The International BMW GS Trophy enduro event was held in early September for the eighth time, this time in Albania with 21 teams from 11 countries. It was a double win for South Africa, with podiums taken by England, Germany, and Mexico.
The BMW GS Trophy is a mega event held every two years in remote corners of the planet. This year, the Bavarian company had brought 126 R 1250 GS motorcycles to the beaches of the Adriatic coast of Albania, where 15 men’s teams with three riders each and six women’s teams with two riders each had to fight for victory through seven stages. Competition, yes—but no racing! Stickers reading “#It’sNotARace” popped up on the tanks of the bikes, and the fact was repeated every time during the briefings.
That’s because Albania is not an easy country to travel in. We realized it too when we briefly stepped outside the GST bubble—gas stations without fuel and very few people speak English, although some know a few Italian words. In the hotels and stores you could find super-helpful and nice people, as well as those who were very rigid and unable to respond to any out-of-the-ordinary request. And then, there is the chaotic traffic on the roads, with animals everywhere, missing manhole covers, and crazy cars with drivers perpetually on their cell phones.
So, before going into the details of the event, kudos must be given to the BMW staff, led by Steffi Grund. Apart from the (dramatic) lack of decent coffee in the base camp on a Kavajë beach, everything went smoothly. Medically, one was better taken care of than at home—doctors with ambulances were always present along the track and they even flew in a first aid helicopter from Germany with two pilots and a winch operator at the modest cost of $100 per minute!
How It All Works
The Trophy is perhaps BMW's best invention since the R 80 G/S itself. It has now become a world-renowned brand. The presence of BMW’s CEO, Dr. Markus Schramm, along with style center manager Edgar Heinrich and R&D director Christof Lischka, makes it clear how much the management cares about this event. By the way—all three were strictly on GS’s every day throughout the event, having fun but also listening and observing.
But how do these GS Olympics work?
During the seven stages of the competition, BMW marshals led teams in groups of a maximum of eight riders (journalists or VIPs were often included). This BMW "peace corps" is truly impressive—they come from all possible countries of the world but speak the same "BMW language" and all apply exactly the same principles and values, despite massive differences in their cultures. No matter where they come from—India, Australia, Brazil, Romania, or Bavaria—they all have the same competent and savoir-faire manner with great class. Without all that, it would be impossible to run an event like the GS Trophy.
The stages consisted mostly of short courses where the ability to keep one's feet off the ground counted in addition to the clocked riding time. Often, these trials were run together or in relays. Other challenges included pulling a 4x4 with a rope for 20 yards, riding a 100-foot stretch on a motorcycle in as much time as possible, or passing on a can of oil riding all together in a 30-foot square—obviously without putting your feet on the ground! In addition to the motorcycle trials, there was an online vote for the best team presentation video, a quiz on Albania, and the GS Trophy itself. The latter was a Baywatch-type rescue test on the beach and a timed wheel change.
During a chat with CEO Schramm on the sidelines of a stage, I learned that globally there were about 5,000 participants in the pre-selections in the 11 countries that had decided to send their teams.
But back to the competition. The job of us journalists was to follow our teams during the transfers and we could do some filming during the stages. No advice or team-manager attitudes were allowed!
Some had criticized the 2020 event in New Zealand as having been too easy. That meant the tracks in Albania were more challenging, so training, physical fitness, and also mental strength were needed.
For the first leg of the race, I followed the Germans along with the Chinese team. At the first difficult climb, we encountered about 50 stationary bikes, one at a time slowly climbing the very deep scree with the help of colleagues.
In the afternoon, I finally understood what "the GS Trophy spirit" meant. Riding last behind the three Chinese participants on a very long and difficult descent with ditches, rocks, and deep ruts, the group started to travel at a decent pace and we began to play together. We drifted side by side into the slippery hairpins and, to my surprise, the Chinese always had an eye for the others, leaving enough space for everyone. We didn't know each other and had never raced together, but the GS as the common denominator makes you run with strangers as if you have known them for 40 years. After a good half hour together, like in the movie On Any Sunday, we burst into laughter at the first stop at a gas station, one in each other's arms. I later learned that one of the three, named Vincent Lai, is an off-road star in Hong Kong—and now he’s also my new friend.
By the end of the first stage that ended in a tent camp inside Berat Castle, the British men's team had come out on top by taking a double victory in the two stages of the day. Over the next few days, the three strongest teams—South Africa, England, and Germany—stood at the top of the standings, finding themselves bunched within just 21 points before the last stage, which was a very technical trial directly on the beach in Kavajë. Since double points were awarded, a surprise victory would still have been possible for each team. But the strong South African boys held their nerve, taking home the victory for the fourth consecutive time.
In the women's standings, the Germans had immediately taken the lead until the sixth stage, when the very close-knit duo was overtaken by the South African team, which jolted to the lead by a single point thanks to flawless performances during the day's stages. Even in the final trial on the beach, they proved to be the strongest by securing the overall victory, again by just one point over Germany, with the Mexican team third.
Team U.S., with riders Benjamin Phaup, Cory Call, and James Duplease, finished the competition in fifth place, right behind the strong Chinese team.
The images of spectacular scenery with fantastic off-road routes and personal encounters in the bivouac with 200 people from 31 nations will remain in the participants' memories for a long time. There will be no chances to repeat the experience—under the motto "once in a lifetime," there will be completely new teams at the next event in 2024, whose location is still a secret. Keep an eye out for the selections.
BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy 2022
Final Results Men:
1. South Africa, 217 points
2. United Kingdom, 204
3. Germany, 185
4. China, 169
5. U.S., 165
6. Netherlands, 155
7. Thailand, 146
8. South Korea, 142
9. Latin America, 141
10. Mexico, 139
11. France, 133
12. India, 120
13. China 2022, 113
14. Brazil, 100
15. Japan, 88
Final Results Women:
1. South Africa, 297
2. Germany, 296
3. Mexico, 264
4. France, 241
5. Latin America, 237
6. Brazil, 167