Sometimes life really treats me well.  I mean very well.  Take, for example, my invitation to attend BMW’s North American rollout of the R 1250 GS, R 1250 GS Adventure and R 1250 RT.  BMW had planned its North American rollout of the machines in sunny California for a couple of days and I was going.

Getting there

Since I live in Vermont, I was eager to get away from the hard winter we have been experiencing and soak up some California rays.  Even better, I’d have two days to test three of BMW’s latest machines.  What could be nicer?

But mother nature had other plans.  On my day of departure, the snow started falling and my first flight was delayed and the second canceled.  Since day one was for the R 1250 GS and R 1250 GSA it looked like I would not be riding the R 1250 GS (GS) or R 1250 GS Adventure (GSA) at the rollout event.  The one day delay meant I would only have access to the R 1250 RT touring bike with the journo group.

But never fear, BMW allowed me to take an R 1250 GS Adventure for a week and ride any roads/terrain I desired.  Most excellent.  So I planned a route through California, Arizona, and ultimately Nevada to ride the big GSA both on and off-road in the sunshine.

The GSA can take you many places. Photo credit: Mike Botan

Ready to ride

After the rollout, BMW had the GSA waiting for me.  It was ready to go and was equipped with BMW’s panniers and GPS.  I loaded up the bike with my gear and got ready.

The first thing that anyone will notice is that the GSA is huge.  Not big, but huge.  It’s an impressive sight because it’s so big, tall and wide.  It’s a bit intimidating at first.  To this 5′ 8″ rider, it’s a large mount.

I threw a leg over and once seated, my 30″ inseam barely allowed me to touch the ground on tiptoes.  From that point forward, it was left leg down and right foot on the peg when stopped.  The seat was comfortable though, and the rubber inserted footpegs were positioned nicely.  The reach to the bars was a bit long but didn’t seem to be a big issue.  BMW has to build these machines for a wide variety of riders, and I’m probably at the shorter end of their planned range.

ShiftCam engine

BMW says its customers wanted more power and to this end, they developed the larger and more powerful twin-cylinder boxer ShiftCam variable timing engine.  The new engine bumps displacement up by 84 cc to 1,254 cc.  Bore and stroke were increased to 102.5 mm and 76 mm respectively.  The new engine reportedly puts out 136 HP at 7,750 RPM; up from 125 HP.  Torque also increased to 105 lb-ft at 6,250 RPM from 92 lb-ft.

But the most significant change is the use of two sets of cam lobes per valve.  One cam is used for lower engine loads and rpm.  But once 5,000 RPM is reached, the engine automatically shifts to a different cam to provide better mid and high-end performance.  The transition from one cam to the other is virtually unnoticeable.

New for 2019 is BMW’s new ShiftCam engine which uses two different cams depending on load and throttle. Image credit: BMW

With this new configuration, valve inspection intervals are the same as the previous GSA which is 12,000 miles.  Another thing that is also the same as the GSA’s predecessor is the requirement for premium fuel.  To me, a bike that is made to cover lots of miles in out of the way places should not require premium fuel.

How it worked

In actual use, I found that the ShiftCam engine is not a gimmick.  During the week-long 1,500+ mile test ride, I rode on many types of road surfaces.  The GSA munched through miles of the paved desert floor and twisting mountainous roads.  Also, it traversed unpaved loose, “washboarded” steep and mountainous terrain.  At all times, the engine was happy to chug along without any drama.

The GSA will take you paved road places like this. Photo credit: Mike Botan

For more technical terrain, you can choose second gear and forget about shifting up and down because the ShiftCam engine has the grunt to pull you through.  I’m not suggesting that you purposely lug the engine, but if you get yourself into a situation where you just want to maintain constant momentum, the ShiftCam can handle it.

Or take you off road to places like this. Photo credit: Mike Botan

Engine sound

The engine note is somewhat muted.  It emits a nice smooth growl and tells you it’s really not working hard to do the job you are asking it to do.  Frankly, it’s somewhat “agricultural” sounding and I mean that in the best sense of the word.  You can hear the engine internals working while doing their job.  It’s a reassuring sound that the engine is not all that stressed.  You’ll likely hear the engine working more than you will hear the exhaust or intake howling.  So if the feel and sound of a howling engine are really important to you, the GSA will not float your boat.  But if you are more concerned about getting from A to B without drama and with ease, the ShiftCam BMW comes through in spades.

Overall engine impression

The ShiftCam engine is capable and easy to use.  Although BMW claims 136 horsepower, it doesn’t feel that powerful.  It’s no slouch, but it isn’t like the screaming powerplants found in the big KTM or Ducati “enduro” machines.

To me, the fact that the engine doesn’t feel as powerful is not a big deal.  The ShiftCam has more than enough power.  It’s just delivered very linearly and smoothly.  A big KTM or Ducati will blast you through roaring and snarling while the BMW will drive you through easily and sensibly.

Adjustable ride modes

As equipped standard, the GSA has two ride modes; Rain and Road.  Rain offers a softened engine response for wet conditions while Road provides the engine’s full capability.  However, if equipped with the Premium Package, the GSA comes with four additional ride modes in its Ride Modes Pro function; Dynamic, Enduro, Dynamic Pro and Enduro Pro.

Each ride mode provides differing amounts of rider aid.  Consult the chart below to see how each setting affects performance.

BMW’s optional Ride Modes Pro offers an additional four ride modes. Image credit: BMW

Suspension, wheelsets and stopping power

If you are planning to ride your GSA on and off road you’ll want to make sure that the suspension is up to the task.  The GSA has enough suspension travel to handle most “prepared” road surfaces.  By “prepared” I mean surfaces that at one point been designed to be used as a road but are no longer maintained.

If you are looking to ride hard enduro on a GSA, look elsewhere.  It’s not an enduro bike nor is it designed to be.  The front offers 8.3 inches of travel while the rear will provide 8.7 inches.  For all but the most difficult “prepared” terrain, the suspension travel is fine.

The GSA’s wheelset is comprised of a 19-inch front and 17 inch rear.  This combination results in a wide choice of street oriented and knobby tires.  For the kind of riding that the GSA is designed for, a 21″ front wheel does not seem like a necessity.

The front brakes are BMW branded units but provide excellent stopping power.  The rear brakes are still Brembo units.  Both provide a good linear feel.  They more than adequately bring the GSA to a rapid halt when necessary.

The front brakes are now BMW branded units but still provide excellent stopping power.  Photo Credit: Kevin Wing

Changing Suspension

The loaner GSA was equipped with BMW’s optional Premium Package which includes 15 optional items.  In the realm of suspension, the Premium Package included BMW’s Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (D-ESA).  Only the rear shock is adjustable for preload.  It is automatically determined by the onboard computer.  However, there is some manual adjustability but only in two settings; “Min” or “Max”.  So its either let the computer set the preload or go for “Min” or “Max”.

Changing damping settings is different.  Both the front Telelever suspension and rear shock damping can be adjusted.  Using a toggle switch on the left handlebar allows you to use one of two settings Road and Dynamic.  If the bike is equipped with the Premium Package, a third Enduro Pro setting is added.

The Road setting provides a softer, plusher ride while Dynamic delivers a more taut sporting feel.  Enduro Pro provides fully automated damping that is claimed to have been optimized for off-road use.

Riding the bike

When I first got on the GSA I was somewhat intimidated.  With such a big, tall and heavy machine, would handling be compromised?  I’ll admit that as I first rode off, the bike felt gigantic.  But after a few minutes in the saddle, it became clear that the bike wasn’t the issue, it was my mindset.  While the sheer bulk of the GSA is intimidating, the more you ride it the easier it is to ride.

Pavement riding

When riding on pavement, feedback at the bars is good with a solid but sometimes heavy feel.  As speed picks up the steering lightens and the weight of the machine virtually disappears.

The bike goes where pointed and holds a line well.  But it does require a little more input to make course corrections.  With the suspension set to the Dynamic setting, both fast sweepers and low-speed curves were readily dispatched.  Even though the GSA was equipped with knobbies, the bike was quite stable and easy to ride.   Many of the paved roads were littered with “tar snake” road sealant and the bike still held its line well.

As the miles piled up, I changed the suspension to Road for a plusher claimed ride.  Frankly, I did not notice a huge difference in ride quality.  It was less firm than the Dynamic setting, but still, pavement/concrete road seams and tar snakes are felt through the seat.

It was nothing that interfered with handling but was noticeable particularly as the total miles climbed.  Ultimately, I chose to ride the pavement mostly in Dynamic mode.  This setting offers better feel and performance for those times when the sporting mood struck.

Dirt riding

While on dirt surfaces, I chose the Enduro Pro setting.  This setting allows the rear tire to spin and rear ABS is turned off.  BMW claims that this setting has been optimized for use with knobby tires.

I used this setting to ride the dirt section of Apache Trail in Arizona.  Partially paved, the dirt section is somewhere around 50 miles of steep, narrow, twisting, dirt with washboards, a few washouts and some sections of sand.  I thought it would be a good test.

The GS/A waiting for the Apache Trail. Photo Credit: Mike Botan

Entering the trail from Roosevelt, Arizona put me on the outside of the road next to many of the very steep dropoffs with no guardrails.  Time to trust the bike.

Ultimately, the Enduro Pro mode made traveling the trail a breeze.  The bike was stable and controllable.  Much of the road is heavily washboarded and the suspension was able to damp out all but the most severe washboards.

A section of the Apache Trail. Photo credit: Mike Botan

I found a couple of straight washboarded sections where speed could be increased substantially.  At speed, the bike did move about a bit.  But even in these cases, the rear of the bike never made a move towards the front.

Some of the lighter washboard. I used this section to test handling at speed. Photo credit: Mike Botan

Steep inclines were a piece of cake. While the Enduro Pro ride mode let the rear spin, it was easy to modulate for the best traction.  There were a few sections of deep washouts that ran diagonally across the road and the suspension soaked them up without drama.

The GS/A handled the road up this incline easily. Photo credit: Mike Botan

Electronics

The GSA comes equipped with a dizzying array of electronics in the form of rider aids and information.  Whether you like them or not, electronics are here to stay.

The GSA comes equipped standard with the following rider aids:

  • Two ride modes; Rain and Road.  Rain offers a softened engine response for wet conditions while Road provides the engine’s full capability;
  • An Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) which can be turned off;
  • Automatic Stability Control (ASC) which uses sensors to determine available traction;
  • Dynamic Brake Control which automatically closes the throttle when under emergency braking;
  • Hill Start Control (HSA) which will hold the bike on a hill until you ride off.

The aforementioned electronics are built into the bike’s systems and work in the background.

But the most noticeable piece of electronic equipment is the 6.5 inch full-color TFT display.  It’s readable in direct sunlight and can be adjusted for brightness.  The display is the means to access many different types of information and make changes to the bike’s settings.

The GS/A’s TFT color display is easy to read in all light conditions. Photo credit: Kevin Wing

Unfortunately, there is a problem accessing some of that information.  The menu selections are not intuitive and you can spend a lot of time trying to find the information you are looking for or make changes to settings.

Finding information and changing settings

I feel fairly savvy with electronics, but I must say that the GSA menu system had me confused at times.  The menu items are accessed through a toggle switch and a ring at the inside of the left handgrip.  Pushing the toggle and rotating the ring allows you to select and find the desired information and change settings.

But the menu system is far from intuitive.  Finding the menus necessary to make changes is not simple.  You’ll have to use the system for a while to be able to find all the changes you’d likely want to make.

These toggle switches and the ring around the left handgrip are used to view menus and change settings. Photo credit: Kevin Wing

Nonetheless, as you become used to the menu, finding items should become easier.  But on the whole, the menu system could be a lot more intuitive.

Menu glitches aside, you can get a lot of information from the display.  Things like trip information, navigation, phone connectivity, music, and bike settings are just some of the available info packets.

Ergonomics

The 35 – 35.8″ inch seat height is quite lofty and may intimidate some people.  With my 30 inch inseam, significant dabbing is not a possibility.  Shorter riders riding difficult terrain that may require a dab here or there; take note.

The seat is quite comfortable and good for many hours.  6.5 hours in the saddle was completed without any discomfort.  While comfortable, the seat does put you in a slight forward lean.  It’s enough of a forward lean to put some stress on your shoulders and neck.  So your backside won’t be the limiting factor for long rides, your shoulders/neck will likely be the culprit.

The seat to peg positioning was good for my 30″ inseam, but could perhaps feel a bit cramped for the tallest of riders.  I did have an issue with the footpegs in a different vein though.  BMW puts the tab for the sidestand between the left footpeg and the shift lever.  You have to be careful to get your toe in between the two to put the sidestand down.  It’s not a big issue but it is noticeable.

Weight

The GSA is not a lightweight machine.  Its premise is to take you where you want to go on less than perfect surfaces.  Regardless of the advertising hype, it’s not a machine meant to bust through hard enduro type riding.

At a claimed 591 pounds wet, the new GSA is 18 pounds heavier than its predecessor.  However, some of that weight is due to the GSA now standard crash bars.  One good byproduct of the new crash bars is that the exhaust now routes under them and they are now afforded some protection.

The now standard set of crash bars. You can see that the exhaust pipe now has some protection. Photo credit: Kevin Wing

Another thing that adds to the GSA’s weight is its 7.9-gallon fuel tank.  With that much fuel onboard range is rarely a concern.  In a mix of spirited pavement and off-road riding, I saw an average of 41 MPG.  That’s a far cry from the 50 MPG that BMW claims.  But even at 41 MPG, that’s almost 324 miles of range.  Filling the tank and seeing the fuel computer report 320+ miles range always made me smile.

But that 7.9 gallons of fuel weighs about 50 pounds.  So when you fill the tank, you can feel the extra weight positioned high on the bike.  It’s not a problem, just a different feel until some of the fuel burns off.  In my opinion, the extra range is a good trade-off for the weight of the fuel.  When you need the range you have it and when you don’t, just don’t fill the tank top to the top.  Easy.

With the range of the GS/A, you can easily put yourself on roads like this… Photo credit: Mike Botan

…or like this. Photo credit: Mike Botan

Amenities

The GSA also comes with a lot of amenities.  Some are optional while others are standard. Standard items include:

  • A one-hand adjustable windshield.  It’s very good at blocking wind and reducing buffeting.  At it’s highest setting and wind blocking, I could still clearly see over the top of the windshield.  It can, however, wobble a bit with high wind gusts.
  • Cross spoke wheels with tubeless tires.  This is a nice feature in that the tire does not have to be removed to repair a simple puncture.
  • A BMW sized 12-volt power socket.
  • An engine skid plate.
  • LED head and tail lights.
  • A steering damper.

Pricing

The GSA is a capable machine and its pricing reflects a high level of technology and capability.  Pricing starts at $19,945.  But most machines coming to the USA will also come with the Premium Package ($3,450) bringing the Premium Package equipped Ice Grey model to $23, 395.  If you prefer either the Exclusive Style package or HP Style package, you can add $500 or $550 respectively.

Optional items

The list of optional items is very long and vast.  There are two packages of options; Select and Premium.  Other optional items are available separately.  Many options were installed on my loner GSA and I had the opportunity to try some of them out.

The handgrip heater works well.  In fact, at the high temperature setting, they can almost get too hot.

A rear brake extension that makes finding the rear brake much easier.  You just unfold the extension and you now have roughly 50% more rear brake pedal surface.  Once the extension was folded out, I left it there for the duration of the test.

Starting and refueling are easy thanks to a keyless ignition and fuel tank.  It allows you to leave your key in your pocket when starting/stopping the bike and opening the fuel tank.

The cruise control has impeccable speed control.  Whether you are on flat surfaces or steep slopes, the cruise keeps the speed where you set it.  It’s a great option for munching through miles to the next off-road segment or setting a speed and maintaining it in areas where speed enforcement is intense.

Finally, two low mounted auxiliary driving lights increased visibility.  I did not ride at night so I cannot attest to how much additional light they throw, but in these days of distracted drivers, it’s nice to be well lit.

Frankly, the list of optional items and packages is very long.  BMW provided this summary of packages and options.

Some of the packages and options that are available for the GSA. Image credit: BMW

In summary

The GSA is a capable and well-mannered machine.  It will take you to places where other standard machines cannot.  Its range is excellent as is its comfort.  For gliding through the miles either on or off-road, the GSA is a capable and comfortable ride.

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