During your last 2019 Africa Eco Race you experienced riding both a single cylinder and a twin-cylinder motorcycle. So, which one wins?
This is a question that everybody asks me. In 2019 I started AER with a twin-cylinder KTM but I had a technical issue and a rider that withdrew the race borrowed me his single-cylinder Husqvarna. So I tried both kinds of motorcycles under the same conditions. The comparison is ruthless! Take into account that our lightened twin-cylinder weights 210kg (gasoline included). A standard single cylinder weights 130-138kg and it literally flies on the dunes! I had to change driving style. I learnt to keep open when my instinct was telling me to close. And I had to learn to fall in the right way. Man, the first stage with the Husqvarna I was more on the sand than on the motorcycle. I thought to quit, but quitting is not in me! Talking about speed. In the past a single cylinder could eventually reach 130 km/h of speed, now it reaches the 160 km/h and the gap with the twin-cylinder is not so huge anymore. Yes, you can reach 200-210 km/h with my twin-cylinder but you rarely can find the soil that allows you to do it. Everybody asks me why I endure making motorcycle desert racing with a motorcycle which is not made for it. But what's the point in making things the way everybody does them? I pick twin-cylinders with eyes closed.
Which modifications do you usually do on motorcycles?
My first AER was with "Zaira", a lighted KTM LC8, but basically a production bike. After that we worked on "Elvira" a prototype based on another KTM LC8 with a Meoni Chassis and a Pro-Link rear suspension. Main modifications were made to save instruments from overheating. The two-cylinders are powerful and therefore overheat easily. Working on the cooling system is crucial.
Which is the regular motorcycle maintenance during a race?
Every evening we do maintenance in the assistance park. It takes from 3 to 5 hours. Apart from special breaks, you have to tighten all the bolts. You loose at least 30% of it during the stage, and the remaining part gets loose. Single cylinders need a daily engine oil change, while we change the engine oil of our twin-cylinder every 2.000-3.000 km of stages, so once every two days.
As a rider how do you prepare yourself for a rally?
Athletic preparation is totally needed! Especially if you are over a certain age like I am (he smiles). If you hope to achieve something you need to train 4-5 months before with a professional athletic doctor or trainer. Mentally speaking the challenge is to stay focused. The true problem when you're there in the desert is that your mind tends to digress from instruments and from the situation. It happens that you start following other's traces and that's the easiest way to fail. This risk for me is high on Moroccan stage 2 and 3 of Africa Eco Race which are pretty monotonous. Mental presence is everything.
What's your biggest fear during desert rallies?
Somebody fears the soil, the unexpected changes in the surface which make the desert tricky by definition. They slow down cause they fear the unknown. I was in speed competitions on circuits when I was young, so I've never had this fear. Many also fear to loose themselves in the open desert. GPS systems are fantastic now in comparison with those of the 1980s, so you can't really loose yourself, but still the fear of being isolated is a burning issue. I use to sail a lot in open sea and I've already reconciled with the sensation of not exactly knowing where I am. My biggest fear? Honestly it is breaking the motorcycle! I'm always trying to save the bike, not falling! The biggest satisfaction would be doing a desert motorcycle adventure with no technical concerns from the beginning to the end. Never say never.