due to security concerns — regional conflicts saw landmines strewn across the course, among many other serious issues — The Dakar moved to South America in 2009. Governments there have rolled out the welcome wagon for the race, which pumps millions of tourist dollars into local economies each year.
The 2014 Dakar will see motorcycles ride through Bolivia for the first time.
The route this year skips Peru in favor of Bolivia, where the rally’s organizers will attempt a new strategy which will see bikes and cars run separate “Marathon” stages on different routes. The idea is to increase safety — bikes start ahead of the faster, more expensive cars, and are then passed at speed by multiple vehicles, often in low-visibility conditions — while allowing the unique abilities of each vehicle type to shine. The bikes will take to a more challenging single-track in the Bolivian Andes, while the cars will run at high-speed across Argentina’s sand dunes.
This year’s race concludes in the historic Chilean port of Valparaiso.
What Are They Riding?
While the original Dakar rally may have been responsible for the inception of the modern Adventure Touring motorcycle, the bikes they race nowadays are much smaller. Essentially beefed-up enduro bikes, they’re restricted to 450cc in capacity and carry long-range fuel tanks, navigation and communication equipment as well as onboard tool kits — riders are expected to be able to perform emergency repairs along the route.
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