I don't know about you, but a big part of the attraction to the Dakar for me is the machinery. I look at that stuff, and I think "that would make an absolutely kick-ass ride". Lots of gas, good balance, tough as nails, strong enough to conquer Africa yet reliable enough for 12k miles of abuse... those bikes turn me on.
In 2006, American spectators were lucky to have a great team to cheer for- the Rally Pan America team of Charlie Rauseo (Lastplace), Pedro de Uriuarte (who was replaced by Jonah Street at the last minute) and Mike Krynock. Jonah thrilled us all with 2 podiums and 17th place overall in his first attempt at the race, on a bike he'd never ridden before the start line, on a privateer team against the big factories.
The bikes they rode were homemade. Lastplace had ridden the Dakar twice before, finishing once, and both times had battery issues. The big 660's that the factories use do not have kickstarts, so if your battery goes flat, you've had it, that's a 60 or 80 thousand dollar battery right there in your hands. Further, the 660's are huge and make tons of power. With speculation of a speed limit, and the hard won knowledge of Africa he'd gained through the last couple years, Lastplace figured the best tool for the job (for someone not aiming at a win, they didn't know they'd have Jonah!) was smaller than a 660, offered a backup kick start, and preferably, was something it was possible to get parts for here in America.
At the time, Mecasystems stuff wasn't available over here, so the 525/660 hybrid was born. I first saw pics when I rode out to the Dakar presentation in Las Vegas at the beginning of the Nevada 1000. Lastplace was carrying around some pictures of a 525 with 660 tanks drawn on, looking as ever for sponsorship. The bike would meet all his goals: lots of gas, good balance, parts that you can actually buy, lighter and easier to manage than a 660, reliable, etc.
The only pic I have from that trip of Lastplace is this one:
My honest first impression was "he's nuts, that'll be a shitheap".
OK, so I admit it, I'm wrong sometimes.
They found money, bought 3 525's, got the torch out, and started welding. The project included many folks who are well known on advrider- Boejangles worked his magic and made Renazco seats for bikes that nothing original had any hope of fitting on. James Siddall of superplush worked out suspension that would carry the bikes to the finish line in comfort. Robb McElroy became the driver for the team.
Eventually, time ran out, they shipped to Lisbon, and here they are before scrutineering and the start:
At first there were 3.
2 of them finished the race (Lastplace was out with a broken shoulder partway through). The equipment was shoveled into a container and came back.
Jonah's bike, #42, came out of the container, was stripped for parts, and left to rot in the corner while they worked on bigger and better things. Eventually, I talked them out of it and bought it about a year ago:
And so it has sat while I waited for a donor bike that could provide engine, suspension, wheels, radiators, little things like that.
Then, this May, Lastplace started liquidating, and I managed to buy Mike's bike, #98. This one was more or less complete, although Lastplace warned me that it had come out of the crate from Africa, had minor service done, gone to Jonah for training for the better part of a year (in which it was flogged and had no service whatsoever done), then went to Casey McCoy for more flogging, then been rented to every wannabe Dakar racer that needed a steed to learn how to navigate on.
Throughout this entire time, the motor had never been open, only routine maintenance had been performed and often not much of that. He estimated 25,000 miles of desert abuse, and said "honestly, I don't see why it wouldn't run, but if it were me I'd just take it down to the crank and start over".
I told Lastplace he was a lousy car salesman ("I don't see why it won't run" is not a good closer!) and wrote him a check.
Now, there are 2 of those 3 bikes I thought would suck in my garage. The 3rd, #99, had a date with a grinder, got the 660 stuff removed, and is now sitting in team mechanic Niles' garage as his dirtbike.
As my mind turned to the rather large project ahead, my first thought was that I did not need 2 of these bikes, but I did need someone to work on them with and get them dialed in, and then of course to go for a reunion ride. One name filtered to the top of the list immediately: Gaspipe. I called, offered him a basketcase, he said yes, the project got started.