BMW GS Trophy: Africa Day 1

2010 GS Trophy: Day 1

Slightly jet lagged and disoriented from the 22-hours plus of travel from Los Angeles-to-Atlanta-to-Johannesburg, we arrived at the South African Touratech center, which would serve as the starting point of the 2010 GS Trophy.

There, under the corrugated steel roof of the main garage, were 50 brand new, 30th Anniversary F 800 GS motorcycles prepped by Touratech, with every trick bit from the catalog and personalized for each rider, right down to their country’s flag and their names and blood type emblazoned on the bodywork. For an adventure-riding enthusiast this was sufficient aphrodisiac for the week ahead.

In its second running, the GS Trophy is a bi-annual event put on by BMW Motorrad designed specifically around their GS motorcycle, a unique off-road adventure team competition comprised of a series of point-earning challenges-some on the bike, some off-to decide a winner.

The event is an international affair, pitting three-man teams from each competing country against the elements. This year ten teams from 12 countries competed. They came from the U.S., Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan, Canada, South Africa, the U.K., as well as Team Alps (Switzerland and Austria) and Team Nordic (Finland, Norway and Sweden).

The riders were selected through various qualifying events hosted by BMW in their respective countries earlier in the year. What makes the Trophy unique is that it is a highly professional event that is strictly for amateur riders. The GS Trophy presents an unprecedented opportunity for any weekend warrior to compete at an international level. But make no mistake, every rider chosen is highly gifted.

As the teams poured in from all over the globe the Touratech center became a cacophony of languages and accents. Every rider was issued a new Rallye Pro 3 riding suit and posed for an I.D. photo.

It was going to be the last time they were clean. The ensuing seven days held a course known only to the marshals and guides, a 2,000-kilometer route that would wind its way from Johannesburg into the eastern reaches of Southern Africa, through Swaziland, and into the southern tip of Mozambique, returning seven days later to the start point with one winning country and a lifetime of memories for its contestants.

Each man was given a tent and a sleeping bag and by afternoon the grounds of the Touratech center looked like a base camp on Mount Everest (sans the cold). It was summer in the southern hemisphere and the lingering heat and humidity served as a preview of what we might expect from the dark continent.

On the eve of the event’s start, after a briefing and dinner, nestled in among fifty, one-man domed tents, it quickly became apparent that despite the range of nationalities in attendance there is, evidently, one common language on the planet; snoring.

At 8 a.m. the next morning the entire procession of the GS Trophy-numbering 93 in all with riders, journalists, techs, guides, marshals, film crews and medical teams-lined up for the official flag off.

The first day was a straight shot over the heavily potholed pavement of South Africa’s highways to Country Trax, a private rider training facility.

It made an impressive spectacle for locals along the route to have a seemingly endless conga line of identical GS motorcycles come barreling through their towns and villages. Hundreds of out-stretched hands high-fived the passing motorcyclists.

The fences surrounding every schoolyard we passed were lined with screaming, waving kids. The dusty streets of sleepy villages were stirred by the passing motorized entourage for a few brief moments before being resuming their lazy atmosphere.

The end of the first day had the GS parade arriving at Country Trax’s 680-hecrte (1700 acre) facility, a beautiful paradise devoted to off-road rider training.

Competitors were handed their first challenge of the Trophy: navigation. Spread out over the property were five points that teams had to locate via GPS within an hour.

The placement of the checkpoints forced riders through hidden bogs, which had been deepened by recent rains, resulting in numerous extractions from the mud. The end of the first day removed the polish and sheen from the bikes and the gear. But GS machines look better dirty anyway.

Another great meal and some initial interaction with the other participants, all eagerly stumbling through awkward but friendly conversations constructed from an economy of words as we tried to find some mutual language.

Once again snoring acquainted the night, fortunately the day’s activities had drained me enough that I didn’t even notice.

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 1

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 2

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 3

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 4

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 5

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 6

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 7

In this series about the 2010 BMW GS Trophy, follow Ultimate MotorCycling writer Jeff Buchanan day-by-day as he takes on Africa aboard the venerable F 800 GS motorcycle. Each of the 10 countries competing had an embedded journalist and Buchanan was invited by BMW North America to ride with the U.S. enduro team.