BMW R1200GS £5500
Still the go-to adventurer, but the brilliance comes with its quirks, and a stout used asking price…
AS THE TRAIL briefly levels out we hit a clearing and feel the sun on our backs for the first time today. It’s a relief – it feels like a sign that things are looking up. After a nervy half hour, I’m relaxing on the Africa Twin, finally believing I might avoid entertaining the local A&E department with some fascinating fractures. And at last I can settle back and enjoy watching Bob on the GS up ahead. With its panniers and top-box, the GS looks wildly inappropriate for the tiny trail Bob’s aiming it at. The BM has the look of a galleon setting forth up a babbling brook. But up on the poop deck Capt Bob is relaxed, gently drifting the BM around the faster turns and finding traction where the Tiger spins – even with Chris at the controls. What a bike. The sheer weight of the fully-loaded GS is intimidating at slower speeds, but the reality is not that bad – because of the off-road friendly riding position when you’re standing on the pegs, smooth throttle response, light clutch and feelsome back brake, the BM can be U-turned on mud with remarkable ease. In fact, Chris reckons the newer versions are now easier to ride than their little F800GS brothers. He instructs at the Off-road Skills school, which only uses BMWS: ‘If someone new to off-roading asks what bike they should do the course on, we say the 1200 rather than the 800 or 700. The downside is you’ve got more weight to move about, but the advantage is stability – it’s a very forgiving bike. The weight is low down and the clutch makes life easy – the older 1200 we’re riding today is arguably better than the new one in this respect because its clutch is even softer. The new one can be a bit more snappy.’ Though easy to control our bike’s dry clutch isn’t perfect – the smell of clutch plates wafts through the woods whenever we come across a slower section that requires clutch slipping. ‘I wonder whether it could be down to the higher first gear of the standard bike compared with the Adventure,’ ponders Bob. ‘I’ve ridden one of those down this very trail and had no problems at all.’ On road it’s difficult to find fault with the GS as it does its familiar trick of being all-day comfortable while handling like a lanky sportsbike. Sure, the Telelever front end takes a while to get used to – it’s not so much the lack of dive as lack of feel that unsettles you – but five minutes into a twisty road and you’ll be giggling like Donald Trump’s hairdresser. The GS is a brilliant, if incongruous, scratcher. The Telelever front end isn’t the only quirk with this pre-watercooled GS. There’s the switchgear, with an indicator on each bar end, plus of course the small matter of cylinders poking out the sides. ‘You either like the GS or you don’t,’ says Chris. ‘There’s not much middle ground. I’ve got an old R100 and it’s obvious that BMW have made their bikes less and less weird over the years but this GS still has a few oddities – the dry clutch, the switchgear… They’re things you either fall in love with or get put off by on a short test ride. If you get on and accidentally press the horn every five minutes you’re going to be in no mood to buy it.’ Despite its defining layout, the engine isn’t weird at all once you’re rolling. If you expect an unsophisticated tractor you’ll be disappointed – there are hints of agricultural machinery from the gearbox, but all recent GS engines feel characterful rather than rough. And lunging out of second gear corners with that distinctive flat-twin bellow, the GS feels just as fast as the new-fangled Africa Twin and will cream the Tiger too, unless the rider revs its nuts off. Buying a used GS is a curious experience if you’re used to buying Japanese bikes. For a start the market is swamped with cherished bikes – full BMW service history, piles of receipts and well-judged aftermarket kit (our bike had an excellent touring screen and touring saddle, for example). There certainly aren’t many about with stickers covering crash damage and mysterious holes in their service records. The downside is that Gses hold their value like few other bikes, which means they seem expensive when compared with, for example, a Tiger 1050. Our GS has a ridiculously low mileage – an average of under 700 miles per year – and feels fit. It’s not perfect though – there’s paint flaking off the front of the engine (a common issue) and a couple of tiny scuffs on the plastics. But despite it being two years older than the Triumph, it costs almost £2000 more. It’ll hold onto most of that value unless you trash it, but the initial outlay takes some getting used to.
‘The weight of the GS is intimidating, but the reality is not that bad’
Ubiquitous Ubiquitoustin tin boxes are part and parcel of the usedgsbuying experience
(Above)there’snoneofthatnew-fangled Africa Twin narrowness here (Below) In a world of TFT dashes it’s all very reassuring