On April 13, riders gathered in Angeles City to prepare for the first-ever Lahar Invitational Challenge, also known as “Lahardcore”. It was the first event of its kind, set in Pampanga's broad expanse of land covered in lahar (pyroclastic material from nearby Mt. Pinatubo). Participants formed teams of five, were allowed to enter any bike, and were grouped according to displacement.
The turnout of a dozen teams surprised even some of the organizers. Street legal dirt bikes and dual-sports were the weapons of choice as expected, but those in charge previously encouraged folks to join with whatever motorcycles they had. The call was answered; I spotted some low-displacement standards.
Then there was a lone Royal Enfield (RE) Classic 350 — the heaviest entry. One team fielded their pretty custom scrambler and tracker builds, while another even used mini bikes!
The next day, on the 14th, the teams left the meeting point at the Infinity Grounds of Angeles City, and the event’s food carts and porta potties behind. With the creature comforts of civilization in their rearview mirrors, they embarked on an adventure that would take them through ten unique challenges on the nearby lahar fields braided into the Sacobia river.
The amused smiles and laughter escalated on the competition trail — which traversed over 70 km and was designed by trail riding specialist Mel Aquino. Rather than a race, the event was composed of a series of challenges which teams had to complete in the shortest amount of time. Participants were provided a route map and passport, with the objective of each challenge only revealed upon their arrival.
Surprisingly enough, not all of the challenges were motorcycle related. While most involved tests of endurance, teamwork, and agility… Some were downright hilarious. One stage forced participants to shoot small rocks at bottle targets across a creek with slingshots (probably one of the hardest assignments). Another required riders to get on horseback wearing their moto gear.
Other challenges included a relay, towing, and pushing. It was funny as hell watching people deal with such random surprises!
The Lahardcore event was organized in coordination with the local tourism department as well as the indigenous Aeta tribe. While the residents of the wilderness are no strangers to off-roading tourists, the briefing included the phrase “Please respect the Aetas. This is their territory,” which impressed and reassured me. “My goal was to make the participants experience the lahar trails in a fun and unusual way — also making them interact with the indigenous communities that inhabit these ancestral territories,” event mastermind Mark Laccay told me.
“Looking back at the event… For most of the riders that experienced the first Lahar Invitational Challenge, it was a success. All had fun and all had good things to say about their experiences,” said Mark. “Generally everything went well, all came out of the trails safe although some didn't get to finish — which is normal in an endurance event, especially if it involves not just physical, but emotional and mental challenges.”
Yes, it was awesome. I almost felt sorry that my self doubt relegated me to covering it from a 4x4 vehicle. We had an incredibly scenic, picturesque landscape of hills and geological formations surrounding us. The competitors kicked up dust with every twist of the throttle, every slip and slide. The soft pyroclastic sand gave way beneath their wheels into countless river crossings and smooth stretches of moist mud.
The bikes made waves and rooster tails under the hot summer sun with moving clouds providing intermittent relief from the glare. Teammates helped each other navigate inclines and pick up fallen motorcycles. Meanwhile, Aetas walked barefoot in the post-apocalyptic scene carrying their loads on their heads with butt-naked children frolicking along the banks.
The effort involved was no joke. Competitor, Bjorn Pabon, had this to say about the difficulty: “The hardest part to get down is the psyche; you need to be confident with your trail riding skills, determine that your steed can handle Lahardcore mechanically, and physically expect the worst outdoor conditions… Other trails will not be the same as the lahar habitat, but it helps if you familiarize yourself with how to handle your motorcycle and how to hone its power on any given obstacle. The hardest part was the loose, dry sand. Expect a wobbly ride with constant drifting of both wheels. I thought the sand part would be easy and the wet crossings the toughest. Well, it was the opposite! Always travel in your group, with proper recovery tools and a mechanic as a member. Communication gadgets and resting areas are musts.”
At the end of the event, six teams (out of twelve) were awarded for finishing five of the timed challenges in the quickest fashion. Starting from the best results achieved, they were: Team BSV, 137 SEC / Just One, Ropali, Speed Limits, Vizcaya Moto Club, and Bahala Na. Their members were presented with special packs from Motul, limited-edition face masks, and merchandise from companies like STKD and Yamaha.
“Definitely, we will be doing it again in the next years. The event is far from perfect; I admit we had some loopholes here and there, but all of these we can improve on in the next event,” said Mark.
“I pretty much know what I want to happen until Lahardcore 2020 and I just hope all the plans and expectations fall into their proper places, and that the Lahar Invitational Challenge will put the Philippines on the world map of the Motorcycle endurance circuit. The uniqueness and the beauty of a mostly gray, desolate land has so much potential for motor sports and eco-tourism.”
Lahardcore was conceived to drive tourism to the City of Angeles as a motorcycle leisure destination, as well as provide opportunities for people to learn more about the Aeta communities and their culture. We would like to congratulate everyone involved and offer our thanks for accommodating Motopinas as a media partner! The 2018 Lahar Invitational Challenge was made possible with the help of the City of Angeles, the Angeles City Tourism Office, and the Greater Clark Visitors Bureau… Other partners included (but were not limited to) Royal Enfield, Ropali Motorcycles, the Philippine Mobile Food Truck Association, North Luzon Expressway, Yamaha Philippines, Petron, and PROMPT Ambulance Services.