December 26, 1979, in Paris. This was the starting signal for the Paris-Dakar Rally and since then it has been regarded as the toughest rally in the world. Long stages, demanding routes and numerous navigation challenges. To this day, the Rally Dakar and numerous other rallies use classic roadbooks for navigation.
In simple terms, the roadbook is a collection of notes of a route, the organization records everything along the route and the participants then have to drive along there. The course and length of sections, curve radii, obstacles and much more is documented in the roadbook. As a driver, you try to follow every single point to the finish. If you miss one of these points, that often means you have to drive back to the last known (and supposedly correct) point and put your navigation skills to the test again. Driving in a truck or car, the co-pilot takes over the navigation and calls all relevant information to the driver, but when driving on a motorcycle, the driver is also the navigator.
But where can you learn this nowadays? Searched and found it. Off to Bosnia for the Bosnia Rally 2019, the biggest roadbook training camp!
From 22-27 July 2019 the rally, organized by Stefan Rosner, took place in Kupres, Bosnia. The rally lasted four days plus one day for arrival and departure.
As soon as the decision has been made, you should register directly to use Early Bird tariffs and save part of the costs for the entry fee. In the case of Bosnia Rally the participation cost 500€ / pilot (600€ after Early Bird phase), and you’ll get a navigation theory course, a great and big organization team including medical staff, access to the bivouac and of course the routes for the four stages of the rally which they planned for months.
Offroad experience is mandatory! After various training sessions in offroad parks, I assumed that this would be enough for such a rally. Well, it is, but you should be aware that you should also be fit enough. We are not talking about 100km in an enduro park with regular breaks in between. In the case of Bosnia Rally, it’s about 1,200km in four days, 10-12 hours on the bike daily.
My BMW also needed some minor adjustments, the most important thing for the Roadbook Rally is, of course, the Roadbook. You can borrow this with all accessories for 300€ at the event or you buy all parts if you’re planning to do this kind of riding more often.
You need a roadbook holder, a trip meter and a corresponding roadbook switch on the handlebar to be able to operate these two devices. Nothing’s worse than having to take your hands off the handlebars to operate one of the two devices while driving at full speed. For the roadbook, I chose the one from Aurora Rally Equipment. After many heated talks at motorcycle meetings, it became clear to me that this seems to be the best roadbook there is. Its literally indestructible, waterproof and you can remove the interior, in order to be able to thread the roadbook relaxed in a dry tent or warm hotel bed, instead of having to deal with it in the blazing sun or in the rain. The envious glances with this roadbook were certain. With the Tripmeter I rely on a German product, the company Rally Navigation Solutions (RNS) offers a device, which operates by wheel sensor and GPS at the same time if you want it to. The advantage here: For example, I can display the distance and CAP heading (=compass direction in degrees) combined and do not have to install, like many other riders, two trip meters on my motorcycle. Roadbook and Tripmeter together are mounted on a mounting plate, and I installed the whole tower on my handlebars. You should keep in mind that any additional weight on the handlebars is not ideal for controlling the bike, but for practice purposes, this was absolutely fine.
Driving a roadbook is not mandatory at the Bosnia Rally. In principle this is was most riders were there for, but drivers can also follow the displayed line on their Montanas (GPS Class). In total there were about 75 roadbook drivers and 35 GPS drivers.
I hardly made any changes to my BMW, the handlebar position including clutch and brake lever should, of course, be brought into the appropriate position. Manuel (SWT-Sports) got me his peg prototypes especially for this rally. I mounted them right before the start and what can I say, brilliant! My old pegs were already big, but the new ones are additional 80% bigger.
On such long stages, mostly standing up, such wide rally pegs make perfect sense and ensure a safe and much more relaxed stance. In a similar size, KTM is also using pegs this big on the rally motorcycles – however, they are not available at SWT-Sports, only on request.
After about 1,100 kilometers of drive, spread over 3 days, I arrived at Kupres, Bosnia in the paddock/bivouac on Monday at noon. The guided tour group around Manuel Schad (my riding-pack on this trip) were already there. Immediately upon arrival, I felt the rally spirit, over 100 motorcycles gathered on the site, all with the same goal: practicing navigation, reaching the finish line and having fun.
The first item on the agenda was changing my tires, in front to the Metzeler Unicross. On the Rear, I mounted a new Karoo 3 (due to the lack of options for a 17 inch rear), but the wider version instead of 130 now 140/80-17.
After checking in, I got my GPS tracker. Each rider had to carry this on the motorcycle, with these long stages in the extensive backcountry of Bosnia a pure precaution measure. An additional wire in the cockpit is definitely helpful, and of course, I hadn’t thought of that. So I simply clamped the tracker to the roadbook and I was ready to go. Afterward, I went on to the technical inspection, where they checked the motorcycle for working lighting, proper installment of the tracker (it must be connected directly to the battery and not to the ignition) and a first aid kit is mandatory.
In the evening we continued with a roadbook training and got our first roadbook for the first driving day and discussed it in detail. Symbols, markings, special points on the stage, and more. A long evening was ahead of us, we had to do our homework. Every rider prepares the roadbook in their own way. In my case, I kept things simple. I marked the more dangerous places red, waypoints green and each direction arrow in yellow. Around midnight I finally went to bed, already excited for the first day of the Bosnia Rally!
Stage 1: 271km – 249 waypoints
We started as a group of ten. Manuel (also Roadbook) started at the front, in between 8 fellow riders who followed their GPSes and me riding last by classic roadbook navigation.
Right after the start, we turned to the first of four light tracks of the day. The organization had installed these so-called light tracks for the big adventure bikes. Some very narrow or very difficult passages, which were meant rather only for light Enduros, can (and should partly also) be driven around.
At a big crater, we finally returned to the actual route and after the obligatory photo, we went straight on. Still 230km ahead of us, a long way to go!
The tour led us from Kupres to Tomislavgrad, past the beautiful lake Buško Blato to Livno and back to Kupres. We saw wild horses and after a few first impressions on the bike it already became clear to me: Bosnia is amazing – so vast and varied, beautiful.
In a smaller group, we took on the difficult passages and didn’t follow every light track. Some went through rocky and dried out riverbeds, technically demanding but definitely doable, even with the big bikes.
But riding in such a long colony wasn’t a perfect fit for me. More or less I finally had to neglect the navigation via roadbook and way too often I had to drive too fast to be able to keep up with the group. The day came to an end and my mood was not necessarily at its peak. I had imagined it a little different. I’d rather need a little more time for the stage, so I can drive at my own pace and reach the finish line a bit later.
Around 6 pm we arrived after approximately 10 hours on the motorcycle, my hands hurt already and my bones were tired. After only one day? I didn’t expect that! After the finish, I separated from my group for the next days of riding. I didn’t want to slow down anyone and surely wasn’t ask them to.
I continued with dinner, followed by the riders briefing. This was on our agenda every evening at 8:30 pm for about an hour. We talked about the next upcoming stage and discussed all the difficult sections, followed by the daily routine: Preparing the roadbook, checking the motorcycle, sometimes repairing small things and getting ready for the next day.
Stage 2: 396km – 222 waypoints
Marathon stage was on! Getting up 5:30 am, no breakfast (there was a packed lunch) and at 7 am we already had to be at the starting line. The day before I met Maja, like me, it was her first roadbook rally. She offered me to join her group so I ended up with two experienced rally drivers and two beginners, perfect. We took turns, sometimes she drove lead and sometimes I did. The speed was just right and so we made good progress.
Around noon we drove into the Una National Park, a dream for every motorcycle rider. The area was lined in 2008 around the rivers Una, Krka, and Unac and forms Bosnia’s largest national park. You would never be allowed to legally ride a motorcycle in such protected areas in Germany, good thing we were in Bosnia and while attending the rally this is possible.
Shortly after entering this area we stopped, a beta was in the ditch and the driver lied next to it. Maja took care of the rider immediately, and because we were in the backcountry without any cell reception I drove back 5 kilometers until I was able to reach Georg (GS-Kutscha). He drove the rally as a medic on his machine and had enough onboard for first aid. A few minutes later he was with the rider being able to help the very dazed driver. He decided that continuing the rally is impossible so I was instructed to inform the organization, the 4×4 Jeep was needed to transport him to the next hospital.
Later on the organizer, Stefan took care of the motorcycle himself. The driver of the beta is meanwhile fine, but the rally was over for him. It became clear to me that I didn’t have to risk anything here. Bosnia Rally is not a race, it’s a training camp and especially when driving alone through the outback I should drive with a focus on getting to the finish safe and sound, there is nothing to win here. Our small group parted here and I finished the marathon stage alone.
Arrived at the finish line, in the best of spirits, even though I was even more exhausted than the day before, I took care of my motorcycle and prepped for the third day. At the riders briefing, we heard a story, which cheered me up even more. During the drive in the area close to the Croatian border, a group of three drivers navigated themselves over the to Croatia and were not allowed to pass through when trying to enter the Bosnia again. The colleagues didn’t have any papers with them and so someone from the camp had to go to the border to pick up the riders. Note: Always have your papers with you when abroad. I’m just glad this didn’t happen to me and in the end, the three drivers were able to continue the rally again. 🙂
Stage 3: 350km – 295 waypoints
On day three, we drove from Kupres towards Mostar. On the way there was a difficult section, the bigger motorcycles should definitely take the light track. I wanted to, but unfortunately, the track was blocked, so I met fellow adventure bike riders and we decided to bring our bikes through this as a team. The roadbook announced the place only with two exclamation marks (danger) and the hint “find a way around”, very promising. In the end, it was doable with combined forces, a narrow rocky path led around the obstacle. My boxer engine was the only real obstacle here because the trails were not that wide there. In the end, we had mastered it, we were proud of us and continued our ride.
Mostar, the largest city of Herzegowina, was now the next destination. However, the heat in the city accumulates due to its geographics. On this day 44 degrees Celcius (110 degrees Fahrenheit) were measured there, therefore I decided to skip the city, I didn’t want to drive through a tourist flooded city. I missed the big airfield Hangar Mostars, but I did not regret the shortcut and was back in bivouac a little earlier. In the end, I was in Bosnia for riding my motorcycle, not for sightseeing wearing full motorcycle gear on the hottest day of the year.
For me, this was the best day of the rally, the tracks were absolute great to ride and there were not many mile long rocky passages up and downhill. Everything felt a little bit smoother and easier compared to the two days before.
Stage 4: 199km – 174 waypoints
A short last stage was in front of us, “latest 3pm everyone will be back in the bivouac and maybe it’s raining lightly” they said in the previous evening’s briefing. Everything started in a huge convoy to the starting line – a crazy experience, community feeling arises, it was great.
Right at the start, in the middle of the forest, I tried a shortcut across a river but finally failed. As a consolation prize I was able to take some nice pictures, but I had to find my way back to the actual track.
Suddenly the wiring of my roadbook came loose and I had to turn the roadbook paper by hand using the side-wheels on the roadbook holder. Not for long, apparently due to too much tension my roadbook ripped apart in the middle. Up to an old, allegedly healing spring I followed other drivers blindly and then took care of my roadbook and the wiring there. Thanks to Duct-Tape, my journey could go on.
I slowly worked my way up the mountains and at noon we arrived in an old Muslim village. No running water, no electricity, but an indescribable scenery and tasty specialties directly from the open fire strengthened the whole pack of riders for the rest of the day.
It became very technical and I followed the serpentines even more into the mountains, partly very rocky and technically demanding. Other amateur riders with their small enduros were not faster than me and everyone fought their way to the top. Followed by the usual strains downhill and I have to say this is really not my favorite part of riding. Probably I’m standing the wrong way on the bike because all the time I get all the impacts directly on my joints and my hands get numb in no time. On short stages, this is not a problem, but on a 15-20km section uphill or downhill, it is very exhausting.
In the last third, I was surprised by a heavy thunderstorm, while following the path through the mountains. Two flashes of lightning struck quite close on the left and right to me so I turned around and looked for shelter under the canopy of an empty house. As soon as the rain had subsided a little, I continued and drove towards the finish line.
After about 200km in total for that day, there she was. The finish line. Around 4 pm I was happy and exhausted at the same time. No crashes or damages, everything went perfect, I was proud!
In the evening Stefan Rosner provided a great meal for everyone. All drivers celebrated together and talked about their experiences of the last couple of days.
The photographers Bastian Benjamin Brüsecke, Reinhold Wenzel and team showed their pictures and I’m very curious which pictures of me riding they captured. I’ve included a few pictures here (recognizable by the watermark), for more photos just have a look at Bosnia Rally on Facebook.
Rally is over, what’s next? Including the trip home I drove about 3.600km (2.240 mi) in 9 days and it is certain for me, that was not my last rally!
What impressed me the most was the bond among the drivers. They help each other and in case of a breakdown, everyone stopped no questions asked and tried to help with tools, material and knowledge if needed. At the same time, the experience of many participants also helped through the event, many drivers use the Bosnia Rally every year as preparation for other bigger rallies.
If you have the goal, for example, to participate in the Gibraltar Race, then the Bosnia Rally already shows you your limits and you have the opportunity to become a better rider step by step while sometimes riding outside your comfort zone. I definitely want to go back to Bosnia in 2020 and improve my driving technique and navigation.
The rally was the first real endurance test for my equipment. The Goretex membrane in my clothes was definitely tight and thankfully kept me dry.
- Klim Krios helmet with Viper Pro glasses
- Carlsbad jacket for travelling, otherwise Jersey + Fox Titan vest
- as gloves I used the Dakar Pro and the Mojave Pro (airy + bulletproof)
- Klim Carlsbad trousers and Sidi GTX 2.0 boots (both 100% waterproof)