“It’s going to be the, ‘I rode one of these in the war’ story”, I joke as we watch two elderly gentlemen appraise the three bikes. BMWs it seems are some of the most approachable bikes, in part I think due to the sense of history they imbue. The door opens and the white haired man travels the length of the restaurant to our table as if on rails. “I rode one of those in the war.”
Beyond my initial response of nearly passing ginger-ale though my nose at having called the conversation so accurately, we settle into easy bike banter. The conversation is an unexpected connection, and I come away with something far more salient than another “that bike scared me straight” story. The orator is on his way to a veteran’s reunion, the participants, once over a hundred, have dwindled over the years – now a mere 13 remain. I’m unsure what to say as we part ways, thanking him for taking the time to talk and wondering what it’s like to watch life slowly ebb around you.
It’s a provocation of “carpe diem” sorts. I’ve retaken the R1200GS Adventure and to think that the “big traily” settles the pace would be a mistake. Blitzing the 5A’s ongoing sweepers and loose curves we fly through the Nicola Valley’s rolling fields, rangelands, and the special dusty brown the interior reserves for spring. The scenery is as wide and open as the R1200GS Adventure’s suspension is relaxed and long traveling. You know the road and its inconsistencies are below you, but the GSA takes care of it all, maintaining impeccable contact with the terrain. The only upset is a bit of wander when pushed hard in the corners. That, however, is to be expected from a bike that leans like a two-story building shouldn’t.
On the shores of Nicola Lake I slow off a bit. If you were to play my mind’s record of the previous portion of the 5A it would be a dizzying blur of green and ignorance – the R1200GS Adventure offers so much more than speed. If one were to appraise this bike’s value by the square footage it occupies, then surely it is some of the most valuable view-based real estate in North America. “D’ahling on a clear day you can see for miles”, or in this case see the miles.
Rife with possible destinations the Adventure re-maps your worldview. Gravel side roads, roadside construction, dirt tracks; all offer the opportunity for escape and exploration. Though given the GS’s size you’ll likely not be attacking the narrow single track. It would be a good idea if you were to “roost” around on the R1200GS Adventure to have your basic dirt riding skills in order. I try it anyway.
The R1200GS Adventure would be a lot of bike to bring back maimed or scratched. It’s a thought foremost in my mind, as initially the R1200GSA doesn’t seem as encouraging as its lighter sibling, the standard R1200GS. Slowly I warm to it. Within 20 minutes of standing on the shoulders of this giant I find myself wondering just how far the colossal 33L tank would take the GSA off road? Would my navigational skill be up to the task? Likely not, I’m directionally challenged at best and bereft of identifiable landmarks end up staring at maps with a rising incomprehension and angst. I long for the chance to become wondrously lost on B.C.’s dirt tracks but instead give chase to the others who’ve gotten ahead.
Outside of Kamloops we reconvene and as dusk falls the customary hotel search begins. If this were a competition the GS is the winner; allowing me to hop curbs, ride sidewalks and the occasional bit of lawn separating hotels, and in general turn sourcing a room into an act of outright hooliganism. In the end it’s not the Ritz, but a $99.00 room with a Jacuzzi tub in its center wins out. The ergonomics of the GS and RT don’t mandate a long soak, but Kevin has spent today’s final leg on the R1200ST, whose more aggressive ergonomics have left him in need. Not that he’d had time to complain on the road – Kevin it seems has found the R1200ST’s secret, and a dirty one at that.
Three days ago at an overnight in Merritt during our first loop, we tampered with the R1200ST’s suspension in the hotel parking. In essence we max’d out every setting and never in ten years of riding has a suspension adjustment so completely transformed a bike. Prior to these ministrations I came away thinking that the R1200ST steered like a lucid dream, the tuning however has brought the bike focus. The ST is still soft, but now it’s a confidence inspiring gentleman’s express.
Kevin finished his run with the R1200ST with a grin that completely belied our previous experience, “You just have to thrash it. It’s all so plain-Jane and vanilla you find yourself whipping it just to see if you can make it interesting, and suddenly it goes all S&M on you. Laying off the throttle upsets it, so you just have to whip it hard, dominatrix hard. At 160kph it eats it up the corners!” Impeccable logic that, if slowing down upsets the R1200ST then don’t slow down – I’m game to try.
Hurtling along through the Fraser Canyon it’s near impossible not to see the R1200ST’s focus as an autobahn burner. Suddenly I am Bellerophon having tamed Pegasus, and this mount has wings. Keep it smooth through the corners, avoid upsetting the soft suspension with braking, and the twists are confident, planted and assured. Tuned like the RT but missing the massive fairing the ST has more stomp.
I’ve had quicker runs from Kamloops to Boston Bar but few were as satisfying – finally I know where the R1200ST fits. Born of Medusa’s blood Pegasus was a warrior’s mount, I’m not sure this analogy extends to the R1200ST based as it is on the R1200RT. This is a Cinderella story of sorts and this bike is the best candidate for the transformative powers of BMW’s ESA. Now dialed in the once reviled R1200ST has become secretly lauded in our group and Kevin asks for the keys back in Boston Bar.
Past Hope, with Vancouver in our sights, I have the quintessential R1200RT experience. Listening to an NPR podcast on the iPod on the topic of mapping, I thumb the heated grips to high, put the windscreen to full extension and shift on the warming seat. The rain transitions from drizzle to downpour and the RT extends its protective airflow around me. In oblique perspective the freeway stretches off into the horizon, the earliest surviving Hellenic maps were drawn from this view – you learn such interesting things from public radio. More interesting is what you learn on the road, after some four days with BMW’s R1200GS Adventure, R1200RT and R1200ST I’ve a clearer view of the territories these bikes demark. Each make an admirable tourer in their own way, and all share the R-Type engine in common, but like neighbouring countries sharing borders in common, they are very different places to ride.