First woman to complete the 1000 Dunas Rally on an adventure motorcycle

Is taking a Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro across a desert for a seven-day rally-raid complete madness… or an epic adventure?

According to Vanessa Ruck, a British rider who has done just that, it’s the last. Vanessa, aka The Girl on a Bike, is an inspirational rider – having undergone multiple hip and shoulder reconstructions after a horrible car accidentVanessa’s obsession with motorcycles grew from being an everyday rider to taking on some of the world’s most extreme races such as the Romaniacs, Rallye du Maroc and the Tunisia Desert Challenge.

Vanessa Ruck becomes the first woman to complete the 1000 Dunas Rally on an adventure bike
Vanessa takes on the grueling challenge of the Tunisian desert. Photo: Alessio Corradini

Battling dry riverbeds, sand, camel grass, dunes and long distances over rugged terrain every day, Vanessa completed the 1000 Dunas Rally alongside teammate Aled Price, becoming the first woman to complete the rally on a standard adventure motorcycle.



The 1000 Dunas start in Granada, Spain, take riders through the Moroccan desert to Merzouga, then return to Granada for the finish covering over 1,500km. This is a seven-day rally where roadbook navigation skills reign supreme and the limits of riders and their bikes are tested. Runners are ranked based on navigational accuracy and whether they complete each stage. vanessa arrived 8e out of eleven finishers in the Advanced Adventure Bike Hard Trail category.

Vanessa Ruck becomes the first woman to complete the 1000 Dunas Rally on an adventure bike

Tiger 900 Rally Pro vs. Desert Rally Raid

Vanessa rode the Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro motorbike from the UK to Spain with all her camping gear, tools and spares. Then she spent a day getting to grips with off-road biking at the Triumph Adventure Experience in Spain, made some minor tweaks to the Tiger, and lined up at the start of 1000 Dunas.

Vanessa Ruck becomes the first woman to complete the 1000 Dunas Rally on an adventure bike
Vanessa Ruck becomes the first woman to complete the 1000 Dunas Rally on an adventure bike
Vanessa drove her Tiger 900 from the UK to the 1000 Dunas rally raid in Spain with all her camping gear and tools in tow.

“Ivan Cervantes, the Hard Trail class winner, had his Tiger modified to perfection, while mine was pretty much stock – I used the lower seat adjustment, we lost a bit of weight , put on hand guards and different tires, and that was it,” shares Vanessa.

Vanessa Ruck becomes the first woman to complete the 1000 Dunas Rally on an adventure bike

First and foremost, organizers of 1000 Dunas say this event is the ultimate test of how far you can go, and not all runners are expected to finish every day. Navigation in the roadbook is tricky, the terrain is hard and the distances are long.

“Most people were there on more typical 450cc rally bikes. I was part of a very small group of big bike freaks – in total only eleven riders finished the rally in the Hard Trail category,” says Vanessa.

Vanessa Ruck becomes the first woman to complete the 1000 Dunas Rally on an adventure bike
The rough terrain was a challenge even for the smaller and lighter bikes.

According to her, the terrain was incredibly difficult at times, and picking up a heavy Tiger isn’t quite the same as a smaller, lighter 450 or even a Husky 701. “We had a section of small uneven dunes covered camel grass where Aled and I were in total survival mode We were getting more and more tired so it was a team effort to get the bikes back at some point – the bikes handled the terrain like beasts Absolutes, but when you have to ride a big adventure bike multiple times a day, the heat and fatigue add up very quickly,” says Vanessa.

Vanessa Ruck becomes the first woman to complete the 1000 Dunas Rally on an adventure bike

Luckily the bikes held up well despite a few crashes and rough terrain. Vanessa had a minor electrical issue, while teammate Aled’s chain snapped and he burned a clutch at one point, but all of those issues could be resolved in time for the next start.

The adventure of the thousand dunes

Vanessa shares that she might have hesitated a little more before saying “yes” to entering the 1000 Dunas on an adventure bike if she had known how brutal it was going to be. “Again, I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, so I was determined to give it my all to get to that finish line. However, while I think going into the desert with rocky riverbeds, boulder fields, dunes, climbs and sand on a Tiger is brave, doing it alone would have been stupid, which is why I chose to ride with Aled,” Vanessa explains. .

Vanessa Ruck becomes the first woman to complete the 1000 Dunas Rally on an adventure bike

Riding as a team, Vanessa and Aled covered the distance and reached the finish line each day, although Aled missed one with her burned clutch, leaving Vanessa to continue 180 km solo. Each day their arrival at the bivouac drew cheers and support from other riders on smaller bikes. According to Vanessa, they had no idea if the Tigers would hold or if they would be capable enough for a rally-raid like this – yet day after day the bikes just kept going.

“The Tiger is so powerful and comfortable on the wide open trails, and we were especially grateful for the heated grips and seats during the liaison stages as it’s cold in the desert in the morning. We learned a lot about how to ride these beasts in the desert and handling them in the sand. It was brutal, and I’m insanely proud to have fought and to have made it to the end!” shares Vanessa.

Vanessa Ruck becomes the first woman to complete the 1000 Dunas Rally on an adventure bike
Vanessa had to do the maintenance on her motorcycle herself, including changing the tires or cleaning the air filters every night.

It’s not hard to imagine that battling a heavy 900cc adventure bike over sand dunes rather than a lighter one is a much tougher job. In addition to battling in the desert, Vanessa and Aled had to do maintenance and repairs on their motorcycles, like changing tires or cleaning air filters every night. They had help from Cervantes’ team of mechanics for the bigger issues, but other than that the riders went trunk moto style.

“The feeling of finishing 1000 Dunas is absolutely incredible. Male or female, crossing that finish line is a feat. Doing it as a woman makes me really proud for other women and I hope to inspire and encourage others to try. Of course I have to fight a little harder, I’m smaller and not as strong as a guy, but women can absolutely do that, and it’s a very powerful feeling. I’m completely exhausted right now but buzzing at the same time,” Vanessa says.

Vanessa Ruck becomes the first woman to complete the 1000 Dunas Rally on an adventure bike

“I must admit that I also fell in love with the Tiger. The rally was designed to find its limits, and in fact, I did not find the limits of the Tiger. I now desperately want to figure out how I could steal it from Triumph!” she shared.

As she recovers from the 1000 Dunas Challenge, Vanessa is soon planning a motorcycle adventure trip to South America. In 2023, Vanessa hopes to build her own rally bike and compete in the Morocco Desert Challenge, one of the biggest desert races.

Vanessa Ruck becomes the first woman to complete the 1000 Dunas Rally on an adventure bike

Pictures of 1000 Dunas and Alessio Corradini

Author: Egle Gerulityte

Rolling around the world very slowly and without taking it too seriously, Egle is always on the lookout for interesting stories. Editor-in-chief of Women ADV Riders magazine, she focuses on everyday people doing extraordinary things and hopes to bring travel inspiration to all two-wheeler fanatics.

Wiley C. Thompson