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BMW GS safari – A High country adventure | Events

Id like to lay my cards right on the table here. I’m not your average ‘package tour’ kind of guy, I’m not your regular ‘GS’ kind of guy, and I’m not even a particularly sociable kind of guy. Which probably makes me the worst possible choice to invite on an event like the GS Safari. On the other hand, I do love an adventure, love riding motorcycles of absolutely any kind, and love getting sideways in the countryside.

I have also been known to organise all kinds of dirty-road-trips in order to drag my mates out to do stuff I know they love but rarely seem to do due to … well, due to life. You know, that stubborn thing which always seems to get wedged between your dreams and reality.

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And this is where even I can see the benefit of organised events like the GS Safari. Although I am more inclined to act on a whim, firing off a spontaneous text or email to tempt my mates into doing some adlib scratch-built adventure they had never even contemplated, this method is starting to become less effective as my buddies get boring, I mean older.

Enter the set-menu adventure. Just go online, click the button, enter your credit card details, and pop it on the calendar. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s certain, and you are far less likely to end up in a dried-up riverbed somewhere in Spain – which I could have sworn looked like a trail on the map – manhandling bikes down two metre rock ledges. Sorry lads, at least the rest of the trip went well eh!?

When I arrived in Batemans Bay with my new travelling buddy and You Tube phenomenon, Tom, of ‘Riding with Tom’ fame, the GS Safari troupe had already been on the trail for two days. They all had a head start on the bonding process, and were already completely invested in the Safari spirit. This fact initially made me feel like a bit of an interloper, a ring-in, and a bike-journo-VIP-guest faker. Moreover, I felt like the elephant in the Safari room, so to speak, because absolutely everyone else there was completely GScentric. This is a curious mind condition which, as the week rolled along, rubbed off on me far more easily than I expected.

First job was to sign in and toss a coin for beds – double or single – and which bike I would get for the first day of the ride – standard 1200 GS or 1200 GS Adventure. Double and standard was my draw, then it was off to the nightly riders’ briefing to meet and mingle.

This was the first time I’d seen the whole Safari troupe in one place, drinking beer, laughing like hyenas. It all started to make perfect sense.

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Master of Ceremonies for the event and a veteran of 12 Safaris is BMW Motorrad Australia’s marketing manager, Miles Davis. He’s a gun rider, and a rightfully shameless show-off on a bike. If you’ve never seen this guy manhandle a 1200 GS around, it’s worth checking out. As my media chaperone, he was going to set the pace for the ride for the next three days, and this was one of the reasons I was so keen to attend. I love a good fang, dirty or otherwise.

At the riders’ briefings Miles is a polished and entertaining MC. Not because he likes the sound of his own voice, but because he genuinely loves his job, the event, what it stands for, the legacy it now boasts, and just bikes in general. He has a particularly infectious enthusiasm for adventure bikes. You could say he was made for the job.

At the briefings, the hungry hoards gather around, the scene is set for the next day’s route, and the previous day’s highs and lows are recounted. This then continues in greater detail and with more embellishment over a few cold ones at the bar and around the dining table. This is the time for bonding over shared experiences – of terrain and conditions conquered, near misses, and new skills learned through adversity. It’s the sharing of an adventure.

We rise at 6.30am, and by 7am Miles, Tom and I are having a relaxed breakfast and plenty of coffee at a corner café, while we watch the parade of GSs of all types roll one by one out of town.

The schedule is very relaxed on the GS Safari, with no specific departure times, just a friendly reminder to be aware of how long it’ll take to get through the route, and of when the sweep riders will be coming through to mop up the stragglers. The rest is up to you. Simply follow the arrows along the route, enjoy the ride, ride along with whoever you want to, and don’t forget to sign yourself in when you get to the end. Simple.

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My first day on the bike coincided with the only circular route on the 2016 event, starting and finishing in Batemans Bay. It also coincided with a change in the weather. After perfect, if not a little dusty, riding conditions for the previous two days, the GS Safari was about to get wet. Very wet.

Thankfully Mother Nature chose to not give us a serious hosing until early afternoon, by which time most riders had made it around the 100km of river crossings, rocks, mud and scrub. The moisture had certainly made the route more difficult, but the vast majority of riders relished the challenge as an opportunity to stretch themselves and practice new skills. This was particularly true of the large group of riders who had enrolled on the Off-Road Training course immediately prior to the Safari. This bunch were still high on the sudden intake of knowledge, and as keen as the proverbial pot of mustard to exercise their new abilities in ever-tougher situations. Observing them huddled after the riders’ briefing, exchanging experiences and relating it to what they had learned in training, was like watching a class of excited teenagers on their first ever ride. The joys of new sensations needn’t be the exclusive preserve of the biologically juvenile.

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The GS Safari is not designed to be an extreme event. My experience confirmed that it strikes the perfect balance of being a fast and fun but not particularly technical ride for skilled dirt riders, and an exhilarating and challenging, but not impossible, ride for less experienced adventure riders. And there was certainly an overwhelming consensus of satisfaction. Even with the bitumen detour pencilled in at the last minute for day four due to torrential rainfall overnight, nobody seemed to mind. A few of the more experienced adventurers, including my own band of three amigos, freestyled it on some dirt roads part of the way to the day four accommodation at Jindabyne. But most were more than happy to take in the whole altered route on the tar, meandering down the coast to Bega before bee-lining it up into the Snowy Mountains via Candelo, Cathcart (no, not that one), and Bombala on some sensational scratching roads.

The final day of the Safari was up there with the best days I’ve ever spent on two wheels – a gloriously drifting 334km of gravel road descent, from Jindabyne in Australia’s highest of high country, down to Bairnsdale on the south east coast of Victoria. The route follows the Barry Way to the NSW/Vic border, at which point it not only changes names, to the Snowy River road, but also miraculously turns from golden shale to rich auburn loam and clay. It was almost like the state line was preordained at a molecular level long before it was ever dissected by shodden hoof, wagon wheel, or Continental TKC80.

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The Barry Way was the icing on the Safari finger bun, a grand finale par excellence to a varied and spectacular route. And in my opinion, this last blast to the coast is just the kind of riding the R1200GS was made for – feet firmly on the pegs, elbows out, drifting in opposite-lock, gliding from one corner to the next in an up-tempo dirty dance. And accompanied all the way with a soulful hum and a Boxer beat.

The music only stopped for a moment when we finally hit the coast. Just enough time to dive into the shower, dig out the jeans from the bottom of your kit bag, and throw on your least-creased shirt. The dust may have settled, but there was one last night to spend in the company of these old friends and new. At least until next year’s GS Safari, or if you
can’t wait that long, and have gained the confidence to take adventure to the next level, the GS Safari Enduro. If you have a hankering for getting your GS dusty, check out this year’s epic route. There are mates and memories to be made, and isn’t that what life is all about?

Tempted to try one?  2017 GS Safari http://amcn.com.au/editorial/bmw-gs-safari-enduro/or book your adventure  https://bmwsafari.com/

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Words Paul Young  PHOTOGRAPHY BMW Motorrad