BMW’S R1200GS Ral­lye TE tack­les the tough­est test in mo­tor­cy­cling.

BIKE (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Mike Ar­mitage

IT’S BEEN WITH us since 2004 and has dom­i­nated sales across Europe for a decade. In this time, BMW’S R1200GS has evolved from an air-cooled op­posed twin with a claimed 98bhp into a two-wheeled tech­nofest with liq­uid-cooled cylin­der heads and 125bhp – and one with more model vari­a­tions and op­tions than you can shake a beaky mud­guard at. This year’s GS of­fers more trin­kets and baubles than ever, with good­ies in­clud­ing semi-ac­tive sus­pen­sion and key­less op­er­a­tion joined by an op­tional Con­nec­tiv­ity sys­tem that links the widescreen TFT dash to your phone and has a new user in­ter­face (I think that’s the cor­rect term). There’s also an emer­gency SOS but­ton on the ’bars, in case of mishap. We’ve bun­dled over 3000 miles onto a Ral­lye (longer and stiffer sus­pen­sion, spoke wheels, chunkier foot­pegs and cool blue paint) in TE guise, mean­ing pas­sen­ger kit, trac­tion con­trol, quick­shifter, more modes, heated grips, day­time run­ning lights, for a sig­nif­i­cant £16,400. Add the new TFT Con­nec­tiv­ity and SOS gub­bins, and that’s £17,290. Worth ev­ery penny? Time to find out…

‘Beau­ti­fully bal­anced whether you are rid­ing along a flow­ing A-road or trick­ling be­tween traf­fic in town’

Engine and trans­mis­sion

The engine mea­sures 101 x 73mm to dis­place 1170cc, has a distinct bur­bling ex­haust note and abuses shins if you’re keen drop­ping a leg. Just like it did 14 years ago. How­ever, the lat­est ver­sion of BMW’S ‘boxer’ flat twin is a hell of a cre­ation, with more revs, crisper re­sponse and a se­ri­ous amount of ex­tra power com­pared with the hardly-lack­ing orig­i­nal. A claimed 125bhp, in fact. It’s never short on get-up-and-bug­ger-off. Whether you’re rolling-on the light throt­tle in top gear for lazy A-road over­takes or storm­ing away from the lights in a rush, the engine punches with meaty, solid drive. It en­cour­ages you to swing around al­most half­heart­edly in the mid­dle of the revs, while still cov­er­ing ground ef­fi­ciently. And that’s ef­fi­ciently mean­ing both brisk and fru­gal – over its 3200 miles on all kind of roads our GS has av­er­aged 52mph and also 52mpg. Al­though it has al­most 30bhp more than the first 1200, the twin isn’t ac­tu­ally faster. Well, it is em­ploy­ing big throt­tle open­ings and all the revs, but not in nor­mal use. Over­lay this bike’s dyno curves (see p95) with those of a 2004 bike and it’s only above 6000rpm that the cur­rent bike has an ad­van­tage – and with the mo­tor’s ea­ger re­sponse and thump­ing torque this is a part of the rev range sel­dom vis­ited (but is wheel-lift­ing fun when you do). It’s this sense of fat pis­tons and thump that al­lows the GS to still stand beak-to-beak with more pow­er­ful op­po­si­tion. ‘The engine un­der­stand­ably feels a bit breath­less com­pared with GT ad­ven­ture bikes such as Du­cati’s Mul­tistrada and KTM’S Su­per Ad­ven­ture,’ says editor Hugo Wil­son. ‘How­ever, in terms of real-world speed, the abil­ity to main­tain ridicu­lous and sus­tained pace on or­di­nary roads means the BMW is still amaz­ingly quick.’ Con­sid­er­ing the im­pres­sive size of its pis­tons the engine copes rather well with low revs, though it isn’t as smooth or tractable at dawdling speed as the lat­est Du­catis. Sat on a mo­tor­way there’s a sub­tle, hum­ming res­o­nance, rather than what you would call vi­bra­tion; I suf­fer with white fin­gers on buzzy bikes, but have been fine on the BMW. It is noisy, though, and not just the deep, bub­bling, farty ex­haust note. When I first took the Ral­lye home my neigh­bour Neil came trot­ting over to say he had heard me com­ing, the boxer sound­ing, ‘like an early 16-valve Suzuki with worn-out cams’. There’s cer­tainly a lot of me­chan­i­cal noise, and on start-up the mo­tor clat­ters hideously for a sec­ond un­til the oil makes its way round. It’s all the more no­tice­able as there’s a mo­ment be­fore the ex­haust throt­tle valve opens to re­lease the rum­ble. And I’ve also had a cou­ple of morn­ings where the GS has pumped out a wor­ry­ingly no­tice­able quan­tity of smoke, though the sight glass still shows oil is sit­ting at the up­per level. Gear ra­tios are close, with over­all ra­tios clearly aimed at road riders rather than spec-sheet brags – with 1170cc of stomp there’s usu­ally two or three gears that will work for any cor­ner. The six-speed gearbox is clean (I might have missed a gear, just the once) and the clutch is light, but the two-way quick­shifter al­ways feels like I’m do­ing some­thing I re­ally shouldn’t be do­ing. The ac­tion feels notchy and a bit too much like you’re forc­ing into gear, un­less high up the revs and un­der load.

Han­dling and ride

The GS looks big, but isn’t re­ally. Strip body­work away and the bike be­neath isn’t any larger than, say, a Tri­umph Speed Triple or Kawasaki Z1000SX. Hon­estly. It feels size­able when you climb on, due to wide ’bars and broad fuel tank, but once the clutch is out and you’re rolling it piv­ots and flicks sweetly. The Beemer has an al­most Honda-like feel of piv­ot­ing be­tween your heels. Well, OK, not quite; how­ever it’s way more ag­ile and place-able than it looks, from walk­ing pace to three-fig­ure speeds. ‘Beau­ti­fully bal­anced and sta­ble, whether you are rid­ing along a fast, flow­ing A-road or trick­ling be­tween sta­tion­ary traf­fic in town,’ says Hugo. Steer­ing is light and ac­cu­rate, and the rid­ing po­si­tion gives a sense of con­trol, but you do need a bit of faith. BMW’S Telelever front end (the forks are just for steer­ing, with sus­pen­sion taken care of by a monoshock on a strut) sep­a­rates forces, mean­ing brak­ing doesn’t in­ter­fere with steer­ing, and it can deal with bumps while loaded-up un­der brak­ing. It works re­ally well, and with the sur­real su­per-ab­sorbent-yet-con­trolled ac­tion of the sin­gle-sided rear the ride qual­ity is great. Mo­tor­ways slide by un­no­ticed. The front does iso­late the rider a tad, though. In some ways this is good, as the float­ing ride lets you re­lax and stop mis­in­ter­pret­ing feed­back. In other ways it’s bad, as get­ting the most out of the GS chas­sis re­quires con­fi­dence in the front end. Chang­ing tyres helps (p95). Be­ing a posh TE means our Ral­lye has semi-ac­tive sus­pen­sion. It’s clever, and you feel the dif­fer­ence be­tween the op­tional modes (see ‘elec­tron­ics’) as the bike be­comes in­creas­ingly ‘taut’ – so much so that I find Dy­namic too sporty for the road, and al­ways have it set to Road in­stead (clue’s in the name, I guess). There’s also au­to­matic preload ad­just­ment, which is a stroke of ge­nius and su­per-handy for giv­ing mates a lift or col­lect­ing a few crates of Scrut­tock’s Old Basher on the ride home. With the lever­age of its ’bars and in­stant wal­lop from the boxer, you have to re­mem­ber to stay re­laxed, mind. Hold too tight while ac­cel­er­at­ing hard down a knot­ted back­road and the han­dle­bar can wag about enough to make me back off the gas.


The base GS has Rain and Road modes. This Ral­lye TE also has Dy­namic Pro, En­duro and En­duro Pro, each with its own throt­tle re­sponse and linked to the ABS, trac­tion con­trol (which is ‘dy­namic’, rather than the stock sta­bil­ity con­trol sys­tem) and sus­pen­sion set-up. You can get in and set things to suit how­ever, or even turn the ABS and TC off; my de­fault is Dy­namic mode for its crisp, re­spon­sive throt­tle, but the sus­pen­sion wound back to Road – it’s too firm oth­er­wise. TES have Hill Hold Con­trol, where the bike de­tects an in­cline and holds the brake on when you re­lease it, so you can con­cen­trate on pulling away cleanly (at which point it smoothly dis­en­gages). Maybe I don’t ride with a pil­lion of­ten enough, but I never use it. There are also heated grips which are sim­ple to use and have two lev­els: singed and burn. Hon­estly, they make all other hot grips feel lack­ing. There’s also tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing

(the GS loses about 0.2 bar ev­ery month), a day­time rid­ing light that au­to­mat­i­cally swaps to dip beam in re­duced light, cruise con­trol (easy enough to use) and key­less ride, which means the 1200 works as long as the key’s in your pocket. You can even open the fuel filler. Bril­liant. Thank­fully I’ve not had to use the SOS but­ton. I wouldn’t trust it any­way – I’ve had three or four oc­ca­sions when a warn­ing has popped on the dash, telling me it’s got a fault and to visit a dealer. I’ve had an ABS fault flash up once, too. Both self-rec­ti­fied.

Con­trols and Com­fort

Noth­ing at all wrong with GS com­fort. At least, not once I’d put the rider sec­tion of the reg­u­lar two-piece seat in the higher lo­ca­tion to suit my daft limbs (our TE’S ‘pas­sen­ger kit’ has a stock GS perch; the nor­mal Ral­lye has a one-piece en­duro-style seat). No is­sues with aches, er­gonomics or vibes over a 300-mile day. How­ever, I’m not overly taken by the new TFT dash. Nowt wrong with the dis­play it­self: it ad­justs to light con­di­tions, has an anti-glare coat­ing, and if you down­load the app it’ll dis­play the phone’s nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem. Or ac­cess the phone it­self, or mu­sic. It’s clear to read, good-look­ing, and I like that I can se­lect my pre­ferred info to scroll through on the sin­gle-tap top bar. My is­sue is with the get­ting to ev­ery­thing else. All the data on the TE’S ‘On Board Com­puter Pro’ in­volves press­ing a but­ton, then scrolling with the wheel on the left-hand ’bar, nudg­ing it this way and that, scrolling through dif­fer­ent screens… It’s log­i­cal enough, works cleanly, but even re­set­ting the trip has been a con­stant pain in the arse. Too clever for its own good, and too dis­tract­ing. I pre­ferred BMW’S old but­ton-per-func­tion switchgear and dis­play.


Love the hand­wheel for easy screen ad­just­ment, and that the screen draws wa­ter off my vi­sor ef­fec­tively. Love that the TE’S stan­dard-fit pan­nier mounts and the usual GS sub­frame and foot­pegs are bungee-friendly, and that the 20-litre tank means al­most 230 miles be­tween fill-ups at the bike’s pleas­ing 52mpg. You get a cen­tre­stand in the pas­sen­ger kit too, which makes clean­ing the in­tri­cate rear wheel less of a chore. Hand­guards and heated grips al­low thin gloves in cool weather, the head­light’s more than good enough, and the pre­vi­ous­ly­men­tioned key­less ride and auto-preload are great. The only slight neg­a­tive point is the sheer size of the GS when it comes to fil­ter­ing and town work, but that’s true enough of any large ad­ven­ture bike.

Qual­ity and Fin­ish

Some ri­vals are let down a lit­tle by flimsy bits. I al­ways think KTM’S switchgear doesn’t feel ro­bust enough, Du­cati are fond of flappy plas­tic in­fills, and the Tri­umph Tiger Ex­plorer we ran was lit­tered with elec­tronic grem­lins. The lat­est R1200GS per­haps doesn’t quite give the same sense of rugged­ness as older bikes, with thin­ner-feel­ing plas­tic for the switchgear, cheaper-look­ing plat­ing on a few fas­ten­ers and a hor­ri­ble mi­croswitch in­di­ca­tor that’s the op­po­site of er­gonomic. How­ever, most of the bike looks and feels like you’d ex­pect an ex­pen­sive ma­chine to. I wouldn’t ex­pect hideously stone-chipped body­work, worn fin­ishes or to find paint flak­ing off the engine cases af­ter a few years of heavy use.

‘The lat­est GS doesn’t give the same sense of rugged­ness as older bikes… How­ever, most of the bike feels like you’d ex­pect’

Pho­tog­ra­phy Ja­son Critchell

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