Jimmy Lewis Talks Dakar
Adventure riding is a challenge at any speed. Take everything you know about riding a motorcycle… motocross, desert racing, enduro, you name it. Add a dash of scouting, stir in a cup of Marine survival training and, if you have it, a pinch of Jeep vehicle extraction, and you might have the makings of a Dakar racer. Slow it down a few warp factors and you are an adventure rider. A lot of adventure riders dream of racing Dakar, or at least following along on this full throttle camp-and-ride through South America.
Now in his mid-40s, Jimmy Lewis has earned his status as The Master of all things motorcycle. He was not only AMA Amateur of the year and International Six-Day Enduro (ISDE) Junior World Champion, but also four time ISDE Gold Medalist, a winner of the Baja 1000, and veteran of the Paris-Dakar Rally. Of course, a lot of folks know him as past editor of Dirt Rider Magazine. While many of us can only dream of Dakar, Jimmy has lived it.
“Dakar was a dream for me. I worked for eight years to get a chance to go. I just wanted to finish, and I did, but it took a second shot (in 1996 I got sick halfway through). In 1997, I finished fourth overall and first single-cylinder. Then, I was going back to win, because I knew I could. In 2000, BMW wanted to return with the Boxer and I was chosen to help develop the bike. I finished third in 2000, first twin-cylinder. Then in 2001 I was going to win, or so I thought, but crashed. I wrecked my wrists and the writing was on the wall. My competitive time was nearing an end.”
Although Jimmy still rides like the wind, he has turned his attention to helping others perfect their off-road skills, but his message may seem contradictory.
“Slow is fast,” says Lewis, at the training camp operated by Jimmy and his wife, Heather, near Pahrump, Nevada. “So many riders think that they are better than they are because they go ‘fast,’ but what they are really doing is masking their mistakes with momentum and inertia… right up until the time those forces bite them. If you can’t do it slow then you are never going to be able to do it faster than your current skill level allows. And many riders feel they are above training and learning.”
Jimmy’s training camp is the place where riders go to improve. Whether tackling a Boxer-motored behemoth in deep sand, or training for Dakar, Lewis has the answers to questions some of us never even think to ask.
“The biggest mistake I see in my class is students riding beyond their skill levels, or surpassing the performance limitations of the bike. Those two problems often go hand-in-hand. When your bike bottoms out and you didn’t expect it, something is wrong with the speed you are riding. When the bike bottoms out a second time and the rider didn’t expect it, something is wrong with the rider!”
We can all relate to that. But what about the rider who just wants to explore, to keep going after his buddies decide it’s time to go home and mow the lawn, or whatever excuse they use to exit just when the real adventure is about to start? He doesn’t want to race, just to cover rough ground and get home in one piece, or perhaps follow the show at Dakar as a twowheeled spectator.
“All I can suggest for adventure riders who really want to explore rough or tough terrain is to have a really solid skill set so that the exploration on the big bike is never a mystery when it comes to the riding. You have to respect the big bike, and know what it is capable of doing. A lot of that comes from riding smaller dirt bikes, having high-level skills there, and bringing those skills to the big bike, because they’re all the same. Just have more respect for the big bike. They are not dirt bikes.”
I see a common thread in Jimmy’s sermon on skill. Even the average Joe can become a much better rider by spending time in his class on any size bike.
So, what about going back to Dakar? Will we ever see Jimmy Lewis’ name on the podium again? He tells us, “I currently train a few guys on rally navigation and that is about the only involvement I have with the Dakar Rally anymore. I would love to go back as a water boy for a top rider, but now even the water boy must bring a pretty good amount of money. The water boy role is for young guys to learn the ropes without the pressure, not for washed-up old guys like me. Unless a rider wants a really good water boy!”
Water boy indeed. Can you imagine having Jimmy Lewis as your water boy at Dakar?
Jimmy Lewis, even with his extensive background of riding at the professional level, has never lost the thrill. All the fanfare and trophies haven’t dulled his love for the sport. I think we will see Jimmy on the trail for a long time to come, and if we are lucky, as his student. A lot of us can relate to his position, “My passion is simple to explain, ever since I first rode a dirt bike, the sensation of being on two wheels loaded with power, able to travel in so many directions and basically do things that seemed impossible, that sensation still drives me today. I like riding motorcycles. Dirt bikes are fun.”
The man has a point. Do I hear an AMEN?
Learn more about Jimmy Lewis Riding School at: JimmyLewisOffRoad.com