BMW rider hopes to do Singapore proud


Tommy Lee fought hard to represent Singapore in the grueling GS Trophy 2016. But that was only the start of his challenge…

SINGAPORE — Tommy Lee (not the Tommy Lee who knows Pamela Anderson inside out) is 47 years old, and he’s hitting the gym. He’s hitting it hard, too, sweating it out on the treadmill and cycling machine.

Three or four times a week, you’ll find him in Johor, hitting the mud on a BMW R 1200 GS Adventure, getting as comfortable as it’s possible to be with a 260kg bike on an obstacle course that he’s set up himself.

Lee has been training like a demon because in February he represents Singapore in this year’s GS Trophy, an event that BMW bills as an “Enduro adventure”.

That’s one way to put it, but another way is to describe the GS Trophy is to say it’s a grueling, weeklong ride over terrain that would be impassable to most other bikes, with the added pressure of competition. 19 teams from around the world will compete in daily stages and special challenges along the way.

In the video above the last event, held in 2014 in Canada, looks wet, dusty, muddy and sweaty. Bikes seem to fly as much as roll, too.

This year’s event has a first: an international women’s team is taking part, made up three riders from Australia, France and South Africa.

bmw gs trophy 2016

As for Lee, he clinched a spot in the three-member Team Southeast Asia by winning a qualifier event held at BMW’s Enduro Park riding school on the outskirts of Bangkok last November. He beat 12 other riders from Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines and Singapore, themselves selected from hundreds of hopefuls.

“To be very honest with you, I got through because I made fewer mistakes than all the other participants,” says Lee. “We all made a lot of mistakes, but I made a little bit less than the other guys!”

Securing his place there was made all the sweeter by the fact that doing so was purely down to ability. “Money can’t buy you a spot in the GS Trophy,” he says. Access to events like these are a perk of buying a BMW from an official dealer, too.

But after the delight of winning a place on the team, Lee has knuckled down to the hard work of preparing for the event.  “Now that I’ve qualified, I’m really gonna step up the training. Endurance and physical fitness are very important,” he says.

During the GS Trophy he’s expecting to ride up to 700km a day, most of it off-road, for seven days in a row. And in between the long stints in the saddle, there will be team challenges to complete.

“To represent Singapore is a huge responsibility.”

It must help, though, that Lee is a racer of some pedigree, both on two wheels and four. He did one season of the Malaysian Super Series on a Yamaha R6, finishing third in the championship as a rookie in the 600cc class. In cars, he’s had huge success, having won the tough 12-hour Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race three times — the only driver to do so.

Lee is Malaysian, but will be competing under the Singapore flag as a Permanent Resident here. That adds pressure to bring home a good result, he says. “Sometimes I sit down and think about it. To represent Singapore is actually a huge responsibility,” he says. “Singapore is actually a tiny nation, and we don’t have the infrastructure for riding competition.” He hopes to see a Singapore team compete in the GS Trophy one day.

For that to happen, there wouldn’t even have to be a dedicated racing circuit. The GS Trophy isn’t exactly a race, after all. It’s more a test of bike handling. At the qualifying event, riders faced challenges like plucking a banana off a tree while riding. One tough test, says Lee, was to push a bike over a three-foot log.

At least there will be something of a homeground advantage for Team Southeast Asia. This year’s GS Trophy will be held in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, where 114 R 1200 GS bikes to be used in the competition are due to arrive from Munich.

“The big advantage for the Asian team is that we’re used to the climate here. So for the foreigners who are coming… good luck to them!” says Lee, grinning.

That said, one obstacle the team faces is the fact that they’ve never actually ridden together before. To address that, Lee intends to reunite with his teammates, Peerapat Woratham from Thailand and Mohd Faizal Sukree from Malaysia, for a training session at Enduro Park this week. “We’ve got to get to know each other better before we can perform as a team,” he says.

Beyond all the preparation, however, the nature of the competition ultimately remains largely a mystery to Lee and the other participants. But that just fits with the spirit of the enterprise. “It’s an adventure. If you ask me what we’re gonna do, nobody knows,” says Lee. “That’s the whole essence of the GS Trophy. When you face an obstacle, you try and figure out a way to solve it.”

Follow Tommy Lee’s adventures on Instagram at tommylee55

about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.