The R80 G/S The bike that saved BMW

BMW’S new R ninet Ur­ban G/S meets the an­ces­tor that started it all...

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Matt Wildee SE­NIOR ED­I­TOR

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.”

Plat­form en­gi­neer­ing

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.

Sim­ple charms

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.”

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