We sent Tony 'Pommie' Wilding on the amazing BMW GS Safari for a two day ride through Far North Queensland's beautiful bush and beach areas, check out how he went... Story: Tony Wilding
After not being able to go anywhere for over a year due to COVID, it was nice to be asked by BMW to fly to Townsville and ride in the Townsville to Cairns GS Safari. A gruelling, mostly off-road ride through some of Australia’s beautiful bush on a well prepared bike.
While driving to the airport it dawned on me, that after testing bikes for the past 14-years, I’d never even been on a BMW GS, which is hard to believe, even for me. It had also been a fair while since I’d done any off-road riding, so it was going to be a true adventure for me.
Check out Jeff’s video review on the 2021 R 1250 GS here…
Traveling from Newcastle in NSW, I realised that Townsville was not the easiest place to get to and Cairns would be even harder to return from, with no direct flights. Still, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be an adventure would it? It was a weird feeling being at the airport again and even more unnerving seeing the plane I was about to board had propellers. I thought planes stopped using propellers after the war, still, it was nice to safely get to my destination! We had a grand dinner first night and the accomodation was top notch. Plenty of laughs, some red wine and lots of fellow motorcyclists made for a good night.
The safety aspect is high on BMW’s agenda and rightfully so. Getting lost seemed almost impossible as we were all sent a file to download to our GPS for the next day’s ride, along with a map with stage by stage directions, plus the course was marked out with directional arrows, so if you got lost, then you only have yourself to blame. There were also BMW lead riders and sweep riders, plus Doctors, should you have an incident along the way, and a couple of photographers to get some footage of you throughout the week. What a great set-up!
After meeting up for an early breakfast in the Townsville Casino Hotel, we headed down to the carpark to catch up with the crew from BMW Motorrad Australia, load our bags into the support vehicle and try to find our assigned bikes that were hiding in a sea of identical BMW’s!
I was given a brand new 1R 250 GS Adventure Rallye X in the traditional Motorrad colours, with a nice Akrapovic exhaust and a good set of crash bars… Maybe they had heard that it was my first safari! The night before we had been given our ride sheets and were in for a massive 467km ride, heading up into some spectacular scenery and mountain ranges, then into the Paluma State Forest.
The first section of dirt we hit was light and gentle, just to ease us into it, and gradually the terrain got a bit more challenging throughout the day. I had to remind myself that BMW needed to cater from complete beginners to people like me that had been dirt riding their whole life so there needed to be a mixture of road surfaces to suit every skill level, which I think BMW achieved very well. However, riding a motorcycle of any kind can be risky and one guy found out the hard way when he hit a culvert on the dirt road at high speed, breaking his bike and his leg, leaving in the back of an ambulance. I hope he is recovering well, it just highlighted the benefit of having medical backup on hand during a big ride.
After a long day in the saddle it was nice to see the ocean and arrive at the Mission Beach Resort, our home for the night. The staff put on a fantastic BBQ buffet for us and some live music, I had a huge feed, a few drinks and a great time recalling the ride with other riders. There were plenty of tall stories and laughs, I reckon everyone had a really good time. The evenings are as fun as the riding!
Day two of the ride was my last as unfortunately other commitments meant I couldn’t complete the full five day event, but I still had another 387km in front of me, so after a hearty breakfast at the resort, it was back on board the big GS for a bit more fun…
The weather was looking nasty, and within the first few kilometres the heavens opened and didn’t stop for three hours. I quickly found out I’d made a rookie error by removing the waterproof lining out of my DriRider suit. Unfortunately, I was now soaked and freezing, because the temperature in the mountains had dropped to 16 degrees and I was reaching for the heated grips. On the bright side, the rain had kept the dust down, once it had stopped and I’d thawed out all was good!
I was also thankful that my new Sidi Adventure 2 boots had arrived the day before the trip, I spent most of my time standing on the ‘pegs and they offered great support, my feet also remained bone dry and warm. The trails were more challenging than the previous day, twisty, hilly and more water crossings. Water crossings are always great and I stayed at one for a while watching riders getting into all sorts of trouble trying to cross it, it’s all part of the adventure and there was always help on hand when someone dropped their bike. It’s awesome entertainment!
Check out Tony’s first impressions of the Sidi Adventure 2 boots here…
After a good stretch of dirt riding, it was back on the tar and a sprint to the Sheraton hotel in Port Douglas for a nice feed, a debrief and a much needed sleep, especially for me because I was on a 6am flight in the morning and was sad to be leaving the safari.
The whole experience for me was a good one. I took a fair bit of time during the event talking with lots of different riders from in their mid 20s to 70-plus and asked them their opinion on the value of the safari for them. Everyone had positive things to say, some had done the event previously, which is held in different locations a few times each year, and loved every minute. There were father and son teams, and one guy I spoke to had ridden around 2500km all the way from Adelaide just to attend!
So, with the back-up you receive, if you were ever to need it for bike repairs or medical help, plus the accommodation and food that you get (not all food is included) I would say it is well worth it, if you want a true challenge and adventure. I know I will be back again for the full event one day.
If you hadn’t done much dirt riding before or just wanted to improve your skill level, on the Saturday and Sunday before the event, BMW offered two intensive days of rider training with Miles Davis that a few of the new riders I spoke to completed. They said they had learned a great deal and gained confidence for the safari ahead, they said the course was designed for beginners through to more advanced riders.
Every time I’ve climbed aboard a BMW I’ve been pleasantly surprised, from riding various models of BMW S 1000 RR’s over the years, to the new XR recently, but this was my first GS and I was about to play in the dirt on a $35k bike. After getting a quick demo on all the electronics, which I was already familiar with as they are similar to the XR, it was out of the hotel car park and on my way.
The first thing I noticed was how stable the GS is especially at low speed, it’s a fantastically balanced bike through town and churning up the kilometres on the freeway, you can easily see why it’s one of the main bikes of choice for round Australia trips, with a butter smooth quickshifter, super light clutch, cruise control and great luggage carrying capacity.
“With a bike weighing 268kg you would think it would be a handful on a dirt road, but I was really pleased with how well the GS handled.”
The only time the bike felt all of its 268kg is when I slipped on some rocks under the water on a crossing, I ended up having to put my foot down to stabilise myself and my instant thought was this is a big bike, luckily I managed to keep it upright and powered through.
Overall I was really impressed with the GS and it’s ability, especially off-road for a heavy bike, it felt nowhere near its actual weight and that’s a real bonus when riding on and off road, I even managed to pop the odd wheelie here and there…
A GS Safari banner (signed by all participants and crew) – which later included a free ticket to the 2022 GS Safari in Tasmania – fetched $10,000 at auction during the Farewell dinner!
Congratulations Dusty Lawless! Well done TV celebrity Luke Jacobz as the ever-enthusiastic auctioneer! All proceeds are going to the Royal Flying Doctors Service. Total funds raised for the RFDS came to a whopping $11,175. Incredible!
Click here to register for the 2021 August 22 – 28 BMW GS Safari Enduro
BMW Ride Awards
- Jane Curran – ORT Voucher – Most improved
- Anna Cowley – Motorrad Merch – Year after year keeps getting better and smiling more
- Dusty Lawless – $1000 BMW Rider wear – Most enthusiasm
- Jim Keegan – Motorrad / Safari Merch – First GS ride ever and oldest on Safari
- Peter Petherbridge Spirit of GS $1500 Safari Voucher – Broke foot, toughed it out to finish the day and attended final dinner
- Tai Iwrin – Motorrad Merch – Biggest smile
- Sophie Zolakar – Karoo 3 Tyres – Mega Mission. Ride across country to get there and continuing on
- Bill Bates – ORT Voucher – First crash
- Stephen Grusavin – Safari Staff Shirt – Not getting eaten by a croc and huge personality
- Andrew Sabo – $1000 Motorrad Voucher – Best Father/Son duo
- Shane Bright – Safari Fire Pit – Biggest help
2021 BMW GS Safari Qld Gallery