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
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)


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Comments (61) Join the discussion on the forum

  • 405dogvan 21 May 2013

    I worked with someone who's daily transport consisted of a range of BMW GS series bikes on which he rode around the country - clocking 15-20K miles a year - he upgraded about every 18 months and had done since sometime in the 90s.

    Around 2004 he got what I think was an early R1200 which transpired to be a disaster in quality and engineering terms, it would fail to start, cut-out when riding and even when it was working the electrics were temperamental.

    After 5 trips back to the dealer they admitted it was a dud and provided him a completely new bike - but the replacement wasn't a lot better and broke-down on several occasions so he sold it and moved to something Japanese - and never went back that I know of, tho I lost touch with him a few years ago.

    I know that's one isolated anecdotal point but it sticks in my mind every time I see those pricetags - is the long-term quality there because these aren't Sunny Sunday bikes...

  • CliveM 21 May 2013

    125 bhp - not far off 15 year old litre bikes.
    Can't help but feel they miss the point though - genuine round the world bikers probably have a 600 that's cheaper and simpler to fix in Mongolia, it looks good around town but so do lots of bikes for 13k.... maybe I'm just vain and don't want such a popular "lifestyle" choice of bike as it's a bit "me too". Might have to own one someday though smile

  • Krikkit 22 May 2013

    Saw one of these in Wales a few weeks ago. White with red frame, looked absolutely smashing. The owner looked rather pleased with it too, although he was bewildered when I asked him how the active suspension felt.

  • 427James 22 May 2013

    They are surprisingly fast. A friend of mine regularly tracks his at the Dubai Autodrome, and its astonishing how quickly he can hustle the thing along, with the centre stand scraping the floor half of the time.

  • xspencex 22 May 2013

    This new R1200GS seems to be attracting mixed reviews, issues with the looks, engine character or strange ride etc. . . Hope to get out on one soon to form my own opinion.

    Having ridden a GS Adventurer last summer I have to admit being slightly smitten and wouldn't mind having one on the drive. Next to something lighter sportier and prettier of course. . .

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