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British “Girl on a Bike” finishes gruelling 6,000 km Sahara Race!

British “Girl on a Bike” finishes gruelling 6,000 km Sahara Race!

  • Vanessa Ruck fought to the end finishing 27th overall, showing the male dominated industry that women can do it too
  • First British female ever to finish one of the world’s toughest endurance races
  • Facing over 6,000km of brutal African terrain with an attrition rate so high that only 54% of the motorcycle category riders successfully completed
  • The gruelling Africa Eco Race follows the original Pari-Dakar route in an extreme 13-day motorcycle race over sand dunes in blistering temperatures
  • Over 104 hours in the saddle riding
  • 46 motorcycles started and only 25 riders completed 100% of all stages

Words & Images: The Girl On A Bike

Vanessa Ruck, a UK based and British motorcycle enthusiast, stepped up to a formidable new challenge for January 2024: the 13-day, 6000 km gruelling Africa Eco Race from Monaco to Dakar, Senegal in Africa following the route of the original Dakar Rally. She successfully completed the extreme endurance event on her KTM 450 Rally Replica motorbike, claiming first place in the women’s motorcycle category, and in doing so became the first British Woman to successfully complete the historical event.

Nicknamed The Girl On A Bike, Vanessa Ruck is renowned within the global motorsport community. Vanessa has shown incredible courage and resilience by recovering from severe injury after a dramatic accident and taking up off-road, motorbike endurance racing. In just a few years, she has progressed through some of the toughest events in the calendar, as her skills and strength has improved, culminating in her successful attempt at this years Africa Eco Race!

Infamous for its difficulty, the intimidating Africa Eco Race was set in Vanessa’s mind as a pinnacle event to attempt to complete on a motorcycle. Completing the event is a huge accomplishment in itself, but to do so in such a male dominated environment, makes this achievement even more remarkable. The Africa Eco Race features some of the harshest terrain in Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal. Making completing this task even more notable, she achieved this while fighting through chronic pain, pain that she lives with and manages every day, since her accident back in 2014.

As one of only 25 of the 46 riders in the Moto category in the 2024 event managing to complete the whole course, Vanessa spent over 103 hours in total on her bike.

Nearly ten years on from her accident Vanessa says “It’s like I’ve reclaimed control – up until now the toughest thing I’ve ever done was fight on following my accident, but now the hardest thing I’ve ever done is something I chose! It makes me feel so ALIVE!!”

Now, as well as taking part in races, she visits schools to inspire young girls and boys alike to take part in different sports. As a TEDx and award-winning speaker she is inspiring others to realise that absolutely anything is possible if you put your mind to it, even with a slightly reconstructed body.

Speaking from Dakar following the race, she said: “I’m absolutely shattered. I don’t think every single muscle in my body, and my brain, have ever been this tired.”

She said: “You have to be so focussed. A second of lapse on your focus can mean you get lost, or the rock you don’t see can take you off your bike.”

While tacking the long gruelling days in the desert alone, Vanessa was supported by a team of three. Mechanically such a race requires considerable support which came in the form of Joe Mercer of Desert Rose Racing. Joe has supported Vanessa in all her previous desert rallies in addition to bring experiences from supporting riders in over 65 rally raid events.

She also had two friends, Anika Bailey and Keri-Anne Thurley to support on nutrition, welfare, filming for her social channels, and general psychological support. Logistically they utilised Vanessa’s Land Rover Bowler Defender to tow the support trailer loaded with tools, spares, 10 spare Michelin tyres and over 35kgs of racing nutrition.

Other competitors described the team with three girls as a breath of energy in the desert, always smiling and happy but with fierce focus to make the finish.

Female power
While many doubted a female’s ability to finish, Vanessa showed no signs of giving in, despite her bodies pain and the challenges of the race. Most days saw multiple riders crashing out causing both injuries. Also worth noting that unlike in many sports, the women’s category has no variation to the men’s. Vanessa was tackling the exact same distance, on the same size bike and with the same amount of kit as the guys who are often more than twice her size.

Racing for more than just the thrill
Vanessa had personal reasons for choosing the Africa Eco race. Besides the rally’s reputation as one of the toughest races out there, Vanessa was drawn to its ecological and social initiatives. The race supports local communities with programs like Energy of Hope, which provides solar lamps to rural school children. “Over 2 and a half thousand lamps have been handed out so far,” Vanessa stated. The rally has also funded the planting of over 2,000 trees in the capital of Mauritania.

Vanessa also has a philanthropic angle to her racing pursuits. She is a brand ambassador for Two Wheels for Life, a charity providing healthcare mobility solutions in Africa.

“I feel so fortunate to be able to explore the wonders of many parts of Africa while racing. These countries are incredible places to visit, but sadly the health care and transport infrastructure is far from ideal. By working with Two Wheels for Life I have the opportunity to give something back to the people in a part of the world where motorcycles and their effective use literally saves lives.”

While most would be signing off for a few weeks rest after such a race, Vanessa is already on route to The Gambia for a weeks charity work supporting Two Wheels for Life. She’ll be utilising her presenting skills and social media reach to help share the story of the work they do within mobilising healthcare in Africa through the use of motorcycles.

Vanessa is an inspiration to many and we congratulate her on her incredible achievement finishing the Africa Eco Race.

What’s next
As she continues to recover from the monumental challenge, Vanessa is available for speaking engagements. As a TEDx and award-winning motivational speaker Vanessa wants to use her story to help others grow;

“I’ve broken down in tears on stage, I’ve stuttered and had to process the emotions, but in my heart I know it’s worth it… if I can turn my trauma and fight into powerful advice to help others with their life battles, then it makes what I went through worthwhile – or at least in my head it helps me process why it had to happen to me!”

Vanessa can be found across all social media platforms and will be creating a full behind the scenes YouTube series of her Africa Eco Race adventures.