Americans like big stuff. Big pickup trucks. Big houses. Big portions at the restaurant table. And, yes, big motorcycles too. Examples of the bigger-is-better trend in bikes are everywhere. Cruisers, sportbikes, dirt bikes… for good or ill, larger bikes sell and the trend has encroached on the popular Adventure market too. BMW has long defined the AT segment with its R1200GS, the popularity of which spurred several manufacturers to follow suit with their own 1200cc ADV platform. BMW’s R1200GS Adventure ups the ante further, bulking up 50 pounds with its off-road accessories and a massive fuel load. It’s as if someone said, “Sure, the GS is nice, but make it bigger.”
MotoUSA arrived in Sedona, Arizona, along with our colleagues from the US, Canada and Mexico, for the North American press introduction of BMW’s 2014 R1200GS Adventure. Our 200-mile day in the saddle split the mileage between pavement and dirt, for a real-world evaluation of the Bavarian’s latest Adventure offering.
At first glance, it’s easy to overlook the importance of the Adventure models to BMW’s lineup. The base model R1200GS is the most prolific bike ever produced by the German marque, and globally its best-selling model, by far. But number two is the GS Adventure. This latter fact surprised me, when I first heard it last year at the international press launch for the fully-redesigned 2013 R1200GS. The GSA is even more important here in the US, where annual Adventure sales are even, if not slightly ahead, of the standard GS. Bigger is better, right?
For 2014 BMW migrates all of its 2013 GS updates onto the GSA. The headlining change is the water Boxer, which adds a claimed 15 horsepower and three lb-ft of torque (the new water-Boxer also debuts on the R1200RT touring platform for 2014). The Adventure utilizes the GS’s updated chassis too – including new frame, left-side shaft drive, radial-mount Brembo brakes and semi-active electronic suspension. Where the Adventure diverges from its standard GS sibling is its extra off-road and touring accessories.
The most distinguishable visible alteration to the Adventure package is the large crash bars that encase the fairing and engine. More off-road friendly hardware for the GSA includes hand guards, adjustable/reinforced brake lever and wider enduro-style footpegs. The distinctive wire-spoke wheels also come standard, and can be shod in knobbies at no extra charge, like the Continental TKCs of our press bikes (though BMW reps confirm most riders opt for street-biased rubber from the factory). A larger windscreen and addition of wind deflectors enhance the touring comfort, and the GSA includes a standard luggage rack and, of course, aluminum panniers.
Critical engine and chassis changes to the GSA are not noticeable at first glance. In the engine department, the Boxer Twin sources a two-pound heavier crankshaft, with 20% more inertia and, correspondingly, an increased flywheel effect. The ride-by-wire engine also sources the GS’s new Ride Modes, including the off-road specific Enduro/Enduro Pro settings. The suspension gets an extra 0.8 inches of travel, and features semi-active electronic damping.
Engineers added of a vibration damper on the shaft drive, to compensate for the steeper swingarm angle from the added suspension travel. BMW also tweaked the steering geometry to accommodate the taller suspension, steepening the rake a full degree to 24.5° and tightening trail by 0.3 inches (3.6 inches total). The GSA also sources a non-adjustable hydraulic steering damper, which is added to the 2014 standard GS and R1200RT. Last but not least, I can’t omit mention of the most GSA-ish feature of them all, the 7.9-gallon fuel tank. It’s really, what’s the word… big.
So, in case my word mallet hasn’t bludgeoned the fact into your head yet… The R1200GS is a big bike. It makes the standard GS seem gazelle-like by comparison. BMW claims a 573 pound curb weight, and loaded up with panniers it should easily tip the 600 marker.
Launch the GSA, however, and it doesn’t feel so imposing. Despite its heft the Beemer feels balanced and glides along without stumbling. The heavier flywheel mass makes a noticeable difference, particularly off-road. I rode the standard GS while taking the RawHyde Adventures Intro class, and struggled with a lot of engine stalls while working the clutch at low speeds. The GSA, by comparison, is more forgiving with low speed/low rpm maneuvers. It might not tractor along quite like the previous Boxer, but the GSA creeps and crawls quite well and I had a no issues during our near 100 miles of dirt in Arizona.
As BMW aficionados are already well aware, the new Boxer Twin touts “precision-cooling” with liquid coolant cycling through cylinder heads. In the GSA the new Boxer makes good use of its extra 15 horsepower. It’s stronger from top to bottom, with engineers evening out the midrange and gaining a nice surge up top. As mentioned, the engine eats up low rpm off-road stuff without fuss. The mid-range is well-suited to touring use – get the GSA in six-gear overdrive, set the cruise control and riders are treated to a vibration-free ride. That improved top end gives the GSA a sporty option as well. It’s a flexible engine platform, well-suited to a do-it-all bike like the Adventure.
The ride-by-wire throttle delivers power dependent on the five Ride Mode settings. As with the standard GS, the GSA sources three street Ride Mode settings: Rain, Road and Dynamic. It also features the two off-road settings: Enduro and Enduro Pro. All five modes are keyed to settings with the throttle response, Anti-Stability Control (ASC) and ABS – as well as BMW’s Dynamic ESA semi-active suspension.
The street modes and ESA settings all function like the standard GS, and there’s not much more for me to add that I haven’t said already in previous GS reviews. Instead my focus for the GSA is on the Enduro modes. Enduro Pro is tuned specifically for use with knobby tires, like the TKCs on our press bikes. It deactivates the rear ABS, with the front still on (the ABS can be easily overridden on all the Ride Modes). This allows the rider full control of the rear, able to slide and spin as they see fit – with ASC giving the rider plenty of rope with which to hang themselves or exhibit their off-road studliness. As the name implies, Pro is for the serious off-roaders out there. I enjoyed the Enduro Pro setting, but dirt bike guys will love it. After a while I found the lively throttle a little too Pro for my liking, and I was more than happy to drop it down to the base Enduro setting.
Enduro mode is calibrated for non-knobby tires, and it works wonderfully on the GSA. I appreciated the smoother throttle response. Enduro also turns up the ASC settings and puts the ABS nanny back on the rear. Riders can still wiggle the back end, a bit, and spin up the rear. But throttling out of corners is more controlled, whereas on Pro I had a couple pucker moments gassing it up with the minimal ASC.
The old salts out there can furrow their brows all they want about ABS on a dirt bike. All I can say is they should try the new GS. Like a lot of ABS-shy riders, I’ve experienced the forgot-to-turn-off ABS moment when a fast-approaching corner is greeted with pulsing levers, mounting panic and little, if any, stopping power. But the Beemer’s ABS on the GS/GSA Enduro settings simply works. I turned them off, only to test what I was missing, and was quick to switch them back on and leave them there. Even in Enduro Pro, unless the rider is making a steep descent, I can’t foresee why anyone would want to ditch the ABS.
Another factor in the Ride Mode equation that I haven’t touched on is the Dynamic ESA settings. The three street Modes utilize three settings: Soft, Normal and Hard. The two Enduro settings toggle between two: Soft and Hard. Again, I’ll focus on the Enduro settings, as the street impressions are unchanged from my previous GS experience. Switching between Soft/Hard exhibits a noticeable change. As expected, Soft smooths out the ride, and it’s optimal for easy dirt roads and washboard chatter, drifting along drama free. The Hard settings are more serious, firmed up to handle choppier, more technical terrain. I found the Enduro/Hard my favorite setting for the more vigorous rocky stretches of our off-road ride, switching to Soft when the road opened up.
The BMW electronics package really does transform the bike depending on function. Droning down the freeway? Stick the GSA in Road/Soft and it’s an iron butt Barcalounger. Get to the easy dirt road, and then pop it on Enduro/Soft for steady, low-stress off-road cruising. Once the trail gets jeep road-worthy, click in Enduro Pro/Hard and mullet away. After the dirt rejoins twisty pavement and some cocky little squid rockets by desperate to erase his chicken strips… switch it to Dynamic/Hard and the GSA will giddy-up.
Handling-wise, as stated before, the GSA doesn’t feel as big as it looks once it gets rolling. It’s more deliberate to change direction, to be sure, and not as light on its toes as the standard GS. Still it gets along just fine and doesn’t feel twitchy despite its steeper rake. On the street it delivers a stable, surefooted feel, and if there was a big surprise about the GSA for me, it is its capabilities as a touring bike.
The standard GS makes for a solid touring platform too, but the GSA ups the comfort factor with its larger windscreen. My favorite addition, however, are the well-placed wind deflectors at the top of the fairing, which do a fantastic job of reducing buffeting. The upright street riding position is all-day comfortable, with a cush seat, standard issue hand guards and heated grips. There’s not much to whine about, though my legs were a skosh crowded by the broader fuel tank. And looking back, I should have accepted the offer by one of BMW’s techs to adjust the handlebar for the off-road stretches. The standard setting was comfortable enough, but a slight upward turn and the dirt ergos would have been ideal for my 6’1” frame. Also the GSA’s wide enduro pegs, compared to the skinny GS stockers, makes a world of difference for off-road comfort.
Another touring edge is the GSA’s 7.9 gallon fuel tank. Believe it or not, the Adventure actually shed 0.8 gallons of it fuel load in the 2014 redesign. But the new Boxer Twin is more fuel efficient (BMW claims its comparable to the F800 Twin), so the estimated range is still a staggering 430 miles. At the end of our 200-mile day, the fuel gauge had just barely dropped one bar below half full. But does an Adventure rider really need a 430-mile range? Probably not, and it’s as much a psychological aid to the rider as a practical one. Riders can make the entire 240-mile stretch of Alaska’s famed Dalton Highway no problemo, although, ironically, the first tip from one Dalton veteran is specifically for GSA riders to not top off their tanks to avoid being too top-heavy. That said, while 400-plus miles might be overkill, I’d rather have plenty fuel in the tank riding out in the middle of nowhere, and I reckon others will agree.
Range is one of the nifty bits of info displayed on the GSA’s instrument console, which is identical to the standard GS. The analog speedo and tach are easy enough to read, if on the small side, with the inset LCD displaying all the necessities of a modern mount: fuel gauge, gear position indicator, clock, trip meters and ambient temperature. Our press bikes were also kitted out with BMW Navigator GPS systems, which are controllable by the left switchgear’s multi-controller.
As far as looks go, I find the GSA’s lines quite appealing. The Adventure’s brawny stature, teamed with knobbies and various off-road farkle, make for a serious-looking mount. Hopefully, GSA owners will soon acquire some serious gashes on the panniers and scrapes on the engine guards, because this Adventure is wasted if it doesn’t get thrashed around answering the “Beyond Starbucks” tallyho.
More than once, when talking with BMW riders about the new GS this past year, they’ve said they were waiting for the new Adventure to make a purchase decision – and hopefully they’ve spent that year saving. The base model GS Adventure retails for $18,200, which BMW is quick to point out actually drops MSRP by $150. And while a base model can theoretically be ordered in the US, the overwhelming majority of Adventures sold here in the States are the as-tested $21,550 Premium package. And by overwhelming majority, I mean 98%! Hmm… a jaded cynical sot might speculate that the base model is there primarily to quell the sticker shock of the GSA compared with the more affordable ADV entries in the market – like the $16,799 KTM 1190 Adventure R. But that’s one of the luxuries of being a luxury brand, where pedestrian phrases like “sticker shock” are greeted with polite guffaws while scribbling out a check.
The water-Boxer GS update may have skewed BMW’s Adventure-Touring icon closer to the street segment, but the 2014 GS Adventure proves the Beemer can still pull its weight when the pavement ends. The GSA offers a more dirt-friendly package that lives up to expectations, and a touring package that exceeds them. Hardcore ADV riders who waited for the updated GSA will be happy they did so.