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Chasing Dakar

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Review Summary
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By: Jonathan Edwards, M.D. with Scot Harden
Paperback, 108 pages
Publisher: E&H Offroad Productions
December, 2006
ISBN: 0-9787094-0-3

Just in time for the 2007 Dakar Rally, Chasing Dakar is the “ultimate guide for motorcycle off-road enthusiasts everywhere searching for the extreme adventure riding experience”.

Well, I’m not sure about the word “ultimate”. I think the authors are being a bit disingenuous because it’s sort of implied that the book is a guide that would be useful to anyone actually thinking about running the Dakar. Although there’s lots of information, much of it is rather basic and even the rider with plate #238 in the Rally would be way beyond any of the tips or tricks related by the authors.

But as long as the reader understands that this is not really the definitive insider’s guide to racing in the Dakar and that reading the book will not a Dakar expert make, there’s lots of fun left over.

I look at it as a sort of Dakar bedside companion for the armchair racer — that is, me and every other dreamer whose only relation to the Sahara is in the sand between our toes during summer holiday at the beach.

I love everything about the Dakar Rally — the passion; the exotic geography; the people of Africa; the teamwork; the incredible, beyond believable stamina, toughness and endurance of the riders and the overall thrill of it all. It’s the toughest motorized race in the world and, unfortunately, it isn’t that popular with American sports fans, which is fine by me, because I also love being a fan of the obscure.

Chasing Dakar covers the basics of adventure off-road racing, with chapters addressing topics like bike preparation, riding gear, riding techniques, physical conditioning, nutrition, race strategies and safety. None are detailed enough to be the definitive guide for actually running the race, but all give a good background on what it takes to be a Dakar racer.

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I wish the authors would have included more information on the Rally itself, with more detail on the rules and regulations, maybe a comparison of strategies or interviews with riders and, most importantly, the basics of navigation. The half-hour updates each day on American TV haven’t provided any of this background either.

One of the most important issues is navigation, and other than noting that the riders use a road book, Chasing Dakar doesn’t cover navigation in anywhere near the detail that it deserves. The fleeting shots of the rolled-up guides attached to the dashboard of the motorcycles on television are a clue, but it would be nice to know how the riders find their way around. Obviously it isn’t easy as anyone can see from the overhead shots taken by the helicopters during the race. Considering that the book is supposed to be a guide to racing in the Rally, you’d think there would be more coverage of this most important aspect of the race. Oh well…

It probably seems like I’m being a bit too harsh with the book and I don’t mean to — the bottom line is that it’s a good guide to deepening one’s understanding of what’s behind an incredible race like the Dakar. But serious Dakar freaks like me can’t get enough and I just wish the book would have covered more. The 108 pages have some decent but small stock photos, so there certainly was room for more.

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