This will be your ninth time starting. What keeps you going back to the Dakar?
I think it might be short-term memory loss!
When will it be enough?
I don’t know… the fact that it has moved to South America was really great for me, a brand a new motivation and new countries, like this year is Peru.
You had a catalogue of disasters during the 2011 Dakar. Tell us about that
First, I blew my engine. I was sat in the sand dunes all by myself, sulking, and this 4×4 came by. I managed to talk him into helping me out. Between us and a few others we managed to get another engine. In total it took about seven hours. I was riding in a category with no assistance so I had to do everything myself. Luckily I stayed in the race, and after a few crashes I managed to finish third in that class.
What’s the worst injury you’ve had?
In 2005, I crashed in the dark and broke my collarbone just because of fatigue. I fell harder because I didn’t have the energy to tuck and roll. In the grand scheme of life though, a broken collarbone isn’t so bad, but at the time it was the worst ever.
What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you during a rally?
I fell down a well one year – that was pretty funny! I was riding through this crazy night stage where everyone was lost in the dark. We were riding through this village when I wheelied through a dip in the path, but it turned out to be a well and the bike just went straight down and I went over the top. My teammate came round the corner and was like, where’s your bike!? It was pretty deep and took five of us to get it out over some considerable time.
So how do you feel about this year’s race?
I feel really good; I’ve got by far the best bike I’ve had in years. The Husqvarna is great; it’s a compact bike and well tested. It’s easily the best bike in terms of performance, too, and we’ve got our own team this time. It’s comforting knowing whoever is looking after you in the evening; it takes a lot of pressure off.
What’s your best characteristic?
I think persistence. I’m quite dogged really and I think that is what sees me through when things aren’t going well. Persistence overcomes lack of talent!
Who inspires you?
Geoff Ballard, an Aussie bike racer and best guy in Oz for years. He was a hero of mine and now I know him. When I was a kid it was Geoff Eldridge, editor of Dirt Bike magazine in Australia. He’s probably the guy who inspired me to get into rallies; he was always doing the one-off crazy events. And also John Beacon, who started up the off-road school with me. He was Britain’s most successful off-road rally rider and the only Brit to have a winning stage on Dakar. Unfortunately he passed away in 2001.
What inspired you to set up your Off-Road School?
I’m so passionate about off-road riding myself, I liked the idea of having the chance to share that passion and inspire others. Back in 2000, we ran a school through another [motorcycle] magazine, to spread the message that off-road skills could help in day-to-day motorcycling. We quickly realised people liked what we did and that to make it work we needed a manufacturer involved, that was where BMW came in.
The school’s courses are divided into levels of riding ability. What’s your favourite level to teach?
Level 1, because it takes people from not knowing what they can do to showing them what they’re capable of. It’s really rewarding.
You trained Charley Boorman and Ewan MacGregor for the Long Way Round. What was it like working with them?
I’ve got a lot to answer for there! It was a great thing to have a chance to do. They are very different characters, which is why I think they’re such good mates and why the whole TV thing works so well. Charley is the true passionate bike lover, whereas Ewan’s got his other interests in life that have brought him into motorbike riding. They are also different in the way they ride. Charley is a bit loose and crazy when he’s riding, doing wheelies and riding no hands, whereas Ewan is more sensible and pragmatic.
You also worked with Charley on Race to Dakar. What was it like being on the other side of the camera?
It was cool, I enjoyed it a lot. A few times during the rally the cameras would get frustrating; the director would say, “I want to get some shots of this” and I would say that we really had to get on with the rally because otherwise there wouldn’t be any shots. The technology was nowhere near as good then either, we had a lot of trouble with it.
What are your aims for the future?
I’d like to remain healthy and be able to share life with friends and family, and obviously be able to keep riding. I enjoy riding with my son a lot now and hope to continue to do so.
What’s your top tip for ABRs?
Just to get out there and do it, have a go. If you have an idea, and you want to do something then follow that dream through and believe that it’s possible.