Nose to nose, 30 years apart: the iconic 1981 R80 G/S and an anniversary edition 2010 F800GS prepared to ride the Rockies.
BMW hit a home run when it introduced the BMW G/S. Prior to that BMWs were known to be solid runners, and before the cliché “adventure riding” was introduced into motorcycling jargon, icons like Danny Liska were unknowingly doing with BMWs what today falls into the adventure-riding niche, but not on purpose-built motorcycles. Liska used road worthy BMW R60’s to tag ends of the earth, flogging these touring models through mud, jungles, deserts and snow.
Thirty years ago the Bavarian manufacturer produced their first G/S, an 800cc model made for street and gravel, or described differently “a purpose-built dual sport or enduro model,” whatever catch word advertising firms chose in varied years to market them. The evolution of the GS over the following three decades carved out a remarkable portion of the world motorcycling market for this multi-purpose model, making it today the best seller in the BMW lineup. Copies abound, competitors try to eat away at the BMW hold on choice for ‘round the world motorcycles, and it seems the term “adventure” in the current industry is as common a word as is “the” in the Bible. And yet, BMW still manages to carry the flag.
BMW GS’s welcomed adventure models from Kawasaki’s KLR650 to Honda’s Transalp and serious adventurist models in between.
The BIG DOG ADVENTURE RIDE was birthed from the G/S and GS models. Originally a “BMW only” weekend adventure for G/S and GS owners from the customer base of BMW of Denver, the event grew into a described serious adventure ride for BMW purists until organizers decided to cap it for numerous reasons, including economics, legal and simple organizational management. BOB’s BMW of Jessup, Maryland joined BMW of Denver while other suppliers jumped on and off as supporters, sponsors and participants. One year KTM signed on after a decision was made to allow other than BMWs into the event. As one organizer jokingly said at the time, “Sure, let them in, we can use them for berm for our BMWs in some of the slower tight curves.”
The event morphed a bit more to include evening multi-media presentations, special events, and was copied around the world. In 2010 it remained the premier adventure ride in North America. BOB’S BMW and BMW of Denver were still cornerstones, strong supporters of the event. To celebrate 30 years of the BMW GS success, the two BMW dealers joined together August 13-15 with the Happy Trails Company to throw a wild 30th Birthday Party for the iconic GS.
An entrant BIG DOG negotiates the treacherous “steps” below Black Bear Pass. A tip to the left meant a 100-foot fall into the rushing white water glacial stream below, not unknown to happen to motorcycle drivers who error even slightly. This one stayed dry.
The birthday party was based in Ridgway, Colorado, at the foot of the San Juan Mountains, home of some of the highest, toughest, ugliest, meanest, and dirtiest mountain passes in North America. Blessed with three days of perfect weather, blue cloudless skies and windless mountain tops, the 2010 entrants tagged passes with names that adventurists and off-road riders know to be at the top of “tough challenge” lists. Names like Imogene Pass, Black Bear Pass, and Engineer Pass cause advanced small displacement dirt bike riders to ramp-up their adrenalin output. Add 200-300 pounds, 750cc and aluminum panniers and tanks bags to the motorcycle as the BIG DOGS do and then attempting these passes could be called a wild adventure or crazed.
Listening to the BIG DOGS laugh and trade stories at their base camp after a day of topping those passes made outsiders shake their heads in wonderment. The DOGS threw a party for the GS, and seemingly all had a wild and whopping good time, even those walking wounded who rode home with bent or broken body parts.
An example of a partygoer who took it to the edge was an unnamed entrant from Carlsbad, New Mexico who arrived in Ridgway at 3 a.m. to find the “No Vacancy” sign out. He turned around and rode his motorcycle back to Ouray where he found a room, slept for two hours, then returned to Ridgway for the Rider’s Meeting at 8 a.m. By 10 a.m. he was muscling his Suzuki 1000cc V-Strom up toward the top of Engineer Pass, following his father, who was on a BMW GS. Fatigue and a soccer ball size rock joined together on a slow speed 170-degree uphill turn to drop the V-Strom on his ankle.
Two DOGS are pictured here comparing wounds at the end of the day – severe ankle sprains starting to turn rainbow colors.
When serious medication was suggested, the V-Strommer shrugged them off and opted for a bag of ice and a short nap. During the evening shows after dinner it was rumored he was “out” for the next day, his celebrating was over on Day 1.
Day 2 started with another short Rider’s Meeting and there was Mr. Suzuki Iron Dog, ankle wrapped, boot on with duct tape closing the tongue gap. When asked if he wanted anything to help, he said, “A crutch or cane would be nice while we’re standing around like this. I’ll be fine once I’m back on my bike now that I’ve got some sleep.” That night before dinner he and another wounded DOG were caught laughing at the color changes their smashed ankles were undergoing.
The evening meals were hosted. Friday night the Happy Trails Company prepared a buffet described as a “Dutch Oven Idaho Chick-A-Salmon Big Dog Stew.” While the ingredients were a secret recipe attributed to Tim Bernard, owner of Happy Trails, whispers circulated that Bernard had been seen stopping along the highways to the event from his home in Boise to inspect the freshness of road kills. The recipe remained a secret but the DOGS agreed the stew was “tops,” and requested a return for 2011.
Saturday was the well known 2-inch thick BIG DOG T-bone steak BBQ hosted by Great American Motorcycle Adventures, an annual part of the BIG DOG ADVENTURE RIDE, a meal described as “fit for very large hungry dogs.”
Each evening attendees were entertained by entrants with multi-media shows and adventure tales. The wild adventures of a group of Kawasaki KLR650 riders in Mexico and Central America brought laughs from the crowd as the presenting adventurist shared the group’s steep “Outside the USA” learning curve. Strange food, using coals to heat and bend a waffled front wheel straight, and crashing on ugly rocks prompted one BMW owner to shout, “Better crashing on the KLR’s, you couldn’t have afforded more than one crash on a BMW with your budget.” The presenter responded, “Sure as shootin’, that’s right!”
A second presentation by a team of three BIG DOGS, all aged over “50,” shared their Baja 500 race experience with the group. Proudly they displayed BIG DOG stickers on their privately entered and partially BIG DOG-sponsored motorcycle. The team rode a nearly impossible course and finished a respectable sixth place in the grueling race. Their team moniker printed on their riding T-shirts was El Grupo Grandes Perro Viejos.
An unnamed DOG unknowingly asks, “How did you know I was a BIG DOG?” Note the level of the zipper of his Aerostich Darien pants.
One BMW BIG DOG rider shared his experience of being spotted as a BIG DOG in a crowd at a Steamboat Springs parade day. He said he had been dressed as a cowboy, complete with cowboy hat. A lady approached him and asked, “Are you a Big Dog?” Surprised, he stuttered “Yeah, but how did you know I was?” Reportedly she answered, “Because your zipper is down.” Whether the tale was true or not, other BMW owners at the dinner were said to have pulled the BMW cowboy aside after the revelation and shared proper Bavarian dress and etiquette tips with him.
Riding BMW motorcycle copies in Vietnam was the subject of another multi-media show. The ex-Soviet Army 650cc Urals were abandoned when the Soviets pulled out of Vietnam. They had been refurbished by a local Vietnamese group for an expedition ride through the jungles slated for extreme BIG DOG adventure seekers. The expedition promised “no Tee shirts, no swag bags, and no foil chocolate on your pillow or bed turn down service at night, just pure, extreme adventure.”
Surrounding the oldest and newest BMW GS models the 2010 “BIG DOGS” celebrated 30 years of adventure riding by throwing a wild party high in the Rocky Mountains.
When the 30th BMW GS birthday party was over and entrants had left for their varied points around the USA, one BMW remained in the empty parking lot in Ridgway – a 1981 R80 G/S. It was a fitting end to a 30 year celebration, the motorcycle that had changed the terminology, if not the world, of motorcycle travel and how fulfilling travel and movement on two wheels could be. In another 30 years the avid motorcycle traveler will likely be piloting a far different breed of motorcycle, but can look back at the 1980 model, like the sole remnant in the parking lot after the BIG DOG 30th celebration, that many say started it all, the R80 G/S.