PH2 Ridden: BMW R1200GS Adventure

BMW's mighty GS is more than a phenomenon - it's an institution. Despite first appearing way back in 1980, the GS (which stands for Gelaende/Strasse, the German words for off-road/on-road) continues to top the sales charts. Last year the GS sold 1,070 units over here while 867 Adventures were also snapped up. In the UK, which is traditionally a sports bike haven, we only bought 1,121 Fireblades and that was enough to make it the best selling bike in its class. But why is this? What sets the GS aside and drives its popularity? PH2 spent a few weeks with an R1200GS Adventure Triple Black to try and discover what it is that is so special about this iconic machine and see what makes it the benchmark by which all adventure bikes are still gauged.

German touring rider's bike of choice
German touring rider's bike of choice
Traffic buster
There is no disguising the fact the GS is a big old machine. Fully fuelled with 33 litres of unleaded sloshing around in its tank the Adventure tips the scales at 256kg. Compared with the standard the GS, which has a 13-litre smaller tank and weighs 27kg less, the Adventure model feels more imposing. Paddling it around a car park can be a bit concerning - when one of these starts to go over you had better just jump clear rather than try and prop it up. And if you are shorter in the leg it can be a tricky bike to manhandle at low speed (BMW does a special 790mm low seat height option which helps) but once you get going the weight is far less of an issue.

Battling rush hour M25 you might assume the GS's wide bars - admittedly making for a wonderfully comfy riding position - might make filtering tricky. Not a bit of it. They may feel wide, but when you have brush guards protecting your levers from catching errant wing mirrors and giving you extra confidence it is amazing how narrow a gap the GS can slip through. Even more surprising is the reaction from car drivers.

Optional foglights good for filtering traffic
Optional foglights good for filtering traffic
There must be something very eye catching about the GS because drivers seem to go out of their way to, well, get out of the way. The additional fog lights (£290) help, but the BMW seems to forge a path through traffic far better than a sports bike. Although this could be helped by the riding position. As well as being remarkably comfortable, the GS's riding position is very upright and high, giving you a great view of the road ahead and allowing you to plan your path through the traffic several cars in advance.

Mile muncher
A steady 60 miles or so at motorway speeds was a thoroughly pleasant experience too. The drone of the boxer twin has been replaced by a more pleasing raw edge since BMW made it a twin-cam head a few years ago and comfort is never an issue, as past experience of three days riding a GS around Moscow proves. And should your hands start to get a bit cold you can just flick on the heated grips to take the edge off. Certainly a big contrast from the sports bikes I've been riding of late though the fuel economy isn't perhaps quite as good as one would hope, the optional onboard computer (£155) showing 45mpg. Gentle riding can get this figure to nearer 55mpg - unfortunately I'm not very good at gentle.

Built-in racks make load carrying a cinch
Built-in racks make load carrying a cinch
A trip to Gatwick for a bike test on foreign shores meant testing the GS's load carrying. A 20kg kit bag full of leathers would usually mean dusting off the mighty 2CV but the GS shrugs off such a load. The trellis style subframe and built-in pannier mounts are perfect for ratchet strapping huge amounts of kit to it's a five-minute job to get the GS loaded up and ready to go. You can begin to see why people love them so much.

Fuelling a bike is a pain, breaking the journey and inevitably meaning you end up fiddling with your gear and ending up with a draught for the rest of the journey. But the GS swallows up big distances like the run from Guildford to Peterborough and back to Gatwick - 250 miles in total and bloody brilliant, the £42 bill to refill the tank slightly less so.

Back road blasts
Semi off-road tyres and long travel suspension aren't a great combination when it comes to having a spirited ride on the road, but that doesn't stop the GS. I've tried and you can get your knee down on a GS. It's a pretty stupid thing to do but it can be achieved and highlights just how competent the GS is when it comes to handling. Despite feeling a bit heavy through fast direction changes, get on a smooth road and the GS can be hustled along at a good pace. The extra weight pins it to the road and in updating the GS from the old 1150 to the new 1200 BMW has chopped 25kg off its weight, vastly improving its sporting side. Obviously a sports bike will leave it in the bends, but the GS won't be that far behind.

You can if you like, as many world travellers have demonstrated. I don't feel much urge to go off-road and so, like many GS owners, I limit my off-road to a gravel drive and the occasional dirt track. If you want to try something more extreme try the BMW off-road skills course, you will be amazed at what they can make a GS do!

Signature boxer engine is better than ever
Signature boxer engine is better than ever
What's the secret?
After spending two weeks with the GS am I any closer to discovering the big BMW's magic formula for success? It's quite simple really - there isn't actually anything this bike can't do. It can go on or off road, be loaded up with luggage, battle traffic, ease a commute and even avoid continual fuel stops. Where some bikes specialise at one thing at the compromise of others the GS is good at everything. It may not be better at touring than a dedicated tourer, but for 90 per cent of the time it will be as good. A sports bike will be faster on a twisty road, but the GS won't be far behind. And a naked bike may be easier to commute on, but the GS can still get through a congested city with ease. Why does the GS continue to sell in huge number? Because it is bloody good - a jack of all trades with a cracking reputation behind it.

However there could be a dark cloud on the BMW's horizon and it comes in the shape of the Triumph Explorer. PH2 will be testing one very soon, could it finally topple the mighty GS's supremacy?

BMW R1200GS Adventure Triple Black
1,170cc, air-cooled, flat-twin
Power: 110hp@7,750rpm
Torque: 90ft lb@6,000rpm
Top speed: 135mph (est)
Weight: 203kg (dry)
MPG: 45
Price: £11,775


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Comments (96) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Motorrad 17 Apr 2012

    I like them but it does make me laugh that some folk who remain strictly on road plump for an adventure over the standard GS.

    When my mate did his DAS he went straight out bought an 1150 Adventure (which is fecking heavy) and proceeded to drop it almost every outing. Still it proves the aluminium panniers can take a hell of a beating and leave the bike mostly intact. biggrin

  • Kawasicki 17 Apr 2012

    I'm also can a 256kg bike be good at off roading? My 113kg KTM EXC has me struggling (and failing) to hold it up.

  • RizzoTheRat 17 Apr 2012

    Well they're better than most other 256kg bikes off road. Have you seen Long Way Round? The cameraman riding rings around them on a smaller Russian bike they bought after his GS broke down was quite funny biggrin

    As for why people buy the Adventure, I considered one mainly for the 300+ mile fuel range as I was doing 150 miles a day at the time. Decided it was more sensible to buy a far cheaper bike in the end though.

  • Motorrad 17 Apr 2012

    Kawasicki said:
    I'm also can a 256kg bike be good at off roading? My 113kg KTM EXC has me struggling (and failing) to hold it up.
    My mates in Texas all had GS's- even on a relatively heavy KLR650 I'd leave them for dead as they wallowed around on them off road. The only time I've ever seen one ridden properly has been on the telly. smile

    That said I'd rather have been on a BMW when it came to actually getting there.

  • Vintageseekers 17 Apr 2012

    On the road, or part tarmac/gravel/crumbling mountain roads not (off road) they are so capable, and surprisingly fast, massive grunt made it hard for my friends on super bikes to get away on normal roads. The only bike i've owned that was better is the Triumph Speed Triple. I was always surprised that the boys Ewan and Charley choose them for the long way round et al. equally, the amount of gear they took with them, considering they had support vehicles - Respect due for such an epic effort and adventure.

    I would buy a GS, but the new Triumph could capture my heart quite easily, and by jove it's British.

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