"Gently, gently! The back wheel isn’t on the log," I shout over the straining BMW R1250GS engine bouncing off its rev limiter; the back wheel peppering me with mud and fragments of rock.
Gaining traction with a juddering thud, the GS is propelled forward and onto its side – sending my team-mate cartwheeling. Hoisting the bike back onto its wheels, there’s just time to cancel the onboard SOS before getting back on the gas. "Less throttle," I croak through muffled splutters, "use the clutch."
Finding grip on the sodden woodwork, the bike again lurches forwards, catapulting me backwards into the mud and out of the course to a flurry of laughs. Dusting myself off, I return to the back of the bike, just in time to get covered by more shrapnel pinging out from under the flailing rear wheel. And just to make things harder, we’re not even allowed to sit on the bike as we guide it over the obstacles.
Welcome to the GS Trophy UK Qualifier. Taking place over the 2019 May bank holiday weekend, it saw 140 UK and 20 Dutch riders unleashing their inner explorer over two days of group and individual challenges for a chance to represent their nation in the 2020 final in New Zealand.
Open to anyone who owns a BMW and not holding a national race licence, tasks include a scavenger hunt using a road book, a timed forest run in full adventure kit and a 5km trail ride following a satnav through the 4000-acre Walters Arena off-road centre in Wales.
I have been selected as one of four journalists to represent the media in the team finals, competing against a series of well-rehearsed dealership squads, all desperate to take the crown.
Uncoordinated, clumsy and considerably dirtier than anyone else, we offer an inch-perfect display in how not to navigate the 249kg R1250GS through the obstacle course. The worst part of the challenge being that you’re not actually allowed to ride the bike.
Our fumbled run of misfortune ends with beaming smiles and a muddy team hug. It’s been two solid days of laughing uncontrollably in the face of misfortune. Only the previous day, I experienced near vomit-inducing hilarity when my team-mate took an accidental mud bath during the technical forest run.
Our GS-filled adventure began just over a day before, at Margam Country Park, Neath. I am allocated a 9.32am set-off time and park in my designated zone before heading to the office to show my licence and receive my road book and itinerary. Any genuine BMW owner would also have to supply a British passport, their V5 and a cover note from their insurer.
I reset the trip on my F850GS, tuck the rain-soaked road book in the clear pocket of my tank bag and ready myself for the off. I have eight hours to complete the day’s challenges. Any later back, and I’m automatically out.
The route is laid out using directions that correspond to distance, meaning you have to use your trip meter to calculate exactly when to follow each instruction on the road book. Get lost, and you’ll be in a world of mental arithmetic pain as you add and subtract in an attempt to get back on course.
Alongside the riding challenges, you must also answer a number of questions at specific distances in order to fill out a score card. The morning’s progress is slow-going, with rain making the directions hard to read on the move.
But by midday the rain begins to subside and navigation gets a little easier. Deep into the Welsh countryside, the views are sublime. Miles of switchbacks are punctuated by humpback crests, perfect for teasing some air from the front wheel.
Arriving at Walters Arena for the off-road challenges, we are given two-and-a-half hours to complete six tasks. With everything from slow speed control aboard a G310GS, to a clutch-only momentum exercise on an R1250GS, each course challenges your riding ability.
Although there’s a huge prize at stake, there are no egos on show and no foul play. It’s the most inclusive and entertaining competitive event I’ve ever taken part in. For just £125 including your camping slot, breakfast and evening meals, I cannot think of many better value events that offer the same great sense of camaraderie and challenge. And you could do it too, if you own a BMW bike.
Why is the 2020 GS Trophy being held in New Zealand?
New Zealand was announced as the host nation for the GS Trophy 2020, which will put dozens of teams from around the world through their off-road paces in a range of challenges.
"After Tunisia, Southern Africa, Patagonia, Canada, Thailand and most recently Mongolia, BMW Motorrad were again looking for a location that offers perfect GS terrain," said Head of Marketing and Product Management at BMW Motorrad, Ralf Rodepeter.
"Lots of legal off-road kilometres are required, with demanding route profiles, passing through fascinating landscapes and with plenty of exotic flair.
"New Zealand is a perfect fit on those terms. The variety of astounding landscapes from sea to volcanoes to high-altitude mountains, combined with the most beautiful vegetation and the rich Maori culture provide the perfect setting for what we think will be one of the most exciting International GS Trophies ever held."
Rather than being a race or rally, the biennial event concentrates on teamwork and skill with tasks such as towing a bike or even changing wheels.
The national qualifiers are open to anyone with a BMW enduro bike (BMW R1200GS or GS Adventure, BMW F850 or 750GS, BMW G310GS, BMW F800GS Adventure or BMW S1000XR) with a love of riding off-road.
Among the 13 teams, there will be at least one all-female team with members from around the world. The first female team took part in 2016 and two took part in the 2018 event in Mongolia.
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