Last week, Brandon Krause got Skyler Howes into our studio for a few shots and an interview on his amazing ride in the Dakar Rally. In any other year, Howes might have been the best placing American in ninth overall. With Brabec’s historic win, Howes’ performance went under the radar. He was top privateer, and is now considered an “Elite” rider. Skyler brought his practice rally bike into the studio. It’s actually much more sophisticated than the rental Husqvarna that he raced in Dakar this year. It was Pablo Quintanilla’s works bike from 2017.  Skyler rode it in the 2019 Dakar, but that effort ended in a DNF. Here’s what he said about this year’s run:

Dirt Bike: So how does a privateer do Dakar?
Skyler Howes: Dakar is by application. Not anyone can just sign up–you have to have a resume and some results. Once accepted, you have to have your own motorcycle. But that’s really difficult–they’re not imported here. If you get your own bike, you can put your own program together, ship it all and get your own mechanic, or you cay pay for a service provided by a team. That’s what we decided to do which makes our job a whole lot easier. There a few teams that will rent you a motorcycle, they supply the mechanics and all the parts. You show up with your gearbag and you’re pretty much good to go. 

DB: Have you and Garret Poucher been doing this for a while
SH: This is my second Dakar, but before that I did the Sonora Rally and then the Baja rally. This last year was was lucky to do a few more rallies. I did the Morocco Desert Challenge, which I won, and I did a rally in Greece. So last year I was able to train and do a lot more stuff, which helped my results. I have two years of rally experience,  but my teammate Garrett Poucher has a lot more, maybe five years. 

DB: How did you hook up with Garrett?
SH: Facebook! Actually it started in Vegas to Reno when I was soloing and broke a chain guide, 15 miles from the finish. I needed a number 4 Allen and I didn’t have one in my tool bag. I waited for about 4 ½ hours along Garrett came. He was also soloing and he was the first rider to stop and give me a number 4 Allen so I could make it in. Shortly after that, he messaged me and asked if I would be interested in riding the Baja 1000 on his team. 

Skyler Howes

DB: Baja to Dakar is a big jump financially.
SH: Yeah, to put it in perspective, a pro entry for Baja is $4500. A pro entry for Dakar is $25,000. That’s just the entry, it doesn’t include the bike rental and all the service. Anyone who is looking to do Dakar as a privateer, I would budget on $100,000. 

DB: How did you put that together?
SH: Last year it was a lot more fund-raising on my part. I did a few ride days and sold a bunch of T-shirts. Garrett is a contractor and he took on a lot more work this year. He worked 100-hour weeks all year to do this. He made it happen so we didn’t have to do so much fund-raising. We also have a brand now and we sell T-shirts and stuff, but still, the majority of the funds came from Garrett just working his tail off. 

DB: So this year, you had some trouble in the second week, right?
SH: The first week was super enjoyable; good riding and lots of fun. The second week was super difficult–mechanically, physically. Everything was difficult. It was hard to stay focused with all that happening. The first time my swingarm pivot broke, it happened relatively close to the finish. That one was easy and I didn’t lose too much time. The next time it happened it was halfway through the second Marathon stage. I ended up having to ride close to 300 kilometers with a broken swingarm pivot bolt. It was extremely dangerous and very frustrating. I was crashing, it was hard to ride and mentally fatiguing. The bolt kept coming halfway out and I would have to lay the bike over and wiggle the swingarm while I kicked it back in. The only positive note was that Factory KTM saw that I needed help. They come over and helped me get it fixed.

DB: Do you think the factory teams noticed your results this year?
SH: I don’t know. I know a couple of the riders and I’ve been around the rig and talked to some of the managers in passing, but nothing directly has come from that. I don’t go looking for it. I’m just out there riding my dirt bike and having fun. Good results are just the cherry on top. 

DB: Did you feel this rally was safer than the one in South America? 
SH: Yes and no. I often felt uncomfortable in South America. The dunes were tough to read. Saudi Arabia definitely suited my riding style more.  The terrain was more up my alley. The first week was really well-done. Lots of terrain changes and very technical. The second week we went to the Empty Quarter. There’s nothing down there. It’s like they didn’t try as hard with the navigation,either. We would have literally 40 kilometers between notes. So it would say “go on a cap heading of 98 degrees for 40 kilometers.” That was all you had to the next note. Then change heading by 2 go another 20 kilometers. 

DB: Next year?
SH: I would really like to go back, but with Garrett having an injury and everything, I don’t know. If I did go back it would have to be with some super awesome sponsor or factory support. Trying to raise $100K is a lot to ask.


Team RPM. Photo: Mary Rinell @mjsmotophotos
The FMF/RPM/KTM Racing Team Maxxis is proud to announce its 2020 rider lineup with the addition of Mateo Oliveira to the team. Mateo won the 2019 WORCS Pro 2 Lights championship in dominating fashion and will jump up to the Pro 2 class for 2020. Returning for 2020 are team riders Dante Oliveira, Cooper Abbott, Maria Forsberg-Hahn, and Trystan Hart. Our team will compete in NGPC, WORCS, Endurocross, AMA Extreme Enduro, and WORCS Sprint Enduro races throughout the year
Photo: Mary Rinell @mjsmotophotos

Primary Sponsors:
RPM Racing Team is sponsored by KTM, FMF, Maxxis Tires, KLiM Gear, Sidi Boots,
Motorex, Motion Pro, Specbolt, TM DesignWorks, Engine Ice, HBD Moto Grafx, Fastway/Pro
Moto Billet, Seat Concepts and Alexander Exhibit.
Associate sponsors: Acerbis, AME Grips, Arc Levers, Bullet Proof Designs, Champion Tool
Storage, Costa Rica Unlimited, DA8 Training, DT1 Filters, Danco Performance, Fasst Flexx
Bars, FLO, GPR, Hot Cams, Hot Rods, IMS, Mass Brothers, McGraw Powersports, Nitro
Mousse, Pivot Works, Rekluse, Shorai Batteries, SKF, SRT, Vertex Pistons, WP Suspension,
AEO Suspension.
Our KTM Dealer Support sponsors are:
USA – AEO Powersports KTM and Mt. Baker Moto-Sports KTM.
Canada – A&E Racing KTM, Blackfoot Racing KTM.



1978 Harley Davidson MX250

The Mecum Auction is coming to Glendale, Arizona on March 11. The second day will see this 1978 Harley Davidson MX250 on the block. There were less than 1,000 produced. This one is a professional frame-off restoration completed by Phoenix Precision Restoration, using only NOS parts, including very rare Tommaselli levers.  I kinda want it, but it’s far to good. I can’t have nice things.


This year, the print edition of Dirt Bike Magazine has entered its 50th edition. That means we have a wealth of material from past issue that make for great reading and reminiscing. Back in the April 2003 issue, we got to test the new KTM 85SX, and for a test rider, we had a young Zach Osborne, among others. Zach was riding for Champion Cycles in Virginia, and he already had time on the bike before it was released. At the time, we didn’t know him well, and in fact we misspelled his name. So, here’s a belated apology, Zach. We promise to get your name right from now on.


In that same 2003 issue of Dirt Bike, I wrote a classic column that is occasionally mentioned today. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Here it is:

The human brain is so complicated that no one really agrees how it works.
Biologists divide the brain into mechanical sections. They have the stem, the medulla oblongata, the cerebral cortex and so forth. Philosophers divide it into the right and left; the creative and the practical sides. But I think most of the writings on the subject so far are way off track. If you really want to find out about something, you need to study it in its most simplified form. Motocrossers have very basic, easy to understand brains with giant thought balloons floating overhead for anyone to see. Since I have been submerged in motocrossers and motocross society for the greater part of my life, I figured I could offer my observations as a humble contri­bution to collective human knowledge.
I have noted,for example, that the MX brain can be divided into the riding and spectating sides. The right side, which shows activity while riding, looks at a double jump from the saddle and evaluates it based on size, length of run, lift required and landing area. The right side then sends the “no stinkin’ way” message to the cerebral cortex, and reclassifies the double jump as two independent hillclimbs. The left, or spectator side of the brain, which is stimulated while the subject is sitting on the club level of Anaheim Stadium, can look at the exact same jump on the field and determine that any young girl should be able to clear it in a shopping cart.
Sometimes the two sides can be in direct conflict with one another such as when the brain is processing a dice between Travis Pastrana and Ricky Carmichael. The rider side can’t help but get involved; it sees Ricky brake-check Travis, then it evaluates the options available to both riders. The right side comes to the conclusion that Travis should brake early, then try to dive under Ricky and push him out. Then, when Travis grabs a handful of throttle and loops out like a complete spaz, the rider brain says “hmm, that didn’t go so well.” The spectator side of the brain, on the other hand has usually had a few beers by this time and is already booing with 40,000 other half brains.
Another way of dividing up the MX brain is by emotions. There’s a constant battle between the angry side (let’s call it the Gary Jones side) and the frightened side (we’ll call that the Ron Lawson side–no relation). The Jones side sees all other riders as giant orange cones to be dodged or occasionally sucked into a wheel. The Ron side sees other riders as terrorists with bombs strapped under their chest protectors. If the Ron side isn’t suppressed, then results can be dismal. You go into the first turn sure that if you get too close, you’ll get blown to bits. The best tactic is to encourage the Jones side to take over. Convince yourself that all the other orange cones have been sleeping with your ex-wife. Or, depending on your personal situation, convince yourself that they are your ex-wife. The biggest problem with the Jones side is that it doesn’t always have an off switch. My advice is don’t talk or make eye contact with any other riders until you’re sure which brain half is in command.
You can further divide the brain into sec­tions that have specific tasks. It works a lot like a computer–a P.C. for males and a Mac for females. The harddrive is like human memory. That’s where information is stored until it’s called up and rewritten. A race is initially stored as a raw, unedited file. Then at some future time, it can be retrieved and sort of fixed. There are a number of things that can be wrong with an unedited memory. For instance, let’s say you were in last place and then you fell and bent your front brake rotor. This event will be stored in a temp file until it can be processed with a re-sequencing filter.Once the chronology is straightened out, the file will read in the reverse order first the front brake problem, then the crash, then last place.That’s a much more satisfying result. More complicated programs can completely re-write memories and give you first place, but that can cause a hard drive crash and eventually require months of therapy.
One of the most common errors occurs when you simply exceed the speed of your processor. Say you have a 500 megahertz brain. That’s trouble. Events in a typical motocross happen at three or four gigahertz. You can be halfway through the first lap when you realize that you should have been scared out of your wits in the first turn. It gets even uglier when you’re trying to pass a rider with two or three hundred megahertz on tap.You’re trying to predict where he’s heading and he’s still working on where he’s been.The result is usually one of those blue “fatal error” screens.The biggest difference is that the computer can just be turned off and rebooted. It rarely has to spend six to eight weeks in a cast.
But even the motocross brain is compli­cated. It has the “That hurts” side and the “let’s do it some more” side. It has the part that wants a pretty new bike and the part that needs to get it dirty and destroy it. It has strange priorities- it knows exactly where its first trophy is displayed but hasn’t got a clue where to find its high-school diploma.
Now that I think about it, the study of the MX brain is something I really don’t want to get too deeply involved with. It’s probably best just to leave things as they are, with MX and brains having very little in common.

See you next week!

–Ron Lawson


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