by Catten Ely

BMW set the standard for Adventure Touring bikes in 1980 with it’s first GS model and has been improving on it ever since.

I decided long ago that I’m not susceptible to brand adoration, at least as far as motorcycles go. So when I heard some BMW enthusiasts talk about “drinking the Kool-Aid,” I took it as a personal challenge. Could I ride one without being dragged over to the dark side?

And then the request came, unexpectedly. “Would you review an R1200GS?”  It was time to test my mettle. I stepped up boldly. “Yes, I’d love to!”

Now, I confess that until recently I didn’t really know one BMW from another. Today I know that the R-series bikes have the widely recognized opposed-twin-cylinder Boxer engine. The GS designation means that it falls into the dual-sport/adventure bike category. This is one of BMW’s best sellers.

Leo’s South provided a smashing blue GS for us to review. I was excited to see how it stacked up against the Triumph Explorer.

This particular motorcycle was lowered at the factory and had an optional low seat, which put it at 30.5”. (The standard seat height is 33.5”.) I threw a leg over and my initial impression was that it seemed bulky and wide. The seat height and tilt angle are adjustable. The passenger seat is separate and can be shifted forward or rearward. The footpegs, too, are adjustable (and dinky — what’s up with that?). Despite all that adjustability, the seat is still at least 2” wider than the saddle on my Versys. I hope someday someone comes out with a narrower 1200-cc adventure bike for those of us who are inseam challenged.

A tap of the start button produced a surprising twist and a single chug from the 1,170-cc engine. A more committed press caused a mighty, throaty rumble. This is not a quiet motorcycle.

I zipped down the street and had a brief helmet fire trying to figure out the unfamiliar controls and the unfamiliar neighborhood. My intention had been to slap my magnetic tankbag on and use the GPS, but the BMW’s tank is made of impact-proof plastic. I focused on finding a familiar road, then settled in for an easy first-impression ride.

The first thing I noticed was the spectacular braking. Not once did it feel grabby or overaggressive. The rear brake pedal operates the rear brake, as expected. Squeezing the front brake lever also operates the rear brake. A button on the left handlebar deactivates the ABS (but not the integrated braking) on the front wheel; the rear-wheel ABS doesn’t switch off until the rear brake pedal is pressed.

If this bike was a person, it’d be an engineer: confident, stable, reassuring, competent, smart. Maybe with a reputation for being reserved that it doesn’t quite deserve. I’ve gotten accustomed to riding a bike that leaps a bit off the starting line.  A little goose on the throttle at a green light brought that front end right up. Ahh! Not so reserved after all, are we? By the way, the GS, like many of its competitors, features ride by wire, where the computer instead of a cable controls the throttle bodies’ butterflies.

As dusk fell, the instrument panel lit up. The white-on-black analog speedometer and tachometer that were somewhat busy during the day became a nightmare in orange. It’s not easy to tell with a glance what one’s speed is — there are simply too many marks.

The computer is controlled easily with a thumb button, which allows the rider to scroll through the standard menu items plus fancier fare: range to empty, ambient temperature, tire pressures (optional), average speed, etc. I appreciated that this operation was uncomplicated. Thanks to the computer, I know I tallied about 37 mpg.

“It seemed perfectly at ease stalking through tall grass and soft dirt.  Hills posed no problem and I probably held it back from having a righteous time”.
“It seemed perfectly at ease stalking through tall grass and soft dirt.
Hills posed no problem and I probably held it back from having a righteous time”.

Not quite willing to play in sand or mud with an $18k bike, I took the GS to a wooded meadow. The firm seat was comfortable and the suspension was more than adequate. It sauntered over roots and rocks and small logs like that’s just what it wanted to be doing. It seemed perfectly at ease stalking through tall grass and soft dirt. Hills posed no problem and I probably held it back from having a righteous time. The dirt-worthy cross-spoked wheels (optional) on this bike are a nice nod to its offroad capabilities, but I had a hard time imagining charging over logs and big rocks with it, KLR-style.

Where the GS really shone was on the road. BMW claims an output of 110 hp at 7750 rpm — and these ponies get up and go. Due in part to its low center of gravity, this bike handles like a much lighter machine. I never felt like I was throwing 505 pounds around. And cornering … the GS corners like sex with chocolate sauce.

Would I take it on a long trip? Absolutely. Well, maybe. I hated the turn signals. Absolutely hated ‘em. There’s a signal paddle on each handlebar and a cancelation thumb slider on just the right side. I honked the horn many times trying to cancel the left signal. Eventually, I gave up on using the right one.

People seem to either love this bike’s look or hate it: that weird beak fender that other manufacturers have started putting on their adventure bikes, the asymmetrical headlight, the skinny rear end compared to the bulky front end. It does look front-heavy: The seat seems narrow compared to the 5.3-gallon tank, which is not really as huge as it appears. The front fairing keeps all kinds of important stuff underneath nicely hidden.

The tailpipe is on the left side of the bike; the single-swingarm shaft drive is on the right.  I agree with a friend of mine who said it would look a lot cooler if they’d put both on the same side.

Standard equipment on the GS includes integrated ABS, heated grips (with ‘warm’ and ‘downright toasty’ settings), hand protectors, a center stand, saddlebag mounts, and an adjustable windshield. Options include chrome exhaust, electronic suspension adjustment (ESA), tire pressure monitoring, an antitheft alarm, “special color” spokes, fog lights, and traction control (ASC). BMW also offers a generous 36-month/36,000-mile warranty.

Thanks a million to Leo’s South for the opportunity to ride the R 1200 GS. Yes, I’m admitting it: I’m grudgingly impressed, despite the hideous speedometer and impossible turn signals.

So there’s the Kool-Aid. I’ve tasted it – and I liked it.



by Thomas Day

BMW was the first manufacturer to take the whole “adventure touring” genre seriously, in 1980 with the R80G/S model. Since then, the manufacturer from Germany has been hammering this market with a collection of excellent on/off-road motorcycles ready for an adventure when the right owner comes along.

In its odd way, the BMW GS bikes carry a special kind of prestige among motorcyclists and the bike-curious. Famous people like Neal Pert, Harrison Ford, Orlando Bloom, and Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman have put the R 1200 GS in front of millions of television viewers and readers. The rest of us dream about hitting the right lottery numbers so we can be like Ewan and Charley.

Two-and-a-half days on an R 1200 GS and I was almost ready to blow a couple of bucks on my own Power Ball delusion.

At low engine RPM’s, the motor shakes the whole chassis in old fashioned twin style. The exhaust isn’t loud, but it’s not 2012 politically correct. It’s noisy enough that you can blip the throttle to wake up a dozing cager at a stoplight. Cruising down the super-slab puts the motor at about 4,000 rpm at 70mph. There is a lot of horsepower and torque left from that point to the bike’s 8.5k redline. The EFI throttle mapping is aggressive and when you whack the throttle in gears 1-4, be ready to loft the front wheel. At BMW’s estimated 42mpg, the 5-gallon tank could deliver a 200-mile range and while the EFI calculator claimed that I’d been getting 42-48mpg, my fuel receipts indicated that I got 32, 34, and 38mpg over almost 400 miles. Shifting is predictable, precise, and no unusual movement is required. The rest of the power transmission is typically BMW. The single-sided swingarm is, as always, maintenance-friendly, beautifully executed, and downright cool. The tubeless wheels and wire hubs are solidly trick.

The R 1200 GS handling is legendary for a reason. The bike instills confidence, on and off-pavement. The universal design of the GS is slightly slanted toward all sorts of civilized riding situations, the twistier the better. Still, the bike works better than 516 pounds should be expected to work off-road. The weight feels low and in most situations I often forgot that it is a big bike. The BMW is a little scary in deep sand, but that’s probably more me and $18k motorcycles than an actual deficiency. On the MSF course, the GS was maneuverable enough to handle all of the tight cornering exercises inside of the lines designed for our 250cc trainers.

The riding position with the low seat might be too constricted for taller riders, but BMW has several options with the stock seat that can lift the seated position another two inches. I was on the bike, almost non-stop for 200 miles, twice, and comfort was never an issue.

With or without ABS, the GS has an integrated braking system that applies both brakes with front brake application. The rear brake is plenty powerful on its own. The BMW’s ABS system is more aimed at on-road conditions. In loose gravel or sand, the rear brake pulsates and the front is too grabby for a balls-to-the-wall panic stop.

Turn the seat lock toward the back of the bike and the passenger seat comes off, revealing extra storage rack space. Turn the key toward the front and the rider’s seat can be removed without messing with the passenger seat and you can get at the battery, the “rider’s manual” storage, the tool kit, and a helmet security loop.

“The speedo is large and the main item in the instrument cluster, just like it should be”.

The “multifunction display” looks pretty unused, in its normal state. Typically, fuel status, water temperature, the gear indicator, turn signals, an ABS status light, the odometer or one of the two tripmeter options, and one of the on-board computer functions are all that is displayed. The display is, however, a full-service troubleshooting tool with a collection of really cool hidden capabilities that service techs rely on in repairing electronics-heavy modern motorcycles.

The speedo is large and the main item in the instrument cluster, just like it should be. The tach is at the top with an 8.5krpm redline. Just below the tach is the very bright LED display and below that is the previously discussed multifunction display. The instrument cluster is fortified by a serious looking crash bar and completely shielded by the windscreen.

Our test bike did come with about $1,600 of optional features, including a lowering setup, heated grips, hand guards, an on-board computer, and the super-sexy cross-spoke wheel package. Other options include electronic suspension adjustment (ESA), automatic stability (traction) control (ASC), and an anti-theft system. Going for every BMW GS option adds about $3,600 to the $16,150 base price.

I’m not a fan of motorcycles with character, but the BMW’s character is “competence.” Lots of little things are done well. From a kickstand that never offers a moment of insecurity, even when you’re putting it down in soft dirt, off-camber, when you’re tired and distracted, to a motor that just does what it’s supposed to do.

From my home to Leo’s South, I have 27 miles of urban traffic to collect my last thoughts about this motorcycle. Owning a R 1200 GS is out of my socio-economic class, but I can almost imagine putting in a couple of evil years to change sides in the Class Wars, just to own a big GS. I am going to miss this motorcycle. It looks so good sitting next to my WR250X in the garage.

Thanks to the folks at Leo’s South, Wayne and Randy Bedeaux, for making this terrific motorcycle available for review. This was an especially generous loan, since it was one of their personal bikes. If it were mine, I wouldn’t let this babe out of my sight.

2012 BMW R 1200 GS

MSRP $16,150

Engine: 1,170cc air/oil-cooled flat twin 4-stroke, 4-valve, dual cam with central balancer shaft

Bore X Stroke: 101mm X 73mm

Compression Ratio: 12.0:1

Clutch: Single dry plate, hydraulically

Gearbox: 6-speed constant mesh with
helical gear teeth

Drive: Shaft

Front Suspension: Telelever; stanchion diameter 41 mm, central spring strut,
spring preload with 5-position mechanical adjustment

Rear Suspension: Cast aluminum single-sided swing arm with BMW Motorrad Paralever; WAD strut (travel-related
damping), spring pre-load hydraulically
adjustable (continuously variable) at handwheel, rebound damping adjustable

Front Brake: 305mm dual disc w/ 4-piston fixed calipers

Rear Brake: 265mm single disc w/ 2-piston floating caliper

ABS: BMW Motorrad Integral ABS
(part-integral), can be switched off

Wheels: 2.50 x 19” front, 4.00 x 17” rear
cast aluminum

Tires: 110/80 R 19 front, 150/70 R 17 rear

Wheelbase: 59.3 inches

Seat Height: 34.3 inches; Low Seat: 32.3 inches; Lowered Suspension: 31.1 inches

Weight: 516 lbs. (wet)

Rated Output: 110hp @ 7,750 rpm;
89 ft.-lb. @ 6,000 rpm



BMW Trades Oil for Water in 2013

The BMW R 1200 GS has been available for the past 33 years and continues to be among the German manufacturer’s bestsellers.

MMM got a hold of its test R 1200 GS late last year, just before the big motorcycle shows in Europe. As luck would have it, by the time Thomas Day and Molly Gilbert filed there stories, the Bavarians had revealed a new R 1200 GS.

Priced at $15,800 – $300 less than its predecessor – the 2013 BMW R 1200 GS swaps the old air/oil-cooled lump for a new air/liquid-cooled 1,170cc four-stroke flat twin.

The all-new engine is mated to further improvements, like E-gas “drive-by-wire” electronics that provide for a whole host of innovations, a new wet clutch with anti-hopping feature, greater rigidity to the main frame, enhanced Paralever and Telelever suspension for improved off-road handling, an optional electronic system that configures the suspension automatically to the terrain and load conditions, a set of four optional “riding modes” that can be selected at the push of a button, and new body panels. The Premium Plus Package goes for $18,870.

All of those updates result in a weight of 525 lbs. (wet), nearly 10 lbs. heavier than the bike it replaces. That shouldn’t matter, though, because output on the new GS is rated at 125hp @ 7,750 rpm and 92 ft.-lb. @ 6,500 rpm, improvements compared to 110 hp & 89 ft.-lb. from the outgoing model.

The 2013 R 1200 GS is offered in four colors:  Fire Blue, Racing Red, Thunder Gray Metallic and Alpine White.




  1. I was sold on the performance and comfort of the R 1200GS after spending a week riding one up the Pacific Coast Highway two-up. It is an impressive machine. The price is less impressive. Who in their right mind takes a $20k bike into any sort of wooded environment with babyhead rock roads? Well I did, but it was a loaner. Not on my dime.

  2. I hear you man. I fret over my $4000 Suzuki TU (almost dropped it while swerving around giant wash on the farm road in rural Nevada few weeks ago, and rode depressed for 200 miles after that), nevermind a bike with a price of a mid-size car.

  3. Of course, your TU250X is a rockin’ motorcycle and I’d be bummed after scraping it up, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.