My life in bikes: Dakar racer Craig Bounds

‘I broke four vertebrae in my neck but finished the dakar’

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Welsh enduro star charts his journey from humble step-thru to rally greatness.

How did it all start?

My first bike was a Suzuki FZ80 step-thru, the two-stroke equivalent of a Honda C90. I remember at six years old my brothers plonked me on it and we ragged it around the farm. I got a Suzuki RM50 after that, and had a KTM 400 when I was 12. My brother used to fill up the petrol tank and start it for me, because I couldn’t. He’d then point me in the direction of a mountain and I’d ride it until it ran dry. Then I’d flick it onto reserve and that’s when I knew to head home. 

What happened if you stalled it?

I’d have to push it back! So it was a good learning curve on how to keep a bike going. Owning that KTM made me want to race, and I started riding trials. I had a Yamaha TY125, a Fantic 240. I rode trials for about 15-20 years, won competitions and rode all around the world. I did a bit of motocross too. But my favourite was desert racing, like the Baja rally.  

Why did you decide to do the Dakar?

I used to watch it on TV all those years ago, and saw the carnage of trucks and cars and the true adventure of it all and just knew I wanted to do it. I knew I’d enter it eventually from the age of about 18. 

Didn’t you have a rough time on the last one?

Yes, I did it Malle-Moto, which is the old way of doing Dakar – with no support or mechanic. I’ll never forget it. The road book was showing 23km of straights when a lost quad rider jumped out of the bushes and came straight across me. In a split second reaction I high-sided the bike and landed on my head and broke four vertebrae in my neck.  

That sounds painful?

Yeah, I was in agony. I couldn’t sit down on the bike, it was like someone was shoving a hot poker up through my back, and I couldn’t stand up. So I rode the remaining 12 days and finished the Dakar Rally in a squat position. I went for two X-rays and they only X-rayed my back, never my neck. I even had a physio grab me in a lock and wrench me backwards. 

So what happened?

I dropped my bike off at the port at the end of it and was in absolute agony at this point. The flight back was horrendous. I didn’t take any painkillers because all they gave me was paracetamol, which was a waste of time anyway. Then I got back and went and asked a doctor to check me over. He looked at me and said ‘I’m not touching you’ and sent me for an emergency scan. Within 15 minutes they stopped the scan and strapped me to a board. So it was three weeks from the time of the crash to that scan in the UK. I had a cage around my neck for six months, but I kept walking up mountains. Even the day after I came out of hospital I was walking in two foot of snow up a mountain, as I believe it helped boost blood flow and aided my recovery.  

Surely that’s put you off doing another Dakar then?

No way! I’ve definitely got another Dakar in me. But this time I just want to go and enjoy it, not rush so much. I think the racing side of me has probably gone… but you never know.

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