Calling the BMW R1200GS a success is a bit like saying that the All Blacks only just beat the Wallabies in their semi-final clash of the Rugby World Cup.
For the GS totally dominates the adventure touring segment and is the bike of choice for one-in-two riders seeking an all-surface touring bike that's capable of doing just about everything except pick your nose. Back when Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman were the adventurous poster boys for the model with their successive Long Way . . . television travel series, the GS not only became the most successful all- rounder in some bike markets, it became the best-selling motorcycle model, period.
However, life at the top means you always have to be wary of would-be usurpers to your position and stay right on top of your game. So cue a big upgrade to the GS last year with new engine, new suspension, new electronics, and new colour schemes. The Bavarian-branded tall-rounder might look the same bulldog-ugly beast as before, but the bike's dynamic envelope has been expanded in just about every direction.
To properly ride a bike of this genre, it's best to plan an adventure first. Mine consisted of catching the red-eye to Melbourne, picking up the GS from BMW Australia's bunker in the eastern suburbs, and touring the Mornington peninsula over a long day that would become progressively more washed-out and stormy. With the mercury plummeting from 20 degrees Celsius into frosty single figures, it was an experience of four seasons in one day, and the road surfaces changed from grippy macadam to slimy clay and back again. However, roads like those climbing Arthurs Seat and traversing Cape Schnackenburg were lapped up with relish, even with 30-knot wind gusts threatening to take control of the front wheel. The GS is definitely a bike that is capable of fixing a satisfied smile on your face no matter what the riding conditions.
A lot of that satisfaction comes from the new engine. I've never been a big boxer twin fan, but this new twin overhead cam version has captured my full attention. For starters, it now sounds like a proper twin instead of a farting competition, thumping with more aural authority at all points of the rev counters needle. There's 5 per cent more power and three extra newton metres of torque to round out the total of Sir Issacs at a healthy 120, but the peak output stats don't really do this engine justice. For they fail to illustrate the strong increase in the mid- range performance of BMW's fittest boxer, nor the smoother running above 7000rpm. At the upper end of the rev range, the R series engine vibration used to discourage the rider from revving it out. Now it's as smooth as triple- distilled whisky up top, adding an impression of effortlessness to its performance.
In the middle of the rev range, a flap opens in the boxer twins exhaust system, adding volume to the engines lusty bellow. However, BMW has placed the cable-operated flap right in the path of roost and road spray coming off the front wheel, surely a misguided location for a bike with dirt roads and tracks on its riding radar. I suspect those cables will seize if not lubricated often. However, if the bike was mine, I'd feel tempted to simply disconnect them, as the spring- loaded flap will then be held permanently open.
As a bike equipped with just about every conceivable option, my R1200GS had BMW's electronic suspension adjustment (ESA) system fitted. This costs the same as the total gross domestic product of a small South Pacific nation, but is worth every shekel. For it allows the rider to quickly tailor the bike to six riding modes: on the road comfort, normal, sport, solo with luggage, two-up, and two-up with luggage and the GS version also includes two more to take care of off-road riding scenarios. The latter two, which also raise the ride height of the bike to create extra suspension travel, were simply illustrated by the size of the mountains that the graphics showed. You could put the bike in Everest mode for extreme off-road use, or small Auckland volcano mode for easier terrain. The ESA represents the best in the brilliant left-field thinking that comes from BMW.
Unfortunately, that desire of the Bavarians to innovate also often leads to long journeys down technological cul-de-sacs for the brand's bike division. Count the strange Telelever front suspension format of the GS as something that should have been binned long ago. Introduced in 1993, it increases manufacturing costs, adds unnecessary weight and masks rider feedback from the front tyre. Some like it because it reduces front end dive when braking, however, I've learned to appreciate that steering- sharpening effect in simpler telescopic fork-equipped motorcycles.
Previous R1200GS models never provided enough reasons for me to forgive the supercilious front suspension layout. However, this new twin-cam model, which costs $28,302 in base form, or $33,481 as sampled, has so many more virtues that they easily outweigh the sins.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 1170cc air-cooled dohc 8v boxer twin stoked by fuel injection to develop 75kW (100.3bhp) at 7500rpm and 120Nm of torque at 6200rpm.
Transmission: six-speed sequential gearbox, shaft final drive.
Frame: What frame? Engine used to connect alloy telelever and steel-tube rear monoshock sub-frames together, both of which feature sophisticated air- adjustable suspension on this model.
Price: $28,302 in base form, however everyone buys the $33,481 version.
Hot: Boxer engine has much more punch; ESA suspension option well worth ticking.
Not: Telelever front end should have stayed in the 20th Century; Aesthetically challenged
- © Fairfax NZ News
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