He’s the only person to win the International GS Trophy both as a competitor and media liaison – Byron Coetsee is a 28-year-old self-taught rider that discovered the #SpiritOfGS by chance, but made an instant impact around the globe. As we celebrate 40 years of GS, we spoke to him about dream riding destinations, inventing his own hashtag, being a remote computer coder and the organic chemical he craves most.
Let’s start right at the beginning of your life on two wheels, what’s your first memory of the love affair with speed and freedom?
Ironically it was on four wheels, my brother’s quad bike that we rode around the suburbs and did random backyard jumps on. I got my first ‘kids bike’ at nine-years-old after proving to my dad that I could do it by riding down the road without putting a foot down. From there it was another quad bike before a 250cc at age 16. My dad had a GS and that’s what I desperately wanted too. At midnight when I turned 18, my feet were already off the ground on my new (yellow) 1200 GS. I had a motorcycle license long before a car license.
As your obsession grew, did you receive formal instruction on riding, be it for on- or off-road disciplines?
I’m a completely self-taught rider. My learning process has been from trial and error and watching myself execute certain manoeuvres. I began filming myself on a GoPro camera and subsequently learnt by self-analysis. I believe that dirt bike riding while growing up made me a better rider. I feel like I’m more equipped to handle situations (surprises and emergencies) because of the solid fundamental skills learnt in the dirt, that no formal road bike can teach.
Tell us about the serendipitous moment how you discovered the GS Trophy fraternity in South Africa?
Back in 2015 I was riding home from work one evening and noticed some guys weaving in and out of cones in a parking lot in Durbanville. I made a spur of the moment decision to pull in and say hello and ask what they were doing. I met Clayton Laue who invited me to join in, and (thankfully) noticed my skills, explaining what the GS Trophy was and that I should consider entering the following weekend!
And within a year you were part of the winning SA team at the International GS Trophy?
It all happened really quickly. I didn’t have the money to enter the Western Cape regionals so I made a deal with my dad, ‘If I enter and don’t win, I’ll pay you back’, which he agreed to. I won easily but then couldn't afford the travel expenses for the nationals, so we made the same deal and sure enough I won again. All of a sudden I was en route to Thailand on Team SA with Charl Moolman and John Harris – eventually successfully defending the title.
If teleportation was possible right now, where on this planet would you most like to ride?
My first choice would probably be off-road, and I’d like to explore some hardcore terrain perhaps in the Andes mountain range across a few South American countries, or some high-speed action in the Mexican desert – wherever I can go real fast!
How about an ultimate destination road route?
I think I’ve already experienced that — and would love to go back! I made a trip to BMW Motorrad Days in 2016 (in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany) following which we spent three days in the Italian Alps on a S 1000 XR. The Stelvio Pass in the north was particularly memorable – bordering Switzerland, it’s the second highest paved mountain pass in the Alps (2 757 metres above sea level) – absolutely one for the adrenaline junkies … like me!
Let’s talk about that, the SA team at this year’s International GS Trophy had personalised helmet designs and one of the illustration choices for your lid was the chemical structure of norepinephrine! Please enlighten us?
Simply put, it’s an organic chemical which is used to mobilise the brain and body for action. Norepinephrine release is lowest during sleep, rises during wakefulness, and reaches much higher levels during situations of stress, excitement or danger – the often referred to ‘fight-or-flight’ response. I basically feel some form of norepinephrine release every time I ride!
You’ve been on two winning International GS Trophy teams, as a rider in 2016 and a media liaison in 2020. Other than the obvious one, explain the different range of emotions and challenges between the two experiences?
I think I was more nervous in 2020 holding a camera in New Zealand than I was riding in Thailand in 2016! Four years ago it was all about riding and maintaining energy levels and concentration every day. As the media liaison (aka coach), it’s a different kind of pressure – you are thinking about strategy, mentoring and managing personalities while still capturing the images and formulating a story to report back on. On the final day in New Zealand when we lost the lead* my heart was going 140 beats p/m – it was harder to watch than ride!
(*After leading for three straight days, Team SA suffered horrendous luck on the penultimate stage when a bike hit a rock hidden by bushes, causing the back brake to buckle, resulting in a last-place finish. The Moto Boks rebounded brilliantly however, winning the final stage to regain the lead and win a third consecutive title.)
You attracted a lot of attention (and acclaim) a few years ago for inventing the hashtag #OtherWayToGS. How did that come about?
I just thought that the limits weren’t being pushed enough, or more importantly the full capabilities of a 1200 GS weren’t completely known. So I decided to start pushing it and capture the results. I did a motocross jump on GS during a trip to Iceland and plenty of footage was shot at Zone 7, an off-road track just outside Cape Town.
What’s in your garage, and do you like to tinker?
I service my own bikes (except the GS) so the garage is always busy. I have my GS, a dirt bike, a trials bike and two scooters. Oh, and my bakkie (small truck) to transport them. I’d love to customise a motorcycle one day, money permitting…
How have you been able to see the world on two wheels but still hold down a day job?
My agreement with my employers is, ‘I ride or I quit’ (laughs). Seriously though, we have a good understanding and I can do a lot of work remotely when travelling. I have a software engineering and design qualification and currently work for a company in Cape Town where I code and build apps.
Define your personal #SpiritOfGS philosophy?
I’ll highlight the International GS Trophy experience. Despite being a super competitive rider myself, the actual event is about teamwork and camaraderie, and really, the joy of riding. You’ve already won by getting to the final – it’s just a wonderful opportunity to visit a beautiful riding destination with the bonus of representing your country.
Interviewed for BMW Motorrad South Africa by Barry Havenga.