BEN GRABHAM – AUSTRALIA’S ARCHETYPE DESERT KING | Where are they now?
With his brake caliper in his jacket, he finished 15th outright in Dakar
In hindsight, it’s not difficult to spot the point when the ascent of Toby Price became evident. Until that time, our homegrown Desert King Ben Grabham was unrivalled. With a triplet of Condo 750 and Finke victories, the one and only winner of the West Australian Desert Tri-Series, and the only rider to win the Australasian Safari for two different marques – twice for Honda and once for KTM – Grabbo was the GOAT.
So when the two-time Hattah champion conceded the 2010 Desert Race to his fearless teammate Toby Price, it signalled the end of Grabbo’s reign. Of course he didn’t capitulate easily, winning his fourth Finke the following year and had just moved into the lead in the 2012 Condo 750, when a 150km/h clash with a kangaroo put Grabbo in hospital with massive spinal damage, and out of action for six months.
Grabbo’s comeback event was the greatest cross-country adventure of all; the 2013 Dakar. Despite a malfunctioning GPS and problems that resulted in him carrying the rear brake caliper in his jacket, he finished 15th outright.
More wins followed over the course of the year, however while running inside the top 10 of the 2014 Dakar, a crash put paid to his efforts. Despite his unparalleled record Down Under – KTM had all their money on Marc Coma and Cyril Despres – it was unlikely Grabbo would ever get a full factory-supported ride. Marriage to Taya was on the cards and it appeared as good a time as any to retire from over two decades of competition.
With his vast knowledge of suspension set-up for the Australian outback and his cross-country success with KTM, Grabbo stepped seamlessly into the position of managing KTM’s Desert Racing Team in 2014. That role was expanded to managing all of KTM’s Off-Road activities, including Ambassador on KTM’s increasingly popular Adventure rides – a position now filled by Toby Price.
Now, with a young family to support, Grabbo decided it was time to strike out on his own.
“It was great growing up in Bathurst,” he says. “And I really liked the idea of me working for me.”
Both the couple’s two boys – Jackson, five, and Charlie, three, – have bikes.
“It’s fun and it’s a good skill to keep their minds ticking over,” says a proud dad, whose new venture Grabbo’s Trail and Track already has a few regulars for individual training.
“I like to keep to the stuff I’ve experienced at a high level; enduro; supermotard; flat track and desert rally. I might even host a few adventure rides.
“I raced motocross as a kid, but there’s better qualified motocross coaches out there, so I stick to what I know. For training there’s a good mix of terrain and some great tracks around Bathurst. At times I’m busier than ever, and times when I can switch the phone off and just hang out with the little fellas.”
Though when we last spoke at the Kyogle round of the AORC, he was hanging out with the big fellas – the lure of competition hasn’t diminished with age.
At least twice last year Grabbo pulled on his race-face, once to contest a couple of rounds of the AORC in the Amateur Cup on a Sherco 125SE-R, then backing up at Finke where he won the Prologue for the Masters Division on a Beta 480RR.
Unfortunately during the race he grazed a tree only 50km out of Alice, which ripped the fuel lines from the bike and ended his fun. Grabbo also entered Kyogle earlier this month, but work commitments got in the way of race preparation.
He’s ruled out the 2019 Sunraysia Safari but admits “I might go down for a look, help a few riders out; who knows.”
Our guess is the attraction to this great Australian off-road adventure will win out – if not this year then maybe next. In the meantime, Grabbo will stick to the enjoyable task of testing new adventure and enduro bikes for AMCN’s sister publication Australasian Dirt Bike.