Charley Boor­man: ‘It changed my life in ev­ery way imag­in­able’

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Feature - Charley Boor­man TV ad­ven­turer and R1150GS dis­ci­ple

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

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