Review of the new 1200GS

Discussion in 'GS Boxers' started by Wes Peterson, Feb 7, 2004.

  1. Wes Peterson

    Wes Peterson Adventurer

    Dec 7, 2003
    Someone posted this on the micapeak airhead list:


    George, South Africa-I've been thinking of buying a large enduro motorcycle for the last four years, ever since riding a Yamaha through the Australian outback. In those short weeks, the XT600 proved that I wanted a bike with low maintenance, capable of long tours, comfortable enough for two (because my wife likes to explore, too) and something that's sporty while still feeling
    confident on a dirt path. You see, I like going to out-of-the-way places, which is why I like bikes that don't stop at the end of the pavement. And when the opportunity came to ride the new BMW R1200 GS at its press preview here in South Africa, I jumped at the chance.

    So what that the airline lost my luggage (and my camera equipment) and I missed the connection; so it took 58 hours with no sleep to get there. It was a chance for an adventure that couldn't be missed. At the hotel, the BMW people rolled the big new GS into the press conference for our first glimpse. Except it didn't look to be that big, especially compared to the physically imposing previous-generation 1150 GS. Its profile is sharper and more aggressive, too, with a sportier rear end. Its looks were intriguing and its price is bearable at $17,850 (without
    ABS), but after all this time and all this distance, how would it ride?

    Pulling away from the hotel the next morning, the new transmission showed itself to be considerably smoother than the six-speed on the 1150 GS, known for its occasional clunks. There were no missed shifts but just clean, smooth snaps from gear to gear. This is a much lighter motorcycle than its predecessor, which has a reputation for being one of the most top-heavy bikes on the market. The weight of the old 22-litre fuel tank could be a handful when filled and BMW has shaved a couple of litres from the new bike to counteract that. (Fuel consumption, however, is improved by 8 per cent to make up the difference in range.)
    It's some 30 kg lighter than the 1150, almost half of which was gained by using a higher strength helical gear design to make that smooth transmission.

    Apparently, after somebody decided at the outset that 30 kg would be the perfect weight loss for the bike, a jerry can full of water weighing exactly that was left in the studio for the designers to lift any time they needed to remember their goal.
    Now the 1200 weighs just 225 kg with a full tank of fuel. There's no electric windshield adjustment, "to save on weight." The crankcase, driveshaft, rear subframe, paralever and telelever front end are all made of lighter and stiffer material, "to save on weight." And then the optional luggage system is nine litres larger than it used to be. As long as it's not loaded with a 30 kg jerry can of water, the rider should be ahead of the game.

    All of this weight saving makes for a much more agile motorcycle. On the road here, the big GS bolted from each stop with more power and torque than I had expected, for the flat twin makes 102 hp, an improvement over the 85 hp of the 1150. In true European style, it's built to cruise all day long at high speed,
    although the sixth gear now has a shorter ratio and is less of an overdrive.

    More surprisingly for the venerable boxer design, there's no vibration. A balance shaft - a first for BMW's boxer engine - effectively eliminates any of the vibration left over from the natural design of an opposing flat twin. At speed, the windshield is more effective than before, adjusting to five different heights to suit even shorties like me. And at slower speeds, the 1200 reacted without the surges typical of fuel injection systems.
    But the GS (which stands for dirt/street in German) is not supposed to be about super-smooth highway touring. It's meant to be about versatility and traveling anywhere. When the pavement ends, the ride keeps going.

    My pavement ended at Oudtshoorn, a beautiful town that used to be the country's ostrich-feather capital (hey, those hats have to be equipped from somewhere) and is now the tourism capital. Many of the historic sandstone buildings from the heady days of ostrich feather demand have been declared national monuments.
    I wasn't looking for the ostriches, though, which were happy to run alongside the bike - I was looking for a gravel road that stretched up into the Swartberg Mountains, searching for an afternoon of nirvana on the seat of a motorcycle.

    I met up with another journalist and swapped my blue-and-silver bike for his yellow-and-silver model. It's also available in red, but after a while in the dust, all colours look the same anyway.
    That was fine - for my day of adventure, I wanted dirt in the nostrils, the thrill of leaning deep into a corner and of feeling my heart pound on a mountain pass. And leaving the asphalt, with dust clouds swirling all around, the GS soaked up the bumps and cornered with ease. The front suspension on the GS is adjustable to nine positions with spring travel at 190 mm while the rear is
    fully adjustable with a slightly longer travel of 200 mm. At a fork in the road, the road changed back to pavement and I set off
    through some twisties to the top of the Swartberg Pass. Leaning heavily into a sharper-than-expected left turn, I felt my foot scrape the pavement. Could I really have pushed that far? I stopped and checked my boot for scrapes - yes, I really did lean that far. So I did the only rational thing and turned around to go back at it again a few more times.

    The only thing holding the GS from turning itself into a sport bike was me. It reacted with smooth braking into the corners, oodles of lean, and powered out with up to 85 lb.-ft. of torque, regardless of what gear I was in. Enough of these civilized games, though. It was time to get in the dirt again. The guidebook said the pass would lead to a kloof or valley, called Die
    Hel - The Hell. Legend has it that Bushmen and wild game teemed in this place before the Afrikaners began settling two centuries ago to escape British rule. A young white boy, Danje Hartman, was supposedly kidnapped by the Khoikhoi Bushmen and taken to Die Hel. After escaping, Hartman's stories
    of the hidden valley intrigued the locals and settlement began.
    Approaching the pass, I could see the road winding up through the low rocky vegetation into the distance. Pavement soon turned to gravel and gravel to rock.

    I hesitated but the GS did not as the road became steeper and more tricky. It was time to stand up on the pegs for better balance, adjusting my weight from side to side around the tight corners. Then nearing the summit, I checked over my shoulder while making a hard left and vertigo came on full force. My foot dropped from the peg and I wobbled. A less stable motorcycle - a flitty, more highly-strung bike - might have wobbled too, but the GS did not. My drop onto the saddle forced my throttle hand to rotate and, next thing I knew, I was 15 metres farther up the
    mountain road and on my way again. This was where the R1200 GS truly shone, at the top of the mountain pass. The altitude - more than 1,500 metres - didn't faze it, thanks to a new
    computerized engine management system that includes fuel injection and "integrated knock control." It handled the paved winding roads leading to this beautiful place like a sport bike, sweet and smooth, then acted like an enduro and climbed the rocks.

    What more could adventurers want? Well, they used to want a lower seat height, for the 1150 GS had one of the tallest climbs into the saddle of any motorcycle. It was an issue for me,
    one of the reasons I've been stalling for the last four years, but the 1200 gives its rider the option of four seat heights, ranging from 810 mm to 890 mm. I swung a leg back over the seat and rode down into Hell. The 1200 has an ABS system that can be switched off by the rider when the bike is stationary, but I didn't hear about that during the pre-ride briefing. On the skittery, rocky road, the ABS would activate at the most inconvenient
    times and the rear tire would spin when I needed a full stop.

    Again, I got into trouble speeding into another tight left, heading downhill this time: it was all front brake on the loose gravel or drop off the cliff. I pushed back on the seat and yanked hard on the front brake, but the aluminum telelever didn't dive and the dual-purpose tires didn't slip or slide. Again, the bike was better than me. After a day of riding more than 400 kilometres, I got back to the hotel just in time to miss the safari bus tour. It didn't matter. I couldn't think about animals, except perhaps for the ostriches that had chased alongside the road that morning.
    For the rest of the day, and on the long flight home the day after, my mind kept drifting back to the GS and to the Swartberg Pass and to how long it would be until I could ride another, maybe with my wife coming along too.

    After all, the R1200 GS is made for adventures, even if those adventures only take you to and from work. But knowing it can also take you to Die Hel and back is a really cool comfort.

    Tim Finlan is the Star's photo assignment editor and a freelance writer ( He prepared this report based on travel arranged and paid for by BMW
  2. Wes Peterson

    Wes Peterson Adventurer

    Dec 7, 2003
  3. NLS

    NLS My bike needs washing...

    Jan 9, 2004
    all nice except...

  4. Wes Peterson

    Wes Peterson Adventurer

    Dec 7, 2003
    Agreed. Anybody have any insights into how incestuous the motorycle press/motorcycle industry is? Safe to say I bring along a bag of salt whenever I read m/c reviews.