The third annual Great African GS Challenge (GAGSC) was held last week in the beautiful valley of Moolmanshoek, near Ficksburg in the Free State, South Africa, with riders from Germany, France and America joining the fun, in addition to 600 local participants!

After months of build-up and hype, the day finally dawned where hundreds of GS riders and their beloved machines descended on the normally peaceful farm where the event was hosted. From early on the Wednesday morning, riders started trickling into the venue, keen on securing a prime camping spot. As the sun rose higher in the cloudless sky, the trickle of riders arriving became a torrent as entrants poured into the venue from all over the country on a variety of BMW machinery ranging from F 650 GSs, Dakars, R 1150 and 1200 GSs and a surprisingly large number of HP2s.

The atmosphere was festive as the allocated camping grounds filled up quickly with an assortment of tents of all different shapes and sizes, and riders made their way to the registration tent. Old friendships were reignited and new ones made as bikers mingled under the massive marquee tent.

BMW Motorrad SA General Manager, Lachlan Harris officially welcomed riders to the 2006 event after which participants were given a briefing by event organiser Deon Meyer. It was decided to drop the blue beginner routes of last year’s event and to just retain beginner (green) routes and advanced (red) routes.

Deon put the fear of God into prospective red route riders with his graphic descriptions of various off-road obstacles to overcome, but whether the routes were as bad as he made out depended on riders’ skill levels. However, there was sufficiently challenging terrain to keep even the most hardened off-road veteran sweating. Green routes were more docile with contestants riding dusty gravel roads and encountering special stages with obstacles mid-route in the form of patches of sand, water crossings, ruts or a host of other potentially tricky situations.

As with previous GS Challenges, there were special guests from overseas. Tomm Wolf, the founder of the Hechlingen Offroad Academy in Germany attended the event and even competed in the Mandela Cup skills challenge. Additionally, riders were treated to a visit by the BMW Motorrad international marketing manager and event co-founder, South African Pieter de Waal.

Nights were bitterly cold with temperatures dropping as low as minus 5 degrees C and riders often woke the following morning to discover ice on their saddles. Due to the GS Challenge ’not being a race’ there was no hurry to finish the routes and riders stopped at many of the ’watering holes’ along the way to enjoy a drink and swap stories about the routes and hazards encountered so far before firing the bikes back up again and heading off.

With riders usually arriving back at the Moolmanshoek venue between midday and 3pm, there was plenty of time to relax before heading out to the watch the keenly contested afternoon skills challenge. A highlight of the GAGSC every year, the 2006 skills challenge was bigger and better than ever before, with contestants being put through their paces as they navigated their way through sets of obstacles including steep ascents and descents, rutted ground, tight turns, narrow gates, logs and that old spectator favourite - mud.

Contestants were given a set amount of points that were then deducted according to the amount of errors they made. The contestant with the most points left after three rounds was the winner.

The going was tough, but with a HP2 on offer for the winner, it was never going to be easy. By Saturday evening, after three rounds of hard-fought action and for the first time ever, two contestants were tied for the win. After much deliberation by the team of judges, it was decided to award the first prize to the contestant who had ridden most consistently throughout the three-day competition, leaving 33 year-old Eugene Snelling from the Drakensberg region the ecstatic winner of the brand new BMW HP2.

In addition, BMW hosted its very own international exhibition skills challenge, named the ’Mandela Cup’. The twice winner of the skills challenge, Hein Kumm, represented South Africa, while Hechlingen academy instructor Tomm Wolf represented Germany. After delighting crowds with their mastery of the motorcycles throughout the course, the points were added up and the victory was awarded to local favourite Hein Kumm.

The Great African GS Challenge has shown phenomenal growth since its inception in 2004. In its first year, 98 riders entered the event while the second year saw the attendance jump to 380 entrants. This year, due to huge levels of interest, the organisers decided to limit the event to 600 participants.

There are plans to invite a bigger number of European riders to the event next year, as well as the chance to join a six-day tour of South Africa in addition to participating in the GS Challenge.

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