Even by the standards of BMW Motorrad GS adventurers, Frenchman Eric Massiet Du Biest is extraordinary. His latest expedition saw him lead dozens of riders through some of the toughest terrain on the planet, in the GS Gringo Rally. Eric himself is a rider who truly embodies the GS spirit – he is fearless in the saddle and says the element of the GS lifestyle which appeals to him most is the freedom.
“The limitless capabilities of this bike give me the freedom to go where I want,” he says. “The bike perfectly demonstrates my attitude to life: you don’t take the road, you share it. The Gringo rally – where all riders use a GS – is about discovering the Andes between Ushuaia and Antofagasta, north Chile. We did two trips: the route from Ushuaia to Antofagasta with 28 GS motorcycles and 40 people, and the return journey – Antofagasta to Ushuaia – with 28 motorcycles and 50 people.
“Each of the trips was a 26-day, 7,000-km [4,400-mile] adventure, with at least 1,800km [1,100 miles] of dirt roads. This is one of the very few moto events in the world where you can enjoy dirt roads as a pillion and free from stress, due to the fact that full backup is provided. This year’s rally incorporated Chilean deserts, the Atacama desert, which is the driest in the world, and the Altiplano, the highest part of the Andes, which are up to 4,931m [16,178 ft] high.”
“The riders were amazed by the scenery and the roads we took,” says Eric. “They had the experience of a lifetime and were changed by it. The experience made them start to see life differently, to ask questions about working life and about the philosophy we always explain in our briefing: today is the first day of the rest of your life.
“A sense of humor is important during the adventures – if someone falls, we laugh; if they get lost, we laugh; if they’re grumpy, we play more jokes on them. We will hunt out a bad mood and do all we can to expel bad vibes – the result is that within a short time, the group becomes like a crowd of teenagers riding wild horses. Our job is to keep them safe and happy and it is a good job to have!”
Of all those who set out on the Gringo rally, just two failed to cross the finish line – one broke his leg and another his foot. But while a broken bone will stop even a GS rider, a broken bike is another story.
“We had a rider in our second group, Alain Doc Chevaldin, who came off while doing 130km/h [80 mph] on a sand and gravel road. His GS lost 20 cm [7.8 in.] in length and was a write-off – and Alain was knocked unconscious and spent a week in hospital. However, he managed to not break a single bone! He rejoined the group two days before Ushuaia. We were carrying his destroyed GS in our backup truck and he insisted on getting back on it inside the truck, so that he could still arrive in Ushaua aboard his machine! He is a true, full-blooded GS rider.”
As for Eric himself, he is still riding the faithful GS – Max – who has been with him throughout his past adventures: “Max and I are strong teammates. We jump together, ride together and have incredible complicity. I know some would say: ‘it’s just a bike’ but hey, it takes me to amazing places!
“We play games together – when I see a challenge, like a hill, a riverbed, an outcrop of rocks, we’ll try it together. I still fall quite a lot, especially when riding in soft mud or sand, but the bike can withstand it.
“We have done a lot of miles together – on 11/11/11, at 11.11am, Max’s clock reached 111,111km. That has taken us four years and 90,000 of those kilometers were doing rallies and surveys. Our next target is to do 300,000km by 2015. After that, I may look for another BMW. Or Max may look for another rider, you never know…”
As one of the best examples of what it means to be a GS rider, Eric was the ideal man to produce a book about the legendary model. He teamed up with friend Alan Berson, who managed a BMW Motorrad workshop for 20 years, to create the GS Book. Berson says, “It’s 336 pages long, with 450 beautiful photos and the story of each model since 1980, as well as 22 photo stories from GS riders who have taken amazing trips. It’s all about the legend of this amazing icon in international motorcycling and the men and women who helped make it into a lifestyle.”
This year will be another busy one for Eric – the 2012 rally will be called GS Dundee and take place in Australia. He will also launch a new four-wheel-drive adventure trip in association with MINI France, and will continue to promote GS Days and the GS Trophy France.