West Glos & Dean Forest
Motor Cycle Club

Celebrating 65 Years of Motor Cycling 1953 - 2018

Other Worlds - UAE

Words and Photos By Richard Lee

The Blog

24Feb09: Big Trailies Ride

7.15am in Dubai before the off I recently bought a KTM 640 Adventure here and have hooked up with a group of guys here who regularly ride out in the wadis and deserts, usually 50/50 on/off road, commonly referred to here as dual sport riding. They arranged a ride out on Friday 20th February (the equivalent of Sunday here) towards the Hatta mountains on the eastern edge of the UAE next to the Oman border. I was interested to see how the 640 would perform in this dual sport role, should be it's natural habitat.on the road accross the top of Hatta Dam

We met in Dubai at 7.00am and the group consisted of 10, - 3 x KTM 950/990 Adventures, 3 x BMW 1200GS, 2 x BMW 650 X Challenge, a BMW GS650 (ridden by a young Dutch guy who had just passed his test here, and at 6’ 8" made the 650 look like a mini-bike) and me on the KTM 640. We firstly rode about 90kms on tarmac to the Hatta Fort Hotel for breakfast but were surprised to have to ride through about 40kms of really thick fog, as we left the sand dunes behind and entered the plains before the mountains the sun broke through and we were able to dry out and warm up. No-one had a proper winter riding gear on so it was a bit of a tough few miles, especially for those who are not used to UK winter riding!

Gerhard dropping his tyre pressures before starting off-road A hot breakfast soon restored spirits and got the damp out of our bones, especially when we found they were serving bacon and pork sausages. Needless to say we consumed our money's worth and it is unlikely they would still be on the hotel's menu by lunchtime! We rode a few miles through Hatta village and up to the top of the dam for a photo opportunity for those who hadn't seen it before, it was then off road for most of the rest of the day. Our leader was Gerhard, an Austrian guy who has lived here a number of years and seems to know every rock and palm tree in the area so it was very easy just to follow where he led and not have to worry about getting lost. He has all the routes on his GPS but there is often no defined route, you just make your own as you go, there doesn't seem to be a right or wrong direction!

view from the top of the dam looking down at Hatta Oasis We rode through the currently dried up Wadi Hatta and then along some gravel tracks and a short stretch of superb new tarmac that twisted and climbed several kilometres before turning off into Wadi Ray. This was pretty easy section and the big Beemers were able to open their throttles a bit more and highlight that my 640 was the smallest capacity bike in the group. Honour was restored when we got to a much more technical section and I started to discover why the 640 is so well rated for this type of use, we rode a really great twisting and turning track for about 20kms and I was able to enjoy a good ride in the company of the two 650 X Challenge BMW's which were in their element in this type of going.that's Gerhard on the left and me with my helmet still on, got to keep the sun off my balding pate somehow!

After a break for water replenishment and a short stretch of tarmac we then headed off cross country near to the Oman border fence and made our own route through the Subkha plains (a mix of fine gravel and gray sand), I had let some air out of the tyres here and the front end turn in was much improved as a result, although some full off road tyres would be better the Metzeler Sahara tyres performed pretty well considering how good they are on tarmac. We passed a very large camel farm where they breed racing camels so prized in these parts, any one of the inhabitants would be worth more than any of our bikes. The end of this section was smooth but whooped out and some of us had great fun jumping across the whoops, where I discovered I am going to have to stiffen up the suspension on the 640 (or lose some weight!). This type of ground looks much the same as you are riding and it is not until you get closer that you see that there is a two or three foot depression immediately in front of you. Lots of shifting weight backwards and big handfuls of throttle see you over them but the ones you don't see until too late can moisten your eyes a little! It requires a lot of concentration and quick reactions to cover it at speed but is very exhilarating when you do, Gerhard and I got to the end first and both whooped with delight at a great ride, catching our breath whilst waiting for the more sensible BMW's to arrive! Watching Gerhard throw his 950 Adventure around in this manner made me wonder how he would get on in a UK big bike rally such as the Cambrian or Red Kite, and he is too small to put both his feet on the ground even with the KTM lower seat, impressive stuff. I suppose as he is Austrian he has bonded with his KTM!

near the Oman border We had covered 42kms off road since our last stop and could easily have done twice that. In these sorts of areas there is no restriction on where you can ride and the occasional person you pass waves enthusiastically and is most interested in the bikes. All a long way from the attitudes so prevalent in the UK nowadays. Temperature is a bit different too, between 23-30C during the course of the day(apart from in the morning fog when it was about 8-10C).

an easy track to end what had been a great off-road section of 42kms.We all collected at a filling station to pump up tyres and top off fuel before heading home our separate ways. I had completed 400kms by the time I got home with about half of that off-road. It is a novelty to return from a day's ride and not have to get the pressure washer out and start cleaning kilos of Welsh mud off the bike in the cold, a quick hose down to wash off the dust and 5 minutes to dry off in the sun is all that was required. Same procedure for me in the shower and sit out in the sun for the last hour before the sun goes down, however I am still getting dust out of various places a couple of days later!!

a pit stop before the final off road section The 640 was ideal for this type of use, it was fine on tarmac although how people have traveled round the world on that seat I can't imagine, and it was more than capable off-road. I need to stiffen the suspension progressively and maybe think about re jetting to improve response and maybe cure some of the vibration, this bike must generate a fair amount of business for dentists! Overall I am very pleased with it but have to admit to a fancy for the 990 Adventure, maybe one day.

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Oct08: UAE Desert Challenge

Shortly after relocating to the UAE this year we somehow got roped into marshalling on the UAE Desert Challenge, even worse I was to be responsible for the stage finish controls each day. We were a team of seven, including four Brit's, a German, an Egyptian and an Omani. There were over 80 bikes entered as well as cars and trucks.

The event duly arrived and we did our bit at the Prologue stage on the first day. This was to be held at the motocross track at Jebel Ali, south of Dubai. Watching the likes of Cyril Despres and Marc Coma hauling their big KTM 690 Rally bikes around the tight and twisty little track was impressive, until the turn of the big Kamaz trucks, once those things get up some speed they are an awesome sight and take some stopping.

uaedesertchallenge08_40x100The first full day saw us setting up our finish control about 200kms south of Abu Dhabi at the start of the enormous Empty Quarter. We had the French company who do the timing and results for the Dakar with us so that made life a little easier, except that they were getting paid for their week´s work, unlike us.. On the way down to the control location we passed the motor museum of the Rainbow Sheikh which featured on a Jeremy Clarkson programme a few years ago, unfortunately no time to visit but now we know the location a future visit will be a must. Our control went without hitch until late into the evening when we were waiting for one or two stragglers. The last competitor was a Russian entered Nissan Patrol who somehow entered the control from the wrong direction, realising their mistake they cut “off-piste” at great speed so that they could enter the control from the rally route, but did not see a narrow dip and hit the opposite face of the dune with tremendous force and clearly did some serious damage. They staggered to a halt in some soft sand dunes with only two-wheel drive and got themselves well and truly stuck. It is just as well none of us can speak Russian as I think they might have been calling for help! The Recovery team arrived shortly afterwards and took the best part of two hours to extricate them and tow them through our control in complete darkness. To say Russians weren't the most popular people in our finish control team would be the polite way to put it.

uaedesertchallenge08_41x100We were then able to close the control and head another 100kms south to the Liwa Oasis where the Rally bivouac is located for the rest of the week. We passed some amazing desert scenery along the way, (as we discovered later in the week when we passed in daylight), which almost resembled a lunar landscape. We just made it in time to get something to eat in the camp restaurant and find somewhere to sleep. The organisers provide traditional bell tents with electric light and power sockets in each, so we were able to by-pass the beer tent and swimming pool and get a good old brew on with our electric kettle!

The next two days stages both finished very close to the bivouac so we had no need to travel far from there which enabled us to enjoy all the facilities of the bivouac and mix with the riders, crews, etc, each evening. It is quite a unique atmosphere and very different from standing in a muddy Welsh field under an umbrella. Temperatures were around 34C during the day, dropping as low as 25C at night.

uaedesertchallenge08_42x100Alongside the bivouac are some massive steep sand dunes which are floodlight to enable everyone to watch the antics of the locals trying to get various machines to the top, several bikes made it, along with a quad and a couple of buggies, but the highlight had to be the guy who got half way up in a Lexus (one careful owner, never raced or rallied!).

Late on our second day the Rally Control had advised us that we were waiting for a small number of stragglers, the Eritrak systems allows them to know exactly where each competitor is in the desert and therefore how far away from our control. A guy came running into our control to tell us that a biker was just over the dunes before our control and was in bad shape and needed immediate help. Although not our job, I thought it was worth a try to help him if he was so close to us (although out of sight), and as he was a biker…….

uaedesertchallenge08_43x100I set off with one of my team in his seriously well prepared Jeep Wrangler to try to find him. We drove up the dunes before our control and over the top was an amazing site of small dunes all very close to each other with virtually no flat area anywhere. We could not see the bike anywhere and as my spine was being compressed and my skull crushed alternately up and down each dune in the Wrangler that seemed to have no suspension I was about to give up when we saw a KTM 660 Rally bike very precariously perched on the very edge of a steep drop. We quickly got to the guy, who could not move from holding the bike on the edge or they would have both gone down to the bottom of the bowl very quickly indeed. His bike would not start due to a flat battery so he just wanted us to hook up our jump leads and start him. However I considered it much safer to first tow his bike away from the edge before starting it. We managed all this but the guy did not look in good shape and I expected he was starting to suffer the effects of dehydration, but he was insistent that he carry on to the finish. I gave him some salts and made him drink two litres of water and then let him go as it was only about 1km to the finish. He didn't even say thanks, but then again, he was another Russian!

uaedesertchallenge08_44x100The only other highlight of the day was watching all the rescue helicopters coming and going from the bivouac helipad, especially the guy who tried to land onto a four chopper pad when there were already four in there, didn't stop him though. Their refueling truck even managed to squeeze in as well. I had a chat with Cyril Despres and his manager, Chris Evans, in the bivouac in the evening, amazingly Cyril remembered Thomas lending him his KTM wheels at the 2005 Dawn to Dusk. Chris Evans was his usual cheerful self (mentioned something about a recent tour in Lozere where he had a bunch of nutters from the Wye Valley, only kidding!)

The next day we had to head 100km north for the stage finish control. Up till then Despres and Coma were still only 30 seconds apart at the head of the bike field, Si Pavey was up to 6th in the 450 bike class. Despres finished the stage first but no sign of Coma for about half an hour when he came into the control on the back of a spectator’s bike. He had burnt out his clutch trying to get unstuck in some big dunes so his bike was recovered later by the sweep team. That left Cyril with a cruise to victory on the last day.

uaedesertchallenge08_45x100The final day’s stage next day was on the outskirts of Dubai so we all headed home that evening to a real bed and a shower to wash all the sand out of various places!

The final day’s stage was pretty uneventful apart from a couple of false corners being concocted at the end for the benefit of spectators and TV, and our duty was done. Si Pavey came into the control with a flat front tyre which he said he got on the first corner of the stage so he had ridden 180kms of desert like that and still only dropped one and a half minutes to his team mate, pretty impressive.

Once we had returned all the radios, clocks and equipment to Rally HQ we said our farewells and all swore we would never do it again. A couple of days later and we are already thinking about how we could do it better next year! It seems that next year’s event may be as soon as March as the original date may clash with the inaugural Abu Dhabi GP.

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