The idea of Iron Butt riding is familiar to most. Typically the idea is to ride 1000 miles during 24 hours. Doesn’t sound too hard. What if the riding happens on gravel?
Dusty Wobbls (Wanderlust Old Boys Biking & Leisure Society) organized a Dusty Butt 1000SS ride in Eastend Finland in the beginning of the summer 2012. The idea was to ride 1000 miles on gravel roads during 24 hours. Dozens of Iron Butt and offroad riders had gathered in the base camp. Along with Finnish riders present were a strong team of Swedes and a bunch other foreign riders. The participants with the longest distance travelled were from the Netherlands.
Compared to “normal” Iron Butt riding, the event sounds like quite a challenge. According to the organizer, Sakke Häyrinen, that is precisely the idea.
– You always hear how tough it is to ride an Iron Butt. If you add gravel, the difficulty rises substantantially, smirks Häyrinen. He had started planning the event two years earlier.
The other riders’ bikes were heavily off road oriented with orange being the average colour. A few Bimmers and some Hondas
were the only exceptions to the rule. The bikes seemed extremely purposeful off road machinery. Next to them my Versys 1000 looked very out of place. The others cracked jokes about my slick tyres (Pirelli Scorpion). When they realized the wheels were 17-inch, they were simply astonished. “That’s unrideable”, seemed to be the consensus. Well, it’s rideable for sure, but the tyres have their limitations that need to be considered.
Before the DB1000SS, there was a mandatory DB1000K ride, which included all the DB1000SS roads. The distance was roughly 1200 kilometers, over 1000 of which were on gravel. In the SS-ride some of the roads are ridden both ways and the complete distance would be nearly 1800 tarmac roads included.
The route had been carefully planned and inspected.
– Originally I wanted to create the route in Lapland so, that it would run in Finland, Sweden and Norway, but there simply weren’t suitable roads. The first rest ride of 1000 kilometres was done on these roads last summer and the route was further developed according to it. The final shape was created this spring, states Häyrinen. According to him, the route planning required 7000 kilometres’ riding in total.
The average speed must be almost 80 km/h, when 15 minutes for each refuelling is deducted from total time. Smooth sailing is required for a successful ride, not a single thing may go wrong. The bike and rider need to be in shape, on top of which a hint of good luck is required.
After the 1000K, I estimated that my pace would just be enough for the main 1000SS. Because the Kawi is a hard complromise for gravel riding, I decided not to take unnecessary risks and settled for a completed 1000K. Mind you, even completing that got me a lot of respect. The Swedes had been sure there is no way I’ll make it with the Versys. I must admit that at times crashing was more than close, and even without crashing I managed to damage the bike’s exhaust and oil pan and bend the front wheel.
The roads varied from wide, smooth and hard gravel roads to narrow and soft trails. For safety reasons the ride was done in groups of 2-3 bikes. This way the refuelling would be fast enough but help would be available in case of emergency.
Riding a long distance on gravel surface is exciting and challenging. Because speed must be constant and high, riding requires relentless concentration and resting is possible only on the short tarmac sections.
– You must remember, it’s not a race but an endurance event. You’ll only wear yourself out with an aggressive riding, Häyrinen remarks.
There’s also a positive side to constant need to concentrate. When proper riding is needed all the time instead of just sitting along, it’s a lot easier to stay awake. Tight schedule means that there is no chance to grab a coffee and a bit of rest during refuelling.
– Riding on gravel is the shit. All the other Iron Butts, winter riding included, consist mainly of waiting to meet the distance and time, but on gravel you need to work non-stop, states offroad rider Johan Grönholm who has experience on numerous Iron Butt rides.
Häyrinen also emphasizes the educational qualities of gravel riding.
– Riding on tarmac is easy compared to gravel. Respectively, If you are able to tackle the much harder gravel, you’ll have no problems riding on tarmac, says Häyrinen.
The feeling I got from doing the Dusty Butt is unbelievable. When I rode a damp gravel road after a rain and the first rays of the rising sun made steam rise from the surface, I really felt alive. The experience was unbelievable; it was a real adventure. It would be easy to thing an Iron Butt ride would be boring, but this was anything but.
An important aspect of the great feeling was that the Dusty Wobbls were a really fun bunch of guys. It was like one great family. Everybody was out there to help and support each other. The night following the ride we enjoyed the sauna, swam in the lake, roasted sausages and had several shots of vodka. And the after-ride stories, they were simply hysterical!
In total the event took a week and in this format the it was a one-off event, because a part of the route was paved during the summer. Häyrinen would like to make another ride happen, but as it requires planning a new route, he’s unable to make any promises. In any case this event consisted of about 3000 kilometres of riding, over 2600 of which on gravel.
These guys sure are tough.