The question of what you would do if you won the lottery is something that everyone has probably contemplated at one point or another. The answers to that question are as individual as the people who ask it, but when it comes to motorcycle freaks, there’s no doubt as to the answer. Buy bikes – lots of bikes. Big bikes, mini bikes, street bikes, dirt bikes, expensive bikes, cheap bikes, new bikes, old bikes, yada-yada-yada. You get the idea, and you know exactly what I’m talking about because the fact that you’ve taken the time to find this website and read this article obviously pegs you as a two-wheeled freak.
Well, I was mulling over the lottery issue a couple days ago (I seem to do that at least once a week) and, to my surprise, the answer was immediate and it involved something I hadn’t consciously admitted to having a hard-on for. I’m the kind of guy who can appreciate expensive, high-quality European engineering: but if given the choice, I would opt for a burly, extra-cab, suspension-lifted, super-swamper, Power-Stroke Ford over a sleek, leather-lined Mercedes. I will never purchase anything from Dolce & Gabbana or shod myself in alligator-skin loafers. I can hardly spell Gucci and can’t pronounce Louis Vuitton the same way twice. Don’t get me wrong, because I think fine Euro products are sweet, but basically my interests have always lied elsewhere. Not anymore.
During our dual-sport adventure I struck up a hot-blooded relationship with a sultry seducer. Two short days was all it took to consume my fantasies and I’ve found myself lusting after the tall, long-legged German in the weeks since.
BMW is known for its high quality and pricetag in both the automotive and motorcycling worlds. But while your CPA neighbor is spending the weekends waxing his fancy M3, owners of the adventuresome HP2 are spending their Sundays in places your accountant buddy can only see in a National Geographic.
“The mind-blowing 105 bhp H2 Enduro, BMW Motorrad’s first pure dirt bike, is here,” the Germans boast in typical PR style.
Yes it is, but BMW’s introduction has two statements that are a bit misleading. First is the factory’s claim of 105 ponies, which is actually a still respectable 92 hp at the rear wheel. Interestingly, it made only 87 hp when we first measured it during dyno testing at Hansen’s Motorcycles with the stock Metzeler Karoo dual-purpose knobbies, 5 less than when equipped with a more street-biased Trail Wing we tried afterward.
Secondly, while the HP2 is undoubtedly the most dirt-oriented machine to ever come from BMW, let’s establish right away that this is not a pure dirt bike. It’s too big, too heavy, and for cripe’s sake, it’s street legal. Call me picky, but that automatically disqualifies any two-wheeled machine from being coined a “pure” dirt bike.
Now before you BMW die-hards go clicking your way to the closest Beemer support forum and start flaming us, let’s get into the reasons why the HP2 is so great, just the way it is.
Once taking delivery of the new Indigo Blue/Alaska Gray Beemer (the only color scheme available), we had to decide what kind of testing regimen to put it through in order to sort out just what this machine is capable of. Touted as an off-road bike, the first instinct was to take it out to our awesome network of local trails and flog it to our hearts content, but we ultimately decided against that for several reasons. The first sign of trouble was while backing the 420-pound (tank empty) beast out of the van. It’s heavy.
Once we caught our breath, like any good motorcyclist would do, we immediately hopped on and bounced up and down to test the suspension, but performing the new-bike ritual proved harder than expected. Upon swinging a leg over the supposed 36.2 inch seat height we were unsuccessful in finding solid ground on the opposite side. Finally, after tiring of hopping from one foot to the other, we put the bike back on its kickstand and further inspected it visually. The next concern is that the bike is nearly devoid of crash protection. That might be acceptable on a normal bike, but for one that costs $20 thousand, it made us more nervous than usual.
With southern Oregon’s biggest landmark, Mt. Ashland in the background, we embarked on a journey to test the HP2 that would take 40 hours and almost 10 times as many miles.
So, with images of pruning back flora on our favorite single track with the protruding cylinders, we opted to skip out on the super tight stuff and focus on the twisty mountain roads, both paved and un-paved, where the HP2 is more likely to be ridden. The wide, low-profile knobbies of the Karoos would be far superior on pavement than moto tires, but they also looked like they could fare well in the dirt. In both cases, we were correct. Riding a street-legal off-roader has rarely been this much fun.
“With the big knobby tire on the back I was able to get it to step out on the tight turns, but I didn’t dare go full-moto on this thing,” says Editorial Director and person responsible for its safe return, Ken Hutchison. “If it was mine, I would love to ride it like a supermoto, but since it was a test bike I had to hold my mullet instincts in check.”
With an 1170 cubic centimeter engine at our disposal, we couldn’t resist the idea of cranking the Beemer open on a long strip of highway. We had the feeling that this bike would be awesome as a dual-sport which – I’ll spare you the suspense – it is. We spent two full days on the freeway, highways, improved gravel, unimproved gravel and 4×4 Jeep roads with an occasional venture into unmarked trails of southern Oregon and northern California that proved its dual-sport status.
Choosing your riding buddies is vital to having a good time on the trail, especially when you’re relying on their map-reading skills. Dave Riant (far right) was our tour guide and he graciously offered up his ’05 R1200GS for a ride-along comparison. He even went as far as to demonstrate what a low-side will do to the valve cover. Nice guy, that Riant.
Being the directionally challenged and socially needy guys that we are, we enlisted the help of Jeff Moffet from Oregon Motorcycle Adventures (OMA) along with local legend Dave Riant with his trusty 2005 R1200GS, an established world traveler and BMW aficionado, to serve as our guides. MotoUSA’s Ken Hutchison and I would take turns switching between the HP2 and a legalized ATK 450 on loan from Oregon’s Best Motorsports while our accompanying photographer, Tyler Maddox, borrowed a DR-Z400E from Moffet’s rental company.
The collection of bikes gave us a terrific picture of where the HP2 would stack up in the dual-sport world. The ATK was basically a motocrosser with a street kit, the two OMA Suzukis have become a staple of dual-sporting enthusiasts with a slight dirt bias, and the GS has more of a street application on the high-dollar end of things. It was the perfect lineup to shake down the radical HP2 with.
The R1200GS has been BMW’s flagship adventure-touring bike and has been the only real option for Beemer riders looking to go off-road (unless you count the single-cylinder F650GS and GS Dakar). The R1200GS Adventure ups the off-road ante with a longer-travel suspension and larger fuel tank. As it is, the GS is a competent off-road bike but it can quickly get out of hand in gnarly dirt stuff. However, when designing the High Performance Enduro, BMW engineers decided to take the strong points of the GS and incorporate them into the much lighter HP2. For a rough breakdown, basically what they took was the engine, driveshaft and variations of the brakes, wheels, tires and front end bodywork. Colossal differences in the two machines are found primarily in the frame design and suspension components.
In the week prior to our nearly 400-mile journey, we got acquainted with the BMW through a regular routine of daily commuting and office-escaping lunch break expeditions. It only took one or two rides before we started remembering all kinds of different errands that had to be taken care of; some of which were fictional and others quite real.
This ain’t a Harley, pal. Some riders might scoff at the futuristic styling, but the HP2 will roost a very, very wide array of street bikes when the road gets twisty.
“When I first threw a leg over the HP2 I was thinking it was going to be a real handful since I could barely reach my tippy-toe with one foot,” says the 5’8″ Ken after his initiation period. “After riding the bike for a week, I really didn’t care that I couldn’t touch the ground easily because it’s so damn much fun riding this bike.”
While Ken has ridden a plethora of BMWs, I have a special bond with the HP2 because, aside from being my first, the German and I were introduced at a unique time of my life. After waiting seemingly forever until I could summon the courage to bend over and take it from the DMV, I finally took my endorsement test on the motorcycle I feel most comfortable with – a big dirt bike, the HP2. I passed, which likely makes me the only person in the U.S. that can claim they got their motorcycle license on one of only 250 hand-assembled HP2s imported this year. Hell, taking a drivers test on any bike worth $20 large has to be an anomaly.
While I was at the DMV a scruffy fellow manning a petition booth commented, “Nice bike, too bad it’s not a Harley.”
Smiling, I avoided the impending memoir of a life-long Hell’s Angels wannabe with a quick, “Yeah, I get that a lot.” But deep inside I wanted to slap my leather glove across that mangy beard and stomp his balls with my Kommando boots, all the while explaining that my behavior was a precise demonstration of what the HP2 will do to any Hog the exact moment it encounters that first patch of gravel, or a twisty road.