BMW 1200GS: Review


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
Fruity
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...

 

 

 


BMW R1200GS
Engine:
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)

 

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Comments (61) Join the discussion on the forum

  • croyde 05 Jun 2013

    Finally got to ride one today and came away pretty under-whelmed and was quite happy to get back on my Street Triple even though it makes my arse hurt after only 50 miles and gives me dead fingers.

    OK I'll give the new GS it's due. I loved the riding position, the heated grips, the screen that works and makes it easy to wear my flip-lid in open position up to NSL (I'm 5' 11") and keeps most of the blast off and made easy work of 1.2 Leptons in order to catch up and surprise the bloke on the K1300S biggrin

    The handling is great and confidence inspiring and the motor is quick to react, it's everything you need for blasting, back roads, the highways and M-roads but I then took it into town, OK SW London and suddenly my years as a dispatch rider and my ability to shoot through the jams was all but gone. The usual London gridlock just stops the Beemer from making progress. Well in my hands anyway.

    I suppose it's something you get used to and build up confidence with but I used to dispatch ride on a GPz900R so I'm no stranger to heavyweights in traffic. Yeah I know! the traffic was a lot lighter back in the 80s biggrin

    Oh and the engine, it sounds like a bag of nails. Maybe it's all the bodywork channeling up the mechanical noise straight to your head but I don't remember not liking the engine note of the 2009 GS I tested last year.

  • Silver993tt 25 May 2013

    MrOrange said:
    Hooli said:
    Why does everyone like digital speedos? they are horrible things.
    That. And the comment about polarised sunglasses. LCD displays are evil, I hate mine with a passion and yearn for a day when needles whizzed round dials, my old DT125 from 1983 was perfection in that respect. I am old, mind you.
    The quality of the Honda display is light years ahead of what was available a few years ago. Never had a problem with polarised sunglasses or any kind of glare. The only problem I have is when I change my bike I couldn't go back to an analogue display, same with the gearbox, my next bike must have DCT.

  • phatgixer 25 May 2013

    andrew_huxtable said:
    This *10000, my stey old bandits rev counter doesn't work but why do we need them? That's what your ears are for.

    Why the fk would you be looking at the indicator instead of the road ahead.
    So, how many times have you looked for 7th gear?

  • MrOrange 25 May 2013

    Hooli said:
    Why does everyone like digital speedos? they are horrible things.
    That. And the comment about polarised sunglasses. LCD displays are evil, I hate mine with a passion and yearn for a day when needles whizzed round dials, my old DT125 from 1983 was perfection in that respect. I am old, mind you.

  • andrew_huxtable 25 May 2013

    Hooli said:
    Honda buyers can count to six?

    I've never need the need for a gear position indicator & can't understand how they'd be useful.
    This *10000, my stey old bandits rev counter doesn't work but why do we need them? That's what your ears are for.

    Why the fk would you be looking at the indicator instead of the road ahead.



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