The fifth BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy, the 2016 Southeast Asia edition came to a close, after seven hard days’ riding, with a spectacular finale on Saturday, March 5. With the competition still in the balance right up to the final special test, it was a tense finish – decided in favour of Team South Africa who kept their nerve to secure the nation’s first victory in the event after twice placing runner-up. Let´s have a look back on a week packed with high temperatures, offroad riding, friendly people and adventures in the jungle.
The fifth edition brought together 19 teams (comprising 57 riders plus 19 embedded journalists) representing 25 nations for a seven-day over-1300 kilometre trek through the forests, jungles and mountains of Northern Thailand. The riding was possibly the most technical yet, as the riders guided their BMW R 1200 GS bikes along single-track trails more akin to enduro racing than adventure competition. Temperatures matched those of the South African edition in 2010 – running into the high 30ºC range – and with high humidity it was one of the hotter, sweatier GS Trophies!
The start came at the Rim Doi Resort, in Chiang Dao at 8.00am on the morning of February 28, and while unseasonal heavy rain had washed out the planned course for day one, the riders were still treated to some excellent off-road trails before hitting the first – and possibly physically the toughest – special test, ‘Broken Bridge’. Such themes are by now familiar, long days in the saddle with always some challenging riding, combined with special tests that challenge the riders’ teamwork, their problem solving skills, often their strength, as well as their bike riding. As ever, the riders would reach the nightly bivouacs well-exercised.
The 2016 edition again saw the event grow, with 114 motorcycles on the tour and an entourage of close to 200 people (riders, marshals, medics, caterers, organisers and more). As ever, the motorcycles – BMW R 1200 GS and GSA – were up to the task; occasional puncture repairs on the trail tested the practical skills of the riders while crash damage gave the BMW Motorrad mechanics a few hours work each evening; but the engines and chassis never gave up. The latest GS bikes were praised for their ease of use, great rider aids and sheer ruggedness. As before, the competitors were won-over by the bike’s character as much as the sheer capability of these iconic machines.
Team South Africa wins.
Team South Africa has been one of the strongest teams in every edition of the GS Trophy since their debut in 2010. They missed out on the win then, by just one point, and came close again in 2014, so the win this year was especially savoured. Thorough preparation meant the team were always in contention – they were in fact the team to beat – but John Harris, Charl Moolman and Byron Coetsee were winners on every level, winning as many friends as points.
Team UK and Team Germany were their nearest competitors and the unrelenting efforts of the two teams kept the outcome of the event in question right up to the very last test. And while the strength of Team South Africa could not be denied, it was fitting that the runner-up position should be shared by these two great teams (Team UK having won in 2010, Team Germany in 2012).
Three new teams took part in 2016. Team China made an impact right from the start, having given up their international air flights and instead choosing to ride to the event on their own GSs! Four days in the saddle saw them ride up to the Shang-ri La Hotel in Chiang Mai for the official opening – along with some 60 supporters, most also BMW-mounted. They made quite probably the most impressive entrance to the event yet. And Team China proved a competitive team, too, strong and well-practiced they took an impressive 7th place on their debut.
Team Southeast Asia might have been less successful, but nonetheless brought much colour to the event, good humour, and found they enjoyed their ‘home’ course as much as the visitors.
The third new team were the International Female Team. Easily the most popular team in the event, Stéphanie Bouisson (France), Morag Campbell (South Africa) and Amy Harburg (Australia) showed bike-handling skills equal to the men (in fact sometimes superior). They would have finished higher if they hadn’t been so punished by the strength-based tests, but as Amy reported, they were never defeated – not even in lifting the 238kg GS over a 1.5-metre tree trunk – it just took a little more time for them than for the men. The team was much welcomed by the men, and cheered-on all the way, but again as the girls explained, this was the same for all teams – every team supports everyone. It’s truly a band of brothers – and sisters.
Here is what the South African Riders had to say:
Morag Campbell / International Female Team
Morag: “It’s beautiful, the local people we met are extremely friendly, and curious, and open to us, and wanting to engage and that’s really nice. From the physical viewpoint the scenery is stunning, it changes all the time, forest, mountains, rivers. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. And the food has been great, too!”
Byron Coetsee & John Harris / Team South Africa
Byron: “It’s definitely a close call for me, between wanting to do well in the competition and enjoying the experience. So between the special stages I ran my GoPro a lot, because you’re concentrating on the road, thinking about what’s going on and so you miss the insane scenery that’s about you. So I ran the Go Pro, so I can watch back again later, and I tried to look at everything, as much as possible.”
John: “I have to agree with Byron, I’d see the Japanese team and they’d be running last or second last but we are actually jealous of them. We rode with them and their spirit, the fun they had, in terms of getting the most out of the trip, those are the guys who are the real winners, they’ve had the best time ever. I envy them for that!”
The BMW R 1200 GS – competition proven.
The BMW R 1200 GS proved more than up to the challenge of seven days on the trails in Northern Thailand. The 2016 R 1200 GSs featured the latest engine revisions, including a new heavier crank that makes for smoother running and Shift Assist Pro that allows clutchless up- and down-shifts. As well the riders had the code plug that enables the Enduro Pro mode to modify the rider-assist systems to suit sportive off-road riding. And with just the lightest level of crash protection, including the aluminium enduro engine guard and steel crash bars – plus the rugged Metzeler Karoo 2 tyres – the GSs were totally trail-ready.
The feedback from the riders was uniformly positive, most expressing delight in the ease of handling the bikes, their tough resistance to extreme riding, and engaging character.