The Iron Butt Rally is something you may have heard of but, like many riders, you may not be familiar with the details. The name makes it obvious you’ll be riding one helluva long distance but, other than that, what’s involved? When I got a note from Dean Tanji (himself a competitor) about a film he had produced covering the last Iron Butt in 2007 (it’s run every 2 years), I figured it would be worth a look and I certainly learned a lot.
Like many events, this started years ago over a few beers and the realization that riding from New York to LA had been done many times. Creating a longer route was the next step and setting up rules so it wasn’t simply a speed contest was important, too. It’s evolved many times since beginning in the mid 1980s and every time it runs it’s different, but the basic goal is the same, it’s sort of a timed scavenger hunt on steroids.
Winning the Iron Butt Rally is really very simple, you complete a series of tasks, which includes choosing from a huge list of destinations, each worth varying numbers of points, locating them, arriving within a limited time window and getting your verification of arrival to be awarded those points, and after gathering as many points as possible, showing up back at the start, again within a limited time window, all the while traveling through every type of weather and amassing more points than any other rider. That’s all. Nothing to it, except for one more thing, … the winner will need to cover about 11,000 miles in 11 days!
The specific points along the way can range from Key West, Florida to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Maine to southern California and almost any other state plus some regions of Canada in between. The list of locations and how many points each is worth is handed out the day before you leave, there is no specific path, you may pick any series of locations and plan your route any way you choose but the limited time available means you simply can’t go everywhere so your strategic planning skills are paramount. Distance, time, points at each location, all of those things must be considered and will it be enough to win?
Of course, the next question is, can you actually ride that far in that amount of time? If you can, how about your bike? Motorcycles range from the obvious big touring rigs, Gold Wings, BMWs and Electra Glides to a variety of smaller bikes. The winner, Martin Leir rode a BMW R1200GS 12,460 miles in the 11 day rally. The big surprise was Brett Donahue who rode a Harley Davidson Sportster XLH1200R 11,283 miles for a third place finish. The highest placing female competitor was Vicki Johnson, BMW F650GS, 9,868 miles, 14th overall. The highest placing two-up couple’s team was Reiner & Lisa Kappenberger, Honda GL1800 Goldwing, 9,849 miles, 23rd.
Not surprisingly, current competitors are often well equipped with multiple GPS units, computer mapping software, cell phones, radios and any other electronic gadgets they think might help, but at the end of the day, the rider’s skill, planning and perseverance, the bike’s mechanical reliability and just a little bit of luck determines whether he or she even finishes, let alone, wins.
The Iron Butt organizers choose destinations far off the interstate highways so you’ll see a lot of interesting scenery and at some destinations you have to get off of your bike and walk a little distance to the spot where you need a photo, helps keep the blood flowing and there is some enforced rest, but it’s a long hard ride under any circumstances and the winner will need some downtime at the end.
2009 is an Iron Butt year. The rally starts August 24 at a yet to be disclosed southeast state.
If this sounds like your idea of a good time or if you just want to know a little more about it, check out the DVD.