PH Meets: BMW GS boss Antonius Ruhe

When we introduced the new BMW GS in our recent test we said it was “more than a motorcycle, it is an institution.”

We're guessing Herr Ruhe is happy with the GS
We're guessing Herr Ruhe is happy with the GS
Accounting for a quarter of all BMW bike sales on its own and selling 180,000 in the last nine years alone the new GS radically overhauls the basic template and introduces new levels of technology, including water-cooling, to a bike famed for its toughness and reliability.

Here we meet the man in charge of making it happen and seeing the GS through to – hopefully for BMW – continued dominance – Antonius Ruhe, project manager for the R1200GS.

Yes, they actually style engines these days
Yes, they actually style engines these days
When did you first consider water-cooling the GS?
“We already had the idea when we started the project in 2007 but it was not decided, it was just one of the discussions. The vertical flow intakes were actually decided before water-cooling and this was a bigger step for us than water-cooling. By using vertical flow you change the aesthetics of the engine as the exhaust exits underneath the motor rather than at the front. We were really unsure if it would still be a Boxer engine as our customers know it with this new look, we feared they might reject the motor. We designed a 1:1 clay model with vertical flow intakes and then developed it to see how it could work from the aesthetic side of things, which was as important to us as the motor’s performance. If the customers say ‘I don’t like the look of that engine anymore’ we are building the bike for nobody!”

'Precision cooling' is BMW's buzzword
'Precision cooling' is BMW's buzzword
When did water-cooling become a consideration?
“Once we had built this 1:1 model of the engine in clay and solved the problem of making the vertical flow look good we decided that adding water-cooling would not be a problem.”

Did you consider making it 100 per cent water-cooled?
“By making it fully water-cooled the engine would have become very big in its dimensions, which would have scared customers. It was from this thought that the idea of precision cooling came up, keeping the engine small by targeting the cooling in the areas that need it.”

Did emissions laws force you to use water-cooling?
“They were a very important factor. We discussed EU4 when developing the bike and also considered what EU5 may require. We wanted the new engine to be future proof, I think we could have lived for one more generation with an air/oil-cooled engine, but you don’t know what will happen with emissions laws.”

Off-road durability was thoroughly tested
Off-road durability was thoroughly tested
Off-road riders may be worried about damaging the radiators, can you ride the bike if the radiators have no water in them?
“No, you must stop. We have done a lot of off-road testing and if the bike falls on its side it lies on the cylinder head or handlebar, not the radiator, it is very difficult to damage the radiator. We also tested to see if rocks would kick up from the front wheel and damage the radiator but after extensive enduro testing we discovered the low fender stops this happening.”

The current R1200GS has had some reliability issues, will this model be better?
“We are very aware that there were some issues with the older model and high reliability is one of our goals. We did a lot of testing on the new bike, over 1,000,000km, probably more now, and we have a lot of information. Quality and reliability is always the highest priority for BMW.”

The GS needs to be bulletproof in all conditions
The GS needs to be bulletproof in all conditions
Why did you changed to a wet clutch from the dry on the previous model?“For three reasons. Firstly it is a smaller unit, secondly we have been able to add in the anti-hopper feature and thirdly because we have been able to reinforce the clutch to reduce the force required on the clutch lever. From riding the old bike I know that the clutch can be heavy if you do a lot of off-road riding, the new bike’s clutch is far lighter.”

Although the motor is smoother and revs faster, it still feels like a Boxer, did you try to keep the vibration in on purpose?
“Actually no, we tried to get as many vibrations out as possible. It may be a character of the bike but not everyone likes the vibrations. The exhaust sound is the same, we have had some customers say ‘finally, BMW has an exhaust that has an emotional sound’ while other have said ‘it is too loud’ We tried to please both people as when you accelerate it sounds loud but when you are on a constant throttle it is quieter than before.”

Greater torque for more flexible power delivery
Greater torque for more flexible power delivery
This engine is more powerful than before, was there a worry it could become too powerful?
“We approached this problem from the other way. We know that our customers want torque in the total range of the motorcycle so we took the old bike’s torque curve and raised it over the whole range. The peak power was not so important, it was the torque that we concentrated on improving. If you look at the power and torque curves they are similar, it is just the new engine’s curves are higher everywhere.”

What is the secret of the GS?
“It is very easy. We sell our customers one bike but they get actually get three. They get a wonderful touring bike but also one that is sporty and also an enduro bike. Some things that are good for touring are not good for sporty or enduro riding and I think this is the secret to the GS, we have managed to make the bike good in all three of these areas which is very hard to achieve. It also looks like an enduro bike, which is important.”

Letting owners do this is at the heart of the GS
Letting owners do this is at the heart of the GS
Did you ever consider using 17-inch wheels rather than the 19-inch front and 17-inch rear?
“No, no, no. not at all. A lot of people travel around on the GS and make movies about it and the bike lives from this. Most of the guys who buy the bike don’t have time to do things like this because they have family or a job, but they have this dream and the GS stands for the dream. It is important for us that we have guys like Charley Boorman using the GS for adventures as it proves the bike is capable – the owners would like to do the same, they just don’t have the time.”

Where is the Adventure model?
“Ha, I’m not allowed to talk about this…well, not until the time is right.”

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Comments (19) Join the discussion on the forum

  • ellisd82 14 Feb 2013

    I am a sports bike rider, but I still have a soft spot for these. I have seen them on the motorway, cruising 2 up at near 100, no problem. Really toque engines!

  • croyde 15 Feb 2013

    Been ummimg and arring about getting a GS for a couple of years and have thought of getting this new one and damn the expense but at £14k with the 'essential' options I can't find an insurance company that will cover me.

    Best I can get is cover if the value of the bike is £9k tops which means a 3 or 4 year old air cooled one. Still not a bad bike and the only one that I have ridden so far.

    I'm 50 by the way so surely others of my age have been finding this insurance problem as nearly all litre plus bikes cost over £10k.

  • Andy XRV 15 Feb 2013

    BMW do their own insurance. I had to use them to cover my 1300s for the same reason. Good policy though and I think compared to my other policys it's sensibly priced too

  • GuyMarks 15 Feb 2013

    croyde - try BMW's own insurance, they have some pretty competitive offers on new bikes. I have had a couple of policies with them. I also got the gap insurance from BMW which came in useful when I wrote off my GS.

  • 3DP 15 Feb 2013

    Interesting article. The new bike looks more modern, but more generic.

    I'm not too keen on the new cylinder configuration either. TB at the back of the cylinder and pipe exiting at the front looks a lot better than the new top mounted TB and exhaust exiting at the bottom.

    I think each GS looked better than the previous version until this point.

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