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Robby Bell 24 Hours of Glen Helen Race Report and Video

24 Hours of Glen Helen
October 11/12, 2014
Devore, CA

“Are you ready for twenty-four hours?” It’s a standard question that is asked through the pits before the start of the John Burr Cycles 24 Hours of Glen Helen endurance race to get fired up for the long day ahead. Most answer with an enthusiastic “yes!” but when I actually thought about my answer, I came to the conclusion that even after pretty much a decade of participating in this event, I’ve never been truly ready for the physical annihilation that my body goes through each and every time. It is with out a doubt the toughest event, both from a physical and mental standpoint, due to the sleep deprivation, the riding schedule (usually one hour on the bike, three hours rest, which sounds easy enough, until you’re actually in the race; wash, rinse, repeat that cycle five or six times), and the fact that it gets really hard to eat much in the way of food past two or three in the morning, which means your body is more than likely beginning to eat itself by the end of the race. But there must be some kind of satisfaction in the suffering, how else could I want to keep doing the race year after year.

The 24 Hour has been a rivalry race for a few years now between my team, Precision Concepts, Kawasaki, and the Honda team (previously JCR Honda, now WFOx Honda). We’ve had some amazing battles and close finishes, but our team has come up just short of winning every year since 2009. To state the obvious, it’s been incredibly frustrating for us, but it’s been our goal from the time we started racing the 24 Hour on the Kawasaki to win it, and we weren’t going to stop until we accomplished that goal.

For this years event our team consisted of Ryan Abbatoye, Justin Seeds, Ryan Dudek and myself, while the Honda team was made up of Colton Udall, Ian Young, Mark Samuels and Sean Collier. Once again, it looked as though we were quite evenly matched and it was going to be yet another hard fought battle. Traditionally, our strategy has been to go out hot and try to pull a lead during the daytime to have a cushion as we reached the night, but I decided to change our strategy somewhat this time around. We changed the set-up of our bike to be a little softer, more forgiving (sacrificing a little speed for comfort) and our game plan was to ride well during the day, but more importantly, to really peak during the night and into the following morning; that’s when the race has always been decided.

It seemed early on that we were going to have the best of both worlds as Ryan Abbatoye got us off to a fantastic start and we held the lead through our first few rotations, stretching out to around three minutes during the early afternoon. Then unfortunately we had a little trouble with the rear brake system during our first major maintenance pit. It took a little time to get the bike sorted out in the pits and in the process we had lost the lead as Justin mounted our bike and the sun began to set behind the hills.

We had dropped a few minutes behind the Honda team as night fell, but everyone on our team was riding well and there was still so long to go in the race. I felt confident that if we just stuck to our plan we’d be fine. That’s when we got thrown another little curveball as during Ryan Abbatoye’s first stint at night he suffered a pretty terrific crash. He was on the ridge heading back towards a single-track section with a lapped rider just ahead of him. Anyone who’s ridden in the dust at night knows it’s difficult to see the terrain, as when the headlight beam hits the hanging dust, it creates a thick fog. Ryan wanted to pass the rider before the long single-track section (so as not to get slowed down since there was no way to make a pass in the tight stuff) and was trying to push through the dust to get close enough when his front end hit a rain rut and he said he literally flew twenty feet through the air into the bushes on the side of the course. Luckily he was ok physically and got back going pretty quickly, but the front end of the bike was pretty twisted and the lights had been shifted as well.

We were able to get the front end fairly straight, but repositioning the light was more of a guess-and-check procedure, as we’d adjust the angle to what we thought was close and then our rider would take a lap to see how it was and if we needed to adjust it again. It took a few laps, but we finally had the light aiming the way we wanted and we were back up to speed. The unfortunate fact was that we had dropped nearly ten minutes behind the Honda; we were closer to getting lapped than we were to the lead at this point.

Our riders were doing really well, clicking off fast laps at night, and a little ways past the halfway point of the race we were slowly inching back toward the leaders, when in the span of just a couple hours the entire race was turned on its head. First, Honda came in with a fork problem that took a few minutes for them to get sorted out, then just a little while later they suffered some light problems and not only had we retaken the lead, on my second stint during the night I actually passed the Honda while they were in their pit and put them a lap down. I remember having to do somewhat of a double take as I rode past, as it’s pretty rare to see the Honda team having to spend much time in the pits.

From that moment (around three in the morning) on, we never relinquished the lead. Justin, both Ryan’s and myself did exactly as I’d hoped as we all produced strong, fast laps during the night, which carried through into the morning. It was almost surreal as, for so many years, we were used to disappointment as the race reached the morning hours, but this time around we were able to ride smooth and pressure-free, and we could take lengthier pit stops to give the bike a good looking over without the stress of chasing the race. When we took the checkered flag, we had maintained nearly seventeen minutes over the Honda team and we had finally accomplished our long-sought goal of winning the 24 Hours of Glen Helen.

It goes without saying that I want to thank my teammates. Ryan Abbatoye, Justin Seeds and Ryan Dudek rode incredibly well and I’m so happy they wanted to share in twenty-four hours of dirt bike madness with me. Also, thank you to everyone in the pits who supported us, staying up all night: Bob, Phil, John, Ty; my wife, Mark Abbatoye, my mom and all of the girls in our pit for supporting, cheering and cooking for us (having all of that food made such a huge difference!). Thank you to my personal sponsors: Precision Concepts, Kawasaki, MSR, Shoei, Sidi, SPY, Focus Apparel, EVS, USWE, FMF, BRP, A’ME grips, Ryan Abbatoye Designs, Northland Motorsports, Alamo Alarm, THR Motorsports, and ATP Mechanix supplements. I’d also like to thank the Goolsby’s for helping us get our Rigid Industries light package together; the lights were fantastic! I want to give a shout out to Gary Jones, Ron Lawson and the SRA crew for putting together a great course. It was probably one of the best 24 Hour courses in recent memory, and that’s saying something, as the lack of rain had everyone nervous that the race was going to be a dusty, silty mess. I was impressed that there weren’t any sections that deteriorated to the point of having to re-route (which usually happens in dry conditions) and I don’t think there were too many bottle necks (also common in the dust), so kudos.

To me, the 24 Hour has such an odd finish: at the close of such a long, dramatic, mentally exhausting, physically demanding day, it feels as though there needs to be a huge celebration, a party full of marching bands and champagne to acknowledge the accomplishment of just finishing the race, let alone winning. But when the event is over, it literally just ends. Sure there’s the gathering at the finish, some high fives, hand shakes and pictures, but then we all walk back to our motorhomes, pack up our stuff and head home for a day and a half of sleep. I guess, thinking about it a little further, that pretty much sums up what the 24 Hour event is and why we do it: it’s not for any glory or recognition, it’s for the personal accomplishment of pushing your body to it’s physical and mental capacity and sharing that experience with your closest friends. It’s also the personal satisfaction of knowing you just accomplished something that most people in this world wouldn’t be brave (dumb?) enough to undertake in the first place. You can bet that I’ll be on the entry list in 2015.

Robby Bell

Thank you to each of the team sponsors: Kawasaki, THR Motorsports, Dunlop, FMF, Maxima USA, Renthal, GPR stabilizer, Hinson, VP Race Fuels, IMS, BRP, LA Piston Co., A’ME grips, Braking, RK/Excel, ARC levers, DT1 filters, Acerbis, Zip-Ty, Ryan Abbatoye Designs, Seal Savers, MotoSeat, MotoHose, Northland Motorsports, CryoHeat, Rigid Industries

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