Longtime F5 team members are aware of a non-event every fall near Death Valley where Dakaristas get together and do some testing and training. Since my decision to go in June, I've been working toward the Death Valley non-Rally as a major milestone where I wanted to test a bike I felt was close to what I'd put in the crate. It's not an exaggeration to say that preparing for DVR has been a goal that dominated my thoughts daily for months. We were putting finishing touches on the bike up to the minute before we loaded last Wednesday night. When it went in the van, it was the best version we could make. So, we really hoped it would work.
Van full of fun:
C.Vestal behind the wheel- are we having fun yet?
Vegas, Baby Vegas:
In-N-Out and the Chrysler building in the same shot. Must not be NY.
The evening's luxurious accommodations. When we pulled in at ~10PM, it was still 100 degrees.
My goal for this test was two-fold. First, to evaluate the bike and especially suspension in the desert, which I can't really do at home, and second; to put a long day on the bike and thus locate whatever issues I need to address- whether they are ergonomic, functional, jetting, whatever.
Adding a couple of images I smugthugged from CV, just to give a sense of what the routes are like:
So, first thing Friday morning, before it got hot(ter), I started with suspension. My approach is to set up a loop and do back to back testing of different adjustments, which I have found quickly helps to set a direction. I started with ride height and spring rate, made easier by having multiple sets of suspension valved the same but with different springs, so that I could easily evaluate back to back.
A big thanks to Jeff at Slavens Racing
for loaning me a variety of springs. No fun disassembling forks in a dustbowl.
That accomplished, the next goal was a romp in the dunes, just to see how the bike works in that unique environment. Well, as it turns out- it's easy to ride and while it got hot, so did I in the 110 degree reflector oven. The first setup issue revealed itself here- my fuel line routing wouldn't let me get to the bottom of the fuel tank. That's why I'm here, note made to be addressed tonight. Later in the afternoon, we did a short route on the ridge above camp, which was luxurious as it was at least 20 degrees cooler up there. Didn't get any pics.
Last thing was a quick spin in the dunes, Chris came and took a few pics.
I love the bike. All the other rally bikes I've ridden are a little special compared to a plain old dirtbike- heavier, wider, and require some care to avoid bottoming in technical situations. This isn't like that- it's a fast dirtbike with some wind protection. Love it!
Saturday was to be the big day- 500km. We started early and my goal was not to be fast, but to be efficient. I wanted to navigate feet up, keep mistakes to a minimum, and get a good feel for the bike.
Mission accomplished. The route was great fun, and the bike worked amazingly well. There were a couple of minor lessons learned, but by and large, my navigation was accurate, the bike was excellent, and I made it back to camp mid-afternoon feeling really good.
Dinner was gourmet and welcome, as anywhere that Bicycle Phil shows up...
Sunday was a low key day for me. We had an awesome storm blow in on Saturday night, so the desert was beautiful. I went on a short rip on the enduro bike, and then picked up C.Vestal from his loop. I didn't have anything else to test, so I figured riding was really just wearing stuff out at that point, not what I need to do on the actual racebike.
Into Vegas for a shower, put C.V on a plane, and drove to Durango. Now I'm in phase 2 of this trip- getting my butt kicked by an ex-pro.
A big thanks to Hogwild for making routes that are worthy training for world-level rally, GSNorCal and Bicycle Phil for pulling things together and feeding me like a king, and C.Vestal for being the best friend a guy could ask for.