Looking to try your first-ever cross-country rally race but not sure how to prep? Although it’s important to get your bike in good shape and learn some basic roadbook navigation skills, one area a lot of riders overlook is rally fitness. To finish a multi-day rally race, you need to be in reasonable shape: during the rally, you’ll be spending 8-10 hours on the bike going over rough terrain at speed, and fatigue adds up quickly. Endurance is key to survive your first cross-country rally, and while you may not need to train as hard as Dakar riders, staying in shape will help you get better results out on the special stages.
So how do you increase your rally fitness, and how do other riders prepare for races? Here are some tips and advice to get you started.
The first rule of rally fitness is saddle time. The more you ride, the better prepared you will be, especially if you can get off the road as much as possible. Any rally vet will tell you no gym training will ever make up for saddle time, so get out there and ride your bike as often as you can. Ideally, you’ll want to mix things up: do long days on gravel roads, short but intense motocross training sessions, trail rides, technical terrain, long stretches of dirt, and just about everything in between. A rally race is a long game rather than a short sprint, so the more miles you cover and the more varied terrain you ride, the more chances you’ve got to finish your first race.
Saddle time alone won’t get you in top shape, however. If you’re serious about rally fitness, hit the gym or a crossfit studio: HIIT exercises and strength training will help you tighten up those muscles and give you a better change of coming back to the bivouac in one piece. Riding is all about balance than muscle, sure – but when you’re standing on the pegs for hours on end or picking up a fallen bike several times a day, strength training starts to pay off.
Muscle tone and motorcycle miles aside, you’ll also want to work on your balance. Most pro and semi-pro rally racers tend to do a lot of mountain biking, downhill cycling, skiing, snowboarding, and surfing – all sports involving a great deal of balance and coordination, plus a healthy dose of cardio. Mountain biking is especially popular among rally riders because the essential skillset is the same, but you really hone in your balance skills and read the terrain better on a mountain bike, especially on technical terrain.
Rally Fitness Routine
How much you train and prep is up to you, but, having interviewed dozens of Dakar-level riders, we’ve noticed a common theme: a day or two of mountain biking, a motocross session, and enduro session, and two to three gym sessions a week seems to be the norm. If that sounds like way too much work for you, tweak it to fit your own goals, but don’t forget to switch it up – and, once again, focus on saddle time first and foremost.
How do you maintain your rally fitness? Let us know in the comments below!