BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy 2020 Oceania: The Long Road To New Zealand
Ex-OVERDRIVE journo and long-term adventure motorcycling enthusiast Martin Alva shares his personal journey on making it to the BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy 2020 Oceania as part of Team Middle East
February of 2020 is a month I will never forget.
For many, motorcycling is a weekend hobby or simply another way to commute. For a select few like me, it is also a way of life. From being a pillion rider on my mom's Kinetic Honda DX to owning a BMW R 1250 GS to qualifying for the International GS Trophy 2020, I have devoted the last 18 years of life to off-road and adventure motorcycling.
They say it all begins with a dream and I have to admit, they are correct. The whole adventure riding bug bit me back in 2005 when I first saw a pirated version of Long Way Round starring Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. Back then, my idea of an adventure motorcycle was a heavily modified Royal Enfield Bullet and to some stretch of my imagination, a Honda Africa Twin XRV750. Growing up in India in the 90s, I had never ever seen an adventure motorcycle before, and therefore, didn't have the slightest clue about its capabilities.
Long Way Round starring Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor
Then I saw the BMW R1150GS which changed everything for me. Watching Long Way Round and seeing these motorcycles in action unlocked a part of my mind which I didn't know existed.
I was an obsessed 18-year-old who just found his calling. I watched the series on repeat that whole year and searched every nook and cranny of the internet for any and all bits of information I could get on the the motorcycles they rode in that series.
Fast forward 15 years and that teenage obsession is as strong as ever. However, in these 15 years I managed to relocate to Dubai, buy, ride and write-off a few versions of the BMW R 1200 GS and hone my off-road riding skills that eventually got me a seat on the Middle East team at the 2020 GS Trophy in New Zealand.
For me personally, my adventure riding hobby has rewarded me in the highest possible way. All these years of sacrifice, learning, reading, practicing and dreaming culminated in an opportunity that I never even thought possible for me.
Most of you might know that buying and owning a BMW GS isn't really cheap and riding one off-road day after day, pounding the daylights out of it and at times breaking things isn't something that helps either.
You would think keeping your balance at low speeds on a behemoth like the GS would be tough. But it's easy once you master the technique of keeping your weight centred on the motorcycle, and is as crucial as going fast when it comes to being competitive at the GS Trophy
Having bought my first R 1200 GS at 23, it required more than just skipped meals to save up for this hobby. It required giving up on vacations, side jobs, giving up on buying other essential things a 23-year-old would otherwise love to own.
The obsession didn't make sense to a lot of people including some of my friends. My weekends soon became too predictable and those house party invitations stopped sooner or later. Keeping in mind the Middle Eastern weekend, I used to crash early on a Thursday night to be awake early on a Friday morning for my rides. Saturdays used to be motorcycle washing and maintenance days and then back to work on Sundays.
In late 2018, BMW finally announced the introduction of the Middle East as a participating region for the GS Trophy 2020. This announcement awakened every adventure rider in the region and was enough to revive the adventure motorcycling scene for the winter of 2019 with winter being the only time we can ride as much as we want before the blistering summer heat kicks in.
Sometimes the tests where you're off the bike can be the most brutal, and a true test of how well you play with others - an essential aspect of adventure riding as a group
All my competitive antennae swung into action. Trying to save money, I've never participated in any official BMW or other third-party off-road training which cost a decent sum of money. However, I knew I had to ace both, technical and high-speed trail riding along with slow speed handling and balance manoeuvres to balance the motorcycle in awkward situations.
YouTube came to my rescue and I practiced whatever I could before the big day arrived in Dubai in March of 2019, almost a whole year before the GS Trophy finals in New Zealand. There was a pre-qualifier round in each country in the Middle East and the top five riders would then fight it out in Lebanon for the final three spots to represent the Middle East.
I stood in line with 43 of the finest GS enduro and adventure riders from the UAE and Oman. I knew some of these chaps well. One was a British special forces (SAS) instructor, a few were veterans from the Baja and Rally scenes, some were regulars at levels 1, 2 and 3 of BMW's off-road training schools and then there was me.
Intimidated and feeling utterly foolish, I decided to give it my best. I had nothing to lose. Having never received any professional assessment of my off-road riding skills, I didn't know where I could fit in. If at all I was bad, how bad was I? It was time to find out.
The qualifiers lasted two days. Day 1 was a warm-up where instructors from the BMW Enduro Park in Hechlingen, Germany, took us around warm-up rides and exercises where we rode our own motorcycles. Day 2 was the actual qualifier where we had to ride a BMW-provided R 1250 GS around set courses where we were judged on our technical abilities.
Four challenges later, I was third overall and that meant I had been selected to represent UAE at the qualifier in Lebanon.
We had five months to prepare for the qualifier. Having never ridden in Lebanon, we didn't know what to expect. The terrain in Lebanon is totally different to what we have in the UAE. Here in Dubai, we have a lot of sand and gravel hill tracks. Lebanon is mostly dirt, slush and mountains. Plus, we had to train all throughout summer. Yikes!
Even though the GS Trophy is a team event, the qualifying rounds are about individual skills and your knowledge of BMW GS' history, legacy and product line-up. It's a mix of theory and practical knowledge along with the basic know-how of how to work on the motorcycles. Each rider at the qualifier level not only has to be good at handling the motorcycle but also needs to know how to fix a flat, change wheels, adjust various technical settings, etc.
All three days in Lebanon were competitive days. Out of the 45 riders who were present, 25 got knocked out on day 1 based on scoring and then 10 more were knocked out on day 2, leaving the final 10 to earn their place in the team on day 3.
The final day was all about trail riding, which is where I'm most comfortable. I had to conjure up all my mental strength and focus on the goal to make it through. Having come this far and being so close to being in the top three, I couldn't afford to screw it up now. Also, the other nine riders were equally good, and some were way more experienced.
Somehow, I managed to pull it off! I made it to the final three and that is when it hit me. I finally did it. I have to reluctantly admit that I got teary-eyed and emotional at this point. I had never imagined I'd ever get here. It was a pipe dream, a fantasy that played in my head before falling asleep but now this was a reality!
A lot of people have played a huge part in supporting and helping me and now is the time to thank them, again. The team at OVERDRIVE back in 2007, 2008 and 2009 played a big part in this. It was during my time with Team OD that I got the opportunity to ride in places I could never dream of.
The GS Trophy in itself is all about the experience. There are no losers here, only winners. All participants have beaten the 'best of the rest' in their respective regions and have nothing more to prove. It's like the World Cup of adventure motorcycling.
The feeling of being a part of this big group of skilled riders, marshals and the BMW Motorrad team on an all-expenses paid trip across the mind-bendingly beautiful landscape of New Zealand is indescribable. I could write a book on those eight days of my life at the GS Trophy but that won't be enough.
I don't think there's anything else out there quite like the GS Trophy that unites the adventure motorcycling enthusiasts. It's a great opportunity for friendly competition, with the chance to make lifelong friendships with other riders from across the globe.
Even though I carry an Indian passport, I wasn't part of team India. I met my compatriot riders for the first time in New Zealand and we soon realised that India had the maximum number of competing riders in the group, apart from having an Indian Marshal and Indian Media representative.
I'd stand in line to qualify for another GS Trophy in a heartbeat, but BMW Motorrad rules don't allow finalists to participate as competitors again, ever.
Team Middle East made its debut at the 2020 edition of the Int. GS Trophy with Elias Abi Antoun (33), Martin Victor Alva (32) and Jorge Osorio Restrepo (32)
My enthusiasm to ride hasn't fizzled out after the GS Trophy was over and neither has my skill level peaked. I continue to ride with local riders and share all my experience and learnings with them. Two years from now, some of these riders will participate and I'll be on the sidelines, cheering them on.
As BMW Motorrad's marketing team rightly puts it, Make Life A Ride.
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