We’ve tested the BMW R1200GS
extensively throughout the years, learning to appreciate its workhorse nature that plods mile after mile in comfort. The GS’ strongest attribute is it’s the “complete package.” There’s nothing glamorous in that description and it’s not a bike that gets splattered with drool from gawking passersby. It goes about the business of seeking adventure with a very Germanic attitude – calculated, steadfast and reliable. It’s a proven machine, but it’s also getting dated. The 2012 model might be the last before a major redesign of the air-cooled Boxer Twin.
So, with hopes of bigger performance numbers from the engine on the horizon, it’s still notable that the GS is no slouch. Against the competition from recent years, the Beemer has been at or near the top of the dyno charts. We coaxed 98.3 horsepower and 76 lb-ft of torque from the opposed cylinders – a slightly better day on the dyno than our 2011 bike. Smack those throttle bodies in the ass and the BMW responds.
“The Beemer gets the nod for outright power output. In an eighth-mile drag race, it would be the one spraying champagne on the trophy girl,” comments Steeves.
The old warhorse still has some fight left in it. BMW's R1200GS comes in a Rallye Special Edition that has some nice upgraded features like ESA and an onboard computer.
Bore and stroke is an oversquare 101 x 73mm with 1170cc displacement. Adding liquid-cooling in the future might generate additional power, but the current air- and oil-cooled beast gets some weight savings as a tradeoff. Both machines carry 5.3 gallons of fuel, but the Beemer is 46 pounds lighter for a total curb weight of 538 pounds. That advantage plays out in all kinds of performance data including braking, handling, acceleration, fuel economy, etc. Our bike was not equipped with BMW’s traction control system – ASC (Automatic Stability Control). The BMW’s robust delivery in the bottom-end and midrange makes it more difficult to modulate slides on the dirt. Conversely, large amounts of back-torque have it stepping out on downshifts – something that is much more controllable on the Tiger.
Shifting the GS isn’t one of our favorite things to do. The six-speed transmission and hydraulic clutch work fine, just not exceptionally well. It takes a deliberate action to change gears and there’s not a bumper at either end of the tranny which allows the rider to keep searching up or down for additional gears. Steeves is particularly annoyed by the straight profile on the shift lever while our Off-Road Editor grumbles about the clutch engagement. It’s not perfect, but at the same time it’s easy to get accustomed to the quirks. Switching back and forth between bikes is what really makes the shortcomings stand out.
“Unless you are a pigeon toed test rider, the shift lever on the GS needs a torch and a pry-bar, stat. Its straight bend led to miss-shifts all up and down the Utah countryside. The gear ratios were winners first through sixth, though selecting them was a thoughtful and premeditated process - shifting shouldn’t be, in my opinion.”
We mentioned the Telelever and Paralever suspension earlier, pointing out that it’s different. But it’s still darn good. Both of our testers ranked the suspension and handling of the GS above the Tiger. On the pavement the bike settles as a single unit rather than the front and rear end acting separately. Also, while the Tiger blew through its stroke during off-road riding, the GS handles dirt bumps more easily. It’s not to say this is an Erzberg Rodeo winner, but it is better at dropping into washes, plowing water breaks and absorbing rocky terrain. A beefy skidplate handles the excess.
Changing conditions on dirt or paved roads can be adapted to with the versatile suspension settings.
Part of the 1200’s success stems from its upgraded Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) which comes with the Special Edition version. Rear shock preload is set by a standard hand-operated knob and the front shock changes preload settings with a tool, but the ESA allows the pilot to change damping characteristics while on the fly by simply touching a button. Tapping the ESA button scrolls through the self-explanatory Comfort, Normal and Sport settings. The front shock changes rebound damping and the rear shock alters compression and rebound. It’s not just a gimmick either as both test riders are able to feel a difference and noted the adjustability as one of the R1200’s strongest attributes.
“The overall stiffness and bottoming resistance on the GS was superior to the Tiger,” says the hard-on-equipment Steeves. “This allowed for a more aggressive approach at washed-out road crossings and while hammering in ‘the rough stuff.’ Each ESA mode delivers a distinct feel so there’s nothing lost in translation here.”
BMW started offering ABS as standard fare on all of its motorcycles this year so the R1200GS is graced with the technology. Some riders like it, others don’t, but there isn’t another ADV bike out there that makes it easier to switch on or off. Holding down the ABS button while the bike is at a standstill gets it switched in either direction. The German adventure bikes are known for the obvious ABS assistance. Heavy pulsing at the rear pedal is the most noticeable, and riding with it disengaged is preferable in every off-road situation we encountered. It’s not a question of having to spend the money for an upgrade anymore, so riders are going to deal with it however they see fit. One of our testers toggled on and off and the other just ditched it.
“This isn’t a cutting edge Superbike ABS system,” says Steeves. “This system feels archaic and very limited. I rode the entire trip with ABS disabled.”
While the ABS is easy enough to work around, BMW offers options in other rider controls as well. The seat height and wind screen are adjustable, as are the Tiger’s, and our testers’ varying height made that a valuable asset. Both bikes have comfortable saddles, but the BMW’s seat has no ridges, ultimately making it just a bit softer on the arse. Both testers preferred the tall seating position and were still able to find suitable protection from the wind. Despite having engine cylinders hanging out each side, the BMW flows more air around the rider’s legs. The tank and shroud on the Tiger keep the rider’s thighs much more protected – a benefit in cold and wet, but the Beemer has the advantage in hot weather.
“A comfortable seating position, and good engine heat dispersal around the rider made the GS a pleasure to put on the big miles,” says Steeves.
Since there wasn’t anything new to expect this year, getting the Special Edition Rallye version was a nice surprise. The Alpine White body and Magma Red frame really perk up the aesthetics. Our riders have a solid appreciation for the classic AT form and this bike is what defined that image. It’s not as flashy as the Tiger, but grey coatings on the cylinder heads and swingarm complete a generally good-looking package.
The Rallye Special Edition comes with hand guards which make for improved riding comfort once it gets cold or wet. All around the BMW R1200GS is still the lovable AT platform we've come to expect.
“The otherwise conservative BMW is now a traffic light head-turner,” Steeves says of the Rallye version. “We loved this new color option and it looked just as good muddy and dirty as it did the day we picked her up.”
On a scorecard where first and second place are separated by two points, the margin of defeat for the BMW is extremely small. It might be dated, but it still edges out the latest and greatest challenger by a smidge in the range category (205 miles) and fuel economy (38.7 mpg). It’s also lighter and that helps it stop a couple feet shorter in the 60-0 mph braking test. One of our testers said the bikes are so evenly matched that he’d choose based on dealer support. BMW shops are commonplace, and if there is a new model released next year, there will be some smoking deals on the 2012 R1200GS. That’s an all-around package that might be hard to pass up.