In June 2006 Paul Blezard went to Namibia to test BMW’s new R1200GS Adventure in a whole variety of contrasting conditions from tarmac to rocky piste, smooth dirt to soft sand dunes and also rode into the depths of Africa’s answer to the Grand Canyon.
The fleet of eleven R1200GS
Adventures was waiting for us on the tarmac as our small turbo-prop plane
lurched in the strong crosswinds before landing safely at Springbok’s tiny
airfield in the
We rode in convoy for the
hundred-odd kilometres to the border at Vioolsdrif and a further hundred
‘klicks’ on good tarmac up
After an hour or so on tarmac we turned west onto our first dirt road, which, like many in the country, was smooth and fast. We then headed north up a more minor and bumpier one. It was on the first real corner of this dirt road that Toni, from the Spanish edition of Men’s Health failed to make the turn and cart-wheeled his bike in the boulder-strewn shrubbery, fortunately without serious damage to man or machine. It certainly provided a good test of the crash bars on the Adventure, and they came through with flying colours! (The only damage was a broken left spotlight and the clip on the left hand-guard snapped as it’s designed to do, while the panniers were severely dented but protected the rear end of the bike). The severely shaken but mercifully intact rider retired to the seat of an X5.
Further up this road there were some soft sandy sections, usually at dry river washouts, which some of the riders found testing, especially the young Italian from Due Ruote magazine who’d never ridden off tarmac before! My own biggest ‘moment’ that first day was on the approach to a level crossing hidden around a sharp 90 degree bend that had been put in so that the road crossed the parallel railway line at a safe right-angle. My heart missed a beat but I recovered in time to take a joyous flying leap off the raised level crossing.
Things got even more interesting
when we took a much narrower dirt track towards the famous
At the second farm the tyre was
successfully plugged from the outside with the standard BMW tubeless puncture
repair kit and we continued on the rockiest track yet. This led us to the
spectacular edge of the
Blez and Charley Boorman on the edge of the
We then rode right down into the valley to the riverside just before dark. A superb temporary camp had been set up there, complete with bar and hot showers! A lamb had been roasting for five hours by the time we arrived and the evening passed quickly around the camp fire as the wheels of international camaraderie were oiled by good food and the odd beverage…
It was cold when I poked my head out of the tent in the morning because the canyon was still in shadow but within an hour the campsite was bathed in warming sunlight as people slowly got their brains in gear over coffee and breakfast. The rear tyre on ‘my’ bike had mysteriously gone flat overnight, so I swapped onto the GS that Lachlan Harris had been riding while a spare wheel was fitted from the back-up vehicle. The rocky climb back out of the canyon was quite testing and we had to pull TV presenter Theunis Nel and his bike out of a bush on the way up. A few miles further on, I got a bit too cocky in the soft sand and suffered my first and only spill of the trip with a graceful and painless dive over the handlebars. As I dusted myself down I thought, ‘Well, if you’re going to fall off, that was definitely the right place to do it!”
Phil kindly took another dive in the sand which I was able
to catch on camera and at the second farm, where we’d left the trailers the day
retraced the previous day’s route back to the main dirt road, but this time I
was riding nearer the front, chasing Charley Boorman on the sandy going at much
higher speeds. It was Charley’s first proper ride since breaking bones in both
hands in his ‘Race to
Herbert Diess didn’t bother to turn his
the previous day I’d ridden with the
We paused to re-group at the junction with the main road and were entertained by Jan doing third gear stand-up wheelies for hundreds of metres back and forth along the dirt road. Impressive!
Charley B watches Jan du T pulling impressive wheelies….
We continued on to the Canyon Road House for an excellent brunch. The place had a kind of ‘Wild West’ feel to it, and was decorated with wonderful old Namibian motoring advertisements in English, German and Afrikaans. (From 1884 to 1915 Namibia was a German colony known as German South West Africa or Deutsch-südwestafrika). There were also old vehicles, and parts of them, dotted about both inside and out. For example, there was an entire section of a car, complete with rear wheel, in the washroom and a derelict old Honda Sports 90 outside, hanging from chains like a piece of modern art.
Back on the main dirt road I saw over 100mph on the speedo for the first time in my life on a dirt road. I thought that was pretty quick but Jan du Toit said he’d clocked 200kph – 125 mph!
Shortly afterwards we turned onto a much narrower and twisty dirt road that had some really nasty, almost ‘kerb-like’ bumps on it which showed that while the Adventure’s long travel Telelever front end is excellent, it still has limitations compared to the beefy and more conventional upside-down telescopic forks fitted to BMW’s competition-oriented HP2 (which I’d had the pleasure of racing in the Hafren Rally in Wales six months earlier). This road led to some fantastic dunes near the Gamkab river where we spent about an hour thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Despite its apparent bulk, the new 1200 is a lot more manageable and forgiving in tricky going than the old 1150 was and it was even more fun in the sand without the panniers.
(I’m not a huge fan of humungously wide panniers at the best of times; I think top boxes are much more practical in most circumstances, and especially in urban situations. My Givi Maxia top box is big enough to hold two BMW full face helmets without adding a millimetre to the width of even a scooter, whereas the Adventure 1200’s panniers make what is already a wide bike nearly as wide as a small car; no great problem in the wide open spaces of Namibia but a pain in the arse in London. Ironically Herbert Diess dropped his 1200 when he was nudged by another rider who mis-judged the width of his bike with the panniers on as he tried to squeeze past.
Blez gets the power down in the dunes
Jan du Toit gets the front end up in the dunes
The Namibian desert was greener than it had been for many years
We headed off into another amazing canyon while the back-up vehicles took the more direct route to our overnight stop. By this time our Italian friend, the rookie dirt rider, was exhausted and his bike was taken over by one of the support mechanics. Half way into the canyon Herbert Diess hit a rock really hard and dented his front rim so badly that it could no longer hold air.
That’s a big ol’ dent. No wonder the tyre wouldn’t hold air!
With the spare front
wheel no longer with us, Jan du Toit just hopped on the bike and rode it 40kms
with a completely flat front tyre, cruising at 100kph most of the way! We
joined the main highway alongside the
We had some superb food, plenty to drink and everyone said what a great couple of days we’d had.
Jan du Toit (left) and Charley B chatting with Johan, our knowledgeable guide (right)
Rare weather, beautiful flora
talks to the TV camera by the side of the
following morning, after a great breakfast and some filming by the side of the
highlight of the ride was the 3kms of fast sweeping turns that take you up onto
the windy plateau south of Vioolsdrif. After lunch, alongside an incongruous
Cornish-style beam pump, and a brief interview with the film crew, it was time
to get in the plane back to
Blez talks to the camera for SA TV, including a few words in Afrikaans
facts about BMWs in
The R1200GS and F650 & 1200GS are the top selling bikes above everything. The R1200GSs are all sold with spokes as standard because the ally wheels dent rather too readily on African roads.
When Brad Pitt was in Namibia with Angelina
Jolie in April 2006, BMW SA loaned him the very first R1200GS Adventure in
BMW SA’s Events manager is a striking 30-something blonde lady by the name Cora Forssman. She had never ridden a bike until four years ago, but has now got her own R1200GS and has also done the BMW off road course with Jan Du Toit, and with some success, by all accounts.
Cora Forssman and
BMW Bike division boss Herbert Diess relax by the
BMW SA host a huge off-road annual competition for GS owners called, appropriately enough ‘The GS Challenge’ with different routes available for different skill levels.
Since I went
© Paul Blezard