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Touratech Challenge – Everyone’s a winner

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This entry is part 5 of 17 in the series Adventure Rider Issue #23

How much fun can an organised riding event be? The Touratech Adventure Challenge pretty much sets the standard.

The 2016 Touratech Adventure Challenge had a curious effect on participants and onlookers. When asked, “How was it?” some would giggle and have trouble explaining the things they’d seen while others’ eyes would glaze over as they stared off into the distance, clearly enraptured with very intense and pleasant memories.

We ran the story in issue #15, but we hadn’t been there ourselves and there was clearly something about the experience that was having an impact on people who were. The second running of the Challenge was on the calendar and Adventure Rider Magazine decided it was high time we had a look.

We’re always after an opportunity to ride in the Victorian mountain region, and Bright is one of our favourite places to go, so we loaded up the bikes and crossed the Murray.

Steve Martin and his Triumph Tiger seemed to enjoy the enduro-X track.

Basically

The concept of the Touratech Adventure Challenge is pretty much covered in the name: it’s a challenge for adventure riders using the skills they need to successfully enjoy their sport.

In practice, competing is like a cross between orienteering and gymkhana on motorcycles.

We’re not going to say ‘adventure bikes’ because just about any bike is suitable, but some ground clearance and knobbies does make things easier. We hooked up the new long-term Husky 701 Enduro and the editor’s Touratech-kitted KLR and felt ready for anything.

Trying to putt a tennis ball with a lump of PVC pipe is tough enough, but when Nick Selleck joined in with some roost, a lot more concentration was needed.
Just short of 40 competitors entered the Touratech Challenge.
Spectator numbers were high and bike test rides ran strong all day.

Runoff

After signing in riders attached the supplied stickers to the bikes, ordered coffees and breakfasts from the onsite caterers and stood around watching nine manufacturers set up displays and prepare for the test rides they offered during the day. Elsewhere industry supporters like Andy Strapz and Kreiga set up their displays and shopfronts, and event organisers Nick and Trudi from Maschine marshalled their considerable support teams and prepared to get the day started.

Perfect weather matched the perfect location and riders were soon briefed.

The Challenge was on…for some.

The Le Mans start required competitors in full riding gear to run 100m or so, clamber over a mound of earth, then run back to their bikes and get started.

Adventure Rider Magazine’s editor was seen to take two steps forward, do a smart U-turn, then step to his bike and ride off.

You just can’t trust the media.

The Touratech Adventure Challenge in 2017 was strongly supported by the manufacturers. The weather wasn’t bad, either.

Challenges

From that point riders had a great many choices.

There were three loops with different tasks and challenges spaced around them. Some were as simple as finding a designated spot and answering a question like, ‘What out-of-place object is hanging from the tree at the corner on Wet Gully Track?’

The answer was a motorcycle inner tube, and the correct answer earned three points.

A few orienteering tasks like that one meant riding through the superb countryside around Bright, a perfect way to spend a sunny Autumn day.

The route then led to a property with an enduro-X track. Tasks and challenges weren’t compulsory, so anyone who felt the track may have been a little too demanding could simply keep riding and forgo the points on offer. Those who wanted to thrash and drag their bikes Touratech Adventure Challenge around a partly boggy, partly jagged dirt and grass track could do so and pick up 50 points for their efforts.

That was how the day went.

At the end of the day scorecards where handed in, points tallied, and the top 10 competitors lined up for a feet-up final leading to an eventual outright winner.

If all that seems straightforward enough, it is. The magic was in the terrain around Bright, the fabulous people involved and, in no small part, the imagination in some of the challenges.

Oh yes. Someone with a questionable sense of humour came up with a few of those.

The Box family, importers of Touratech, manufacturers of Safari Tanks, and some of the nicest people in motorcycling anywhere in the world.
Ad manager Mitch blasted the 2017 long-term Husqvarna 701 Enduro around the course.

Think and act

There was no measure of speed in any challenge for the entire event. Success depended entirely on skill and being able to think carefully before easing out the clutch.

Riding short, winding tracks around off-camber hillsides without putting a foot down was standard fare and tricky enough, but having a tyre roped to the back of the bike with a metre or two of slack, and then having to slalom around some drums in a sandy paddock caused some consternation. So did strapping a 20-litre container of water to the back of the bike and negotiating a tricky set of natural obstacles. Even the timed slow race raised a few eyebrows, but having to chip a tennis ball at a flag with a rough-hewn plastic golf stick was just plain weird – especially while being roosted with dust and crud – and whoever came up with the idea of mounting a Husqvarna Terra on a pair of kayaks and having riders paddle it up and down a pond was just plain diabolical.

That frigging top-heavy, unmanageable, unsteerable pile of deadweight nearly did for the Adventure Rider Magazine team of lithe and experienced campaigners.

But that was the fun. Spectators – there were heaps of them, at the main arena in Bright and at the outlying locations – and riders could join in and have a laugh at some of the antics and novel techniques. Best of all, riders could form groups and teams for mutual support and general socialising during the day. Probably the most notable group of this kind was the WARA girls.

These half-dozen or so tutu-wearing teamsters made their way through the day and, judging by the hootin’ and hollerin’ at the presentation, enjoyed themselves more than anyone.

And that’s saying something, because the Adventure Rider Magazine crew thought it the most fun they’d had in a very long time.

Glen Hough and Brendon Roberts doing what sweeps do in their spare time.
Winners!

Trophy girls

It’d be very difficult to choose a highlight from the day of the event. There were so many. The presence of Herbert Schwarz, founder of Tourtaech, was a definite highlight, as was the sheer seamless-ness of the organisation and logistics by Touratech and Maschine. Being able to walk around one gorgeous, sunny, grassy venue and see new adventure bikes on display from so many manufacturers, most of whom were offering test rides, gave a warm and fuzzy glow to the place.

Having the BMW riders show up from an organised ride and set up headquarters was awesome. The coffee was excellent.

The riding was brilliant. The good-natured rivalry was gold.

Still, one of many selfless and out-standing acts of teamwork stood out.

Amy Harburg won the female class of the Touratech Challenge but insisted on giving the win and the trophy to Julie Luxford, simply because Amy thought Julie deserved it more.

That pretty much summed up the whole event, we reckon.

Mark it in your calendar for next year.

You won’t be sorry.

A Le Mans start got the heartrates going on a crisp Victorian morning.
Teamwork wasn’t Adventure Rider Magazine’s strong point in the paddle.

Herbert Schwarz

Herbert (right) had a ball at the event and was happy to chat to Maschine’s Nick Selleck.

Touratech’s founder clearly has a huge love of riding and people.

The electronics engineer from Niedereschach, near The Black Forest in Germany, was good enough to chat over a coffee during his visit to Australia and the Adventure Challenge.

Although Touratech the company came into being in 1990, Herbert had made his own aluminium panniers for travel through Africa in the early 1980s and 1990s.

“I started the company in 1990 with this little dashboard replacement computer, an IMO,” remembered Schwarz, who always seemed to be smiling and happy.

‘IMO’ is an abbreviation of the German words for ‘information monitor’, by the way.

“I’m an electronics engineer,” he continued, showing some amazing tongue agility to recover spilled latte from the top of his cup, “but at the same time I was a freelancer for Motor-rad, the German motorcycle magazine, as a photographer and for travel stories.

“That was a little bit the possibility just to earn some extra money, just to spend more money in travels.”

Herbert saw the need for a decent, compact, dash-mounted trip computer,and as a keen rider and electronics engineer, decided he could make one.

German law requires a company entity to sell goods, so Touratech was born and 100 IMOs were produced.

Herbert was working full-time for a company involved in heavy-vehicle tachographs and other electronic instrumentation, so Touratech was very much a part-time pursuit.

“It took me some years to sell those first 100 IMOs,” he laughed, “but some friends of mine bought one and all of a sudden KTM got one and asked me to make a modified version of the IMO for their 620 Adventure bike. That was in 1996.”

The KTM involvement meant Schwarz could make Touratech his full-time pursuit, and he’s never looked back.

Over two decades later the passion for adventure riding, adventure riders and maintaining the highest standards for his products is as strong as ever, and it’s hard to imagine how someone who seems so easy-going and likable could be tough enough to build such a successful international business.

“We have distributors now in 50 countries,” he said, glowing. “The most exciting thing for me is to see how it grows all over the world, and to visit those countries and to see how our thoughts and ideas go to those countries and make their own way and to see how different it can be. That’s fantastic for me.”

It’s not hard so hard to understand Touratech’s success when in the presence of it’s founder’s passion and commitment, and especially when he outlines his over-riding philosophy for Touratech’s minimum standard of quality.

“If I want to sell something, it has to last at least twice around the world,” he smiles proudly.

He’s always smiling.

Quick thoughts

This was a long, pleasant, rambling conversation, and we don’t have room to run it word-for-word. Here’s a few interesting or important thoughts from a man who obviously sees our planet as one place, not many separate entities, and makes his ideas come to life…

On United People Of Adventure: “We wanted to bring an international team together. Not a competition like the GS Trophy or the Olympic Games where the world comes together to fight against each other, but to do something which couldn’t be done alone.

“That was really, really great.”

Favourite place to ride: (Laughs) “I think it’s ‘The World’. There is not really a favourite place.

Most amazing ride: “In 1990 and 1991 I had two-and-a-half months, and I rode from Togo in western Africa to Kenya in eastern Africa through the Congo and the jungle. I think it was one of the toughest rides through one the most remote areas. For me it was new to get in contact with these people and to feel their friendship, and to see you can get friends all over the world. I was only 29 years old when I started.

“It was really, really great.”

The toughest challenge in 26 years of Touratech: “Just to keep up with production. In Germany and in Europe now it’s not easy to find enough employees to keep up with production. We are now 380 people in the Black Forest producing Touratech parts, but we would easily like to have 50 or 60 more people. With zero unemployment it’s a quite a challenge to find employees.”

On the future of Touratech: “We’ll still focus on the adventure-riding market, of course. That’s our market. We have started producing riding gear that’s very popular now in Europe and all over the world. We have new helmet concepts. We’ll continue to focus on the bikes, but also on the rider.”

But wait….there’s more

Almost as an aftermath to the Challenge is the Sunday Touratech Travel ride.

After the celebrations and exertions of the previous day and night, riders were invited to join a Touratech-managed ride from Bright, over Mt Hotham, through to Dargo and on to The Dog’s Grave for lunch.

The Sunday rides are Touratech regulars and a cruisy, sightseeing pace is the order of the day. Morning tea was supplied at Dargo to keep the riders’ energy levels high for the run to lunch.

The two-day Touratech Travel event of a few years ago has evolved into the Sunday ride after the Challenge, but enquiries for the two-day Travel gathering have been strong, and there’s consideration being given to running a separate Travel weekend following the previous format.

If the Touratech people keep this up we’ll have to move to Victoria.

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