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How to Ride a Route Using a Roadbook

Adapted from the Dakar Rally Handbook by Charlie Rauseo

Roadbook Basics

Long cross-country rallies, unlike many other forms of off-road racing, involve a lot of mental training. You need to know how to manage your bike and body and learn to navigate using only a Roadbook and compass heading.

Rally Navigation Equipment


A simple navigation setup: Rally VR Lite ICO, GPS unit to show CAP heading, MD Roadbook holder . On the left handlebar is the control for both the MD Roadbook holder and the ICO. Universal Handlebar mounting system is supplied by Rally Management Services.

  • Roadbook reader: This must have an electric motor, handlebar switch, and backlighting. The best and most common are the F2R or MD Roadbook reader. Roadbook problems are probably the most frequent navigation equipment failures, so use a quality item and learn how to fix it.
  • Resettable Odometer: The typical model for Roadbook use is the ICO Rally Light or Rally Navigation Systems which have back-lighting and a handlebar switch. It will run on its own batteries for some time, but should be powered by the bike's electrical system. The cables and pickup must be carefully routed out of harm's way.
  • CAP Heading Repeater. Most hobby riders simply use a GPS unit set to display the CAP heading in large numbers. A typical unit is the Garmin GPS 60 series. Organized Rally events may use a CAP display hooked to the organizers standard GPS unit.

All equipment is mounted up near the line of site to make navigation easier and safer because they show important information up high, closer to your line of sight when riding. This lets you keep your eyes on the terrain more, looking down less.

Roadbook Sample – from Rally Navigator

  • On the left, the large number is the total number of miles or kilometers into the section. The smaller number in the left box is the number of miles or kilometers from one Waypoint to the next.
  • In the middle is the "Tulip" which is a drawing showing the trail, terrain, and landmarks at that particular Waypoint. Each Waypoint is entered from the bottom (the "Ball").
  • On the right is an observation giving more information about that Waypoint. The observation uses Text and Compass headings, explained below.

"Marking up" a Roadbook

You must learn to decipher the Roadbook as you are riding or racing. To make navigation easier, riders typically "Mark Up" the Roadbook before setting out on the stage.

Roadbook Mark-up Kit


Each person develops their own preferences, but here are a few hints to get you started:

  • Dangers: Mark dangers with red or pink highlighter. Mark all the double and triple dangers.
  • Navigation: Make sure you can read the CAP headings. Write them larger or highlight them if this helps.
  • Turns: Use Blue to mark turns (trace the desired route in the tulip image) Mark only turns, and ignore items that simply tell you to go straight. Mark the side of the Roadbook with a blue stripe for particularly tricky navigation items, telling yourself to slow down and pay attention.
  • Green means GO! Mark the side of the Roadbook with Green for long sections with no Dangers and no significant navigation. Green says "twist the throttle and head for the horizon."

You can also write any other notes to yourself on the Roadbook. It takes months of practice to become skilled at navigation.

CAP headings are compass directions expressed digitally. East is C.90, South is C.180, West is C.270, North is C.360 or C.0, etc. CAP headings to the right of the direction traveled are higher in number. To the left, they are lower in number. For example, if you are traveling on C.50, and the Roadbook tells you to change to C.140, you will turn directly to your right. C.50 to C.320 is a turn directly left. Learn to quickly pick out directions when given a CAP heading.

Learn to know your approximate CAP heading whenever you are riding. These skills will help you immensely when navigating. Practice drill: stand pointing straight ahead at an imaginary C.90. Then ask a friend to call out random numbers between 0 and 360 in quick succession. Try to point at the corresponding CAP headings as rapidly as possible.

Navigation Strategy

  • Dangerous sections of the trail are marked in the Roadbook with exclamation points ("!!!"). These can be holes, cliffs, big rocks, or any other hazard. Usually, a single danger ("!") is not a problem for motorcycles. But, a double ("!!") or triple ("!!!") danger could kill you. Mark the big dangers in your Roadbook. It is essential that you prepare and slow down for these dangers, so you must scroll your Roadbook and keep your ICO accurate, even when riding in a group or following.
  • Navigation can be tricky, but missing a turn is usually not as bad as missing a Danger point. Here are some tips on navigating efficiently at speed: Know your CAP headings. Great navigators will use only the CAP headings and ICO to navigate most of the time. If you are traveling at CAP 100 and know that the next turn is to CAP 190 in 1.0 km, you do not need any more information. Just before 1.0 km, you will prepare for and look for a right turn. If you can memorize a few turns, you can navigate this way at a very quick pace. Use all your clues: When navigation becomes tricky, you will need more information than just the CAP heading and kilometer. At any time, you have bits of information to use: CAP heading, Roabook drawing, ICO, tracks of earlier riders, the rider in front of you, the organization helicopter overhead, the general description of the daily route from the beginning of the Roadbook, spectators, photographers, cars, trucks, etc. Take all of this information into account. Sometimes not all bits of information will agree, so weigh the evidence and use your best guess. You are not lost: Often you will be fairly certain that you are going the right way, but not absolutely certain. For example, 3 of 5 bits of information may indicate a turn onto a certain track. If you take that track, you may be unsure that it is the correct track until the next Roadbook item.
  • Use "Certain" points to set your ICO. Sometimes the Roadbook will show a point that is very certain. For example, there may be a particular intersection with road sign, or a distinctive terrain item drawn in the Roadbook such as a cliff, a well, or a uniquely shaped building. When you pass this "Certain" point, adjust your ICO if your mileage does not match that in the Roadbook. If your ICO regularly reads too high or low at these certain points, you should adjust your wheel circumference at the end of the day.
  • Safety trumps navigation. Look down at your Roadbook only when it is safe to do so. Sometimes the track is too rocky, twisty or otherwise dangerous to look down at your Roadbook. Glance down quickly to make sure there are no upcoming Dangers (marked in red or pink), but keep your eyes on the trail if it is tricky. Memorize a few items in the Roadbook to carry you through tricky sections, or simply ride through the tricky sections and check later to see if you missed a navigation item. You can always turn back to catch a missed turn, but you must avoid crashing at all costs.

A Final Word about Navigation: Once you understand the general concept, and if you go slow enough, you will not get lost. Navigation training and practice can make you more efficient at navigating while riding fast.

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