3200 MILES ON A BMW R1200GS
BMW’S R1200GS Rallye TE tackles the toughest test in motorcycling.
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’