Silver Dream Racer…Flying Dutchman Racer

Isn’t a club wonderful? Inspirational how you meet spectacular people. One crazy cat I met for the first time on a Madcat ride is Rolf, who later fondly became known as “The Flying Dutchman”. It was the very first Madcat Loch Sport organised ride. Loch Sport Big Bang. A favourite destination for us noobs to test our sand riding skills on heavy twin-ADV bikes. A measure of what practice is still required to tackle the bigger challenges like Murray Sunset, Big Desert and the deep sand pit of Little Desert. Then finally, the dream crossing of 1136 dunes in the Simpson. 
Robbo the ride organiser, knowing the area very well, arranged for us all to arrive at a set location in the winter 2020. What a year for mosquitoes! I swallowed my fair share.

Well, even back then with Rolf on the same steed as mine, it very quickly became clear that he was in a racer class and I was in a “looking for parking” class. The only reason for him to be on the Honda CB 500 X was because of the restrictions on his licence. Those power-to-weight restrictions curbed his desire for a motorcycle far more suited to his ability and riding skill. Nonetheless, that day he showed me what a Honda CB 500 X was capable of in the right hands. Astonishing that, that was his baptism riding sand on a twin-ADV motorcycle. 

The rest of us were just too happy to make it till lunchtime. Not sure if it will be in our health’s best interest to ride on. Then, while scoffing some fish and chips, he politely nudged the organiser that he was looking forward to the more challenging track planned for the afternoon. Anyhow, very glad I persisted. Even if it was just to witness the Dutchman fly.

The real reason for this write-up is Rolf doing the Sunraysia Safari Rally in 2023 and his account of the event. Only a surprising 3 years after the Loch Sport #1 ride. This achievement just after sharing a ripper adventure with good mates, some fellow Madcats, riding Googs track and further north ending up crossing Simpson desert. Then, nerv-rackingly, rushed back to Melbourne to get ready for the Rally. 

But first, strap on your seat belts as I share an embarrassing moment I had in front of this daring and adventurous rider. Rolf, still riding the seen-better-days CB for the Big Desert scramble. By that time my CB has moved on to calmer pastures. Only blacktop these days. I lost my heart on a BMW G650XChallenge and because of this love I also splashed out on a smaller, punchier BMW450X. The 450 was my chosen weapon for the adventure in Big Desert. I know my limitations, mate. Or so I thought. However, it just shows you the difference in skill level. Rolf, on a heavier twin-ADV and me on a feather-light 450 enduro. 

That winter 2022 we awoke with the promise of warmer weather. The sun smiled over Big Billy Bore campsite. Rushing through breakfast and coffee eager to get out on the bikes. O’ the unforgettable muffler notes as we left camp. Making turns to puff: “Dak-kar, Dak-kar, Dak-kar”.
As it became late morning some of the other riders peeled off and bugged out back to camp. Sand is hard yakka mate. Christian on his slim redhead, KTM 300, Robbo on the DRZ Chicken Chaser, Rolf and I remained. Christian and Robbo went ahead. Thankfully out of eyesight. Rolf was mere meters ahead of me on the right side of the track. It felt like I could go that little faster. You know, overtake Rolf. I noticed the opportunity. A slight little uphill. He was slower on the ups and this will be my chance. In my mind, I could see the future where I was pinning it and leaving him behind. Timed it perfectly too. A little more on the gas just before we hit the incline. What a moment, passing The Flying Dutchman.

Guaranteed I was in full view just ahead of Rolf. I was going maybe just a little too fast. Now, we all know what happens when you slow down in deep sand. The front wheel thinks it found a Hotel and stops to book in. I went flying over the handlebars. Eating sand and scarring what little pride I had left. I got up so quickly, to give the impression I was fine, that I never noticed the phone coming out of the Quadlock attached to the handlebars. Now part of the Big Dessert landscape for eternity. An expensive lesson in humility. Even more embarrassing was Rolf stopping next to me and expressing concern: “You okay mate”? I made the exchange brief: “Yeh”. Whether I said that in Dutch or English escapes me.

Link to Big Desert ride report

Link to Big Desert video

I’m aware of many stories fellow club members can share about adventures together with Rolf. Drowned bikes and expensive recoveries deep in the VIC high country. Just motorcycle club life. I certainly saw the exponential improvement of his skill each year at the Open Roads Rally. 

The one better related to this write-up happened shortly after the Big Desert trip. August 2022 Murray Sunset. First scouted by Damo who alerted the members and made the entry into the calender. It was the Destination Dakar Roadbook Adventures organised and hosted by a VIC local legend. Dakar competitor Michael Burgess, to those familiar known as Burgo.
I wish this could be a first-hand relay of the experience, but as with all, life stuff gets in the way. Making it impossible to make time. What is shared next is from conversations later had with Rolf and from the pictures posted by the event organisers.

Wish I was a fly on the wall when Rolf showed up on his CB. Only 2 participants were on ADV-twin bikes. Andrew Houlihan with a KTM 790/ 890 and Rolf. Andrew H is another Aussie legend Dakar competitor. Even if he showed up on a Honda Monkey bike nobody would have flinched. There was some chatter about Rolf and the CB. I guess most betting against him that weekend. 

The rest of the participants were on feather-light enduro bikes. Some big names among them. Toby Hederics to name just one. Soon he will add his name to the list of Aussie Dakar competitors. 

As Rolf tells it. You work a normal job all week. Then Friday jump on your bike and ride 5 – 6 hours out to Mallee country from Melbourne. Saturday you do 250 km of roadbook training. 125 km in the morning and then another 125 km in the afternoon after lunch. Then on Sunday, you saddle the steed again to leave the Mallee splender and return to Melbourne to resume your day-to-day job on Monday. We understand, but many friends and colleagues will just shake their heads.
In the end, it was a great result. Rolf completed all challenges and still finished before some on far better-suited machines. A good foundation of what was to come.

The final chapter…Sunraysia Safari Rally 2023.

Finally, in October 2022 the restrictions on Rolf’s motorcycle license came to an end and he was able to acquire a beast more suited to him and his future plans. Together Christian and Rolf aquired mighty 701’s and thus the Motorex came into being. Adapted with extra fuel range, rally tower and all kinds of farkles most motorcyclists drool over. Continuously through the build enticing club members via Madcat Slack “the-workshop” channel with late-night pictures.

Rolf shared all the Rally communication and paperwork with me. Man-o-man. You just know you’ve left childish things behind when you scan through that paperwork. No more pissing like a puppy, you’re a big dog now.

Here is a rehash from Rolf about the Rally…

Rolf Sleddens  Sept 5th 4:00 PM 

Day 1 of the Sunraysia Rally:
Joined in with the crew of the guy that bought my husky. Got a big marquee setup for 4 bikes and 3 quads and all the tools, bells and whistles. Really nice to tag along and learn from them. The briefing was done yesterday and spent time this morning prepping the bike and putting the rally-safe equipment on. Did a tripmeter calibration and scrutineering afterward. Now waiting for the roadbooks that will be handed out at 6 PM and then prepping them for tomorrow. Bit nervous for the actual race tomorrow since everyone here seems to have either done Finke or Dakar. One of the guys does freestyle quad stunt events apparently. But anyway, I’ll see how I go tomorrow during the first stage.

Rolf Sleddens  Sept 6th 5:58 PM

Was a good day. It felt extremely intense while riding from the first go having to navigate, read the terrain, go fast and not crash. Had the fast quads starting right behind me and the prospect of eating their dust made me want to go as quickly as possible. Overshot 1-2 corners in the beginning which taught me to take a bit of a different riding approach. Eased into it a bit more after that and started to overtake a couple of riders which was a nice feeling. Was happy it was a short stage so I could take a breather and think about how to improve my approach for tomorrow. The stage included a mixture of fast twin tracks where you’d hit 120-160 km/h, to twisty sand tracks where I felt I could barely turn the bike. All-in-all great fun. Tomorrow is going to be 3x as long so in for a big one.

Rolf Sleddens  Sept 7th 9:16 PM

Another update! Day 2 was a big day, with about 300 km of special stage and 350 km of transport. 

First special stage went really well, finished 3rd in the ADV class. Was in a great rhythm and learned from the day before to really commit and go fast if you know where the roadbook is going. Caught up with two of my in-class competitors and even overtook a 450, which gave me confidence. Yesterday I was hesitating a bit. 

Then we had a short transport and another special stage of 70km. I did not really get into my rhythm like the 1st stage. Had a crash in the deep sand which hurt my left hip quite a bit and got my confidence down. Took it easy for 20-30 km before I was able to pick up the pace. Ended up 5th in my class. The last special of the day was a bit stressful, I had an issue with my rally safe (cable broke during my crash) and had to fix it over lunch. Arrived at my start spot with 29 seconds to go and lost a bit of time, left 10 seconds or so too late. Took a bit of time to find my groove and pace. Met up with two other 701’s who were riding a little faster than me and tried to keep up. They made a few navigation errors which resulted in my finishing ahead of 1 of them. Was pretty cool to race them for at least 30 km of this stage. All-in-all a long day with a 130 km transport section in the cold back to Wentworth. 

I was a bit bummed as I lost my timecard during the last special. The velcro of my timecard pouch blew open through the wind, I think. This is a 30-minute penalty. So, on the way back to the base camp I felt bad I had such a good ride but f#<&d up my chances of a good result because of that. In the end, the stewards did not give me a penalty for it as I was a rookie and they had the info of my stage times on the rally safe. 

Overall super happy with the ride today. Finish 4th in class with only 30-40 seconds down from 3rd. And overall now ranked 5th I believe. So definitely going in the right direction. Don’t think I will move up much from here as the other ADV riders seem more skilled/faster than me. But we’ll see what happens! 

Tomorrow it is a 700km day with a 6 AM start! Gonna be a difficult stage judging by all the double and triple cautions in the roadbook.

Rolf Sleddens  Sept 8th 9:20 PM

Quick update from today. It was a very long day and also a very hard one. Woke up this morning at 4 AM for a 6:23 AM start. 180km transport to the first special stage. Was f#(!ng cold!

First special stage was 200 km, nearly twice as long as the others so far. It was a great stage, a fast section but also lots of deep sand with tight twisty sections between trees. Super technical and it was again difficult to be real quick with the large rally bike. Really enjoyed it. Parked it in a tree 2 times when I came in too hot, once because I did not see a corner because of a dust cloud in front of me. Also had a very sketchy moment jumping a steep crest in the deep sand. Almost an accident, not being balanced when landing with the bike doing all sorts of weird shit. Every time these things happen during a stage I get mad at myself and tell myself to slow down.

Towards the end of the special, I was getting tired. It is really intense to compete for that long and read a roadbook while riding. At some point, you even forget what left and right is. You’re thinking that much.

While I probably am riding my best ever, I’m still struggling to keep up with some of my competitors around me. Simply more skilled riders, especially in the tight stuff. Navigation was okay, difficult at times with some very hard-to-see tracks (overgrown by grass). Overall lost some time during this stage on the guys in front of me.

The second special (after 120 km transport) was 100 km and fast. I was definitely in the flow from the get-go and caught a guy in front of me within the first 10km. Getting better at power sliding through corners as that’s the quickest way around these tracks. The quickest cars did not start far behind us (they do 200km/h on the fast sections). And since this was super fast I was determined to stay ahead of them, otherwise you risk a massive dust cloud which will slow you down massively. I really enjoyed this stage and made no mistakes in riding or navigation. Super happy when I finished. Funnily enough, 1 minute after I finished the first vehicle that came in was the quickest car. So I just made it! The other bikes behind me were less lucky, unfortunately. Overall 23rd outright in the GC I believe. Finished 5th or so in class for both specials. Ranked 5th in class now as well. Don’t think I can make up the 16 minutes towards the next ADV rider, or some weird stuff must happen. Perhaps 5 minutes is possible to move to 22nd outright, but mostly riding my own race and trying to improve my skills.

Rolf Sleddens  Sept 9th 9:32 PM

Final update! Today again was very long and tough! Super happy I finished in 1 piece without any major crashes (only 2 in total) and no mechanical issues. Morning stage I f#<[@d up pretty badly with at least 3 navigational mistakes which helped the people behind me a lot, but messed up my time. Had a fun chase with another guy on a 701 on the first 20km of the stage, but he proved to be a better navigator today when I messed up and went down the wrong track for about 3 km (which is a lot) It was long and after 160 km I was pretty much done but still had to do 80 km after that. Overall ok stage but felt like I left quite a bit on the table. Had a close call with a kangaroo but was not going too quickly relatively speaking.

Second stage I knew I had to go full on to keep my 5th spot in class and also avoid having cars overtake me. Had a great run and probably rode my best stage of the week. Finally nailed the difficult sandy corners and made no navigational mistakes. Super happy I crossed the line without injury or issues. Overall 5th in class. Considering I’m new to this and some pretty solid riders around me I’m very happy. Never took excessive risks and always rode within my capability which was the most important to me.

Few stats:

  • number of crashes: 2
  • Max speed: 183km/h
  • Number of missed corners: at least 20
  • muscles that hurt the most: neck
  • Number of beers during the event: 0 (probably my best decision)
  • Coldest morning start: 1.2 degrees (yes my fingers did freeze of)

Oh yes, 22nd outright 

  • Also, one of my mate’s quad burned down – pretty crazy considering there’s no insurance covering rally racing. 

Never let it rest ’till your good is better and better…best

– St Jerome

by Martin Vorster