published at 02.03.2012, 15:28
Motorcycles

Success in the desert – GS history, part 3

More than three decades since its launch, the G/S remains the original and best adventure sport motorcycle. BMW Motorrad continues its homage to the history of the iconic GS – this time featuring successes in the desert and the growing adventure travel market...

No sooner was it launched than the production R 80 G/S was making a decisive contribution to BMW’s steadily rising sales figures. In parallel with this, BMW increased its commitment to cross-country sport and set its sights on the toughest and most prestigious off-road event in the world, the Paris-Dakar Rally. First staged in 1979, the race distance was 9,500km – and a mere 30 per cent of the route was on surfaced roads. In 1979 Fenouil, the only BMW rider, retired with a technical fault.

In 1980, the start of the Paris-Dakar was threatened when the leading sponsor backed out. Only a last minute collection among French BMW motorcycle dealers produced the necessary finance to start the event. It seemed as if this financial involvement would pay off. Hubert Auriol signed on as the second BMW France rider alongside Fenouil and was in the lead after 11 stages, but in the 12th he was disqualified for unauthorised assistance. Even so, by coming fifth, Fenouil earned a succès d’estime.

The following year the rally was organised far more professionally. BMW went to the start with three motorcycles prepared by HPN. Auriol was the first to reach Dakar and he was to repeat BMW’s overall victory in 1983. In 1984 and 1985 the Belgian Gaston Rahier also won the Paris-Dakar. But these would be BMW’s last victories for many years because, as the end of the 1986 season, BMW withdrew the works team. With four victories in the Paris-Dakar, BMW had provided impressive proof of the off-road potential of the G/S.

The publicity value of its successes in the Paris-Dakar helped to win BMW new customers. Of course, to a street rider who only occasionally rode cross-country, it mattered little whether or not the motorcycle had proved itself in the world’s toughest rally. But for globetrotters who wished to visit remote civilisations on two wheels, results like that certainly counted.

While BMW offered a substantial range of accessories for the G/S, a second market established itself, specifically designed to meet the demands of long-distance travel. The burgeoning market included larger fuel tanks (made of every imaginable material) through to luggage and navigation systems and special mudguards.

There were numerous specialists – headed by the Dakar-seasoned HPN team – who offered conversions that custom-adapted a motorcycle completely to an individual tour. Customers did not seem to mind that the purchase price was double that of the production model.

In 1984, BMW brought out a special ‘Paris-Dakar’ model. A 32-litre tank with the striking Paris-Dakar logo, a single seat and generous luggage rack gave it the appearance of a competition machine.
T
he G/S sold supremely well and success attracted not only admirers, but also imitators. Contemporaries from Japan and (later) Europe were quick to offer endurance machines more specifically designed for road use. When the first twin-cylinder models appeared on the market with capacities approaching 800cc, it was clear that BMW could not rest on its laurels and would have to defend its position as market leader.