It only took three days in total to plan the Chrunix Lagi Sand Run. The idea was to expand on a route I had done with Fran over a year ago. From there, draw a few lines down to the coast of Lagi. The route to be drawn was all fairly obvious in terms of looking at Google Earth.
Myself, Warren and Tigit Link headed out on a two day “ADV” drive to Lagi to test this route.
Our first rally to Cat Tien which saw 20 sign ups failed to get a single big motorbike or ADV rider on board. I wanted to try again for this Lagi Sand run, so I went out on Honda CB 500x to give it a go. This would provide the marketing material we needed whilst proving to see if the route was possible on such a motorbike.
Our first obstacle was a river crossing that became flooded. This led us on a meander around mud tracks where I was just trying to go East to reach a road. It actually turned out to be a great route that has made it into our escape Saigon tour now.
We then followed our usual plantation route which had a very small ascent on clay surfaces. I found myself frustratingly not being able to get up. It was at this moment, I realized the extreme limitations and dangers of trying to take an ADV motorbike offroad. In my eyes, this wasn’t even offroad, and yet I was still struggling.
Stuck on a hill
A battle to get up the 10 degree gradient took us back to the road. We then hit a section of rocks which was challenging. My arms vibrated to pieces and the 200kg weight was starting to take its toll on my body. We got through, but I deemed this a non tourable trail for ADV bikes.
The rest of the ride down to lagi was fast flowing light sand that is perfect ADV territory. Nonetheless, I found myself struggling to get around corners in the control that I would like. No doubt, a driver with far more skill than I would be able to slide the back wheel out in a stylish fashion. But I manhandled the beast around the corners in a cumbersome fashion that was anything but effortless.
We had a quiet and perfect night in Coco Beach camp. The resort has clearly seen better days and is starting to look run down, but it is the best in the small town.
ADV Beach Riding
Day two we drove down the beach for around 30 minutes. The CB 500x handled it fine, and I trucked along. It wasn’t enjoyable though, far too much weight to fight through the soft sand. I consider myself a very good “weekend rider”, better than 99% of the people out there, but much worse than someone who can actually drive.
I don’t think most drivers would be able to handle this bike on the beach, and the following nights would haunt me as I lay awake wondering what would happen when we got 11 CB 500x’s stuck in the sand with drivers complaining about the tires instead of looking at their own driving abilities.
After the beach we headed into some challenging deep sand. It was a great drive and the CB 500x was actually reasonable through this terrain. I turned to Warren who was driving a Honda XR 150 equipped with dual-sport tires and asked him if he thought normal riders could get through this. He responded with a vague, yes, but it will be difficult for them.
The rest of the day had far too much road and overall I was disappointed at the route home.
More Route Research
I drew some new lines on Googlemaps and decided to head out on a one day trip with Tigit Todd and Warren to try my new route. Although the idea of an ADV group on this tour was still giving me nightmares, I decided to try the Royal Enfield Himalayan this time.
I tried a new exit route to Saigon that was amazing. This would become part of my new series of “ADV heaven tours”, and would be the closing ride on day two for the rally. The Himalayan was a reasonable drive, I quite enjoy the character of the motorbike. It is anything but quality, but it is fun, and I would consider it an ADV motorbike that can do basic offroad.
Before lunch we got stuck at a river crossing and turning around my 200kg slab of steel was a mighty challenge. A job that should take 5 minutes on a dual sport bike turns into a 1 hour battle on my ADV bike. Once again, I was back to hating this ADV concept. Getting stuck like this should never happen.
Lunch time came around and the heavens opened Vietnam style. It was huge fun driving down rivers that were once roads, but it basically put a complete stop to route research as all judgement on difficulty was put out of the window.
We played around for a bit, then got stuck in clay between plantations. The clay got stuck between the front mud guard and wheel which locked the wheel. It took over an hour of fiddling in disbelief to sort out the mess that we had found ourselves in. After that, we headed home on the highway.
Some clips of the drive that were edited into our sister channel of Chrunix.
The ADV elephant in the room
The route was now complete, but the elephant in the room of the realistic chance of a rider on an ADV motorbike being able to do the route lingered in the air.
A few days passed of swaying between a yes and a no, and finally I decided to remove the idea of ADV. I just couldn’t bear the thought of these bikes getting stuck everywhere and the strain this would put on Tigit Guides.
The Chrunix Sand Rally live
The Chrunix Lagi Sand Rally hit 25 signups. The meeting point had everyone ready and the tour was running bang on time.
The opening sequence that was not covered in the route research due to the blocked river turned out to be a challenging mess of tracks. Great fun, but this broke the group up and got the tour off to a messy start. Losing two clients to a breakdown without any tour guide. The broken bike took a truck home and the assisting client managed to meet us at a lunch spot. One of the advantages of dealing with expats over tourists is that they can dig themselves out of messes like this!
I also made a mistake of letting the beginner group go first, under the idea that the advanced group would catch up and ride on through. In reality, the advanced group got stuck behind the beginner group, and when beginner riders crashed the advanced riders stopped to help. This then merged the groups and it wasn’t possible to get everyone separated in the right groups.
After lunch, the advanced group headed off first, allowing a clean break. This time, we had advanced riders breaking down all over the place and riders kept stopping to help them. Again creating forced splits in the groups. We were trying to follow the “cornerman system”, but it doesn’t work if everyone’s bikes break down. Especially if it is the tour guides bikes.
I should point out at this point, that no bikes from Tigit Motorbikes broke down on this trip, it was all client or volunteer bikes that were failing!
Well the Tigit DRZ did break down, but I am not entirely sure the motorbike can be blamed…
To put it in perspective, a group of 10 “advanced riders” saw 5 motorbikes fail, some of them several times. Four out of four Suzuki DRZ 400’s failed over the two day trip.
Having instructed the tour guides with bikes that don’t work to stop dragging clients into their mess, we ended up with a group of around 6 riders at the front. Another Suzuki DRZ 400 broke down and I told a tour guide to take the remaining group to Lagi. Myself and Vincent towed the DRZ to a mechanic where we got it fixed.
Meanwhile the beginner group with XR and CRF 150’s had crawled up ahead and were already in Lagi and preparing for the BBQ. The group of 15 beginner riders had stayed together and had no breakdowns or drama.
The group of advanced riders with working bikes arrived into Lagi shortly after the beginner group, and myself and Vincent came in later with the DRZ that didn’t like water.
Day two of the Chrunix Sand Rally
Day two started with further attempts to fix Suzuki DRZ’s and the remapping of a Yamaha WR 450-F.
The hotel had arranged an amazing breakfast of hamburgers and coffee.
The beach meeting was on time, with only one broken DRZ and the re-mapped Yamaha missing (now broken). It turned out later that it had run out of gas.
A wheelie popping session on the beach was followed by my announcement to tell clients to stop helping broken down guides. Scrapping the cornerman system in favor of my system of every man for himself. This seemed like the only way to keep the groups in the correct place.
Guides can help guides, but clients need to stay in the correct places to keep the tour flowing forwards.
I blasted off down the beach with the advanced group. Absolutely incredible fun to have a bunch of dirt motorbikes motoring down the coast. Locals loved the show, with various members of the tour having the skill set to pull wheelies down the beach.
The Tigit DRZ gave up on life on the beach, which led me to towing the 148kg pig through thick beach sand. It was very, very difficult but does prove the incredible performance of a 350 KTM! We drove onward to the difficult sand driving, only to find the beginner group had already made it to the section. Once again, they had trucked on steadily with no dramas and were now leading the pack.
I decided to let the advanced group head off, and I stayed behind with the beginners to help them through the sand. They didn’t need help though and had an incredible systematic approach. The lead tour guide would stop at all obstacles and guide people through one by one. With two guides sitting at the back to pick up crashes.
I decided to spend the afternoon taking pictures.
A rest spot under a tree saw a client pull out a massive bag full of iced water. Claiming he had been on hiking tours where everyone runs out of water. This guy was prepared and we all had an amazing refreshing break sitting under a tree in a roasting desert.
The beginner group once again caught up to the advanced group who found themselves with a rider stuck in the mud having chosen the wrong line through a ditch. They looked exhausted having dragged that bike out of the mud, whilst we were refreshed from our teamwork based approach.
The rest of the day saw various breakdowns and flat tires, but eventually the ride made it back to Saigon.
A huge success that flowed incredibly well under the circumstances.
I have finally come to the realization that these tours will always be chaotic due to the nature of offroading and broken bikes. There is no way around this, but we have an amazing team of tour guides and volunteers that keep everything flowing through all the chaos.
There is no doubt that these tours are an experience. Watching and helping people through challenging terrain, is an action packed weekend that is huge fun for everyone!
My concern for the ADV market remains, and it is something I am continually battling in my mind to understand. I can’t get my head around it yet, and our next rally to Dalat will once again be missing this important segment. I understand that they are great motorbikes in places like India with gravel, or Australia with open sand, but in Vietnam’s clay conditions, they simply don’t work, or least, I can’t get them to work!
2 Replies to “Chrunix Sand Rally tour planning and execution”
Wonderful article Jon! Can’t wait to finally get to go riding with you guys again in Jan at the Chrunix Dalat Rally. I will be sure to come prepared as always to help out others and need to brush up on my skills since I have been off the trails for a while now. But can’t help but wonder if I should get a DRZ, CRF, or KLX next? Cheers mate!
Assuming we can fix the DRZ water problems (which we are trying various fixes for, which are installed on our bike). Then you should be getting a DRZ.
The DRZs breaking in water is a very strange mystery, and until resolved I can’t recommend the bike.