Riding into the Mountains with BMW and Shangri -La Hotel Chiang Mai

The riders each year are enthusiasts of the BMW GS — not professional — although getting to compete this year in Thailand was no easy feat. Only three riders were chosen for each team

By | Fri 1 Apr 2016

For the first time since its inception, the BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy was held in South East Asia this year, with northern Thailand the chosen setting for a competition amongst the world’s best amateur riders of the BMW R1200 GS. This year, the 5th time the competition has been held, saw the largest number of riders – 57, as well as 19 embedded journalists – in 19 teams coming from a total of 25 countries. Prior to being held in Thailand, the GS Trophy was held in Canada in 2014, South America in 2012, Southern Africa in 2010 and Tunisia in 2008.

It’s not hard

It’s not hard to imagine that such an event takes impeccable planning, first scouting the chosen areas, planning tracks, ensuring the safety of the riders, and catering to not just the riders, but all those involved with the event. This year the mammoth task of following and feeding the hungry riders each day, went to Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai Outside Catering.

Southeast Asia 2016

Firstly, more about the competition itself. A seven day event, the competition, BMW wants to point out, is not a race. Each day riders from each team not only have to finish the given route, but also complete certain “special tasks” pertaining to riding skills and motorcycle savvy. The route started in Chang Dao, and went on to Pai, Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang (x2), Lamphun, Chaeson and back to Chiang Dao.

The riders

The riders each year are enthusiasts of the BMW GS — not professional — although getting to compete this year in Thailand was no easy feat. Only three riders were chosen for each team — some teams, such as the South East Asia and South America teams, were made up of riders from various countries in a particular region of the world. The German team for example was represented by three riders who had earlier competed on home turf with another 350 people vying to compete in Northern Thailand. This year was also somewhat special, not just for the size of the event, but for the fact there were female riders for the first time — three in total.

Mathias Horn, Project Manager of this year’s trophy talked to Citylife while waiting in Pai for the riders to return on the first day. He explained that putting something like this together, bringing bikes straight out of the factory in Germany to Thailand, planning routes, ensuring the infrastructure is amendable to such a large event, communicating with local authorities, and generally making sure things go smoothly takes months of work. The first day didn’t exactly go as planned, too, as there had been heavy rainfall during the night and part of the route through the mountains from Chiang Dao to Pai could not be navigated. A change had to be made to the route, which was not something Horn was particularly over the moon about.

“We first took a scouting trip,” Horn told Citylife, “to judge the look and feel and the place.” His first thoughts, he says, was that Thailand (the north at least) was an “unbelievable off-road country”. He and his team took 14 weeks in all to scout locations, he says, explaining that at times the language barrier caused some small problems. He also explained that one of the reasons not so many people had heard about the event prior to it being held was due to it being a “closed event”. Spectators on the routes may have caused safety problems, he says.

After what Horn calls a crazy start to the competition, with a black-out in Chang Dao during a stormy night (competitors stayed in tents throughout the event), and much of the track on the first day being impossible to ride, the riders arrived in Pai in good spirits just before nightfall. Following a busy day setting up, Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai was there to welcome the riders with a mountain of food…and plenty of beer!

The Hungry Bikers

This was the first time Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai had catered for an event of such magnitude. To give you some perspective, here’s a little rundown of just some of the items consumed and the people required to deliver it.

50 staff from four departments each working around 12 -18 hours daily for 8 days — travelling something like 900km, or 2000km including inspections. Two chiller 10 wheel trucks, two regular 6-wheel trucks for equipment, two pick-up trucks for equipment, seven staff vans, a car and two generator trucks.

As for

As for consumption, the riders managed to quench their thirst with 4000 cans of beer (that’s not a typo, this was a German event after all). They also went through 3000 eggs, 3600 jars of assorted jams, 1536 juices boxes, 400kg of beef, 200kg of chicken 150kg of pork, 50kg of lamb, 250kg of fresh fish, 130 loaves of bread, and a mere 3000kg of assorted vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. That was by no means everything, but it’s enough to give you some idea of the size of the event in terms of catering.

George Hessler, German born executive chef at Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai, explained, “We’ve never done this before, it’s a new experience.” Regardless of the stress of making sure everything went to plan Hessler seemed constantly cheerful throughout the event, if slightly harried by the sheer diligence such work commands. Hessler says that it took about four months in all to plan the event, starting with site inspections and all sorts of logistics — getting trucks into certain mountainous locations was at times a very difficult procedure in itself.

Each day was

Each day was difficult though, says Hessler, having to set-up, and later pack-up and start the entire process again. While the days were long — one particular day started at 3 a.m., Hessler said to Citylife, “The boys love it,” explaining that being on the road was a far different experience from being in the hotel. His admits he had some doubts when he saw the hills the trucks would have to ascend, saying he thought, “I don’t know how we’re going to do that.” But they did, and as Hessler says, thankfully the food arrived, “in one piece and not all over the place.”

The Riders

The teams were made up of riders from all parts of the world, but following them were also trained media riders. One of these young men was Ben Brown from the UK. Brown is somewhat YouTube famous, having acquired half a million subscribers to his outdoor adventure videos, travelling much of the globe filming his endeavours, although it was his first time in Thailand.

He had been invited by BMW to use their new GS riding gear, having been previously invited on a GS training course in South Africa were he presently lives. “It was the best day ever,” he said of the first day’s riding, “I’m in paradise.” He added that he felt privileged to be invited to such an event, saying that the road to Pai was, “one of the most amazing mountain roads” he’d travelled on.

Kurt Yaeger, the man everyone wanted to have their photo taken with due to his Hollywood celebrity status and pro-BMX stardom, had similar sentiments. Yaeger, from the US, had been invited by BMW to cover the entire event, rather than follow one country. “The GS Trophy is an amazing competition,” he said, “bringing people together.” Yaeger was also the only participant to be riding with a prosthetic limb (leg) following a horrific motorcycle accident back in the US.

In the end South Africa was this year’s winner, announced at a somewhat jovial final day’s party in Chiang Dao. There we met with the only Thai rider, Peerapat Worathan, from Saraburi. His South East Asia tean was near to the back of the standings, but he was pleased enough with the competition. His fourth time riding in the north — he rides a BMW 1200RT touring bike — he says, “It’s beautiful, I love the nature.” He’d made good friends with his Malaysian and Singaporean team mates, the three of them communicating in what English they knew. Taciturn, and perhaps a little tired, Peerapat contemplated the last seven days and concludes, “It was all impressive, a great memory to have.”