On the Road:
There’s approximately 3200 kms of road between Vancouver and the Dempster’s southern junction with the Alaska Highway in the Yukon, and from the start I draw the metaphorical longest (or largest) straw pulling BMW’s R1200GS Adventure. If there’s one bike in the group built for distance, this is it.
The R1200GS is pushed along by a smooth, growly, torquey 1170cc horizontally opposed twin, a legacy of an engine that breezes this beast up to speed in a relaxed and under-stressed manner. The plant never feels overly powerful, likely because it isn’t subjected to a peaky torque curve, but will handily wheelie the bike whose starting weight is 256 kg/564lbs wet before options.
BMW R1200GS Adventure’s gearbox is still tractor-like; huge dry metal plates clunking together especially from first to second, it’s slower shifting than the other bikes and still subject to the occasional false neutral as it wanders between gears.
That’s the least refined point of the bike.
Planted with Jovian gravitational force the GSA handles like a leviathan shouldn’t. It’s sure-footed, and deceptively light steering, thanks to wide moose-antler bars, and willing to dance through the corners like a bike 3/4, oh heck 1/2, its size and mass. Shod in the Continental Twinduro TKC80s the GSA won’t take a sportbike in the twists, but throw some street rubber on and it will hound them to the ends of the earth… literally.
The R1200GS Adventure sports a 33L tank, good for just under 600km with care, and is replete with the accommodations to use that range. Wind and weather protection is supplied by the cylinders heads covering your shins, a huge tank protecting your lower body and a substantial manually adjustable windscreen up top. The latter also keeps the airflow clean and buffeting minimal. Manually adjustable that is, until two teens outside the NorthMart in Fort McPhearson steal the knobs in retaliation for our not succumbing to their panhandling – the first and only the theft on any of our trips.
The seating position is open, loose in the leg and wide across the bars. Even though we’ve switched to the standard GS seat to accommodate “shorties” Kevin and Glenn, there’s far less ass-ache than the other two bikes. If any point causes problems it’s the wide stance of the bars, for myself it leads to an ache between the shoulders.
It’s telling on the high mileage days that while we’re enthusing over the KTM’s barnstorming nature and the F800GS’s lighthearted flick-able character, each of us is quietly reaching for the R1200GS Adventure’s key. On any leg over 400kms, you’re looking at the other riders thinking, “Suckers!”
Not that the KTM 990 Adventure is bad, but on long days it’s short on creature comforts. The windscreen is short, and is fine under 80kph, or over 140kph, and buffeting everywhere between. It gives you insight into the KTM’s mentality; quick tight dirt work – great, high-speed highway work – great, in between the bike is chomping at the bit. Wearing a visored adventure helmet, Kevin complained of a deep, low frequency thrumming that only relented with a 90kph-crawl or high-speed blasts. That was a convenient excuse for the latter at least.
The lack of gas gauge is a major pain, because the question of “How far to the next station?” always haunts. You’ll be fine with the periodic gas stops due to the KTM’s limited range, because the seat, while improved over previous generations still leads to the heartbreak of ass-ache.
If there’s a bike showing deficiencies on the open road, it’s the F800GS. It’s not the power, the 85hp and 83 ft-lbs parallel twin is fine on the road including passes. With luggage (plus spare tires, top box, and a soft bag full of tools) summing to the mass of a post dessert-buffet comatose Rosie O’Donnell riding as passenger, our F800GS needed planning and gumption to pass as it developed a high-speed weave nearing 140kph. Below that magic threshold and the bike is fine, happily cavorting through corners and reveling in being ridden hard.
Speaking of hard, the seat is a vinyl covered ass-assault paddle, hard to bear past 3-400kms of riding. Unanimous amongst the three riders the F800GS is the big distance day also-ran. A custom seat isn’t the only accessory you’ll want to pop for while plotting your F800GS escape.
Hand guards make a huge difference to the weather protection, and the Starbucks parking lot in Whitehorse saw us zip-tie, coat hanger, and duct tape on ATV guards in desperation. And, while the stock screen produces minimal buffeting and clean airflow, we only just held back on further embarrassing the F800GS by taping bits of plastic to it for more coverage, so a taller touring windscreen is in order.
The thing is at a base of $12,495.00, and adding $1,285.00 for optional center stand, ABS, onboard computer and (oh, so bling) white signals, the F800GS totals to $13,780.00 before taxes, so comparatively you could custom equip the bike to your needs. Especially considering the KTM’s $16,998 MSRP, after which many riders will still be tacking on an aftermarket screen, custom seat and long range tank.
Of course, the R1200GS Adventure has it all, but at a hefty base of $19,990.00 it should. Then you still get to add Antitheft at $250.00, Safety Package (Tire Pressure Control, Automatic Stability Control and ABS) for 1,900.00 and the Equipment Package 2 (Chromed Exhaust, Electronic Suspension Adjustment, On Board Computer, Fog Lights, and Luggage Brackets) another $1,900, for $28,212.80 out of pocket before the taxman rob’th. In all though the big BMW is the hands down winner when it comes to long distance butt on saddle touring, the KTM following second when it comes to mile-eating and the F800GS a distant third.
In Part 2:
The BMW F800GS, R1200GS Adventure and KTM 990 Adventure hit the dirt in our epic evaluation… Read on Adventurer… Read on…
– Photos Kevin Millossy and Glenn Simmons