The punishing seven-day international Motorrad wrapped up last weekend on a ranch in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, about an hour west of Calgary. Sixteen teams from 19 countries tested their balancing and manoeuvring skills in a trials competition, taking on a 2,300-kilometre loop that took them through some of the roughest mountain terrain Western Canada has to offer.
The fourth BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy started at the same ranch on Sept. 6. The event is not so much a race as a blend of adventure riding, personal skill tests and team challenges. Previous competitions had been held in Tunisia (2008), southern Africa (2010) and Patagonia (2012).
With nearly 200,000 kilometres collectively ridden, mostly off-road, organizers said they were delighted there were no serious injuries. One rider suffered a broken leg and another a dislocated shoulder.
The biennial competition was first proposed in 2007 by Heiner Faust, now head of sales and marketing for BMW Motorrad, as a means to showcase the flexibility of the GS line of motorcycles. In an interview at the conclusion of the event, Faust said the Canadian competition was the toughest so far.
The winning team – from Central and Eastern Europe (CEEU) with Riders Wojciech Zwmbrzycki, Maciej Gryczewski and Karl Rahcek – led the points standing from Day 1. South Africa was second and France third. All contestants are non-professional riders who qualify in regional competitions.
Canada's motorcyclists finished ninth – a disappointing result for team members, but an experience all three say they will cherish for the rest of their lives. Matt Wareing, 43, quit his job in Calgary when his employer refused to give him time off for the competition. He has no regrets. "The high moment for me was from the moment I started. And it's still going on."
Here's a day-by-day recap:
In a brutal kickoff to the competition, team members took several hours to haul each of their four motorcycles across a rocky, shallow and fast-moving river and then up a muddy bank. Later in the day, exhausted riders competed in a slow-speed figure-eight course, collecting a ball and depositing it in the same spot at the end. Team Canada, which had no opportunity to practise as a group before the competition, tied for second-last. “That was the toughest day for us,” said Glaude.
After an overnight storm, riders packed up soaking tents and headed out on a muddy 50-kilometre ride down a logging road. The first test was of navigation skills, in which they used GPS devices to find five objects. After a ferry ride across Arrow Lake, they landed in the tiny B.C. hamlet of Nakusp and squared off for a game of broomball. France and Korea tied as the day’s overall winners.
Following the water-soaked second day, competitors travelled 200 kilometres off-road under blue skies and warm sun. The first 55 kilometres led to the first special stage, where they had to tow a teammate’s motorcycle with their own, uphill over a two-kilometre course, while using one tie-down strap and without stopping. Only five of the 16 teams arrived without penalty, and France did it in the quickest time. In the next 60-kilometre run, an embedded journalists slid his bike into a ravine, but escaped without injury. The final challenge of the day was a stream-crossing in which team members had to get their bikes across a fast-flowing river with slippery rocks -- Team Alps won. South Africa had the best overall score for the day.
Riders took a few tumbles as they followed a loose-gravel rail bed for the 75-kilometre trip from Christina Lake, B.C., to Castlegar. The first leg went along the rail bed of the former Columbia and Western Railway track. At one stage, team members had to push their bikes down and up a tight, rocky path, while they were timed. After a dash to Nelson, B.C., the teams participated in a logging competition. Team Canada won the cross-cut sawing challenge, their only win of the event. Marc-André Octeau, who qualified for Team Canada in 2010 but dropped out because his wife was about to give birth, and who was injured in the early stages of the South American GS Trophy, was flown in for the dinner and final three days of this event as a special guest.
A 200-kilometre route of brutally rugged riding in the Kootenay region of central B.C. included a climb up loose boulders, where team members had to drive and push their 250-kilogram bikes up a steep hill during a special stage called the McDonald Turn. Next, the Slide required riders to go across a testing traverse before descending a landslide. They then ascended the Sandon Pass with 28 switchback turns. The Italian team drew peers’ admiration for helping Team USA tow a stricken bike to the top of the tough course, with both teams arriving an hour late. The day ended with a stop at a hot springs to soothe aching muscles, followed by a test of skills at changing wheels, trials riding and raising their bikes over a raised tree trunk.
Competitors travelled 400 kilometres between Balfour, and Fort Steele B.C., including three special stages. In first special stage, 10 kilometres up a forestry service road, a team members walked three BMW R 1200 GS bikes with the engines running over a wall of boulders that blocked the road. Special stage 2, dubbed the Maryland Trial, was a time trial on a twisting sandy path with rocks, holes and trees. The third stage, on gravel with the ABS switched to Enduro Pro, required each team member to stop the front wheel in a designated area after riding as quickly as they dared.
The final leg took competitors over otherwise deserted gravel roads and through picturesque mountain passes. Special stages included an early morning 'car pull' in sub-freezing temperatures with a vintage Dodge; a 'bear turn' team relay special deep in the forest; and a trials-based skills challenge at base camp that included blindfolded riding. The prize ceremond took place during a final dinner around a campfire.
“I’m a little disappointed we didn’t place higher,” said Cory Hanson, 37, of Calgary, who rode with friend Wareing, and Patrice Glaude, of Montreal. The team moved up from 14th on Day 1. “We had a tough start; these competitions are tough on the spirit,” said Glaude who, at 55, was tied for oldest competitor. “[But] I’m very proud to represent Canada at an event like this.”
Team Central and Eastern Europe -- Wojciech Zambrzycki, Maciej Gryczewski and Karel Rahcek -- led from Day 1 until ultimately reaching the finish at the Kananaskis Guest Ranch in Exshaw.
Special to The Globe and Mail - With files from BMW Group.