Camaraderie. It’s the operative word when describing the BMW GS Challenge. After attending the third GS Challenge, hosted last June by Montreal-based dealer Moto Internationale, the term camaraderie wasindeed on the tip of everyone’s tongue. GS Challenge events are precursors to the GS Trophy, in which riders from 15 countries will gather in Chile in November to take part in skill-testing riding challenges.
According to BMW’s chief instructor,Tomm Wolf, the GS Challengeis targeted to offer amateur, non-competition riders, or “hobby riders,” the opportunity to use theirGS motorcycle – a go-anywhere, adventure-touring bike – in the context for which it wasdesigned.
The GS Challenge is one of the season’s most important eventsfor BMW Canada and Moto Internationale. Effort and commitment wereevident throughout the weekend, as BMW flewWolf in from Germany to oversee Sunday’strophy qualification, while event coordinator Chantal Cournoyer oversaw the running of the lighter-duty Challenge the previous day. The prime mover of the event was Charles Gref Jr., president of Moto Internationale.
Saturday’s GS Challenge took the 35 participants on a 200-plus kilometre jaunt from Moto Internationale, located in Montreal’s west end, along the Ottawa River Valley to Hawkesbury, Ontario. Riders could sign up for either on-oroff-road routes which combined a treasure hunt, a test of variousskills–much like the televisionshow The Amazing Race– and a sightseeing tour.
BMW also invited well-known Dakar competitor and off-road riding instructor, Aussie (and ex-pat Brit) Simon Pavey. Enlisted to help with the rally, Pavey offered riding advice and contributed to the overall convivial feeling of the rally. Some might remember Simon from his role in Charlie Boorman’s ill-fated Race to Dakar effort.
After the Friday-evening briefing, Saturday’s early morning start ran the full gamut of interesting tests, including a blind taste test, kayaking on the Ottawa River, a zip-line tour in treetops and a number of riding-skill tests. We followed a well-written and detailed road book along a picturesque route through the area northeast of Montreal, in the Outaouais region and the Ottawa River Valley.
The riding-skill tests began on a pylon circuit in a Montreal parking lot, followed by a treetop zip-line adventure, where I wisely chose the less-intimidating beginner level. We then zigzagged through rural Quebec on some fantastic, narrow, winding roads, passing through quaint villages. We were even routed along some ATV trails.
We then stripped down for the kayaking event, where we hopped into a boat, paddled a few hundred metres to an island on the west shore of the Ottawa River and got our carnets stamped before heading back. Another inventive challenge was a run against the clock through a burbling creek while carrying a glass of water on a tray. Fortunately, it was a hot day and the cool water soothed my overheated toes. Other challenges included a couple of “double black diamond” riding tests, designed to qualify serious riders planning to compete in Sunday’s trophy qualification event. At the end of the afternoon, we made our way back to Montreal for a hearty BBQ dinner, a few beverages and rousing conversation. We turned in early after a long day in the saddle and the challenging road book had tested our mettle, so we were beat.
On Sunday morning, Motorcycle Mojo columnist Clinton Smout and I rode together to the next stop of the GS Challenge – Eric Pritchard’s farm in Ormstown, Quebec, about an hour southwest of the city. Another epic day ensued, and the BMW R1200GS that I was assigned reminded me how satisfying adventure bikes are to ride. The BMW’s twin-cam boxer engine has a unique, soul-stirring character that made the day’s ride one of my best rides of the year. We motored west along the highway, gesturing at the sights, smells and sunlight. It was a perfect day. Little did I know that a short time later, I’d be lined up beside 18 supercharged BMW riders for a foot race into the woods, down an embankment and across a creek, only to turn around and run headlong back to the start. Run may be a slight exaggeration, for with wet riding boots, it was more like a brisk trudge. Breathless, I crossed the finish line and headed straight for the water station and some shade.
The next competition was on a motocross track, where all of us rode the same F800GS in a timed special test. The fastest rider would win in a balls-out run, where penalties were handed out if your wheels left the ground on the jumps. I went last so I could take a discreet sighting walk around the track. Nothing beats cutting loose on a smooth MX track on someone else’s bike.
Since Clinton and I were overqualified for the GS Trophy qualifier, we bowed out and opted to act as spectators. It was a wise decision on our part, as the next challenge was to manhandle a dead-engine GS through an obstacle course in a two-man team event. The push alone was a ball breaker, but not as much as carrying its loaded luggage across a creek twice — now that was a killer. At this point, it became evident that the BMW Trophy qualification was truly a serious competition meant to select the very best rider to represent Canada in November.
There’s no doubt that the GS Trophy final will not be a cake walk; three riders from each of 15 countries will be selected in similar competitions for an all-expenses paid trip to the final.
As Wolf says, “We have riders from 15 countries. More countries would like to participate; however, it is expensive, and not every country has the ability to send riders.”
Lunch was a pig roast that, in typical BMW fashion, was over the top in excellence. Aside from BMW Canada and Moto Internationale, a number of other partners supported the GS Challenge with an abundance of prizes, so many, in fact, that almost everyone left with everything from jackets, sets of tires, tire repair kits, books, T-shirts and caps.
The afternoon shift included a trials section and an oval grass-track pursuit competition. A graduated points system was tabulated over the two days, and as the day wore on, the competition became increasingly intense. Mercifully, the organizers cancelled the final acceleration/braking test because it was getting late and the awards and prizes needed to be given out.
The awards ceremony was an emotional triumph for eventual winner Marc-André Octeau, who had qualified in the 2010 GS Challenge but was unable to attend due to the birth of his daughter. Now, with a second child on the way, the timing is spot on, and Octeau will be travelling to Chile with two other Canadians to compete under the Canadian flag.
The BMW GS Challenge and Trophy qualification was not for the faint hearted. However, it was supremely fun and well organized, and BMW met their mission statement of making camaraderie priority one.
If you are interested in participating in the eastern or western leg of the BMW GS Challenge, go to www.bmw-motorrad.ca for more information.