International GS Trophy training experience – Riding with Giants


It’s only day two of the GS Trophy Training in the Thar desert and I find myself in a situation I’ve never faced before with a motorcycle – I’m really struggling. In the last 15 years, I’ve never been the slowest, least skilled and most nervous rider in a group, but that’s exactly who I was in that moment. In fact, within the very first hour of the day, I’d dropped/fallen off the big R 1250 GS more times than I have ever dropped a motorcycle in my life. Fighting off a seemingly overwhelming wave of self-doubt and exhaustion later that day, I remember panting to myself, “What the $!*% have I got myself into?”

My first run on a big bike in sand ended quite quickly with the GS buried right down to the swingarm.


Let’s rewind a bit and set some context. The International GS Trophy is a revered biennial event that BMW has been running since 2008. Think of it as a battle of the nations in a sort of cross-country rally that’s not really a race. Instead, the participants are put through a series of challenges (both riding skill-related and otherwise) as they cover large distances across exotic adventure landscapes. Each challenge carries points and at the end of the week-long event, the team with the most points wins.

The Trophy is open to the best ADV riders who also happen to be BMW GS owners. Selection rounds happen in the year between the event and the top three riders get to represent their country at the GS Trophy. Every country also gets to send one journalist who will ride with the team throughout and document the competition. That’s where yours truly fits in here because BMW India nominated me to be that journalist for the 2024 Trophy.


The GS Trophy is all about team spirit and this team has a lot going for it!

After running in countries like Albania, New Zealand, Canada and more, the 2024 GS Trophy will take place in Namibia this September. That’s why BMW India organised this training session in Rajasthan for the team to learn what it’s like riding in sand for days on end.


Our first day began at Bikaner and after a couple of hours on the highway, we stopped to train on the sand dunes at Miyakor in Rajasthan. This is where I realised just how skilled Anand, Dev and Shahan were. None of us had ever ridden these big bikes on sand before, but where I promptly buried my GS down to the swingarm and beached it in place, all three went a lot further on the first run. 


Our bikes were dropped repeatedly, but they all ran without a single issue – the GS is a tough thing!

Fortunately, I slowly started to get the hang of riding over sand dunes. Stand on the pegs, move your bodyweight back, allow the front end to wash and slide side-to-side. And never ever shut the throttle or even think of touching the brakes. For someone used to riding on firm, grippy surfaces, a free-willed front-end is a sickening feeling, but you have to overcome it and fight the instinct to close the throttle. 

Momentum is everything, but you can’t be stupid with the gas either or you’ll literally dig the grave to your forward movement. On these behemoths with over 140Nm of torque, you want to be in second gear at the very least and keep giving it small, short bursts of acceleration to keep the front wheel unweighted and the bike moving forward. Dramatically lowering the tyre pressures (15 PSI was the sweet spot) also widens the footprint and helps greatly.


One of the many post-ride challenges included removing and re-assembling the front wheel as soon as possible.

After multiple episodes of needing help with freeing my bike from deep sand, I eventually started to get the hang of it and even managed to climb some of the higher dunes. In the end, I’d achieved what the other three had, which was a good feeling.

We eventually ended the day at the town of Sam outside Jaisalmer, having covered about 400km. This felt like a good taste of what to expect in Namibia and though exhausted, I went to bed looking forward to the next day. That confidence would fall apart about 100 feet into the off-road sections.


It turns out that the first day in the dunes was simply for us to get a feel of sand under the wheels. The next three days were all about faster sandy tracks and trails that would cut hundreds of kilometres through the unforgiving Thar desert. 

Where the other three immediately made swift progress, I was floundering. My bike was tying itself into all sorts of shapes and I was constantly fighting to keep it in a straight line – a battle I was losing badly. Fast sandy tracks are always changing in terms of depth, density and direction of the ruts. It gets especially bad if you’re the last bike on a track that has been torn apart by very powerful machines ahead of you. 

The International GS Trophy is a tough and prestigious event, but the main idea is to have fun and enjoy the experience!

The cycle was simple, but vicious: my 1250 GS would get violently pulled in a direction I didn’t want it to go. Instinctively, my muscles would tense and my gaze would fall to just in front of the front wheel, instead of focusing ahead at where I needed to go – both the worst things to do in this situation. 

Moments later, I’d either be sprawled across the seat with both feet wildly paddling the deep  sand, or I’d simply lose energy/control and drop the bike. All of this drains your stamina and it only gets worse when you have to pick a 250-kilo bike up and start all over again. 


Another unique challenge involved a blindfolded rider getting directions via Bluetooth from his teammates.

I suppose what affected me the most was that I was letting the team down. The journalist doesn’t get to participate in any of the activities at the GS Trophy, so I don’t have a say in how many points Team India earns. But each team at the Trophy must ride as a unit and can only move as quickly as its slowest rider. So far, I was proving to be dead weight. 

The day progressed and with plenty of breaks to rehydrate and recoup some energy, I managed to keep moving. Towards the late afternoon, there were moments I seriously considered giving up, but the GS Trophy is all about team spirit and knowing the three guys were ahead was motivation to persist. Eventually, I made it to the end of the day. 


I genuinely believe that this team has great potential and it’s not just because I’ve eaten a lot of their dust. Their skill levels are without doubt, but they have a unique advantage that no team representing India has had before – they’re already friends. 

Dev Venkatesh is a professional off-road rider and trainer who happened to buy his 850 GS with the primary objective of qualifying for the Trophy. At just 21, Sardar Shahan Khan is the youngest qualifier from India so far, but don’t let his age fool you. He’s been riding since he was five years old and now, towering at 6’4” tall, it’s a sight to see him effortlessly manhandle his massive 1250 GS Adventure. Anand Dharesan is the third rider and he packs a cleaner, more mature approach to his riding, but without any sacrifice in speed. 


Learning from Vijay Parmar is always an invaluable and adventurous experience!

Better yet, both Shahan and Anand have individually trained with Dev for the last four years and all three trained together for a month prior to the qualifiers. This surely helped them qualify together, but that’s not all. The trio have also received priceless training and advice from previous GS Trophy participants, including 2022’s Chowde Gowda and Adib Javanmardi. 

In fact, Adib is now an official BMW Trainer, and being a part of this training session, he had heaps to share in terms of what to expect, especially regarding the rider challenges. At the end of every day’s ride, Adib put the trio through various challenges that they might expect to encounter in Namibia.


The desert weather is mild this time of year, but a lonely tree’s shade was still hugely appreciated.

Best of all, though, was who we got to learn from. Vijay Parmar is probably the most inspiring motorcyclist you’ll ever meet and among his many wild and amazing stories is the fact that he finished second at Desert Storm Rally in 2013. This was at the age of 52 when most of his competitors were half his age. He lost the win by only 23 seconds – after falling on the second day and breaking his collar bone, but deciding to continue riding anyway.

Today, Vijay is 63, but he still led our group through some of the very same Desert Storm stages and on the same 450 rally bike that he competed on 11 years back. Clearly, this was a special ride for him too.


For the third day, Dev wanted to train on a boxer-engineered motorcycle, so we swapped my 1250 for his 850. This was a game changer for me. Dev’s bike had proper off-road tyres, which gave me vastly more confidence and feel than the street-biased ADV tyres on my 1250. The larger 21-inch wheel also brought in more stability and while the bike still moved around a lot, its motions were easier to predict.


Hopping onto the 850 with its larger front wheel and proper off-road tyres was a big confidence booster.

Here I was, actually enjoying riding in the very same terrain that struck anger, fear and frustration in my mind just 24 hours prior. Now, I could focus more on trying to understand how the bike was behaving and apply the right techniques to keep it under control. I learnt to stay loose, how to better use my body weight as a counterbalance and how to weigh the foot pegs to bring the bike back into the desired direction. 

The first part of the day was transformative and I went from being the slowest rider to the first one following Vijay as we rode through some tough sections that had been ripped up by army tank training exercises. After a perhaps slightly over-exuberant morning, fatigue caught up post a memorable lunch under the shade of a lonely desert tree. Yet, despite being completely exhausted by the end of the day, I only dropped the bike once; a massive confidence booster.

Riders will sleep in tents they pitch themselves at the Trophy, so that’s something we did here too.

The fourth and final day left one seething question – had I actually improved or was it all down to the bike? A few hours of more sandy tracks back on the 1250 GS provided the answer. I still wasn’t as quick as my teammates, but I never dropped the bike. 

What had completely dropped to zero, though, was my muscle strength, to the point that I could barely lift my leg to tie my shoelaces. The journey ahead is clear, I need to get more comfortable with the ways of off-road riding and I absolutely need to work on my fitness.

There will be maybe one or two more training sessions for Team India over the next few months and we’ll share the journey with you along the way. For now, this was the most challenging, yet memorable motorcycle adventure I’ve ever had, and it was just the first training session. I can’t even imagine what the actual Trophy will be like!

Also See:

Ducati Riding Experience at Sepang: Dream Land

Standing Tall: 40 years of the BMW GS

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