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Interview with first-time Dakar rider Simon Hewitt

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Welsh amateur enduro rider Simon Hewitt, fulfilled a lifelong dream earlier this year, by taking part in the renowned Dakar Rally. The 29-year-old novice crossed the finish line in Qiddiya on 17th January, after 13 long days of riding across Saudi Arabia’s vast and challenging landscape.

Chatting on the T.ur stand at the MCN London Motorcycle Show less than a month after completing his epic challenge, alongside his Dakar-finishing Yamaha WR450F and T.ur kit, Simon talked about his Dakar experience and how his kit performed along the way.

How was your Dakar experience, compared with your expectations?

 “The sheer size of the whole operation was unexpected. The biggest race I’ve done before this was the Merzouga rally in Morocco – the Dakar qualifier. There, every team could fit into a football pitch easily, but with Dakar, it’s on a whole other level; the sheer vastness was the biggest thing for me, something that doesn’t really come across when you see it on TV and online.

“But from a riding perspective, I was surprised by how comfortable I felt with the terrain. To be completely honest, the terrain itself isn’t the hardest part, it’s the length of the days that got me. Starting at five every morning, then you’re on the bike for 10-14 hours a day – I’ve never done that before, and although I knew it would be long, I didn’t expect to find it so hard. Even in the liaison – the riding before we got to the timed stage – I was sitting there at 110km/h, on an enduro bike, on tarmac, for 130 miles; it was crazy and very tiring.”

Did you go into Dakar with a strategy?

“The strategy was to just tick every day off as it came, and not to worry about the later stages, just to focus on what I had to do to get to the finish line that day. I think if you go into each day with a complicated strategy, it can become too much to think about. I just rode the terrain, read the roadbook, ticked off the kilometres and it worked perfectly for me. Day one of Dakar was my third time on a bike since breaking my collarbone whilst training in Dubai, so I had barely any training in comparison to the other riders. I knew I couldn’t push too hard, so I just had to ease into it.”

How did you start your relationship with T.ur?

“I first came across T.ur on social media thanks to two riders that I follow that wear T.ur – Jacopo Cerutti and Alessandro Boturri. I saw that those guys started to wear T.ur kit, so I started following T.ur on Instagram. A year later when I was preparing to go to Dakar, Diego Sgorbati, CEO of Tucano Urbano, was introduced to me through a mutual friend at BMW Motorrad, and then one evening I received a random call from Diego – we were chatting for about 30-45 minutes, talking about rallies, bikes, BMW and Dakar, and after that, I was asked to get involved with T.ur, and I was absolutely stoked. I was looking for a kit supplier, so it was perfect timing, and I knew Cerutti and Botturi would only ride in the best clothing, so I knew T.ur would be top quality kit.”

What aspects of the T.ur kit were most important to you?

“A big plus for me was having the option every day of vented or non-vented kit depending on the weather. I had two sets of kit; one made from a mesh that let all the air through, and another made with thicker, warmer material. The mesh kit was awesome for days where it was getting really warm on the dunes, but for some stages, I wore the thicker kit because some days were very cold. It was awesome to have the option and very handy. It was also great for me to be able to remove the sleeves – it’s down to personal preference but I like riding without the sleeves so being able to whip them off was great, and luckily it came with the design of the jacket.

“T.ur also gave me a set of the waterproof kit that you can buy –which I wore every day as a windbreaker when I needed it, and I wore the T.ur thermal base layers as well which were perfect – they kept me warm in the mornings and cool in the midday heat. My G-THREE gloves didn’t miss a beat the whole race – the ideal choice for Dakar.”

What did you enjoy most at Dakar?

“The feeling of being part of it. I’ve watched the race for so long on TV and online, so being there, seeing my heroes in the same race as me, and just being part of the whole event was the best feeling ever. The riding, for the most part, was also really fun. Two weeks of riding your bike in the desert – I can’t ask for more than that.”

What was the biggest lesson you learnt at Dakar?

“If I had to do it again, I would definitely not break my collarbone two months before Dakar. The lack of fitness was a killer for me, and I knew that if I had been at my usual bike fitness level, I wouldn’t have felt so tired at the end of each day. I also realised very quickly that managing time in the evenings is really important. The alarm goes off at 4am the next day whether you like it or not, so it’s up to you to be as prepared as possible for the best start the next day.”

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

My bike has just gone back to France for some work, and then I’ll have it back for the summer. I plan to do the Welsh 2 Day Enduro at the end of June on my Dakar bike, then Serres Rally in Greece this August on my Husqvarna 450 enduro bike. In between those, I plan to do as many local races as I can including some of the British National Enduro and Welsh Enduro Championship rounds – they’ll help me build up my bike fitness as well.”

Sum up your Dakar experience in one word.

“Adventure.”

… And the T.ur kit in one word.

“Bullet-proof.”

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