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BMW R1200GS vs S21 Grozdilka Russian tank

Can 210kg of BMW R1200GS Adventure beat 36 tons of SOVIET S21 Grozdilka tank around a sodden track in Northampton? Who’s got the bollocks to win this brutal clash of heavy metal, as at last we find a worthy opponent to BMW’s Schnell Panzer...

"I’m strictly off road, I find riding on the road too dangerous – that’s why am I racing around inches away from a tank,” our challenge rider Clive Town of the BMW Off Road School grunts as he heaves on the bars of the Beemer after a track-size rut grabbed his front wheel and stopped all forward motion. “That thing doesn’t move too far sideways does it?” he asks Liam James, whose head we can just about see poking out of the driver’s hatch.

We are at Tanks-a-Lot, a company that has more military hardware than you could shake a stick grenade at, and our competition for the day is the old Cold War enemy’s assault weapon, a Russian S21 Grozdilka. Next to it our two-wheeled tank looks very small, but the Germans are fairly adept at warfare and the R1200GS Adventure was built to scrap. Although seeing the size of the tank ruts we swiftly removed the rear mudguard. “You want to take that front one off ‘n all”, came a piece of advice from one of the lads inside the tank ‘hanger’. Seeing the size of some of the ruts we knew he was right, but that meant removing the front wheel and that would have been cheating.

Clive was looking nervous. The Grozdilka tank has a 12-litre turbo-charged diesel making 750bhp. And a 122mm smoothbore canon, one of the largest currently doing (or should that be firing) the rounds. The BMW has 105bhp. A hero of the Dakar, Clive runs his eyes over the S21. “What can that thing do top whack?” he queries. “Up to 60mph”, says Liam, a slip of a lad just back from Afghanistan and now doing some ‘research’ at Tanks-a-Lot. “But today conditions are tough so we’ll see”. No shit. A heavy overnight frost was gradually being burnt off by the sunshine rendering the field very wet indeed. The going was soft to porridge.

We devised a course taking in most of the field, around whatever armoured vehicles that had been dumped there, descending down to the perimeter hedge and back up and along to the finish. A half-mile track with hard objects to avoid. The BMW with its cylinder heads hanging out was going to struggle with the depth of the ruts, and although it was fitted with knobbly treads they soon clogged with mud and stubble and glazed over to produce, well, not much grip at all really.

“I think we can beat the tank,” exclaimed Clive, despite his earlier spill. “To be honest I was sceptical when I saw the size of the bike, but it’s pretty sharp around the circuit.” Liam, who spends his spare time on a ’crosser is not so sure. “Let’s have it!” he shouts above the roar of the S21 and the staccato rhythm of the exhaust fins slapping metal on metal.

The machines line up at the top of the field and at TWO’s call they are off, smoke pluming from the tank and a towering welter of roost from the rear wheel of the BMW. Clive gets off to a good start as the track goes down to the bottom of the course but this is where the water collects and soon he is in the quagmire, legs failing to keep his balance. It’s hot work despite the February temperatures.

Meanwhile Liam’s tank is making headway.  It laughs in the face of conditions like these, grunting and bullying its way through the water. Let’s be honest, if a tank wants to make a new path it will. But Liam is sound and keeps on course. Clive glances over at the metal hulk looming above him and, unsurprisingly, that’s enough to spur him on. Giving it some throttle he spins the back wheels until, deep in the filth, it finds some grip and he pulls away.

Up the hill it is no contest; the BMW puts time into the tank. Well, extra weight is no good uphill is it? At the furthest point of the track a long left-hander sees Liam closing the gap but really, at this point it’s a one horse race. Clive crosses the line in 45.80 seconds as the Grozdilka pants in a sorry-ass 25 seconds behind.

“You wait until it dries out,” shouts Liam, pumped up because he’s slammed his chin against the rim of the hatch and is nursing a lump, “we’ll have a re-run.”  “Yeah whatever,” says Clive, ”just shove over and show me how to drive this bloody thing.” Boys, eh?

We’ve won again!
Bikes: 3 Beasts: 4
Thanks to tanks-a-lot (www.tanks-alot.co.uk),  the BMW off-road School (www.worldofbmw.com) and of course Clive and Liam for their skills