The R80 G/S The bike that saved BMW
BMW’S new R ninet Urban G/S meets the ancestor that started it all...
ÒThere is an official opinion that the GS is the bike that saved this company,” says a proud Ola Stenegärd, BMW’S Head of Design and the Creative Director of their Heritage motorcycle range. He’s wheeling BMW’S latest retro, the Urban G/S, alongside the bike that inspired it – an original R80G/S from 1981.
We’re in the cavernous art-deco hanger of BMW’S Group Classic department, situated off Moosacher Straße in Munich. It was the home of BMW’S first factory and is now being used to celebrate the firm's rich heritage. “Before the popularity of this bike, people were questioning whether it was actually worth carrying on with bikes. It’s part of the reason I like it – the new Urban G/S is a tribute to one of the greatest BMWS.”
A whole new world
First shown in 1980, the R80G/S was an accidental icon. An after-hours project by BMW engineers to race off-road, the bosses at BMW said “make it.” When the bike was launched, the dual-purpose bike (G/S stands for Gelände/straße – or terrain/road) had an 800cc engine producing 50bhp, the chassis from the R65 and surprisingly-good off-road ability. There was nothing like it – the advent of the G/S opened up a world of long-distance off-road travel.
With its air-cooled engine and the relative simplicity derived from the R ninet range, the new Urban G/S is designed to hark back to those days and bring back the simple pleasure of BMW’S first off-roader. “It was such a milestone bike,” says Stenegärd. “Everything is focused on the latest R1200GS. That bike is always pushing the limit, but it is so far from the original one now that you need an alternative for those guys that just want a simple bike again.”
The Urban G/S uses the same platform as the Racer, Pure and Scrambler versions of the R ninet. So that’s an 1170cc boxer twin with a claimed 108bhp, meaning it makes more than double the power of the original bike. In the same way that the original G/S’S frame was pilfered from an R65, this bike shares its frame with three siblings, the main change being the introduction of a 19-inch front wheel to allow off-road tyres. With 125mm of fork travel, it isn’t as off-road-focused as a Ducati Scambler Desert Sled, but it should be able to hit the dirt.
“It’s raised 20mm and you can go
‘We didn’t just copy the old bike. You look at it and feel you've seen it before. It should be familiar’
off-road with it,” says Stenegärd. “The original G/S was really like a gravelroad bike and this bike is the same. Of course, with the big GS you can do huge jumps and this isn’t really the bike for that but it can go greenlaning.”
Keeping it in the family
There are almost 40 years between them, but their stance is the same. The newer bike is a pre-production machine and runs on cast wheels, marking it out as the base model Urban G/S – the £11,185 G/S X comes with cross-spoke wire wheels and optional knobblies – but at a glance that’s one of the main differences between the old and new.
The underpinnings of this bike aren’t for off-road, but it looks every bit an off-roader – and when you climb onboard, it feels like one too. It’s the de- tails that help. The single, tacho-less clock unit, and the cowl around the headlamp are direct visual descendants of the old bike – and the slightly bouncy plastic front mudguard is charming, too. It’s all the ingredients of the original bike, re-mixed for 2017.
Spending time with the original G/S is a living history lesson. On the left is a kickstart – electric start wasn’t standard until 1982. The dome-headed Bing carbs are gloriously mechanical, the forks spindly – and my 14-stone mass compresses half of the suspension travel. It feels slim and light, far lighter than its claimed 186kg, and that mass is all centred around the engine. A new R1200GS Rallye is 58kg heavier.
“We had an old bike in the studio when we were designing this, but we didn’t want to just create a copy,” says Stenegärd. “We didn’t want to take an old G/S and just copy it. It should have the same feeling, but no copied parts. You look at it and it feels like you’ve seen it before. We always wanted it to be familiar and fun.
“I think that because motorcycles have been getting very focused and technically-driven it has put people off. If you jump on a new GS or a ZX-10R they are hard work, not really bikes for beginners or people who want to get into bikes again.
“There are a lot of customers out there, young and old who just want simplicity. They just want to jump on a bike and ride, not to be overwhelmed, not to have to read the instruction manual. This bike is for them.”