The BMW GS Trophy is one of the most important races you have never heard about.
Organised in various parts of the world bi-annually, the GS Trophy has been running since 2008 and has been organised in Tunisia, South Africa, South America, North America and recently in Thailand.
The GS Trophy is a specially designed challenge unique to BMW GS owners, however it is not a race. BMW continuously pounded that fact when we visited the final day of the race recently in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Challengers represented their home country (i.e., Team South Africa, Team Great Britain, etc) and will have to endure three days of various kinds of challenges, sleeping out in tents, and basically having a damn good time.
As Mr Heiner Faust (above, second from right), Vice President of Sales & Marketing for BMW Motorrad, so eloquently replied when asked what was one of his favourite parts about the GS Trophy, “… one of my favourite things is watching the teams from all over the world mingle together. They hardly understand each other but still they make an effort to talk, sometimes with gestures, with their hands and feet even. Everyone is making new friends, everyone is smiling.”
The day before it all began was particularly tough for the competitors as after having pitched their tents, unseasonable weather brought heavy rain and power outages to the GS Trophy base camp – but you would expect GS owners to be prepared, and prepared they were, with a Coleman head torch.
Before we get to why the GS Trophy is so important for everyone, let’s first see what the
race challenge is actually like.
The participants had to ride through seven days of various challenges like a special stage that included a 57 kilometre ride through muddy conditions and even a ‘slow race’ where the most points are awarded to the team that could ride the bike the slowest Points were deducted from teams whose riders put their foot down, or stalled the engine. And that is only on the first day. You should watch the video below for everything that happened on day one.
BMW’s official press release after day 2 had ended couldn’t have said it better, “if day one had been a gentle introduction, this was a taste of the tough, demanding reality that will be the week ahead.” Riders covered 170km but it was a tough trail called the ‘Helicopter Trail’. Riders passed through quiet rural villages, along centuries old paths between paddy fields, before ascending into the mountains. The high point came at 1,686 meters, which is marked by the wreckage of a crashed ‘Huey’ military helicopter, which gives the trail its name.
The weather in Day 2 was also unpredictable as temperatures rose, from 20 degrees at the highest points, to 32 degrees in the valleys. Other challenges like the ‘Dead End’ trail was especially challenging, you can watch it all in the video below.
Day 3 was also brutal as participants had to ride over 250 kilometres on dirt trails and roads, with two special tests. The test involved riding on ridge-lines from one mountain range to another. The first special test demanded the participants to guess how many bamboo stalks where growing in a certain area, climbing a court metre high tree to find a hidden message, and guessing how many metres above sea level they were, without looking at their GPS units. Teams also had to cross a wide river and deal with the second special stage of the day, which you can watch in the video below.
Day 4 was one of the toughest – it was a 136 kilometre loop, and though not as long in terms of distance, it was more challenging. Participants had to ride 150 metres through the river, and a special challenge called ‘Big Timber’ demanded participants to lift the BMW GS 1200 and over a huge tree, and then park it on its side-stand. It was so hot, that the Japanese team jumped into a nearby creek in full riding gear just to cool off. You can watch all the drama in the video below.
Things took a different turn in Day 5. After days of travelling west and south on its seven day loop of Thailand’s Golden Triangle region, the GS Trophy circus headed east for the first time. It took a gruelling 270 kilometre ride from Mae Sariang to Khun Tan in extreme heat, interspersed with the usual series of special stages. Covering a mere 85 kilometres took a painful four hours. Teams were also tested on their GPS and navigational exercise, and so by the time some teams came back to base camp, it was pitch dark, forcing them to pitch their tents in the dark with head torches. All the drama is listed in the video below.
Day 6 was easily the toughest ever – riders faced challenges on the infamous Ho Chi Minh trail. Chief Marshal Tomm Wolf had earlier in the day warned that the riders should expect the day to be seriously tough. One part involved a 10 kilometre single track section that took two hours to get through, proving it to be the roughest terrain seen yet. The temperature was recorded at 37 degrees celsius with high humidity. The trails were tough for small enduro bikes, and so were a real test for the BMW GS adventure bike. The slopes were particularly unforgiving with nearly every rider requiring some form of assistance. Watch the video below to see the slopes and a 100 kilometre ride through the jungle.
By the time the final day came around, things were mostly settled. The leading team, Team South Africa, which led the standings from day 2, had only 19 points separating the top three teams. But at the final special stage, team South Africa kept their cool, rode smart and took the trophy back for the first time. However, in a historical first, both Team Germany and Team UK were tied for second place. Team Brazil were the champs of this special stage but it was hard fought, check out the video for highlights from the final day.
So why is the GS Trophy so important?
There is no better way to market adventure bikes than to prove their worth in tough situations, and there is no better way to seal the fact that the BMW GS is one of the, if not the, ultimate adventure bike.
At the end of the day, each rider had ridden about 1700 kilometres in dense jungles and near seemingly suicidal cliffs, and there were some bikes that had been ‘accidentally’ dropped off broken bridges, some were dragged through boulder-strewn river crossing, hauled over huge logs, and ridden really damn hard. But there were no breakdowns. Some flat tyres, but not even a single bike broke down. Is there a better test for a bike than the GS Trophy? Sure you have rallies races for bikes, but how many of them allow stock standard bikes?
You should now know that all the bikes are stock, with some parts from BMW’s options list like the engine guard, but the GS 1200 itself is 100% stock.
The GS Trophy is the ultimate test bed for BMW, all of the riders feedback is delivered back to BMW to analyse for the next generation of BMW GS motorcycles.
The participants are given the option of buying over the bike after the race, but it is not immediately clear how did actually make a purchase.
There is another round coming in May in South Africa, you can read more about it here, perhaps even considering participating in the most gruesome race BMW has ever organised.