Ready to rumble in Copiapó. The Atacama Rally gets underway

The Atacama Rally, third round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, kicks off today with the curtain-raiser – a short prologue stage that will determine the competitors’ starting order for the first full stage. 

After making the first contact with Chilean terrain and overcoming the mandatory administrative and technical checks, Monster Energy Honda Team is hot to trot for the Atacama Rally which gets underway today, at 17:00 hrs (local time in Chile, GMT -4).

The result of the prologue will be decisive in establishing the starting positions for the first full Atacama Rally stage. The top finishers will be able to choose their positions – the fastest rider being the one who gets to choose last – for the starting order of the stage held on Tuesday August 14. The full stage will run from Copiapó-Copiapó, covering 358.87 kilometres, including a total of 266.30 kilometres of timed special.

The Atacama 2018 will be unique, traversing the immensity of the Atacama Desert. Is set to be a magical race, breathtaking and above all challenging, taking riders’ abilities to the limits to conquer the driest desert in the world.

This is a unique opportunity to live the Atacama Desert to the full, with its contrasting geographies and demanding routes, combining dunes, the sandy tracks of Chile’s northern coast, rocky trails and high-speed stretches —an endless succession of new places to discover.

In the Atacama Region, with 5 competitive stages over more than 1,200 km, at the pure heart of the incredible Atacama Desert.

AUGUST 8, 2018: Perhaps there is nothing better than a good rider, a great bike, a huge dollop of determination and some careful coaching by one of New Zealand’s dirt biking elite.


These elements all came together at the weekend to earn Dannevirke teenager Ben Paterson the No.2 spot in his class at the weekend’s Yamaha Taikorea 500, the second round of six in the Moto SR-sponsored NZXC cross-country series.

The 16-year-old, a year 12 pupil at Napier Boys’ High School, recently graduated from the inaugural Paul Whibley Racing (PWR) academy and he arrived at Whibley’s own Taikorea Motorcycle Park, near Himatangi, for Sunday’s race keen to collect his new Yamaha WR250F – purchased through the PWR Yamaha Demo Program – and get straight into the thick of the action on the pristine track.

However, with no time to complete set-up work on the bike, he lined up for the gruelling two-hour senior race with his bike still in road trim – sporting headlight, tail-light, blinkers, number plate mount, side-stand and horn – an odd sight with all the other racers lined up on trimmed-down, race-ready machinery.

It didn’t seem to matter to Paterson, though, who was quick at getting to grips with the brand new, straight-out-of-the-crate bike and equally adept at dealing with the treacherous sand, steep hills and tree roots that lay in his path, eventually settling for a brave 17th overall.

The race was actually won outright by Titirangi rider Callan May (Yamaha YZ250F), another rider who has benefitted recently from Whibley’s coaching.

Significantly though, Paterson had done enough to finish second overall in his intermediate four-stroke class, behind Martinborough’s James Purdie (Yamaha YZ450F).

“I purchased the bike through the PWR academy, but was only able to pick it up on Sunday and didn’t have time to convert it for racing. Also, I had not been racing at all because I didn’t have a bike, so my preparation for this race wasn’t the best,” said Paterson.

“It was nice to ride and I felt good on it straight away.

“It was quite funny in the race actually, because I tooted the bike’s horn as I launched off jumps at Taikorea … just something to bring a smile to the face of spectators,” he laughed.

“This bike is almost exactly the same as a YZ250F, except it comes with blinkers and such on it, so I knew I could do well on it.

“I’ve been racing for about five years now and getting faster all the time, but my stint in the PWR academy has made the biggest difference for me. It was six months of hard work, quite brutal really, but it’s made me a much better rider.”

Former Kiwi international Paul Whibley had groomed the track to perfection and he was trackside on Sunday, observing the form of Paterson, among others, as he considered fresh coaching points for future PWR academy sessions.

The popular NZXC Series, now in its fourth season, was the brainchild of Whibley, who created the competition to “better prepare New Zealand riders for racing in major cross-country events overseas”, and it seems to be working with several Kiwi riders now making waves in the United States and Europe.

The 40-year-old former Manawatu forestry worker, affectionately dubbed “The Axeman” on the motorcycling scene, was a two-time outright winner of the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) in the United States (in 2009 and 2012) and a record six-time winner of the parallel Off-Road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series there as well.

He was also New Zealand cross-country champion in 2015 and now dedicates much of his time coaching and advising aspiring champions, as well as running the NZXC Series.

Paul Whibley Racing and the NZXC Series are supported by Yamaha Motor New Zealand, PWR Yamaha, Arai, TCX, Oakley, G2, Asterisk, MotoSR, Vortex Ignitions, EC3D, Bush Riders MCC, Rossco’s Start Up Services, Dirt Guide, Tire Balls, Renthal,, CarbSport, FMF, Michelin, Yamalube CV4 GYTR, IMS, Rekluse, Workshop Graphics,, Motomuck and O’Neal.


Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan



Former Kiwi international Paul Whibley is still regarded as one of the best off-road bike racers in the world and now the cross-country competition created by him in 2015 – the Yamaha NZXC series – is about to begin its fourth season.

At the end of his 2014 campaign in the United States, the Manawatu man returned from South Carolina to settle back in New Zealand following a successful 12-year stint of racing motorcycles off-road in Europe and the US and he immediately went to work trying to re-established his position at the top of the sport in New Zealand, taking his Yamaha YZ450F to compete in major enduro and cross-country events around the country.

Although the Yamaha man did personally taste success at these events, he said he was not completely satisfied with some aspects of the domestic scene and so he began take his involvement a step further, developing his own series and, at the same time, lifting the quality of competition and putting processes in place that might assist young Kiwi riders who wish to follow in his wheel track overseas.

Whibley won the New Zealand cross-country Championships in 2015, all the while putting into place the foundations for his own NZXC series.

This year’s six-round NZXC series kicks off at Ohakuri this Sunday, July 22.

Whibley’s NZXC series will again amalgamate some of the sport’s most popular events, the event at Ohakuri on Sunday doubling up also as the third and final round of the popular Sean Clarke-organised Dirt Guide Cross-country Series.

Whibley makes no apologies for the fact that he is “cherry-picking” the best events from other series already happening around the country, co-sanctioning his NZXC Series with the final round of the Dirt Guide Series, then also coupling up with the stand-alone Yamaha Taikorea 500 event, the NZ GNCC series, the Woodhill Two-Man series and the Central Cross-country Series.

“These races will be run on flowing tracks, professional marked and well organised,” said Whibley.

He said the best five out of six rounds of the NZXC would count with contestants discarding their one worst score.

“My intention had not been to simply add more events to the calendar, but to use some that are already there and combine them into something different. I’ve chosen the best of the bunch and that’s how we’ve come up with the parallel-but-separate NZXC series.

“I have considered what younger guys need to prepare them for when they venture overseas and, in my opinion, some of the events in New Zealand were not really preparing them for what they’d face internationally.”

Riders who have in the past taken advantage of what the NZXC series can offer include Titirangi’s Callan May, Coatesville’s Sam Greenslade, Cambridge’s Ashton Grey, Cambridge’s Callum Paterson,  Masterton’s Jacob Hyslop, Cambridge’s Beau Taylor and Tokoroa’s Nick Wightman, among others, and these individuals will be among those fancied to lead the way in the series this season.

Howick’s Liam Draper is an NZXC series success story – he has tasted glory in the NZXC series in past years and he is currently racing the GNCC series in the US and experiencing great success there.

After the opening round of the NZXC on Sunday, the series heads to Taikorea, near Palmerston North, on August 5; the Woodhill Forest on September 2; Matata on October 13; then Woodhill again, on November 10, and it finally wraps up at Waimiha on December 8.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan,

It won’t win any awards at a beauty pageant, but for practical innovation, this machine is almost in a league of its own. We check out the future with UBCO’s 2018 road legal 2×2 electric bike.

Words: Broxy Pics: Alick Saunders


So much about this bike is extraordinary. Here I am connected through the Bluetooth of my iPhone, setting a bike into stealth mode. It is already mostly silent, and ready to take me most places that a dirt bike could and some places a dirt bike couldn’t.

Getting off for the tenth time to open a gate, the Ubco reminds me of a postie bike, and why they are still the number one seller of all motorcycles. The center of gravity is around axle height, with room to swing a leg through only just a little higher than that. The whole bike is only just over a meter high, and you can literally pick the back of it up with one finger, yet the 2018 model will take you 120km on a single charge.

My first introduction to this concept was in the innovations tent at the Fieldays in 2014, where I met Daryl Neal and his two-wheel-drive electric bike. He actually let me have a little ride – and I mean little, because the cubicle was only a few metres across – yet it was enough to see that he was on to something. Grunty little motors in both hubs were attached to a frame that looked like it had been modeled using rope and duct tape – yet the concept worked. There was a feeling of practicality at all costs, which meshes well with the Kiwi “number 8 wire” mentality.

A brand was formed around the bike in 2015 with the first real production units arriving a year later – now the biggest challenge is to keep up with demand.

Being a dirt bike rider at heart, my main question was less about safety and more about how capable it was, especially up hills. Reading the technical specs, the area Ubco calls “Performance” is perhaps a little misleading. To translate the numbers into something more meaningful, 2.4kWh is just over three horsepower. Yet if you compare the Ubco’s max torque of 90Nm to the CRF250R of yesteryear at 28Nm, you really comparing apples to oranges.

Within moments of twisting the throttle for the first time, you’ll find this bike can really move. It gets up to speed quickly and will cruise along a farm track faster than you really need to go. The brakes are classic mountain bike components and at 203mm, are plenty powerful with good feel, even on the tarmac.

The suspension is much firmer than I was expecting, but I assume this is partly to help when the bike has a little load on the front and rear carriers that come standard with the bike. Aside from changing the preload of the springs, only the rebound has adjusting knobs. The suspension’s saving grace is that low center of gravity, which helps the bike to handle just fine. That’s combined with a large and generously padded seat able to handle a couple of hours without hurting your rear. The extra-large foot-pegs are another plus, and probably came about as part of Daryl’s downhill mountain bike experience.

When it came time to head uphill, the bike did slow down as you would expect. Without giving you an exact slope angle, anything you could walk up without breaking into a big sweat is fine for the twin ‘lekky motors. You slow right down, but you keep moving.

In saying that though, extra body weight and loaded carry compartments would make a difference in what you could handle, and – as we discovered – you don’t want to load the motors for long when the going gets too steep. They overheat, and once that warning light is on, you either give it a good chance to cool off or resort to paddling Flintstone-style.

The idea of physically helping the bike up a steep hill is actually quite intriguing as it means you can get up hills that a normal dirt bike couldn’t.

After finding some hills the Ubco couldn’t handle, I got off and pushed, which actually worked well. I tried to see what kind of inclines I could walk it up. Basically, if I could walk it, then I could get the bike up it, provided I could handle the front wheel spinning.

Getting back to the bikes themselves, a surprise was seeing how clean they had remained. Unlike the first prototype with its small mudguard mounted up near the handlebars, the production model has a design that reminds me of my father’s 10-speed from back in the day. It might not look as cool, but it kept all the grass, mud and sheep poo off the bike in spite of my antics.

We shouldn’t overlook such Kiwi design elements. As Daryl mentions in one of his videos, if a bike can handle NZ farm conditions, then it should handle most anything. Cow muck is brutal, and if the extent of your battle with rust is limited to replacing the axle nuts, then that is a big win.

Apart from the axle nuts which had already gone off colour on the 2017 demo bike, all the white components are made of aluminium alloy, which keeps them from corrosion. Stainless steel spokes and copper spoke nipples are the only exceptions I noted.

Most impressive are the forks, custom built for this bike and improved with 40mm more travel for 2018.

There were just two tweaks that I would like to see. Farmland is not always flat, including when opening gates, which makes parking the Ubco on the side stand a little more complicated. On a petrol bike, you could turn it off and leave it in gear with the front wheel facing downhill, but with electric power, you either need to point the front wheel uphill or lay it on its side. Some kind of hand brake would be a nice option.

I also found the indicator switches to be potentially embarrassing. With no automatic indicator off function, there is no ticking sound either and the green arrow on the dash is small and hard to see.

Mechanical plusses include the option of a cigarette lighter style charger along with two parallel ports. The 2018 version is also equipped with regenerative braking to keep you running for longer, along with giving that “engine braking” feeling that we all like. Backing off the throttle or engaging the brakes is all it takes.

When it comes time for a charge, getting back up to 90% apparently takes 6 hours from dead low, with a total of 8 hours for 100% charge. Probably best of all, that charge will cost you less than $1 worth of electricity, which really is quite ridiculous.

Included in the catalogue of pannier racks and bags is one of the handiest accessories you will never see for a normal dirt bike: a tow-ball bike rack. Ubco recommends you travel with the bike’s battery removed, which must mean it is fairly easy to take out. Removing one wing mirror would also be advisable but this is well worth the effort when you don’t have to think about bringing a trailer.

Who’d buy an Ubco? Think of a DOC worker who needs to duck out and check the trails after a big storm. Tight tracks and sharp turns are no problem, with the worst-case scenario being you have to lift the machine over some windfall, but at just 63kg, even this is not impossible.

Another example is the market gardener, hopping on and off the bike all day to check on plants and staff. “No gears, no kick starting, if it falls over it doesn’t flood.” There are also plenty of legitimate safety features they mention as well, including being able to hear when a tractor is coming around the corner.

Versatility is definitely the by-word for this bike and the further illustrate the point – you only need a learner’s license to ride this bike from the farm and onto the road.

Your choice of Ubco is limited to two options. There is the 2017 model at 58kg with a top speed of 45kph which is for dirt only, or the 2018 road legal version at 63kg with its more grunty battery and top speed of 50kph.

You pay more for the 2018 model, but with added durability, versatility and the Bluetooth capability, it is an attractive option.

The Ubco guys – and girls –have been very busy indeed, with over 30 dealers around the country, making this bike easier to find than some mainstream motorcycle brands.

Joan Barreda was forced to retire from the most 2018 Dakar Rally after being unable to support the knee pains resulting from a crash in the heavy downpours in Uyuni. Possibly most painful of all,  the Monster Energy Honda Team rider had clawed back ten minutes from the overall race leader. However, it was not the knee, but the left wrist (which had been fractured in the testing for the Route 40) which meant that he had been unable to recover and compete in the Dakar at full fitness. Two months after undergoing operations for these injuries, the Castellón rider was able to get back in the saddle and triumphed in the Merzouga Rally in Morocco’s arid deserts.

Congratulations Joan. You’ve made a great comeback, winning in Merzouga a few weeks ago. How is the left wrist that they operated on three months ago?
Thank you. I am happy to be back riding the way that I want to. Just a few weeks after the operation, the two bones that hadn’t consolidated after the quadruple wrist fracture at the Route 40, have finally done so. Although they still cause some inflammation, they now allow me to hold the handlebars tightly once again. In a few days I will be back on the bike again and hopefully the inflammation will disappear for good and I’ll be able to ride constantly.

Was the Merzouga Rally the best place to test your physical condition? And to put your navigational skills to the test?
Exactly, despite being happy with the final victory, the rally made me realize that I’m still at only 70% of full physical fitness. The difficult navigation of this rally played in my favour and allowed me to win. The good thing is that I now have a few months to get back to the top level before the summer.

How did you view the Honda CRF450 RALLY?
The bike worked perfectly. But if I have to be honest, it’s something that no longer surprises me. We have worked a lot in recent years to improve the reliability of the bike and now know that it doesn’t give any problems. I’m happy that the pieces of this puzzle have started to fit together.

Last year you competed very little because of the injuries. Do you feel like taking part in more races this year?
Exactly. Last year I had two injuries during racing time and that made me miss all the rallies I had scheduled to prepare for the Dakar. This year the main objective is not to get injured and complete the preparation programme that we have planned. After the Merzouga Rally we will race in the Baja España, the Atacama Rally in Chile, the Desafío Ruta 40 in Argentina and the Morocco Rally. However, these are still to be confirmed depending on how the season goes.

What is your training schedule after the Merzouga?
The objective for these three weeks after the rally is to completely recover the wrist 100%, than continue with the physical training (gym, running, bicycle, motocross bike, paddle surf…). Afterwards, I’ll be back on the rally bike, as I still need to put in some serious kilometres aboard it.

You set up home in Andorra. How is the preparation in the Pyrenean country going?
I like Andorra a lot and I am very happy. I have more and more people around me here, and after five years that makes me feel even better.

We are a few days from the announcement of the new 2019 Dakar. What do you expect the next Dakar to be like?
I would like it to be along the same lines as the last one, and above all I hope that it continues to play out on new terrain where it hasn’t been before.