It’s been a very busy few months. When we entered the Iron Butt Rally (2023) kicking off in June next year, we thought we had a pretty decent amount of time to prepare for it. Being based outside of the USA comes with a fair number of additional challenges above and beyond those faced by the majority of the USA based competitors. Preparing a bike for this type of rally either requires doing it here and shipping it, or doing it remotely.

Shipping it allows you to be well prepared with a proven setup, but it also adds significant costs, and additional work / delays around the time of the event with getting an international bike temporarily imported. If you do remote prep, then you’re almost guaranteed not to be able to do that prep to the level you’d ideally want to, and so you’re likely to turn up to the start line and be somewhat disadvantaged before you even roll out of the car-park. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, not at all – I’m simply looking to try to keep things level in order to stand the best possible chance of achieving our primary goal: to be listed IBR finishers and ideally for that to happen on our first attempt.

Fairly early on, we decided to buy a bike in the USA, and to work gradually on its preparation. We knew we would need to ask for some local help with some of the logistics of viewing, collecting, storing and perhaps even a little with some of the preparations. So, with that plan made, we set about trying to find a bike, the earlier the better.

Then, we made another decision; in order to know the bike is good and also adhering to some of the strong recommendations made by the IBR organising group – to make sure we’ve participated in a significant multi-day rally before turning up to the IBR – we decided that I should travel over to the USA in September to take part in the Senior Butt Rally. – this is a formally organised rally by the IBA, intended to mimic the format of, and to have similar requirements to, the IBR. It’s 6 days and not 11. Unlike the IBR, The SBR requires you to form teams of two and buddy up. The SBR comes with a requirement that one of the riders is an IBR finisher and over 55 years of age, the other rider (me) can be anyone, a rookie.

Having committed to sourcing a bike in the USA and having made it known that I wanted to enter into the SBR, I needed to find a riding partner. With the help of my IBA friends and contacts, feelers were put out; Howard did a lot of the work asking around and clearly doing a reasonable job of ‘selling the prospect’ of riding with a new, overseas rookie rider from New Zealand. He persisted with this and put in a lot of effort on my behalf, telling me not to worry, and that he’d ‘find me one of the “good guys”‘, someone who would be considerate with me, and not just tell me to ‘sit there and twist that’.

He called me one morning super excited, and in a very animated manner told me that I needed to make contact with James Owen. – Who hadn’t at that point said ‘No’ yet, he made James sound interested in talking to me, and so I immediately squeezed a 30 minute initial chat with him into a fairly busy work schedule. I would have liked to have talked with him for longer, but planned meetings prevented it.

James is a lovely fellow; gentle and kind to talk to, level headed and a clear communicator. He’s a senior pilot with United Airlines. I know a few pilots and they can have some common traits, calm, purposeful, thoughtful communication is one I have observed. That describes some of the conversations which we’ve had to date. We’ve also had quite a few laughs too during these few months of planning work too. We’ve had to discuss and work through a plan, an approach we aim to take, some goals, some primary objectives etc. Even in these high level conversations he’s been imparting knowledge and information to me which I’m sure will play a part with our own approach and planning towards the IBR in 2023. I’m very much looking forward to getting to know James better during the rally!

During these past few months, we’ve been able to witness the USA riders take part in both the Heart of TX and LDX rally, as well as a few other rides and events. It’s fair to say that James aims to win everything he enters, and I under no illusion that his goals are not the same for the SBR. But, first and foremost, our plan is to finish and make it home.

I’ve told James that while he comes from a background and with experience of knowing that he’s capable of winning these rallies, that is far from my own personal experiences and so I hold less confidence at that being a realistic outcome; however – I’m committed, and I’ll be giving it 110% during the SBR; it’ll take a few days of hammering out our ride for me to see that what we’re doing is going well and for the self-belief build. At that point, I imagine that the drive to finish well will grow and that we’ll be peaking 3-4 days into the rally pushing hard to get what we want to aim for, done…

I had massive concerns around being able to ride with James initially; until I was told that the SBR has had a mandatory 6 hour break period imposed on the riders each day. Without this James is capable of completely out-riding me from a stamina perspective. I’ve seen what he does in the big rallies and how he survives at times on long-legs, with just cat-naps. Trying to make that work in a two person team would be very difficult, managing performance of two people, close to their limits on just cat-naps had me highly concerned. When I heard about the 6 hour breaks I was highly relieved and felt I could give this a good go; that I might be able to reasonably tag along with James and to hopefully be a good riding partner for him.

There’s a podcast interview which James did on Long Rider’s Radio, where he recounted his 2019 IBR win; he commented on the likelihood of a two up team doing well within the IBR, I recall his comments around team riding went along the lines of it needing ‘the brains at the front, and the worker behind’, the worked being someone simply able to churn out the miles in support. I’m clear about what my role in the SBR will naturally be. I’m also looking forward to being able to learn and absorb rally-craft from arguably one of, if not the best, rally rider in the history of the IBA; he is after all the only rider to have won the IBR more than once.

So, no pressure! And to help to alleviate some of that, we often turn to humour: two things spring to mind here, the team name; Team Kiweagle, along with our team logo / slogan and design work, and the merchandising which has come about as a result of it, leading into the give-a-little page and the fundraising which we’re hoping to do. Also the references to my new alarm tune ‘Little Peggy March’s – I will follow Him’, which apparently I’ll be waking up to each morning, followed closely by a secondary alarm; ‘Kelly Clarkson’s – What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!’.

The, ‘I will follow Him’ reference plays in nicely with the Team Logo design, where a flightless Kiwi has had to strap on a jet-engine pack and some wings in order to soar along-side (well, behind) the proud (and beautiful) bald-eagle. It’s a fair parallel to be honest of what we can expect to see during the SBR.

You can imagine how this all plays in the head each night as the countdown towards leaving for the rally progresses, I’ve had a few late nights ‘getting stuff done’ while the mind has been racing. And tonight, I’m exactly 7 days away from taking off and flying over to the east coast of the USA to go and meet my bike, complete its final preparations, meet Bill and Deb (who have been so kind with their time, and extremely generous with their help and offer of a base for my bike and me in South Carolina), meet James, and then head over to TX and get into Rally mode.

I’m away for three weeks, and I know what I’m doing and where I need to be on every single day, apart from those day during the rally itself. The SBR works in a similar way to the IBR, you get the rally pack the night before you depart on whatever ride you’ve planned from their rally book. This is going to feel like a full-on, whirl-wind tour. But, in doing this we’ve forced ourselves to arrive at a point in our rally prep for the IBR, some eight months earlier than we would have if we were simply working towards the IBR. This is a major benefit and the way I felt we could truly turn up at the IBR with a levelled playing field. Getting through this now will truly make me believe, no, know, that we’re properly prepared and have everything in place that we need to. It should dramatically reduce last minute stress and angst in April and May next year.

So, we bought a bike in June, again Howard was incredibly helpful when we worked through the process of buying the bike. He and his wife June went to collect it and ride it across Florida to their house, then continued up to South Carolina with it to drop it off at Bill’s house. Doing any of this without local help would be near impossible, but the support and assistance which I’ve had offered from various USA based IBA members has been remarkable. The network of support is incredible. I was told this would be the case when I started on this journey and I have been humbled by seeing it in action. Our community of riders is truly a global community of like minded people and their willingness to extend offers of significant help is just amazing. It makes me proud to be a part of it.

So how do you prep a bike remotely? Well, first thing is you need to be clear about what’s important for you to want to achieve on the bike. You need to make lists, lots of lists. Ideally, they need to be prioritised so you focus on the right things first. Those tend to be the things which might take a long time to sort out, custom build, or are the absolute must-haves for the bike. Things like custom built rear shocks etc, they need to be sorted early on – just in case they take longer to build than expected, or in case they get shipped to your NZ billing address instead of the South Carolina delivery address, you know, things like that.

My bike was absolutely standard. I found a lovely young, 800mile old Concours 1400 available for a reasonable price, in the right area. I’d been watching the sales listings for weeks, also trying to figure out where would be the best state to buy the bike in, when this one popped up, I jumped on it. Being standard helps in so far as it has its stock exhaust on the bike, and noise regs at the tech inspection of the IBR can be stringent for non-OEM exhausts; some things are just worth keeping simple, which is why we’ve gone as standard as possible to start with.

But then the farkling begins (farkle – a combination of function and sparkle). Lights, crash bars, GPS units, mounts, electronics, charging circuits, mobile phone mounts, seating, luggage, tank bags, top boxes, hydration kits, throttle locks, cramp busters, after market wind-shield, LED headlight bulbs, airhorns, radar detector mounts, GPS – Spot Tracker and mount … You get the idea!

My iCloud photo album on the bike’s prep

And then James asks – ‘Have you considered an Auxiliary Fuel Tank? I’d strongly recommend that you consider fitting one’. He made it clear that it wasn’t a deal breaker, but that he would really strongly like me to be able to carry additional fuel. Primary reasons: it can get you out of trouble when you plan to use a fuel station in the boon-docks and it’s shut, also range anxiety is removed, and leaves your head-space free to be considering other, more important things. ‘Ok’, I said, ‘I’ll give it a really good go, and see what I can sort out’.

Two things: I didn’t want to try to remotely manage a fabrication job from here, I would have had to lean on Bill significantly to try to help to find someone, get them involved in a design and custom build and fitment etc. and I didn’t want to drill my tank to fit this. Having no available time to test and prove / fix a tank drill and fitment on that bike, I felt it was a much better idea to try to see if we could tap into a fuel hose, a breather, or do something else which would get fuel into the tank without drilling the tank.

This meant that what I was hoping to find was a way to perform an ‘assembly job’ rather than a custom fabrication job. Feasibly I needed something I could do in the short amount of time after I arrived rather than a custom build before I turned up. So how do you assemble an Aux tank? There are NO commercially available off-the-shelf kits available. – From parts, then.

I found a commercially available tow hitch kit from Denray in Canada, I found a pre-fab fuel cell from Amazon, 5 gallons in size, standard fuel fitting etc. All I had to come up with was a way to mount the tank, and then a pump controller system for an external fuel pump; simple. So we’ve done a very small amount of customer fabrication work here in NZ, to fit a tray onto a bike carrier’s pole mount for a tow-ball. That tray unit is going with me in my check-in baggage. The tank is already in the USA, the fuel controller system is going with me, the fuel pumps (yes, I bought two) are in the USA already. With a bit of luck, this is all going to come together in ~8 days when I’m in Bill’s garage trying to work through these final things.

Bill has been AMAZING, not only have we formed a really good, highly humours friendship, but he has gone out of his way being helpful with that bike. Without his help, the job which I had to do for my prep work would easily have been 7-8 days of work, as it stands now, we might just get through the remainder of the work, with the 3.5 or so days which I have available to me in their garage before we leave for the rally. While there is still SO much work to do when I get there, he’s made it potentially achievable. – THANK YOU BILL!

So, that’s it for now, that’ll have to do as a bit of a core dump on where we’re up to and what we’ve been working though so far. This is still very much a fluid situation; we’ll need to remain highly flexible and roll with whatever we’re thrown when we get to the USA for this trip. But I’m confident that with the help of those new friends and the other people who I’ve yet to meet that this will be one hell of an experience and a wild-ride.

I’ve got my GoPro and a heap of memory cards with me, so I’ll work on trying to get some footage of it all, and to hopefully share that with you in due course.

Cheers, thanks for your interest in what we’re up to!.. Stay tuned for more.