BMW R1200GS Adventure: A is for Adventure, That’s Good Enough for Me.

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BMW R1200GS Adventure: A is for AdventureGingering BMW’s new R1200GS Adventure onto the gravel I realize the weight that sitting atop of 33 litres of petrochemicals carries with it, such concerns are suddenly blown apart by the explosion of touring and adventure possibilities all those litres contain.  BMW claims that at 90km/h that the new R1200GS Adventure’s massive tank will carry you a theoretical 750 kilometers.  Being no off-road guru or hardened Dakar Rally soul, my first and foremost thought is keeping BMW’s grand Adventure upright and I’m not moving anywhere near that quick standing on the pegs and drawing on my limited off-road knowledge.  I can’t help but smile though, because regardless of mileage what the R1200GS Adventure offers is wanderlust in magical quantities and the confidence to attempt it.

Taking a bike ticked out with options putting it upwards of $22,865 CDN and weighing a monolithic 256kg when fully fuelled into potentially paint marring, or worse situations, definitely requires a willingness to lurch into an unproven skill set, or a good shot of RedBull.  I felt far more confident and encouraged to romance the stone road on its slighter sibling the stock R1200GS, there was just so much less of it.

Once out on the dirt on the Adventure it’s a different matter; I find myself reluctant to U-turn for another pass at the appointed photography corner not out of a lack of maneuverability – this bike feels well balanced and has a steering lock that gives it a good view of it’s own tail light.  Instead I’m wondering how much further this road goes… and how long before my escape would be noticed.  I push on a little further just out of curiosity, then I’m struck as how well the Adventure comes around even in softer footing.

My confidence growing, I pick up pace on the way back to photo corner.  The rear tire sideslips a bit in some gravel and an Obi-Wan voice in my head, our off road experienced contributor Evan Leung, reminds me to loosen my elbows and give the grand new Adventure a bit of gas.  The bike rights itself and it strikes me is how easy the R1200GS Adventure makes playing on dirt and fire roads feel; I’ll not be eating cubes of yak gristle any time soon but the Adventure would definitely carry me 90% of the places on the planet I’d want to see.  The other 10%?  Well, I’ve hiking boots for those.

The experience is transformative and for the rest of the tour I’m seeing highway side construction as a playground, and the etch-work of dirt roads illustrating British Columbia’s interior as fresh new territory ready for exploration.  Rest breaks see me playing in convenient graveled lots and the occasional trail.  That is what I love about adventure bikes across the genre; the freedom to let the tour take you where it will be limited not by terrain but skill.  Still, the serious off-roading is better left to more experienced riders on lighter smaller bikes, the GSA is a whopping 955mm wide at the mirrors, and I’ll not be contemplating single-track anytime soon.  Sure it might be doable, but are you really willing to replace the hand-guards that often?

Looking at the GSA there is no doubt it is a child of function over form.  There is no pelagic sportbike sleekness or swooping lines to the R1200GS Adventure, only a certain bulbous handsomeness and stature, except for the new stainless steel luggage rack which looks like an afterthought.  If you thought that it’s sibling, the plain Jane R1200GS wasn’t the looker in the BMW family then think again, the Adventure appears ready for combat as much as for touring.  The bushbars for the “conspicuous” (BMW’s word not mine) tank and aluminum valve cover protectors for the horizontally opposed cylinder heads make this baby look ready to be dropped.  The thought of testing all this extra guard-work fills me with apprehension as I miscalculate the depth of some gravel and dab a foot, reaffirming that the GSA’s height and mass make it no light enduro.

There are other differences between the GS and GSA beyond a super sized tank.  The suspension has been upsized too, with 20mm of additional travel fore and aft to soak up whatever bumps, heaves and ruts its cross-spoked wheels come across.  Since you’ll likely be doing a lot of standing off-road, the foot pegs are extra-wide and aggressively serrated so whatever the footwear, touring or enduro, your tread will be secure.  Likely though you’ll spend more time in the ample seat, adjustable from 910 to 890mm, it’s a comfortable option regardless of your height.  Getting aboard and keeping it upright may be another matter. Shorter folks will be able to clamor aboard the R1200GS Adventure, though rumor has it that next year BMW will offer a pole-vault stick amongst the extensive list of options.  In actuality with the seat in the lower position photographer Kevin at 5’10” could still touch down, though on any uneven terrain he was left scrambling to reposition the bike.

If the terrain gets rough and you find yourself actually having to dismount, you may run into a couple of the GSA’s bigger off road issues core to its BMW heritage.  First gear is tall for off road and the control doesn’t feel precise enough, our demo bike showing a fair amount of driveline lash.  I could see doing entire rides without hitting second.  The servo-activated brakes are strong when the key is switched to on, but non-existent otherwise.  There will be no walking the GSA downhill or out of trouble expecting to brake it to a halt with the key off.  Worse yet is the lockout which prevents the bike from being started out of neutral.  If the Adventure is pointing downhill it would behoove you to make sure the servo-braking has “set”, lest the bike start off downhill without you.

On the plus side we didn’t find the ABS intrusive on the dirt and the ability to switch the system off is nice, meaning that should you get confident, locking up or dragging the rear tire is an option.  The partially integral braking lets you modulate the rear wheel, while the front brake lever activates both the fore and aft binders with the dreaded servo whines.  The power assisted braking may be great on the road but lacks the control and feel of a conventional braking system in the gravel.  These brakes come on with the finesse of a falling tree, begging the question of “if a GS falls in the forest does anybody hear?”

Our GS wasn’t rigged with the optional Continental TKC 80 treads, but the stock Bridgestone Trailwing 101s, which give away the GS Adventure’s on-road leanings.  “Leanings” being the operative term here.  The R1200GS Adventure doesn’t steer like it’s on rails, but like it’s on guardrails; every time you take a corner it feels like you should be calling out “Timber!”  That’s just the height of the bike giving you the feel of a massive fall-in as the Adventure gallops through the twists.  The steering is quick, light and flingable with the great elk-horn bars providing tons of leverage to chuck the Adventure from side to side. The GSA is a bit more top heavy than the plain GS, all that range has a trade off, but the tank extends lower than the previous R1150GSA.  This offers a lower center of gravity, a term seldom used for two story buildings, and reduces that “toppling feeling” over the outgoing model.  The long-traveling suspension makes this an exceptional touring bike on BC’s crappy roads. Bring on the bumps, the ruts, the wallows, and the tar snakes; the GSA will consume them all, then ask for gravel for dessert.  You know the road is somewhere way down there as you slalom over it, but for the most part it’s not a going concern, you just get on with the business of harrying the sportbikes.  It’s not just the handling that takes the Adventure and puts it firmly in at the fabulous end of the touring spectrum.

While the Adventure is as tall as houses, it’s just as comfortable.  Amenities like heated grips and a power outlet for a BMW plugged electric vest are stock.  The wind protection from the enlarged windscreen is very effective and even at 6”2’ I’m in a relatively calm clean air flow with just a bit of helmet nod.  Though after an 8 hour day touring I found the wind noise a bit tiring.  Shorter riders, like 5’8” tester Evan Leung actually found the air pocket created by the screen in its highest setting too still in the heat, and wanted some extra flow to cool down, though the screen and its associated louvers don’t shield the rider’s forearms.  Lest you think it’s all about the upper body, the R1200GS Adventure keeps your lower body well protected too; the swollen tank combined with the cylinder heads keeps legs shielded and dry.  That means in the wet you’ll most likely find your shoulders, forearms and feet to be taking the hit.  The GSA may not look it at first glance, but there is a lot of bike around you and it’s designed to put itself between you and the elements.  There are other benefits from the GSA’s stature and ergonomics.

The upright seating position provides all day, and given the purported tank range, all night comfort.  You are eyelevel with the SUVs and with that height visibility is excellent without craning or twisting for glance around.  The small round, bar-mounted mirrors are effective, though vibe when the engine is pushed hard.  Do you need a bit of entertainment on the freeway?  Stand on the pegs and roar along looking down into sunroofs and over into semis.  Do you know what the inside of a semi looks like? Likely you don’t want to.  In traffic the big Beemer puts a respectable face on hooliganism, one that likely wears five days of stubble and a bug permeated Belstaff touring jacket bought a decade before they became fashionable.  Other than sensible seating and entertainment value, the Adventure’s road presence offers another benefit.

Normally the Trans-Canada highway between Vancouver and Hope is an exercise in mind numbing tedium. Sisyphus, finding himself in our modern age, would likely have his sentence of eternal uphill boulder rolling commuted to following two semis slow racing down the One.  On the R1200GS Adventure though, that inevitable constipation of traffic seems not to be a problem; I’ve never been on a bike where traffic so consistently surrendered the left lane.  It’s easy to credit this to the R1200GS Adventure’s sheer road presence.  Later, I put the Adventure up onto its center-stand with ease, and wonder how BMW pulled that off when my “little” Honda VFR is more of a struggle?  Looking over the Alpine White color scheme and black plastic tank panels it dawns on me that this look, that from the side harkens back to GS Dakars of old, really looks suspiciously police-like in drivers’ rearview mirrors.

With the mechanicals being the same as the R1200GS there is no lack of pull for progress through the parting traffic, and if you want an incongruous image, hoofing a “big trailly” up to 200kph is it.  The 1170cc horizontally opposed twin is torque-laden and responsive with good pull throughout the rev range, with a peak 85 ft-lbs of torque coming in at 5500RPM and 100 hp at 7000rpm (claimed).  For touring, the R-Type plant is smoothest from 3500-4500 RPM with the pegs and bars only developing a moderate twin throb.  At idle this engine is at its worst; poking the starter it kicks itself to life while pulling on the throttle sees the torque attempt to lift the bike off the stand.

Mind you, most in the Adventure bracket won’t be buying for fatuous attributes like “at-idle performance”, this bike, as its name implies, is all about going places.  I start to wonder what it’s like owning the R1200GSA.  Does life move from weekend rides to longer journeys?  Does it become a cycle of bidding goodbye to friends and families in a recurrence to three-month rides into parts unknown?  Those are romantic notions that the BMW marketing department certainly encourages; realistically, those types of rides are the occasion and not the norm.  Dismounting the BMW R1200GS Adventure for the last time I feel my world closing up as I return to the constraints of asphalt and I wish for just a little more time with our Alpine White mount.  Somewhere out there snowflakes are hooking together and falling around a campfire beside a road of stones, the R1200GS Adventure might not be the ultimate bike to find that spot but it’s close, and that’s good enough for me.

Second View: Mic Cumming – Touring Guy
I just don’t get the passion around this bike.  I mean it’s kind of cool to ride around a corner on a three-story building, but beyond that I’m not sure I get it.  I’ll give the R1200GS Adventure this; it handles way better than it looks.  I just didn’t see the super-wheeee-fun part of it that everyone is going on about.  Sure it’s cool that you can go off road, but how often will you really?

Comfort-wise, I prefer bikes like R1200RT to the GS’s seating position, which didn’t do my back any favours.  Something about the Adventure’s ergonomics put too much strain on my lower back and the seat wasn’t as comfortable I’d have thought.  Wind protection was good, which shocked me.  There so much bike out front of you, but it’s oddly structured in comparison to full-faired bikes and surprisingly, despite looking like a collection of bolted on bits and pieces, it all works.  Honestly, from the seat it just looks like a collection of add-ons, but then I’m used to full-faired touring bikes.  Still I’d like to see an easier to adjust the screen so the position could be changed on the fly.

In comparison to other R-type offerings the Adventure seems to lack the snap as the R1200ST or the R1200RT.  I found myself having to drop gears to pass, it’s not a bad thing, I just expected more from the 1170cc motor.  For something that handles this well, the engine just doesn’t match the Adventures road-holding competence.

The other surprise for me was the linked or integral brakes with the servo assist…  I liked them!  Initially the servo was really disconcerting and the first time I grabbed my customary handful I nearly put my face into the screen.   Once you get used to the braking though, it’s good on the road, even if it’s numb feeling.  The system takes away the “oh shit” factor if you have to brake hard into the corners.  There is no locking with the ABS and between the tele-lever suspension and the semi-integral/linked braking the Adventure just hunkers down without any dive or push.  Still it would be nice if the integral braking could be turned off.

Overall I liked it, but I’m not sure I get it.  Still, everyone else seems pretty excited about it, I just didn’t care for it on a long highway and sweepers ride.

– Words Neil Johnston and Mic Cumming with Photos by Kevin Miklossy

Web:   BMW Motorrad Canada

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