Saratoga County

Passion for motorcycle riding takes local man to Sahara

Jim Stoddard said helping Team USA win the first BMW Motorrad International Trophy during a five-

Jim Stoddard races his BMW bike over the sands of the Sahara Desert.
Jim Stoddard races his BMW bike over the sands of the Sahara Desert.

Jim Stoddard said helping Team USA win the first BMW Motorrad International Trophy during a five-nation competition on the Sahara desert in North Africa was “a once in a lifetime experience.”

“It was a ball,” said Stoddard, 45, who lives in the hamlet of Middle Grove in Greenfield.

“It’s what me as an off-road rider, a long distance rider … lives for,” Stoddard said.

He has been a motorcycle enthusiast all his life, challenging himself during grueling off-road races and distance rides for the past 20 years.

“I could never afford to go to Europe,” Stoddard said about one of the reasons he was interested in qualifying for the BMW Motorrad International and a chance to cross the Atlantic.

He was among three American riders selected from a starting group of 197 riders to qualify for the BMW challenge last month in Tunisia.

Stoddard, who works for Atlantic-Detroit Diesel Allison in Latham, and five other U.S. finalists were asked to come to BMW’s U.S. headquarters and training center in Spartanburg, S.C., for a brief series of trials and competitions. He and two others were selected for the trip overseas.

Teams from five nations — Spain, Germany, Italy and Japan and the United States — flew to Milan where they picked up 30, brand new, identical BMW F-800 GS motorcycles.

“It’s a street bike that is off-road capable,” Stoddard said about the powerful motorcycles used in the competition.

The riders then drove to Genoa, where the bikes were loaded onto a ferry for a 22-hour sea journey to Tunis, the Tunisian capital.

The desert rally, financed completely by BMW, covered a distance of almost 1,200 miles.

“During the six special tests in Tunisia, the teams not only had to tackle orientation tasks but also cope with massive sand dunes,” a BMW report on the competition stated.

Stoddard said there was a variety of different kinds of sand on the Sahara, some more treacherous than others.

One type of sand was called “fesh-fesh” and was like talcum powder, Stoddard said. He said this type of sand gives the motorcycle rider very little support.

“Riding in it [fesh-fesh] was very difficult at best,” he said.

There was also a harder-packed, dark yellow sand on the desert that was somewhat easier to navigate.

The 30 riders on five national teams first took their motorcycles on a 186-mile road ride to get to the northern end of the desert.

The next six days were spent riding across the desert, across sand dunes and participating in various time challenges, relays and orienteering courses.

“We won hands down,” Stoddard said about Team USA. His team won four of the six challenges during the competition.

The teams from Spain and Germany were tied for second.

There was no rain, and it was sunny for almost the entire period (Oct. 13-26) until the last day when the riders had to endure four hours of heavy rain as they rode the bikes back to Tunis and the ferry back the Genoa.

Stoddard said BMW paid for all travel, food and special equipment expenses, including a $1,400 riding suit with each rider’s name on it.

“I left here with $160 and came back with $100,” Stoddard joked.

The temperature during the day on the desert was 90 degrees but dropped to 45 degrees at night, he said. BMW personnel made sure the riders each had at least six quarts of water to drink daily.

The motorcycle riders had to camp out on the desert at night in tents and sleeping bags provided by BMW.

James and Lisa Stoddard, who have been married 27 years, have two grown sons. They enjoy taking his motorcycle on long distance rides.

Riding on the same bike, they completed the Iron Butt Association’s National Park tour, visiting 55 National Parks in 28 states in less than four months in 2005. He said they did the National Park tour on weekends and during one two-week trip.

For more information on the competition see:

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