Tuesday 21st May 2013


PH2 was impressed with the GS in the wilds of South Africa - can it cope with East Anglia?

BMW's GS splits opinion but there is no denying its success. While doing this job I've been lucky enough to visit some far flung corners of the world and, without fail, you can guarantee that at some point on your travels you will hear the flat drone of a Boxer engine and a GS will appear around the corner. Well, there have been 180,000 made since it launch in 1980 so they are going to crop up every now and then...

With the initial launch excitement starting to calm down and the sun now emerging in the UK, I thought it would be a good chance to grab the keys to a water-cooled (ok, I know, partially water-cooled) GS to see how it feels on familiar roads. A new model launch is all very well and good, but nothing can beat hacking around the corners you know or trying to balance a new strimmer on the petrol tank after a poorly planned trip to Homebase...

Iconic reputation with a lot to live up to
Iconic reputation with a lot to live up to
Back in South Africa I remember being amazed at the GS's exhaust note. Far fruiter and louder than I expected, the new GS barks rather than drones and back home it is still a surprising sound to hear coming from such a machine. But it is the engine's performance that remains the biggest shock.

Get the water-cooled engine going and it is remarkably fast. Turn off the traction control and it will lift the front wheel in first gear. I left the electronics on most of the time, something that provided quite a lot of entertainment when I hit a humpback bridge at high a rate of knots and made lots of lights start to flash...

For cruising around or even going silly on the back roads the GS is a fast bike. Not as in sports bike fast as, but through towns or on straight roads you need to keep an eye on the speedo as it's a deceptively quick machine. A shame then the speedo is cluttered and quite tricky to read, so much so I ended up resorting to checking the GPS for my speed rather than the GS's clocks. I know analogue clocks are in keeping with the GS's look, but I reckon a clear and large digital item may be a good idea in the future. Or possibly I should invest in a set of reading glasses.

How fast? Dunno, couldn't read the speedo
How fast? Dunno, couldn't read the speedo
Tech delights
The big new technological advancement (apart from the motor) on the GS is BMW's new Dynamic ESA, or semi-active suspension. And it's an impressive system. Semi-active suspension is hard to notice working but where a 'normal' suspension system squats after being compressed by a bump then releases, the semi-active system seemed to compress and then sit there, taking the rocking motion out of the movement.

The other electronic assists such as ABS and the traction control worked perfectly and while trying to wheelie with the TC on results in a horrible stutter and the bike kangarooing down the road, hit a crest and the TC gently brings the front to earth in a far more controlled fashion. Personally I didn't bother altering the fuel modes and simply left it in Road as I felt Dynamic was a bit abrupt on the throttle response.

A grower
The thing with GSs is that the longer you spend with one the more they grow on you. After a week kicking about on the BMW I genuinely wanted to buy one. There are about 13,815 reasons why I can't (or 11,395 for a standard model) but I can honestly say apart from the irritating speedo I couldn't fault it. Down a bumpy back road I reckon the GS would be faster than just about any other bike as not only is the handling excellent, its rock solid stable, the suspension is brilliant and the whole machine gives you loads of confidence. It's a fabulous machine and incredibly easy to live with, which is what you would expect from a R1200GS.

Semi-active suspension works a treat
Semi-active suspension works a treat
What replaced it in my garage? Ducati's new Panigale 1199R. Talk about chalk and cheese, I'm a bit nervous about taking the Duke down the same roads as the GS and I can guarantee it won't be half as fast ... or composed ... or able to carry a strimmer back from the garden shop...




1,170cc, flat-twin
Power: 125hp@7,700rpm
Torque: 92lb ft@6,500rpm
Top speed: 130mph (on the GPS...)
Weight: 238kg (wet)
MPG: 51.3 (claimed)
Price: £11,395 (standard), £12,435 (Enduro spec), £13,815 (Touring spec)


Author: Jon Urry
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