BMW Motorrad last weekend organised the International GS Trophy India qualifiers in Goa, where 40 owners of the BMW GS bikes participated in an Enduro competition for a chance to represent India in the global event to be held in Mongolia in 2018!
This was the first time that BMW were organising the GS Trophy Qualifiers in India and it was a pretty decent turnout for the event. In fact, the entries had to be restricted to 40!
Sanket Shanbhag from Satara, Suprej Venkat from Coimbatore and Winston Lee from Mumbai emerged as the BMW Motorrad ‘Team India’. All three BMW GS riders will go on to make BMW Motorrad India history by forming the first team from India to enter the BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy- the sixth edition of which will take place in Mongolia in 2018.
Vikram Pawah, President, BMW Group India “The International GS Trophy is an integral part of the culture of BMW Motorrad and for our GS customers. We are ecstatic to introduce GS Trophy qualifiers for our GS customers in India. The BMW Motorrad community in India has truly engaged with the spirit of the GS Trophy and we are sure that this success story will continue for a long time. From the very start, this unique ‘qualifier’ has been inspiring, given that the BMW GS Motorcycle riders come from all across India and are united by their love of riding BMW GS motorcycles.”
The BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy 2018 will be held in Mongolia for 10 days: 7 days riding + 2 days in- and outbound journey + 1-day briefing). These lucky – talented – three will be fully equipped by BMW Motorrad for the adventure ahead, flown to Mongolia and each presented with a brand new personalized BMW GS motorcycle to ride for the duration of the event. Team India will compete against other teams from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Latin America, Mexico, Russia, Southeast Asia, South Africa, South Korea, United Kingdom and United States of America.
The GS Trophy is not a race, but the special stages confront the participants with a major physical and mental challenge: often described as the adventure of a lifetime. It is a competition wherein riders enjoy a near-2000km adventure ride, mostly ridden off-road. Along the way they compete in a series of challenges that are consistent with the BMW GS lifestyle and designed to exercise their intellectual, riding and navigation skills, their knowledge of, and ability to live in, the natural world – and their ability to come together as a team.
The 3 day event saw the riders being trained by expert BMW marshals on the first day, the second day was the qualifiers, where 10 participated in the finals on Sunday, where the top 3 will form team India.
The riders were flagged off from the hotel in Goa and were welcomed by Shivapada Ray, Head, BMW Motorrad India at the venue before the marshals took the stage and briefed the riders about what to expect in the coming days!
The four marshals:
Tomm Wolf aka ‘Mr GS Trophy’ has been riding the German manufacturers adventure bikes since their were first introduced in the 80s. He has a lot of experience riding these bikes as well are participating and marshalling the GS Trophy. Currently he has two adventure training schools in Hechlingen, Germany and Aras de los Olmos, Spain under the name malelobo which means bad wolf!
Patima Kongpetch is the chief instructor at Thailand Enduro park where he has gained oodles of experience teaching people the art and love of dirt. He has also travelled large tracts of the globe on the back of his motorcycle.
After the rider briefing by the marshals, the riders were divided into four groups. The most experienced riders were led by Tomm in Group 4, while the newest riders were in Group 1 instructed by Burak. Thomas and Patima took Group 2 and 3 respectively.
Once, the groups were divided, the marshals took charge of their wards and ran them through a host of instructions on how to handle big heavy adventure bikes in the dirt. From finding the balance point of a motorcycle to slalom courses, to the correct technique of lifting a fallen bike. All of this information was given in a crash course of how not to crash! The participants had just 1 day to learn under the hot Goan sun beating down on them. Every single rider was exhausted after the effort put in by the end of the day.
The Second Day was the qualifiers for the riders after a hard day of training. There were 12 obstacles which had been built up by the marshals and the participants were given scores on the basis of how they undertook each stage. It was challenging and interesting, but safety was paramount. It was all slow speed riding and therefore riding skill would win over bravery when completing the tasks. Each was simple to build and if anyone wants to practice they can easily practice this in their backyard!
The first obstacle was a simple tight slalom, which used the contours of the land. Each rider was allowed to put their foot down upto 4 times during the obstacle, on the 5th they were disqualified. Two steep climbs and one descent made it a tricky one for the riders, especially with the presence of dry grass and small rocks.
The second was rather simple, with the riders having to ride between two parallel bars laid on the ground. If the tyres went over the bars, then the rider was disqualified. Because of its simplicity a few riders made a mistake and got zero points for this obstacle. Lesson to be learnt was, no matter how simple it might look, never take your eye off the ball!
The third obstacle required very good clutch control. The riders had to walk the bike and they had to step only on the stones. If they got their foot off the stone, they were disqualified. The weight of the bike ensures that the rider has to keep the engine running with the bike in 1st gear, using the power of the bike. Good clutch control is essential, else the bike will jump ahead leaving the rider behind!
From number 4 the level was only going to go up. This was ‘Riding the Wall’! A single brick wall was made on the ground. If either wheel went off the wall, the rider would be disqualified. It was much more difficult than it looked. Go too slow and go off the wall, too fast and it was difficult to control. Few riders managed this successfully.
This obstacle was a timed one, the riders had to ride down a steep slope, before taking a u-turn and ride halfway up a slope so steep, that it was more like a wall! They then had to reverse their big heavy adventure bikes turn it around and park it in the white box for the stopwatch to be clicked shut. Then they had to ride up the steep slope. With the traction control engaged, the bike would get stuck mid slope, so it was important to have perfect throttle control to climb up.
The Coffee Grinder. Another difficult obstacle in which the rider had to take hold of a bar on a pivot in their throttle hand and use the clutch to give sufficient power to go in a circle, while using the same hand to steer the bike around the pole. Dropping the pole or putting a foot down was a disqualification. Once again clutch control was very important.
Possibly one of the toughest obstacles among the dozen. There were two cones with tennis balls perched on the top. The rider had to pick up the ball from one cone and place it on the next cone. A foot down or dropping the ball resulted in a disqualification.
A relatively easy obstacle which was timed. The rider had to wait at the start with the engine switched off and their left hand behind the head. On the count, the rider had to start the engine, accelerate hard and stop the bike in a short distance with the front wheel in the white box. A calm mind was key, as those who accelerated too hard missed the white box and had to drag their heavy bikes backwards to slot it in.
This obstacle was significantly easier than what it looked. The rider had to go over two tractor tyres before riding in and out of a deep ditch. Almost all the riders got through without a hitch.
Mamba, the snake! A narrow path which the riders had to ride on, while avoiding the tape overhead. If their helmet touched the tape, then it was a penalty point. Spatial awareness was of paramount importance here, knowing exactly where your front and rear wheel were along with your head! All this while riding standing on the footpegs.
Slow race. A timed obstacle where the rider had to take the maximum amount of time to cover the distance. Bike balance was very important here. A few riders who were doing it well got overconfident while near the finish line as they tried to extract the last tenth and in the process had their engines stall and getting their foot down, which resulted in a disqualification.
U-turn glory. Very slow speed tight turns were to be taken 4 times in quick succession. Bike balance, looking in the correct direction, throttle and clutch control all were required to get through this successfully. The riders were allowed 4 mistakes and disqualified on the 5th mistake. Few riders managed to complete this successfully.
The second day came to an end with all the participants getting a finisher’s certificate. The 10 who would progress to the finals were also announced.
The final day saw the 10 fight it out for the honour of representing India in Mongolia next year. The obstacles were similar to the ones on the first day with minor tweaks to make life a little more difficult! The riders also rode BMW’s prepped up GS’ instead of their own personal motorcycles as on the first couple of days.
After the obstacle course, the 4 marshals sat down to add up the score and announce the finalists. Winston Lee from Mumbai, Suprej Venkat from Coimbatore and Sanket Shanbhag from Satara were declared the finalists. And these three wonderful riders will be representing team India in Mongolia in 2018!
We caught up with Tomm Wolf to chat about the GS Trophy, Enduro riding and all things motorcycling!
xBhp: Tell us a little bit about the GS Trophy.
Tomm: The GS Trophy is an event which is the second most important project for BMW marketing, which is why this huge project.
We have roughly 20 teams representing 27 nations. Unlike here in India where they are a team with three guys from India, there can a team like Southeast Asia with one guy from Thailand, one from Indonesia and one from Malaysia. So we have these mixed teams which increases the number of nations with only 20 teams.
In two weeks we start the lady qualifier in South Africa. There we invite 25 girls from around the world and we will select one lady team. The three best will be the international lady team in the GS Trophy. But it can happen that they are all really good and BMW might decide to take 2 lady teams. But this is at the moment not certain.
The GS Trophy will take place in the first week of June in 2018 in Mongolia. It will start and finish in Ulan Bator, this is the capital and there is the international airport.
The distance will be more than 2000 km in 8 riding days.
xBhp: Will there be a break between these 8 riding days?
Tomm: No, no. You can see all the participants here. After one test day, how the battery level is at the moment. There we are talking about 8 days and every day riding mostly off-road and contend as well two special stages everyday. Which are team exercises. Sometimes other than the two daily team exercises we have some funny things like local things. Like in Mongolia with archery.
xBhp: After the first GS Trophy what was the vision for this?
Tomm: We never wanted it to be like the Dakar. We are far away from something like the Dakar. Our main slogan for this is, ‘its not a race’. And I try personally to push hard to make the GS Trophy as long as possible a team event with a lot of friendship to have fun fighting against each other, but not like fighting with a knife in the hand! The idea is that if someone is coming to the GS Trophy in Mongolia then they are winners. All. For sure finally we will have three teams, but this is not really important. To be there and to finish successfully in a team is the goal. And I push hard to continue in this spirit. Not to do something like a race or Dakar. If the guys are too crazy, then buy a ticket for the Dakar. This is the GS Trophy, team event and having fun. The winning is not that important.
xBhp: Will the participants be riding their personal motorcycles?
Tomm: No, no, no. We bring more than 130 motorcycles in Mongolia. All our guests will ride one of these brand new motorcycles in this event. And then we have another event called, ‘follow the trail of the GS Trophy’. The bikes will be stock just prepared with protective equipment which BMW delivers, but the bike will be stock.
xBhp: Will all the bikes be 1200s?
Tomm: There can be a mixture of bikes.
xBhp: What is ‘follow the trail’?
Tomm: After this event we have the follow the trail. It is maybe not that strong sportif like the original GS Trophy. And customers can buy a ticket to take place in this event. To follow the trails of the original. We are doing the same route, except we take out the special stages and if there are some hardcore sections in the Gobi Desert, then we take out for these customers. It might be too hard for them. They will use these 130 motorcycles brought for the original trophy.
xBhp: Is this the first time it is being held in Mongolia?
Tomm: It is always the first time for any country and also the last time. We are always looking for new places. ’08 was Tunisia, ’10 was South Africa, ’12 South America, ’14 Canada, ’16 Thailand, ’18 Mongolia and ’20?
xBhp: How has it been training these guys here?
Tomm: It is always interesting to see how are these guys. To be honest, it was great to see that all the guys are fully motivated. It was very nice. For many of them it was the maximum, the temperature, riding the full day with full riding gear and it was quite tough. A lot of the guys have never done things like this that we are doing.
xBhp: Would you recommend wearing riding gear like the marshals instead of what most were using?
Tomm: For sure riding gear is very important. They are used to using this gear for touring, when you are fast and sitting on your bike with the wind cooling you off. Now you are riding in first and second gear without the wind and the cooling and then if you are wearing a Gore Tex waterproof jacket with all zippers closed! We prefer for these activites in hot countries body armour and a cross jersey. Its much more comfortable.
In Mongolia, the riders will get as a present the full package of rider gear, tent, sleeping bag and other stuff. Its all in the package when you are a finalist.
xBhp: You have been training these guys for a couple of days. What advice have you given them going ahead?
Tomm: They must for sure enter one of our schools to get more detailed information about the exercises which are coming in to the trophy. To get a little bit of feeling to find out. 3 guys are in a team. One is the best rider, one the strongest guy and one the most sportif. A boot camp is very necessary for the team.
xBhp: Will there be a follow up camp for the finalists to hone their skills?
Tomm: Not officially from BMW. But they can choose to. We have several options for them to invite one of our guys to come here and practice with them. Or they come to one of our schools. It is nice when you go there and know what’s going on.
xBhp: Which is the nearest BMW Enduro Park for people in India?
Tomm: We are discussing something like this here. In Heichlinger we had our first Enduro park in Germany. In the beginning we had several hundreds, today we are talking about more than 3000 a year. If you open something like that here, it will be like fresh breath for sure.
xBhp: The exercises for the riders here was a lot of slow speed technical stuff, but in Mongolia there will be a lot of high speed riding, how will they be prepared for that?
Tomm: They are a lot of possibilities to ride fast in Mongolia. But this is for sure we will break it. There are a lot of places where you can go wide open. If you can handle it, if you know where you are and if you know the track. But with a group we use the marshals to take out the speed. 3 months ago I was in Mongolia, there you can go wide open, very fast. But one day one time, a ditch, a waterhole or something will come to you. And then if you are alone and you know how to handle, then maybe you can brake and stop. But in a big group, there are always 9 riders, it is very dangerous. We are going slow. The team is always has a marshal in front. We couldn’t take the risk of sending the participants alone. If they get lost where will you look for them? There is a marshal and two teams. Each team is three riders and one journalist.
xBhp: Have you already done the recce for Mongolia this year itself?
Tomm: All is done. The trophy is done. Next year I go there again in middle of May, I hope ice and snow is away. I then do this loop again to see if I can take on the road, is everything open. Then the marshals arrive there. 15 marshals roughly. Then I show all these guys the tracks and the routes.
xBhp: On these remote routes would you have medical assistance from a helicopter?
Tomm: We have. It was not easy to get a helicopter in Mongolia for support. But now we have one. To do an event like with so many motorcycles on dirt roads without any support of a helicopter was too risky and I was pushing hard to get one. We have always had helicopter support, but it was difficult to get one in Mongolia. There are no private companies which deliver a helicopter. Now, we have one from a mining company.
xBhp: Will the BMW 310GS owners also be a part of this in future?
Tomm: I can imagine. Maybe one day one time you can have a junior GS Trophy.
xBhp: How do you rate the chances of these riders in Mongolia?
Tomm: Some of these guys are really good. They can get a really good position with a lot of practicing. Most are very experienced in normal motorcycle riding but what they need now is the finishing touch.
With a lot of luck they might finish 12th to 14th out of the 20.
xBhp: Will India be the only new entrant in 2018?
Tomm: No, China as well. Australia as well. I can imagine that the team Australia will do very well. They have an event like this in Australia and it is an off-road country for sure. I can imagine that they are good.
xBhp: How do you select a location to host a GS Trophy?
Tomm: The GS Trophy is a marketing event. And the marketing guys tell me, ‘Tomm, we will produce nice pictures and that means we have to ride in nice places’. This can be a desert, mountains etc. We need nice pictures.
xBhp: Why do you love the GS?
Tomm: Motorcycle riding has always been a part of my life. And one day I decide that riding motorcycles was not just a hobby for me. And I decide I need a job where I can work with motorcycles. From 1995 I change completely my working and my life. From that time I have been working with motorcycles and always and only with BMW. And I really want to say that the GS is the best bike you can have for these things that we are doing. This is not talking marketing blah blah, this is what I feel in my heart and from my experience.
xBhp: How old are you and do you think age plays a factor when riding these motorcycles in this terrain?
Tomm: I am 58 now and I think you can do this job. My target is to do it maximum 25 years longer and then it is finish. If you are everyday on the bike, and you have no special problems then you can do it. I have participants in my school which are 70 and are riding so nice with the bike. But you must be all your life and permanently on the motorcycle. Some guys start riding bikes at 50 and then it is hard.
xBhp: What did you do before you started working with motorcycles?
Tomm: In Germany we have a system, where you learn a job for 3-4 years. And I learnt for 3 ½ years motorcycle mechanics against my father’s wishes. We had a company for welding equipment. And my father always pushing that I learn this business. And I was running away. After my military training I jump into the company of my father and then he die early at 55. I continued a while with this company. It was always selling welding machines, selling washing machines, so I talk with my mother and my two sisters. Do you agree when I sell all this and move in this business? And they are ‘Ah, crazy guy, go’!
xBhp: Which was your first motorcycle?
Tomm: It was this an NSU or a DKW. This is old German motorcycle. I was 12! In this time in Germany the motorcycle was the only equipment to move from here to there. Then the car is coming up and all the guys are looking for a car and they are merely throw away this old motorcycle. And this was for us young guys a paradise. We would find all around the corners some old bikes. And we use it like, when the fuel tank was empty, leave it there and take the next one!