2014 BMW International GS Trophy
Some riders came to BMW Motorrad USA’s GS Trophy team qualifier competition for fun and fellowship, but Blair Young, Bobby Woolridge and Ben Profitt left the BMW Performance Center as Team USA. They will compete with the rest of world’s best GS riders at next year’s International GS Trophy.
Over 70 riders tested their balance, agility and mettle during the first two days of on- and off-road challenges at Spartanburg in the State of South Carolina; the top 12 competed for a third day, and from there, three men whose names begin with ‘B’ made the A-Team.
Day One: The Performance Center’s track was the ideal place for testing street riding skills. While the tarmac sees more M-cars than motorcycles, the GS Trophy rules forbade any contests that could be considered ‘racing.’ Instead, GS Trophy contenders explored their friction zones in a ‘slow race,’ where they were given 30 seconds to travel as little distance as possible.
Other challenges included braking, cone weaves and a complicated task of moving small traffic cones from left to right, then right to left, without dropping them or bumping the barrels they sat upon.
According to Ross McKinney, senior motorcycle instructor at the Performance Center and the event’s organizer, the challenge that vexed most riders that day involved coming into a box and doing full-lock left-and right-turns. One box presented them with a smaller area for making the turns (the Red course) and another larger area (the Green course).
This Red and Green course selection was a choice to be made several times during the first two days of competition. Riders earned more points when they successfully navigated a Red challenge than a Green, but someone riding a clean Green round might come away with more points than another rider who made mistakes – including foot dabs and dropping the bike – that earned deductions.
Day Two: McKinney saw trouble everywhere. “The course was set up to favour those with good technique, but competition drives anxiety and adrenaline up, and people forget their form.”
He observed that several riders tried to muscle through exercises that were best approached with finesse. Three such exercises were the figure of 8 on dirt, slalom through gravel and a long hillclimb with a sharp turn at the bottom of the other side.
Then there are the challenges that intimidate by their appearance. According to McKinney, “The rip-rap rocks looked scary but we only saw one fall.” Dana Biesner, one of two women competitors, saw many lines through the rip-rack rocks and observed: “The bumpy culverts (an earlier obstacle) had the same wiggly handlebars feeling, and the rocks were easy peasy.”
The rain set in at just the right point in the off-road qualifying round as riders were challenged to manoeuvre a tight, up-hill and off-camber turn on broad paving stones. Jody Coleman of Alaska struggled, along with most other riders on those slick rocks, “I think I burned my clutch,” he said of his R 1200 GS. Coleman works in the medical field and rode to the Performance Center from Ohio, where he’s on contract. “I never leave my bike at home.”
“We call that part of the course ‘spiral mountain’,” said McKinney, who noted that even some competitors who’ve trained at the Performance Center on that obstacle lost their technique under pressure and tried to power through.
The water obstacle at the end of Day Two proved easy for those who went through without producing wake. The position of the air intake on R 1200 GS bikes made this slow-going essential, although one competitor showed some ingenuity by rigging up a snorkel!
Far from a cut-throat competition, riders helped each other when they fell and cheered each other on throughout. That semper fidelis spirit led most of them to stay and watch the final round, even though only 12 competed.
Day Three: All 12 competitors began with a clean slate. Since the GS Trophy is a team event, the day began with the Trophy Trail ride in teams of three, chosen by poker chip draw. Everyone rode the Performance Center’s F 800s, since that’s the bike used in the global event.
McKinney said, “We didn’t want them to manhandle the bikes or hurt themselves so both they and their bikes had to be physically sound at the end or they’d be disqualified.”
The scorekeepers were watching for team skills but kept time in case there had been a tie. Some riders moved rocks, others stacked them to get to the best line. They traversed creeks, bridges, rocks and logs but according to McKinney the creek challenged riders the most.
The finale was an individual ride over river rock, through ruts, crossing tyres in the ground, then a sandpit slalom. Next up was a hay-bale maze, followed by more hills, gravel and tight manoeuvres over power poles, up stairs and balancing on a couple of angle beams with a jump at the end.
The three-member team is now awaiting the announcement of when they’ll compete abroad. They’ve discussed the possibility of training together to maximize their chance of an overall win.
Meet Team USA:
Blair Young, age 44, is a client advisor at Hendrick BMW Northlake in Charlotte, North Carolina. A North Carolina native, Blair has owned some 30 motorcycles in 20 years. He taught courses with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) for 11 years, was an MSF auditor for two years, serves on the North Carolina Motorcycle Education Foundation’s board of directors, and taught at the Performance Center until 2012. “For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by the physics and dynamics of two-wheeled transportation,” he says. He rode his 2013 “wasserboxer” R1200GS in the competition.
Ben Profitt is a 36-year-old airline pilot working for USAirways Express. He grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota and now lives in Apex, North Carolina. He has been riding motorcycles since age seven, starting with a Yamaha Y Zinger 50. At age 10, he beat a 19-year-old in a slow race. Like his father, Ben taught the MSF Basic Rider Education course and credits that experience with his performance on Day One. He’ll prepare for the Trophy competition by fitness training, fitting in more off-road riding and is talking to his wife about the possibility of buying an F800GS. He rode a 2007 R1200GS in the competition.
Bobby Wooldridge works at his family’s dealership, BMW Ducati Husqvarna Motorcycles of Atlanta (Georgia). He intended to compete in the 2012 Trophy Challenge but injured his knee. At age 39, he’s been riding mountain bikes to get in shape for racing dirt bikes and hare scrambles. After riding downhill with ABS on, he didn’t make the gate at the bottom of the ‘Wild Ride’ on his 2005 Dakar, but made few mistakes after that. Day Three was easier than he expected it to be, and his team was dubbed ‘the engineers’ in the way they executed their ride to conserve energy.