12 hours, 885 kilometres and temperatures in the mid-40s Celsius—this desert race isn’t for everyone

This trip to Vegas has nothing to do with casinos

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Florian Schwarz poses under a banner for the Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno race.

Vernon, B.C.’s own Florian Schwarz claimed the top spot on the international racing event’s podium. Schwarz competed in the Ironman Amateur motorcycle class on his KTM 500 EXC-F in under 12 hours of non-stop riding. — Photo courtesy Florian Schwarz

When most people head out to Vegas, they don’t plan on spending the entirety of their time traversing the desert. For the most diehard of adventure-seekers, Nevada isn’t some tourist trap for chumps looking to strike it rich at the craps table, it’s home to the intense Best in the Desert (BITD) Vegas to Reno off-road race, the longest such race the United States. The one-day race covers a distance of 550 miles (885 kilometres) and has drawn the most famous names in off-road racing for the past two decades. During this year’s event, which began on Friday, August 16 and ran through the next morning, Vernon, B.C.’s own Florian Schwarz claimed the top spot on the international racing event’s podium. Schwarz competed in the Ironman Amateur motorcycle class on his KTM 500 EXC-F in under 12 hours of non-stop riding. The BITD Vegas to Reno race is so competitive that of the dozen competitors in his class, only six riders went the distance by crossing the finish line.

“The race went very well,” Schwarz said. “There were no mechanical issues whatsoever and the pit crew was flawless with lighting quick turnaround times. Hydration for myself and the pit crew was critical as the temperatures were in the mid-40s (Celsius). I managed to win the race by staying hydrated, not crashing, keeping the pit times to an absolute minimum and pinning the throttle!”

Florian Schwarz races through rocky sections of the Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno race.

The Best In The Desert Vegas to Reno has classes of motorcycles, quads, buggies and trick trucks. — Photo courtesy Florian Schwarz

BITD Vegas to Reno is a traditional single race-day format. The race starts in Beatty, Nevada, and ends just south of Reno, in Dayton, Nevada, home of Nevada’s first gold discovery. From Beatty, the course travels north past many towns that were rich in Nevada’s silver and gold rush mining history, including Goldfield, Tonopah, Hawthorne and Rawhide.

Elevations along the course vary from around 3,000 feet to over 7,200 feet. All that tricky terrain can cause problems for riders, such as carpal tunnel and temporary nerve damage. Schwarz recommends upping the workout regime in the lead up to an event like BITD. Finding local trails that resemble the conditions of a challenging course can also prepare riders for the race.

“I ride in the Peace River Valley and the Westside Road area in Vernon,” Schwarz said. “In the Peace area, we hit the ‘Dunes,’ a large ride area consisting of loose sand and rock near the W.A.C. Bennett Dam. Also in the Peace is Cristina Falls, which has very long rides in heavy mud. The Vernon area mountains east of Lake Okanagan have endless single-track and high-speed gravel sections.”

Two motorcycles drive towards the camera on a desert track.

Best in the Desert (BITD) Vegas to Reno off-road race’s long distance point-to-point course has extreme elevation changes and all kinds of challenging terrain. — Photo courtesy Florian Schwarz

How to conquer an off-road race in the desert:

In order to prep for an off-road race like the Best In The Desert Vegas to Reno, there are several critical criteria to keep in mind. Here are Florian Schwarz’s top tips:

  1. Have a top-notch pit crew. Practice mock pit stops pre-race.
  2. Properly prepare the bike for the race. Double check all hardware, strip the bike and rebuild, torque loctite, safety wire all critical fasteners, tune the suspension and check the mousse tube tires. Leave nothing to chance.
  3. Contract out fueling at pits with the best “Baja pits.” This allows the main pit crew to focus on other critical factors and not the gasoline transport and general dangers of packing fuel over hundreds of miles of desert from pit to pit. Baja pits is set up at each pit and ready to go before race starts.
  4. Prepare yourself mentally and physically by jogging, road biking and hitting the gym.
  5. Get used to sweating.
  6. Embrace a positive, fearless attitude.
  7. Have support from family.
  8. Ride, ride, ride.

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