Charl's got the Spirit!

Charl Du Plessis Interview

To celebrate the ultimate symbol of freedom on two wheels over the last 40 years – the world’s first ‘Adventure Bike’ that has transformed the way South Africans have traversed our vast country – we asked you to share your #SpiritOfGS memories. Old photo albums were dusted off, long lost relatives were contacted and ‘that old two-wheeler’ in the garage was uncovered to pay homage to South Africa’s most endearing dual purpose family of motorcycles.

From the R 80 G/S in 1980 to the R 1250 GS in 2020, the response was plentiful and heart-warming and there was one story that stood out. Born a year before the very first GS was unveiled, 39-year-old Capetonian CHARL DU PLESSIS epitomises what it means to be a GS rider in South Africa, and is the winner of our #40YearsOfGS competition.

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You can’t make people understand why some choose to ride bikes. They just do. I’ve always liked that, don’t overthink it.

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Can you remember your very first memory of a life on two wheels?

I suppose it’s quite unusual that I became fascinated with motorcycles from a young age, despite no one in my immediate family actually owning one. I just knew that I wanted to ride one. We had family friends who lived on a farm near Stellenbosch and that’s where I rode for the first time probably aged seven. There’s a very simple quote from renowned South African author Deon Meyer – who actually worked for BMW Motorrad for a period – that reads: “You can’t make people understand why some choose to ride bikes. They just do.” I’ve always liked that, don’t overthink it.

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What about the first motorcycle you actually owned?

At 19, I had dropped out of college and needed a job, so I worked temporarily in my uncle’s factory, literally chopping resin every day. Upon receiving my very first paycheck I bought a bike! It really wasn’t great, but it was mine and I had wheels. I dreamed of freedom on the open road and trips to unknown landscapes, but it wasn’t going to be on that bike. I began visiting a BMW dealership regularly and immersed myself in motorcycle culture – aspiring one day to ride the F 650 GS Dakar. By 2005 I had completed my studies and in the same year my grandmother passed away. I was left a small inheritance and instead of making some smart financial decisions, I chose to go buy my dream bike. I wanted to live my dream.

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...And you were instantly hooked?

Absolutely! I was ready to tour the country, in fact the world, but in reality I had little riding experience or money. I spent all my free time upskilling myself in all types of conditions and terrain. Then in 2006 I met a British couple, Simon and Lisa Thomas, who had given up their regular life to travel the world on two wheels. They convinced me to join them in Oudtshoorn for the GS Challenge (which would ultimately become the GS Trophy) for fun, adventure and camaraderie. I rode up from Cape Town with my girlfriend at the time with a fully-loaded bike and instantly knew this is what I had been waiting for my whole life! After three days of exhilarating experiences, I knew my love affair with the F 650 GS Dakar was over … I simply had to have a R 1150 GS Adventure!

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How did your passion for motorcycles influence the relationship between you and your father?

After returning home from the GS Challenge and sharing my enthusiastic stories with my family, my dad announced that he was going to buy a motorcycle. I had to laugh as he was a big guy who loved the comforts of life and was surely not one to venture into the unknown on a bike? But he accepted the challenge and immediately booked a BMW Introduction to Motorcycling Course in Joburg which he would successfully complete. I still have the certificate. He would go on to buy a pristine R 1150 GS from a doctor in Port Elizabeth and sent me up to collect, and ride back to Cape Town. Charl Sr. died in 2013 without ever riding that bike. I’m convinced he never really wanted to ride motorcycles, he just loved to see me happy on them and wanted to give me an opportunity to live my own dreams. 

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How else has riding a GS changed your own outlook on life?

For one thing, it’s my ultimate escape! After a break-up in 2006 I went on a solo trip, just me, my bike and a tent. I discovered the Tankwa Karoo National Park and have travelled there at least once a year ever since. My brother (Jannas) and I honour our father each year by going there – just the two of us to hang out. We were never that close growing up, motorcycling changed that. The co-ordinates of the Ouberg Pass (near Sutherland) are tattooed on my arm and that’s where I want my ashes scattered one day.

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Ever had a close call while riding in remote areas?

There’s been some minor stuff but I’m an eternal optimist and I’ll also always make a plan. I’m big on reliability and that’s why I’ve always bought into BMW’s GS philosophy. The GS family comprises iconic, timeless machines that will run forever – they are way more than just metal and plastic – they have a soul.

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Where did you first ride after the lockdown restrictions were eased somewhat in June?

The Covid-19 lockdown was a nightmare for someone like me – I can’t sit still, I only feel ‘normal’ when I’m on a bike. The moment we were allowed to ride, I headed out with some friends on a 1200-kilometre round trip, from my home in Melkbosstrand all the way up the West Coast as far as Hondeklip Bay (about 95km south west of Springbok). I contacted BJ Vosloo (who was part of the winning SA International GS Trophy team in 2020) for some recommended routes prior to departure – and he certainly delivered!

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I’ve always admired how the GS community offers everyone a sense of belonging. It’s a very welcoming fraternity that respects the rules of the road and more importantly, each other.

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Can you describe what the South African GS community means to you?

I’ve owned 20 motorcycles since I began riding – I’d say at least 15 of those models have been a GS – that says something about how I feel about the brand. I’ve always admired how the GS community offers everyone a sense of belonging. It’s a very welcoming fraternity that respects the rules of the road and more importantly, each other.  

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Give us your bucket list rides – both in South Africa and overseas?

I’d absolutely love to attend BMW Motorrad Days in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany) and then hit the Italian Alps to navigate the Stelvio Pass. In Southern Africa I’ve always felt an attraction to complete the Sani Pass from KwaZulu-Natal into Lesotho through the Drakensberg. I’ve never ridden a R 1250 GS Adventure – that would definitely be the bike of choice.

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Interviewed for BMW Motorrad South Africa by Barry Havenga.

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