By Andy Dukes | Next February the fifth International GS Trophy will take place in South-East Asia. And for the first time ever, an all-female rider team will be there to race. Following an intensive qualifying competition at the BMW Motorrad Enduro Park Country Trax in Amersfoort/South Africa, the three biker ladies who won the right to ‘take on the world’ in Thailand next spring reflect on their journey so far – and what lies ahead.
It was a hard-fought, yet hugely entertaining competition that consisted of 13 separate challenges held over three competition days, but in the end three riders stood out among the 10 ladies who battled valiantly for a place on the first ever female team to fight for the 2016 International GS Trophy in Southeast Asia. France’s Stéphanie Bouisson emerged as the overall winner, followed by Australia’s Amy Harburg in second place, with South Africa’s Morag Campbell close behind in third.
The hero factor
For Stéphanie Bouisson, the chance to represent not only her country but also her gender in the most famous competitive off-road customer motorcycling event in the world is a dream come true, as it combines her thirst for competition with a desire to travel. The 30-year-old hospital laboratory technician found it difficult to leave her young boy Valentin at home in the south of France, but returned home to a hero’s welcome from all those who had supported her efforts: “At first I was really surprised to have won, but afterwards it changed to a sense of amazement. First of all, I was so lucky to have the chance to ride a GS in South Africa and now I’m going to Thailand with Amy and Morag, where a completely new and different experience will be waiting for us. It was great to spend time with all the girls in Africa. There were no cultural barriers and it only took a few minutes for us to bond as a group, so I’m sure we’re all going to stay in contact”.
Because we live so far away from each other, it will be difficult for us to train together, but I know that we will be great as a team.
Stéphanie’s win in the Trophy qualifier was all the more impressive because it was only the second time she had competed on the BMW R 1200 GS. She owns a smaller F 800 GS and first experienced the big liquid-cooled boxer in the finals of the French GS Trophy qualifier back in May. A talented rider, she adapted quickly to the characteristics of the 1200 and showed the necessary determination and skills that got her to South Africa and, ultimately, to Thailand. Now she is looking forward to competing side-by-side with her new teammates at the international finals next February and March.
“Because we live so far away from each other (Europe, South Africa and Australia), it will be difficult for us to train together, but I know that we will be great as a team. Each one of us has different qualities and I feel that we already know each other well. I’m going to be taking English lessons so I can communicate better with everyone. I’m also going to continue training and riding my bike, as Thailand will come around soon enough. I have an F 800 GS and I love it. In France I do enduro ride-outs with girls, just to explore areas off-road and to ride together in groups, and in November I’m organising a travel event with 15 ladies. I really can’t wait”, Stéphanie stresses.
An Australian affair
Around 17,000 kilometres away in Australia, Amy Harburg has also come to terms with the fact that she is one of just three women making history as the first female team ever to take part in the GS Trophy. Forty-year-old Amy is used to wide open spaces, having spent several years working on a 35,000-acre cattle station when she was younger and although she rode horses then, she is definitely making up for lost time since discovering BMW bikes. Amy is currently developing an adventure riding app for smartphones and tablets so that people who want to discover more about exploring Australia on and off-road, have a valuable resource at their disposal for any trips they hope to make. And as far as trips go, the chance to compete in Thailand is just the right reward for the many hours of rider training and preparation Amy did to be sure of having a place on the team.
“I’m absolutely elated to be going to Thailand, but I worked hard for this for a long time. I am competitive and I put in a lot of effort at home to prepare, and I’m proud to say that it all paid off. The training I did with Chris Birch (Kiwi enduro legend) and also the BMW trainers changed the way I rode and really made the difference”, she explains.
I’ve had BMWs from the time I started riding and I’d love to fulfil some kind of ambassador role.
A determined character, Amy is also planning to travel down to the Victorian high country to train in the rocky conditions, where there’s also lots of water to ride through. What’s equally important to Amy though is to work with all the ladies she met in South Africa and try to get more women riding adventure motorcycles, wherever they may live: “I didn’t expect how amazing all the girls were going to be at the South African competition but we’re all like-minded women who share the same passion and we’re all strong believers in bringing more female bikers into the sport. You can’t live life on the couch – you’ve got to get out there and do it. I’ve had BMWs from the time I started riding and I’d love to fulfil some kind of ambassador role. I hope to get more involved with the Australian GS Girls Facebook group to participate in their rides and help out if I can. I want lots of girls to share this journey with me”.
The local racer
Although the other ladies travelled from every continent to the South African qualifier, but for a local rider Morag Campbell it was all ‘just down the road’. However, the 44-year-old architect nearly didn’t make it at all: “It was a tricky run-up to the competition. There was the last-minute application that I uploaded just minutes before deadline – in typical architect style. And a delightful surprise to be selected, but soon after I injured myself in a riding accident and thought that I wouldn’t be able to actually compete. But based on affirmation from the doctors, I did participate. However, the shortened period of available training on the R1200GS bike thus meant I had to be very focused, so I was really excited when I made it into the final three. Now I’m obviously looking forward to the challenges ahead”.
For Morag, the plan is to ride as often as possible, develop her skill levels and continue to improve over the coming months. She wasn’t a GS owner when she first heard about the competition but bought one soon after and fell in love with the looks, the sound of it, the engineering, and how easy it is to ride. She has been amazed at how this remarkable BMW bike breaks down barriers and is the catalyst for people starting conversations with you anywhere and everywhere. And now she is part of this world of BMW Motorrad, she feels compelled to spread the word.
“The GS community is a family, there’s a real sense of support and sharing, and it’s great to be a part of this. I’ve met a number of girls that I’ve since encouraged onto adventure bikes, but I’d like to find a way to provide a platform for even more women – and men – to gain access to adventure riding”, Morag notes.