BMW R1150 GS – An Afternoon with the Angry Platypus

gs1I’m going to tell you a secret. I rode this bike earlier this year (2003) for the BMW test ride days, and I liked it –a lot. I know the cartoon character headlights with one eye wide and the other squinted, beak front fender, and gangly enduro styling give the bike an ungainly and odd appearance – fans call it unconventional. Adding to that the fact that the GS is really big (at 536 pounds) and really high (easily accommodating a 31 inch inseam), and the bike seems vaguely menacing.  But, this bike doesn’t intimidate.  Why?  Because it’s quirky and fun. This is what a fun German exotic looks like.

When the owner of CliXX Motosport offered me up the use of his R1150GS for a weekend I pretty much jumped at the chance.  The bike is tricked out a bit more than the standard GS with a Remus pipe and a few other mods to take advantage of it.  So this GS sounds, well, angry, really angry; it gets a lot of attention in traffic and probably develops a bit more than the standard 85hp.  With its duckbill and angry pipe we’d shortly dubbed it “the Angry Platypus”.

Despite the trail bike styling, this is a great road bike.  The comfortable upright seating position gives you a commanding view.  There is something amazingly empowering about lording over the traffic at SUV driver eye level.  The suspension doesn’t just travel, it tours up and down soaking up even the worst bits of road noise, potholes, frost heaves and other bike-upsetting curiosities.  For a large portion of the ride I reveled in taking on such obstacles to see if I could even vaguely unsettle this bike.  I was not successful.  The Angry Platypus simply eats it up, and does so comfortably.

So, blasting along the Upper Levels Highway sitting bolt upright you quickly realize that this bike is a mixed bag.  If you want to revel in top end speeds, move onto another choice.  I only got the bike up to 160kph in a series of quick clutch-less up-shifts through the smooth transmission, but suspect that 180 kph this bike is pretty much giving it all it’s got.  But if you want to comfortably cruise at 120-130 all day it’s great!  The R engine develops it’s power at around 3000 rpm and pulls to 6500 or so, and with a red line at 7000 you are relying on the engine’s torque to get you where you’re going.  You’re also relying on the torque for a smooth ride.

Anyone who’s ridden an R engine equipped bike knows they have a character to them.  The horizontally opposed twin becomes smooth in the 4000-5500 range, and outside of that it shakes.  At a standstill a crank of the throttle will pull the bike to one side, an effect of the inertia of those horizontal cylinders being inline with the bike.  It’s not that noticeable once in motion, but the twin vibe remains and is transmitted to the wide elk-horn bars.

A minor change of riding style and the vibe isn’t an issue.  The relaxed seating means you don’t have to rest your weight on the grips, saving you any wrist ache from the vibes.  The other key is to remember that the R1150GS’s engine has tractor-like torque, so to kill the vibe just up-shift a gear and you’re left with a gentle thrum of the engine. Until you crank on it and unleash the Angry Platypus!

The grip heaters, power port for electrics, hand guards and narrow windscreen do an great job of civilizing the beast’s anger and keeping you comfortable and warm – while adding to the eccentric look of the bike.  The windscreen is especially well thought out, for a narrow piece of plastic it does its job by creating a high but narrow flow of air that even kept quiet the World’s Loudest Helmet.  The protection is narrow, so hanging off puts you right in the air flow, luckily this is not a bike you have to move around on much anyway, so you stick to its protective bubble.  Enough about cruising because the brilliant fun on the R1150GS is in terrorizing the traffic in the twists.

This bike handles it ways nothing two stories high has a right to.  One of the reasons I had to try the bike was I watched several R1150GSs at a BMW track day and if taking a corner standing up nearly scraping a cylinder head while waving strikes you as fun then these things are a laugh riot.  In the twisties this bike performs freakishly well, and it’s almost all counter-steer.

Just push on the elk-horns and lean, lean, then lean some more, and just when you think you shouldn’t go further do.  Then do it all over in the other direction.  And it’s all about counter steer!  This makes it one of the most relaxing bikes to take through tight twisties that I have ever ridden – stay put in the comfy seat and push.  Heck, while you’re at it remember to wave as you take an inside line past a sport bike or two… not that you would, that would be rude, but you honestly could.

You will also find yourself doing really silly things in parking lots, mostly circles and figure eights in spaces that would make your MSF instructors weep in joy.  The bike plays well at slow speeds and even parking lots become a source of entertainment.

Well low speeds on the pavement anyway.  The R1150GS didn’t serve us so well in slick mud off-road.  But then we aren’t experienced off-roaders, so we’ll pass on judging its trail abilities.

The R1150GS may not be the best high-speed highway hauler, but it more than makes up for it in other departments.  On the periodically rough roads of BC or constantly twisty canyons of California this bike in real world conditions would outperform many others on the road.  That or one could just tour Africa… it’s almost a trailly.


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