This year marks the 30th anniversary of BMW’s R1200GS and R1200GS Adventure – two bikes that have dominated a niche and carried the weight of BMW Motorcycles on their broad backs. At the heart has always been the Flat-Twin engine design – opposing jugs that became a symbol of the marque and have adapted outside of the GS line to the sporting world. Tuning secrets learned here were transferred back to the Adventure machines, and the Bavarians elected to infuse the proven Boxer Twin with technology from their HP2 Sport.
To mark 30 successful years, BMW opted to spice up the engine on its workhorse R1200GS and R1200GS Adventure.
New cylinder heads are the targeted area with each featuring four larger valves – the intakes are oversized 8.4% to 39mm and the sodium-filled exhaust valves increase by 6.6% to 33mm. Appropriately matching pistons form the new combustion chamber, though the compression ratio inside the 101 x 73mm bore/stroke sleeve remains unchanged at 12.0:1. A larger throttle manifold and revised air intake also contribute to what BMW claims is a higher rev ceiling of 8500 rpm and a 5% boost in horsepower to a claimed 110 hp and 88 lb-ft of torque. An electronic exhaust flap and new muffler internals promote the Boxer thump.
After a wonderful morning ride that featured all types of fast and slow roads, both paved and dirt, our grins became grimaces – and eventually chattering teeth – as the temperature dropped to 32 degrees with accompanying frigid precipitation. Rain turned to sleet, snow and eventually hail – and then ran back through the gamut (read our blog for more details on the nasty weather – 2010 BMW R1200GS in Snosemitie). As our ride focus became more about simply making it home, we were not able to hop on the 2009 version for a straight-up comparison of the new engine. But as far as we’re concerned, it’s the same GS – wonderfully smooth and plenty powerful.
BMW’s Boxer engine has loads of usable torque which help keep wheelspin under control in slippery off-road terrain.
Highway/freeway cruising speeds are easy work for the GS with 4000 rpm generating roughly 70-75 mph in sixth gear. That engine rpm was about ideal for us, though it revs much higher, we generally shifted between 5-6K at the very latest, usually still in the fours. It’s where the motor is happiest blending smoothness and torque. Second gear was best for anything off-road under about 35 mph, though we enjoyed short shifting and using the abundant torque to pull third when traction was limited in muddy situations. Karoo and Karoo T tires shod the 19/17-inch front/rear wheels for varying levels of on/off-road traction.
What separates the standard R1200GS and R1200GS Adventure? The Adventure is visually much larger and masculine thanks to a whopping 8.7-gallon fuel tank and standard crash protection bars, engine and hand guards and cross-spoke wheels. A two-tone black/grey seat tidies up the rear end with a 1.5-inch-longer reach to the ground. A larger windscreen offers increased protection and front and rear suspension both give 0.8-inches of additional travel. However, the engine is the same, the only change being a shorter first gear in the six-speed transmission. The 9% reduction helps control the extra weight on descents and lug through slow or nasty conditions. BMW claims a dry weight difference of 44 pounds, plus the added weight of an additional 3.4 gallons of sloshing fuel makes the Adventure considerably heavier in action. The remaining five gears are the same between the models. Of course, the weight difference alone makes the GS feel peppier and more nimble than its thicker sibling.
The taller GS Adventure fit our rider best and the extra protection was at a premium in these riding conditions.
Even though our ride was altered and cut short as snow and accidents closed mountain roads, it provided a perfect (although unpleasant) way to test the rider cockpit and protection. First off, the GSA’s oversized footpegs should be standard on the GS model. They are far superior in traction, comfort and safety. Realistically, the engine doesn’t vibrate, so ditch the skinny pegs and rubber inserts and bolt on something that is worth standing on. Secondly, the GSA’s oversized windscreen is better and the additional flares on the lower edges make a world of difference. They were sorely missed once the snow came. Hand guards are standard on the GSA, though all the standard GS test bikes were equipped with them too. Once they were pushed into the proper place they worked very well for coverage – and, judging from some other journos’ bikes, crash protection.
At 5’ 11”, our tester is sufficiently tall for the standard 33.5-inch seat height (GS) or even 35-inch (GSA). BMW offers a lower seat as a factory-installed option. Our test machine was equipped with one and the compacted seating arrangement quickly became noticeable. Touching both feet to the ground is amazingly simple, but the distance to the pegs was actually too short for our liking. Transitioning from sitting to standing is more difficult and the overall comfort for longer rides is decreased. What would normally have been some slight discomfort was emphasized by the snow and freezing rain in the form of severely cramped hips, stiff lower back and aching knees. These symptoms did not occur on the larger GSA and would likely not have been so pronounced with the standard GS seat.
Off-road, night riding or pavement twisties, the BMW R1200GS is designed to do it all. It’s amazing how good this bike is in most situations, even those where it seems out of place. It’s never to be underestimated, and that’s why it’s a favorite around MCUSA.
The GSA we sampled was equipped with the optional Enduro Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA). This left-side button controls 15 different preload and damping settings ranging from solo rider to fully-loaded pillion and designated off-road use. Though it can be toggled (to a degree) while moving, our favorite overall choice was the Normal Off-Road setting. With the added suspension travel, we bottomed out less over the rolling water bars, though the additional weight was quick to overcome the slight advantage.
Another feature that our test units were equipped with was the Integral ABS. We really can’t say enough about the anti-lock brakes. BMW has equipped the GS machines with excellent binders – dual four-pot calipers up front with floating 305mm rotors and two-piston rear calipers with 265mm rotor. Either bike is a lot of weight to get slowed down, but the brakes are up to the task. It’s very easy to get deep into the levers with confidence, and once the ABS is installed, that security is increased immensely. We switched it off for all dirt sections, though it can still be used if the conditions are dry. For the street, there was never a time we didn’t stop to activate the system again (vehicle cannot be moving to make the switch). Trail braking into corners is amazing, especially when worried about the knobby tires, and the gentle pulse of the ABS was never a negative factor. It costs $1100, but the only suggestion we have for an improvement is to make it fully adjustable on-the-fly.
Our trip through Yosemite National Park didn’t allow for much
sightseeing, but the morning ride was a perfect match for the GS.
Speaking of awesome accessories, all of the bikes were equipped with the optional heated grips. As the weather quickly proved, this factory-installed application is by far the best supplementary $250 that can be spent. Even in the morning, when the weather was crisp, but not yet nasty, the high/low heat settings added another level of comfort. Once the weather turned, it was unimaginable not to have it available.
BMW records nearly 30% of its world volume sales from the GS and GSA – making it the workhorse, literally and figuratively, of the brand. The original R80GS was introduced in 1980 and the 30-year commemoration includes a special-edition version. Alpine white with tri-color SE graphics and red, embroidered saddle set it apart visually. Mechanically it is equipped with a series of bells and whistles which equate to retail prices of $18,390 (GS) and $21,040 (GSA). Whether or not you opt for the Special Edition or an upgraded package on either model, both machines are phenomenal in their performance. They’re the same old lovable Adventure Touring bikes we’ve come to expect from the propeller gang. We wish we could say the new motor is a vast improvement over the old version, but the circumstances and the time gap in our memory make that difficult. While we couldn’t readily detect a difference in engine performance (that’ll have to wait for dyno testing or a dry back-to-back evaluation) the German crew certainly hasn’t taken a step back.