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29 March 2012

GS change of pace

After the race comes a GS change of pace

After a long wait for race fans, the 2012 Superbike World Championship season finally kicked off at Phillip Island in Australia on the final weekend in February. Under a blazing sun and exhausting heat, the opening weekend of action saw new recruit Marco Melandri, riding the BMW S 1000 RR for the first time in anger, come from the fourth row of the grid to grab second place – the RR’s highest finish yet – in his first race for the team. It was a great way to start 2012.

For Leon Haslam there was no podium, but a 12th and fifth place in Sunday’s two races was remarkable enough in itself, as just three days before Leon was on the operating table having screws inserted to pin a fractured tibia.

The medical attention had a bruised, battered but determined Leon back on the RR but he was disappointed to be unable to join in the post-race GS ride that has become a tradition for the BMW Motorrad Motorsport team riders. Grabbing the opportunity to take Leon’s place and discover the great Australian outdoors on a GS was Bernhard Gobmeier, Director of BMW Motorrad Motorsport.

A world away from the high-pressure environment of world championship racing, this was pure motorcycling joy, GS style. In other words, a mixture of minor paved roads linking into hundreds of kilometres of off-road paradise, including small tracks and dirt roads snaking their way through dense Eucalypt and Mountain Ash forests high up in the invigorating mountain air.

BMW Motorrad Australia Marketing Manager Miles Davis is no stranger to this magnificent part of the country and so prepared a great route for the riders to enjoy. This year, along with Marco, Bernhard and 2011 Australian Superbike Champion, Glenn Allerton, a group of Australian motorcycle journalists came along for the ride, which also doubled up as the national press launch for the G 650 GS Sertão.

Fortunately the intense 40 degrees heat of the weekend had been replaced by weather more conducive to enjoying the ride. Leaving Phillip Island the group headed east for lunch at Mount Baw Baw, mainland Australia’s most southerly ski resort. The conditions in the national park had become slippery with drizzle and a light fog gave the alpine scenery a touch of magic.

However, the G 650 GS Sertão with its lightweight and usable power made the ride easy. “The bike is easy to ride, with a wide spread of power and with good grip you can go anywhere in the right gear,” said a smiling Marco Melandri. “I’ve never ridden a GS before this but I want to get one back in Italy!”

The first day ended just out of the old gold mining town of Woods Point. Woods Point is a village lost in time and Marco Melandri was amazed. “It looks like it is not real, a movie set” said the 2011 WSBK championship runner-up as he explored the main street and the iconic pub.

After a break it was up to the Gap Getaway private hotel, perched on the top of the mountain above the town. It was a steep, slippery and very foggy climb, with a creek crossing but the Sertão was up to the task and the first beers were soon going down standing in front of an old goldmine boiler that had been turned into a heater. With good food and good company, far away from the crowds, it was a perfect way to end the day’s two-wheeled adventure.

Unfortunately steady rain in the alps the day before caused a change of plans for day two. “We were planning on riding to the top of the iconic Mount Terrible but it would have been too difficult and as we had to be back in Melbourne on time we chose another interesting route with a few less steep climbs,” said Miles Davis. “That’s all part of riding a GS, being adaptable and working with the conditions.”

On the morning of day two the fog lifted, revealing the mountain scenery in all its pristine glory. Glenn Allerton, who like Marco was new to GS riding, was soon showing the way as the Sertãos were pushed along. The day went quickly and soon the group was heading back toward Melbourne. A stop at Marysville (a town that is being regenerated after the total destruction of the 2009 bushfires) was the start of the final leg home to BMW Group Australia headquarters in Melbourne’s Eastern Suburbs.

“I had a lot of fun, it is a wonderful area,” said a tired but happy Bernhard Gobmeier at the end of the ride. “For me it was exotic with the eucalypts forests, the landscape, the mountains and the roads. All very interesting.”

For Marco it was an experience he will never forget: “When you think back it is always fun, even the difficult times, including the rain, the fog and the slippery surfaces. I had so much fun riding and it is sad it is finished but it is time to go home and get ready for the next race,” said the 29-year-old Italian, who will be looking forward to racing in front of his home round at the next round of the WSBK championship at Imola on 1 April.

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