Charley Boorman: ‘It changed my life in every way imaginable’
With the latest, liquid-cooled BMW GS still dominating the sales charts and the original, 1981 R80G/S, often referred to as a design icon, it’s easy to forget it was 1999’s fifth-generation version, the R1150GS, which is probably the most influential GS of all.
Distinctively rugged and hugely practical, the 1150 was the catalyst for the whole culture of adventure bikes. So, whether you’re a true global adventurer in the vein of Ewan Mcgregor and Charley Boorman who famously rode 1150GSAS in TV’S Long Way Round, or simply a connoisseur of one of the most versatile and durable bikes ever, a huge number of us owe a great deal to the R1150GS.
Or, as Charley Boorman told MCN: “I’m so glad we took Adventures on our world trip. Long Way Round changed my life in every way imaginable.”
Of course, the acting duo aren’t the only ones whose lives have been changed by the 1150GS. Longdistance riding couple Kevin and Julia Sanders used the 1150GS for their two Guinness World Records in 2002 and 2003. While bike-mad comedian Ross Noble, who lost his GS in a house fire, still rates it as his favourite machine.
“I’d love my BMW R1150GS back,” he told MCN. “I rode around Australia on that bike, and did 26,000km in one big trip on it” (which also was televised – Ed) “But I can’t – it melted in the fire.”
‘Stronger in every way’
The story of the rise to stardom of the 1150GS is one of many factors: 1999’s evolution of the already versatile R1100GS saw five more bhp, less weight and a new six-speed gearbox; a new front cowl debuted an adjustable screen and more modern clocks while, most conspicuously of all, a face-lift introduced the now characteristic asymmetrical headlights. So, not only did the 1150 go better, its image was also stronger.
The arrival of the Adventure version two years later, defined by its greater range (thanks to a huge, 30-litre fuel tank), extra comfort (via a larger screen and one-piece seat) and added offroad ability (longer travel suspension, optional knobblies and extra protection) was also inspired – but not without precedent. Ever since 1983 BMW had been producing either limited edition variants or accessory kits for the GS, usually dubbed Paris-dakar, that provided exactly those things – they just hadn’t been well publicised.
But that all changed when Long Way Round hit TV screens in 2004. Suddenly everyone knew all about BMW’S GS and Adventure. Many of them wanted one, too, even if their ambitions were a little smaller.
Oli Whelpton was among them: “It was an important bike – the first to ever take me off the British Isles and down on a solo trip to Monaco. For me, it’s still one of the bikes that got away.”
Jeff Witters is another: “I own a 2004 1150GSA ‘bumble bee’ and think it’s the best of the breed. It might not be the fastest, lightest or best off-road but it inspires confidence, takes me anywhere I need to go and allows me to dream of places I want to go.”
‘ Best bike I’ve owned’
While Nick Lotinga (pictured below on Cadwell’s Mountain) is a third: “The 1150GS is the best bike I’ve ever owned. Whether two-up touring, doing green lanes or trackdays, it’s reliable, sweet-handling and feels so planted and safe to ride. I’ve owned loads of bikes; nothing beats the 1150GS.”
There are plenty of others, too. It’s reckoned ‘LWR’ boosted GSA sales by more than 50%. As a result, the 1150, in both guises, became by far the bestselling GS yet with over 70,000 sold. This, with sportsbike sales on the slide and rival manufacturers keen for a slice of the action, prompted the emergence of the adventure bike category.
MCN reader Guy Bransby has done around 200,000 miles on his GSS