2010 BMW R1200GS Adventure Shootout

JC Hilderbrand | September 27, 2010

The BMW R1200GS has led the Adventure Touring class since it was introduced.

The BMW has already gathered up the praise of riders and media, and the R1200GS with its torquey Boxer Twin has no problem shouldering the load. There isn’t much that hasn’t been said about the GS already but for 2010 it gets a new dual overhead cam design that boosts power. The addition of another set of cams allows for a higher rev ceiling of 8500 rpm, though the additional 500 rpm are really of no use since the impressive torque curve is much lower in the range. The GS models have never been massively powerful with their Flat-Twin arrangement. They do, however, offer a healthy dose of smooth torque. With a peak of almost 69 lb-ft at 6500 rpm, we spent most of our time between 3000 and 7000 rpm. Comfortable cruising is around 4K where there’s enough on tap but the vibrations almost disappear.

With just under 92 horsepower, the Beemer only offers 72% of the raw output of the Ducati, which took the objective and subjective engine categories. Even compared to the Triumph’s Triple, the GS still only has 86% of the pure ponies. But regardless of the inferior maximum, our testers rated the R1200 ahead of the 1050 in its real-world performance thanks to a usable spread that works as well off-road as it does chasing the Ducati through paved canyons.

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The BMW R1200GS has set the bar in the AT category. See the grandfather of ADV in action in the 2010 Adventure Touring Shootout Video.

The BMW is the only bike in this test to use a shaft drive. As we’ve come to expect from all GS models, the six-speed transmission is clunky, but it’s positive. A hydraulic clutch that’s less grabby than the Ducati and much easier to modulate than the Triumph make shifting a highlight by comparison. The Ducati would have been better in the Transmission/Clutch department with its slipper except that it missed shifts fairly regularly. We’d rather have a chunky gearbox that always does what we ask than a slick tranny we can’t trust. Also, the gear ratios for the Beemer are spot on for the power delivery. The only thing we would ask is for a lower first gear when packing a heavy load and/or passenger, but the same goes for the other bikes as well.

The Beemer is built like a tank, and it sort of feels like it being as large and heavy as it is. The BMW gets knocked for its weight. At 535.5 pounds it’s five over the Tiger and 20 more than the wild Ducati. As is typical with Beemer Boxers, it hides that weight extremely well by carrying it low in the chassis. It doesn’t have the sheer acceleration of the other bikes, but its size belies its abilities. There’s no doubt in any of our testers’ minds that the GS offers the most comfort for touring duties, and it definitely has the best touring engine. It doesn’t have to be spun up like the Ducati in order to get extra weight moving in case you have passengers, extra luggage or both.

“For all-around comfort and the fact that you can load up your entire house on the thing and still have room for more, the BMW wins hands down,” says Wallace of its touring credentials. “Plus it has the best wind protection of the bunch.”

Adding weight has little effect on the Beemer. A simple suspension adjustment takes care of everything and the bike stays as composed as ever. It’s a phenomenal touring ride.

Our lightest rider as also particularly appreciative of the BMW’s cocoon of comfort, plus it’s expandable hard luggage, more numerous tie-down attachments and larger luggage rack which made strapping his camera equipment more secure. The BMW also puts out the most functional headlight with a low- and high-beam spread that offers flood and spotlight illumination.

“The Ducati would be fun (to tour), but it’s not really set up to handle the load like the BMW is,” says Maddox. “The GS is great on- and off-road when it comes to comfort and longer trips. It has great wind protection and a very comfortable seat.”

Looking at the scorecard, Italian lovers and sporty riders will scoff at the BMW topping the handling and suspension category. However, in light of all that this bike can do, it’s enough to impress our testers with overall performance. In the right hands, the BMW has no problem chasing down sportbikes, passing them and then bailing off into uncharted wilderness. The Paralever and Telelever suspension feels considerably different than the traditional fork and shock on the Triumph or Ducati. It creates a geometry that allows the bike to settle into corners rather than dive with weight transfer never being an issue. This allowed our lesser skilled street riders to have confidence carrying speed into corners as well as trail braking deeper and harder.

Having the ability to do both of these scenarios with surprising
comfort and grace makes the Beemer our top-handling machine.

The chassis is nimble, well-balanced and unshakable, and the larger front wheel rolls over obstacles without jumping off-line as much. If there’s one thing the German machine doesn’t like it’s square-edged holes. The unorthodox suspension transmits sharp impacts to the rider, much of it through the rock-hard hand grips.

The Beemer drops a few points to the Italian in the looks department. It is, after all, Italian. But where the Ducati drips with sex appeal, the BMW has toughness written on it tip-to-tail. The macho stance with its protruding cylinders and beefy front beak has become synonymous with adventure, but in the soft afternoon light, the MTS draws stares unlike any other. Take a closer look and the BMW can be appreciated for its finer details.

German equipment has become known for its exceptional build quality and the GS is certainly well-made. The solidity of its design is impressive. Not one thing came loose, broke, creaked, cracked or wiggled during our entire trip. We even found a small road jump to play around on, and until we got the timing figured out to downside the landing, there were some pretty hard impacts. It didn’t sound nice, but the BMW felt like it could take that abuse all day. But whenever it happened with the Ducati and Triumph we were cringing in fear of breaking something – like a frame, or engine cases.

The GS is rock solid. Nothing came loose or suffered any damage during our ride. Durability is crucial for ADV bikes.

Instrumentation is a blend of digital and analog displays. The cluster is a little far away from the rider, making it seem small, especially the speedometer. But the amount and type of information displayed is extremely useful. The options aren’t as vast as the Multistrada’s supercomputer, but it’s also not nearly as difficult to learn and operate. Electronic suspension adjustments are a highlight and offer some of the whiz-bang technology that the Duc has in spades. Combine it with rock-solid fit and finish and the GS deserves a slight advantage on the scorecard.

Despite being the largest bike, it was the first one to tackle the jump and any other questionable off-road obstacle. Ergonomics fit all of our testers very well, especially when it came time to stand up. The BMW is the only bike we didn’t mess with the handlebars or levers, just simply got on it and rode everywhere. The wide handlebars also make it easy to control through sweeping turns and when a stiff crosswind or passing vehicle causes upset.

“The BMW is very comfortable, something I’d want for a multi-day ride,” remarks cameraman, Maddox, who stands up more than most thanks to a heavy dirt riding background. “It is also very easy to stand up, while the other bikes felt pretty awkward, especially the Triumph.”

Before you get all pissed about Ducati providing a ringer S-model, our Beemer had a few options as well starting with the Standard Package (heated grips, ABS, and saddlebag mounts), plus Enduro ESA ($800) which allows for further electronic suspension adjustment, hand guards ($100) and cross-spoke wheels ($500). Even still, to match the Ducati’s pricetag, the BMW could add quite a few upgrades in addition.

We love riding big bikes through challenging off-road terrain. You might have a certain type of “adventure” in mind, but to us, the BMW has it covered.

The ABS isn’t as sophisticated or unobtrusive as the Ducati’s, but it still works extremely well, plus the single push of a button switches it on or off when at a standstill. This earned it second place and it basically boils down to an effective, but not necessarily impressive, braking package with dual 305mm front rotors and a 265mm rear disc attached to the single-sided swingarm.

If you haven’t gathered it already, the GS is twice the off-road bike that the Ducati or Triumph is. The switchable ABS is one of the features along with 19/17-inch spoked wheels and Metzeler Tourance tires, a burly skidplate, inches of extra suspension travel, great balance, abundant torque, ridable ergos… The list goes on.

It’s heavy and down on outright horsepower; that’s what hurt it on the scorecard – two categories where the Ducati picked up six total points. When it came time for real-world impressions, the GS took 6-of-10 subjective categories and finished second in the other four. That quartet (Engine Performance, Brakes, Appearance, Grin Factor) went to the Ducati. Most people would probably guess that before even riding them. It has a Superbike-derived engine and brakes, of course it’s going to take those two, and when you speed up and slow down very quickly, that’s a recipe for a good time. Take one peek at the Italian styling and there’s another easy two points. However, keep in mind what the BMW did win, and remember that we don’t use a weighted scale.


JC Hilderbrand

Off-Road Editor| Articles | Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA’s Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn’t matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

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