Stuff camping and boil-in-the-bag dinners, when you ride the dirt with BMW’s head honcho it’s luxury all the way. Welcome to adventure riding for the discerning modern gentleman…

Adventure bike sales have been booming since Ewan McGregor and that other bloke rode around the world on a pair of fully loaded BMW R1200GSs… and rightly so. After all, a good adventure bike comes as close as it gets to motorcycling perfection in one machine, and they look the business, casually suggesting you could be popping down to Morocco for tea any minute.

But few ever do because when it comes down to it, adventure riding’s hard work. Not only that, it’s also a bit, well, smelly. Camping in the same wet tent gets old pretty quickly, as does wearing the same pants for a month because all your luggage space is taken up with spares. In your mind you may think you pack all the roguish charm of Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone as you roll into another dusty border outpost astride your steed of steel. In truth, you look like a tramp on the run and smell like a pirate on shore leave!

Which means the adventurous side of adventure riding tends to get done by the few genuinely teak-tough dirt men out there who care not a fig for personal hygiene and believe boil in the bag spag-bol actually tastes good, while the rest of us read about it instead.

But it doesn’t have to be this way because, if your pockets are deep enough, the adventure riding dream can be made reality and it can be a place where fine adventure AND high living come together.

One man with access to spectacularly deep pockets, who’s more than happy to point such resources in the direction of epic off-road enjoyment, is Hendrik von Kuenheim, overall boss of BMW’s motorcycle division. A longtime enduro rider and fan of all things dirt, when von Kuenheim fancied a tough and exotic riding holiday he simply had a word with his people and made it happen. You can imagine the conversation:

HvK: I’ve been working too hard, I want a riding holiday.

Staff: Where to boss?

HvK: Somewhere hot, dusty and loaded with adventure where they also have the best hotels and the finest wines known to humanity - after all, a gentleman needs to relax after a hard day’s riding.

Staff: What about bikes, boss?

HvK: Pluck as many GSs as you like from the worldwide dealer network and have them sent to the start point. Oh, and add a couple of new Huskys. We’ll put them on a trailer just in case we want to play with them along the way. You can all come too - I’ll need people to carry my bags.

Staff: Sure boss, erm, just one question - how are we going to pay for all this?

HvK: I’m the boss – I’ll sign it all off!

Staff (in unison): Brilliant!

Namibia was the destination and in case anyone at BMW realised this was all a massive jolly, von Kuenheim also invited a handful of journalists to join him, thus cloaking his otherwise obvious holiday in a thick veil of media fog. RUST couldn’t pack quickly enough…

Windy City

The Windhoek Country Club in Namibia’s capital was where this adventure began. A pleasant modern hotel, the WCC could be almost anywhere in the world. That is until you wander out to the driving range and see white folks in golf strides hacking balls into the yonder as black men in overalls run around and pick them up again. Welcome to southern Africa, a land of jaw-dropping beguiling enchantment still mixed with some painfully obvious inequality.

‘Rural’  is where the true magic of Africa lies however, and fortunately that was exactly where we were going. Leaving Windhoek, there was inevitably tarmac to deal with but 70 miles later we hit the dirt which is where we stayed for the rest of the trip. This first day was a gentle one, with the trails wide, open and predictable which meant ample opportunity to soak up the rich sights, smells, and sounds of wild Africa as they floated by.

With our previously pristine bikes suitably sand-blasted, we rolled into the Erindi private game reserve that evening in time for ice cold sundowner beers on their terrace, a terrace remarkable for not only being in the middle of the surrounding savannah, but for also being alongside a large watering hole, meaning you can slake your thirst while idly watching a brace of crocs and hippos at work just feet away. It made London Zoo look decidedly second-rate.

After a deep night’s sleep in one of Erindi’s palatial individual bungalows, with their terraces opening directly onto the plains and the wildlife wandering by as we dozed, we hit the trail again heading for Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast. Swakopmund itself is unremarkable, a sort of Namibian Margate, and wouldn’t be worth staying in if it weren’t for the riding to get there which was something else. 

Following 150-odd miles of trails to get into the groove, we had left the town of Uis and joined an arrow straight dusty trail heading for the coast. For 70 miles this track never kinked or curved an inch, remaining resolutely, mind-bendingly, hallucinatingly straight. Above us a giant blue sky stretched from wingtip to wingtip across the horizon, and ahead the road narrowed to a point shrouded in a heat haze where the sky melted into the earth. We chased that point for what felt like an age, speedos swaying around the 90mph mark, rev counters dancing as back wheels endlessly slipped, gripped, slipped, gripped. It was as close to an out of body experience as I’ve come on a bike, and more than made up for the impending night in Swakopmund’s drab, grey mire.

Which we gladly left the following morning for what turned out to be the most amazing dune riding session. Dune Seven, just outside of Swakopmund, may have a dull name, but don’t be fooled because this 200-metre natural sand bowl could just be the greatest thing you’ve never ridden…

Unlucky Seven

To seasoned sand bashers, the idea of tackling anything bigger than a sandpit aboard 230-plus kilos of BMW may seem reckless, but the basic lore of deep sand applies just as well to giant road-based bikes as it does to whippet-like dirt racers - weight back, never look down, and pin the throttle like your life depends on it.

Follow these basics and before you know it you and your F800GS will be tearing up the business side of a Canary Wharf-sized dune, tipping 80mph, before barely pausing for breath as momentum slows near the summit and you turn for the base to come whooping, hollering and surfing back down. An all-time riding high.

Taking the opportunity to sample this immense playground aboard one of the Huskys which were traveling with us by trailer for use whenever we fancied, I pointed the red and white TE449 at the dune I had just returned from and danced up it once again and in this case, it was literally like dancing. Where on the 800 I had been hammering through the sand with all the subtlety of a rhino on the charge, now I was as fleet-footed on the shifting sand as a gazelle, able to turn, carve, swerve and leap wherever I liked. It made the point that while the F800s can hack this stuff, they’re no match for a proper piece of kit.

This point was reinforced when one of the most seasoned riders on the trip had a horrible tumble riding UP a massive dune at pace, as he was thrown over the bars before tangling with the bike rather badly. Sparked-out on the dune surrounded by an exploded selection of F800 parts, this looked bad and he was brought back down on a spine board after immediate treatment from the excellent medical team traveling with us, the same crew that had patched me up so quickly when I almost totaled myself during last year’s GS Trophy event.

Fortunately, being a complete bull of a man and with some excellent luck thrown in, the rider in question was finally diagnosed with no more than severe bruising and a black eye. He’d be sucking down painkillers with his cocktails for a few weeks to come though and we were reminded that while the 800GS can do many things it seemingly shouldn’t be able to - as trips like this and the GS Trophy illustrate - its chassis doesn’t make pushing the limits with this sort of riding predictably safe.

Journey’s end on this day was at the Sossusvlei Lodge in the southern Namib desert. A peach of a place, the lodge is in the heart of big dune country and lies at the end of a huge, snaking dirt track bordering the Namib-Naukluft national park. A tour deep into the park itself where the views are spellbinding was a standout here, as was a stellar dinner by flaming torchlight in the middle of the vast, empty desert where the meat was barbecued to perfection and the wine flowed like water. Phileas Fogg would have approved. 

Hendrik von Kuenheim

A handy dirt rider and the driving force behind many of BMW’s key developments over the last few years - from the launch of the S1000RR four cylinder superbike to the manufacturer’s increased interest in all matters off-road with the purchase of Husqvarna - von Kuenheim is a very knowledgeable businessman who knows how to play as hard as he works. Over dinner one evening in Namibia, RUST picked his brains…

Was BMW’s takeover of Husqvarna a direct move to take on KTM?

‘I know Stefan Pierer the owner and manager of KTM and have the highest respect for him and his company. With their slogan ‘Ready to Race’, they have found their niche. But I consider their adventure into on-road bikes - looking at the retail statistics - pretty much a big failure for them. Their hard-core segment is where they are best.

‘So in that respect it’s not an attack on them at all. BMW already has a much wider product portfolio and dealer network than KTM. With Husqvarna we want to give some of our dealers additional meat to address different and younger customers who might not consider a BMW, but may consider a Husky.’

What can you tell us about the new large capacity Husqvarnas?

‘There will be two new Husqvarnas this year, a single cylinder and a twin, the H91 as we call it, with a motor based on the F800’s, and both will be dual-purpose on-road bikes.

‘Although for the last 20 years Husky have only made motocross and hard enduro sports competition bikes, if you look back 40-60 years they were also producing two- and three-cylinder on-road bikes. We are reviving that heritage. We want to gain customers from Ducati, Aprilia, KTM and so on.

‘Producing dual-purpose bikes also helps economically because when you are only producing sports competition bikes, there is such a short season. You produce for three or four months, and then have very little work for the rest of the year. A more street-based bike has an all-year season around the world and you can even-out production.’

What are your thoughts on Triumph’s new Tiger 800XC?

‘Triumph has done a remarkable job carving out a niche segment for themselves and I respect that. For example, when they wanted a sports 600 instead of following the Japanese manufacturers they made the 675. Very well executed.

‘But what they have done with the Tiger is to copy the 800GS and put their engine in it. Triumph has so much heritage, so much pride. They should not copy a German motorcycle, they should go their own way. The company can do better, and deserves to do better. I feel ashamed for Triumph customers and dealers.’

Finally, where will the 2012 GS Trophy be held?

‘We have done plenty in Africa now so maybe it’s time for somewhere else. Australia could be good, but it’s a very long way for most people. South America could be great and Latin America would be also. Soft muddy trails, deep jungles, great adventure! I think Brazil, Chile and Argentina are the favourites at the moment and we need to decide before summer because the team selection events are now starting.’Look out for information on the 2012 GS Trophy UK qualifying event in future issues…

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