The Battle of the Twin

The Battle of the Twin
Photography: Andrea Paternò, Klaus Nennewitz

I returned home from the October 2023 press launch of the BMW R 1300 GS in Málaga with mixed feelings. On one hand, I was totally enthusiastic about the bike's brilliant handling on the road. On the other, I was disappointed by the event’s too-short off-road part.

The short dirt stints made it clear that something had changed in the Beemer’s off-road characteristics. However, to really understand what head of development Christof Lischka (himself a passionate rally racer) raved about, I would’ve needed long daily off-road stages with varied terrain.

Let's say, like those of a rally....

There are plenty of historical role models for racing with the boxer in Africa. Hubert Auriol founded the myth of the twin based on the first R 80 G/S with his Paris-Dakar Rally victories in 1981 and 1983, while Gaston Rahier did one better with two consecutive successes in 1984 and 1985 on the HPN-BMW.

After the turn of the millennium, BMW attacked once again with the boxer and, in 2000, the American Jimmy Lewis actually made it onto the Dakar podium (the second BMW victory in a row after 1999 went to Richard Sainct on the single-cylinder F 650 RR). A few years later, BMW got involved in off-road races with the HP2, but the rally commitment had come to an end also due to regulation changes.

Hence, I got the spontaneous idea of putting the GS through its paces over around 1,800 miles of off-road rallies on African soil. The Swank Rally Tunisia and the Lamas Rally Morocco were the perfect events to carry out the project.

Discovery Channel

In the paddocks of Douz in Tunisia and Er Racchidia in Morocco, the brand-new GS in production trim attracted a lot of attention. The comments were not long in coming: “You're crazy! You won't have any fun with that machine. How are you going to make it through the dunes?”

In the midst of all the professional rally bikes, some of which still bore the start numbers of the last Dakar or the Africa Eco Race, the GS really was an odd bird.

The bike was completely standard with some additional OEM equipment—sports suspension with 0.8 inches longer spring travel, plus the Enduro Pro and Dynamic Pro ride modes, alongside, Dynamic Suspension Adjustment (DSA). I had also fitted the bike with an Akrapovič twin silencer and, for the first test in Tunisia, I was rolling with Metzeler Karoo 4 tires mounted on the forged alloy off-road rims.

In the briefing, organizer Renato Zocchi warned us of the dangerous situations that could suddenly confront riders in the desert. The very first stretch of dirt road proved him right, as the “center line” of the gravel was marked with large stones.

They were difficult to see in the dust of a light sandstorm that turned the ground into a uniform yellow blur. As a result, the first few miles were almost like Russian roulette.

So, I had no choice but to let off the steam and postpone the 136-hp drift orgies until later. After all, it wasn’t about results for me here—I wasn’t in the race classification, but following the race route in the “Discovery” category.

Race Mode On

The light sandstorm became more and more intense. The ground contours got increasingly difficult to discern and the numerous changes in direction were a challenge for the GS in the deep sand.