We speak to Tomm Wolf, the chief marshal of BMW’s GS Trophy, perhaps the most fascinating motorcycle competition in the world
CHIANG MAI PROVINCE, THAILAND — To hear Tomm Wolf tell it, the BMW GS Trophy might well be the friendliest motorcycle competition in the world. “ The guys are so fair and helpful even when they fight,” says the chief marshall of the event. “They are never unfair.”
Wolf has planned every GS Trophy since the biennial event started in 2008, and this year he’s come to our neighbourhood: the 2016 GS Trophy kicks off in northern Thailand this Sunday.
Think of the GS Trophy as the Olympics of off-road riding, specifically for people who ride BMW GS motorcycles.
Competitors from 25 countries have made their way to Thailand, forming 19 teams that will slug it out over a week of tough off-road motorcycling. The amatuer riders won the right to represent their countries in national qualifier events.
“If you look at a world which is getting smaller and smaller, more and more busy, I believe that an event like the GS Trophy is that last true adventure,” says Wolf (below), who runs an enduro riding school and motorcycle tour company called Malelobo.
In Thailand, riders can expect challenging terrain that should make them glad to be riding BMW’s R 1200 GS, perhaps the quintessential adventure bike. But ultimately, the GS Trophy is not a race. “A part of the event is to show you the country, to show you the kind of living here in Thailand, to ride full throttle in the landscapes. In between it’s all easy going and not timed,” says Wolf. “ The exercises are important.”
Ah yes, the exercises. Competitors are scored not on speed, but on how well they complete a series of daily challenges. They could be tests of riding skills in an obstacle course (you lose one point for making a mistake, and five points for dropping the bike), or physical challenges like heaving the 238kg R 1200 GS over a propped-up log.
Some local flavour tends to be built into the exercises, but there’s no word on whether the riders will be asked to eat the fried insects that are a specialty of the region. Or, for that matter, durian.
But this year’s event, says Wolf, is shaping up to be the toughest. He reckons the tropical weather might boil the riders less used to our kind of climate, and the landscape in rural Thailand could be narrower and more dusty than riders are used to. In 2014’s GS Trophy in Canada, he says, the wide trails were almost like highways.
GS Trophy Southeast Asia is also going to be the biggest ever. The first event in 2008 involved just five teams; with journalists, marshals and support staff involved, the entire circus will number 200 people this time.
For the first time there will be team from China, an international women’s team, and even a gang of home boys to cheer for. After regional qualifiers held in Bangkok last November, the first Team Southeast found its riders: Tommy Lee for Singapore, Faizal Sukree for Malaysia, and Peerapat Woratham for Thailand.
“After I qualified I thought, ‘Wow, this is a big responsibility,’” says Faizal. “You have to perform, you know?”
Every rider wants to win it, of course, but Tomm Wolf feels the participation can be its own reward. “The most important part is to be there and to ride with all these guys,” he says. “It’s nice to win, but even when you’re not the best, it’s quite nice.”
And for fans of the BMW GS bikes who aren’t competing, there’s always the pleasure of seeing what the motorcycles will be put through. They can view daily updates at gstrophy.com.
“If you build a famous bike like this, customers like to see what they can do with it, says Wolf. “With this bike you can do all the adventures that you can imagine — as it is, straight from the factory.”
At Canada in 2014, however, one bike didn’t make it back. Its GS Trophy was over when a competitor rode it into a tree (the rider himself was unharmed).
All the others made it through the grueling event with just patch repairs, with no mechanical failures after a combined 250,000km of tough riding.
The 114 R 1200 GS bikes in Thailand for this year’s event are certainly up to the challenge, then. Now all that remains to be seen is whether the riders are, too.