by Neale Bayly
They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. If that were the case, this story would already be over so I guess I better ‘fess up. Unfortunately, there are no tales of wild nights and huge wins at the tables. But there are some pretty exciting motorcycle adventures to relay from my two days of riding up into the mountains that dominate the Las Vegas skyline.
Leaving the eastern seaboard socked in with heavy clouds and driving rain, the glowing spring sunshine in Las Vegas was an instant delight. Immediately whisked away to a plush hotel on the outskirts of Las Vegas, my only task for the first day was to soak up some rays and get myself to the technical presentation before dinner. This was as interesting as ever, with BMW’s Joan Horst showing us the latest safety innovations and clothing offer this year. With new body armor, removable this and that, and a host of features not found on most motorcycle apparel, I certainly wouldn’t have been surprised to hear the latest jacket turns into a two-man tent, for those times when you are stranded in some far off jungle.
But the assembled scribes and myself were here to learn about BMW’s new adventure touring bike, the R1200GS, so before long Tim Hirst took the floor. As a big fan of the Adventure, I was very pleased to hear the new GS has been on the motorcycle equivalent of the Atkins diet losing a total of 66 pounds, for a new dry weight of 439 pounds. Now a featherweight this doesn’t make, but it is a significant improvement over the previous GS. The new 1200 has also been assigned a motorcycle personal trainer, as it now pumps out 100 horsepower at 7250 rpm, and 85 foot-pounds of torque at 5500 rpm. Losing 66 pounds and adding 15 horsepower, even I quickly figured out this was going to make for a very exciting new machine.
Two days later, standing comfortably, knees locked on the side of the 5.2 gallon fuel tank, I was flying across the top of a dry salt lake at 90mph. Ahead of me, Cycle World’s off-road editor Jimmy Lewis was leading an adventure that saw us doing things on the new GS I wouldn’t have thought possible. It was like being in the middle of a Mad Max movie, and directly ahead of me Tim Hirst was kicking up some serious dust. I pulled right, watching Free2Wheel’s Tom Van Beveran come blasting past on my left. He had to be topping 100mph. Twisting the throttle to give chase, the rear end lost traction, as I reminded myself for the umpteenth time there is close to 100 horsepower trying to escape through the rear tire. The big GS just drifted left and I stayed on the throttle to bring it back in line.
An hour later, I was lying on my back panting like a dog amongst the cactus, gulping down water, and wondering what I had gotten myself into. Jimmy had detoured off on a trail that would be challenging enough on a mountain bike, let alone a motorcycle. Amazingly, employing some of the lessons learned from attending his off-road school that morning, I made it through without dropping the bike. Letting the clutch all the way out in first gear, and riding the bike just off idle with the throttle cracked a little kept the rear tire from spinning too hard. This allowed me to keep moving forward in the deep gravel. The bikes were fitted with road-biased tires, and I think a more dirt-suited tire would have made life easier. But, the good thing was, it allowed us to simulate the scenario of the GS rider who spends most of his time on the road, and wants to take the occasional dirt detour. It is totally possible and very encouraged.
The previous day, breaking away from the sensible BMW lead riders with a couple of other journalists, we had gotten a little wild through one fast dirt section. Following this was an awesome twisty back road, which featured broken tarmac and enough bumps to get the GS airborne a few times. The pace was hot, and, in the dirt, I found keeping the bike a gear high worked best for me. Allowing more drive out of the corners, I could take the big twin down almost to idle, then still pull away without any hiccup or cough from the fuel injection.
I have experienced a few problems with the injection system of previous GS models, but thankfully this seems to be a thing of the past. Out on the black top, road-racing the GS, the taught suspension and incredible power-brakes allowed some silly speeds and lean angles. The bike took it all in its stride saying, “bring it on,” as I repeatedly twisted the throttle to redline.
For 2005, the BMW R1200GS is 98 percent new and born from a philosophy at BMW that said, “let’s see how far we can go.” Starting with the bodywork, this year’s look is more angular and lithe, with the gas tank slightly smaller to the tune of a third of a gallon. The GS’s silhouette remains though, with the sharp, beak-style front fender and asymmetrical headlights. These are now more oblong in shape compared to the old bike’s round jobs. We didn’t get to ride at night, but I am sure these lamps are every bit as penetrating as their predecessors.
The fairing is easily adjustable by two thumbscrews and can be set to your desired height. I had mine all the way up and it gave no buffeting out on the highway. Moving it down induced some turbulence, so I put it back up and left it alone.
Planting my buns in the new saddle, I found a comfortable perch for sure. Designed to take not only leg length, but also leg arch into consideration, the seats are measured from across the seat ground to ground for the desired height. I rode with the stock seat set on the lower of the two height options, and at just under six-foot I certainly wouldn’t have wanted it any higher. There is a high and low seat option available if needed. This gives the GS the enviable distinction of being able to offer a range of seat heights from 32.3″ to 35.4″.
Getting set to ride, the wide, tubular handlebars fell easily into my hands. I have fairly long arms, but it looks as if they should be easy enough to move back or forward to suit your needs. Swinging my feet up onto the pegs, I was surprised to feel how low they are set. This makes for a really relaxed riding position and very little stress on the knees. I never got anywhere close to dragging them in the twisties, and can assure you we weren’t hanging about. If you do get them on the floor, you will probably have your arse and elbow right there with them, so you’ll have plenty of other things to worry about.
Rider’s eye view of the cockpit is BMW classy and clean. A large round speedometer sits next to a smaller, round tachometer and a square digital display panel. The whole panel is protected by a tubular roll bar and the display is easy to read on the move. I didn’t get chance to mess with the digital functions on the display panel, but I did figure out it was telling me how much gas I had left, what time it was and, more importantly on the dirt, what gear I was in.
A neat feature, that I managed to confuse, is the fuel warning system. When you get down to a gallon of gas, a fuel-pump symbol flashes and your expected mileage is displayed. The system calculates this figure based on how fast you are traveling and how hard you’re riding. What it can’t figure out is what to do when you pull long wheelies. I was showing 26 miles to getting off and push time, when the front wheel accidentally went skyward. Facilitated by a light tug on the bars, and a quick twist of the throttle in first gear, the big GS needs no clutch slipping to assist this sort of behavior. On returning the front wheel to terra firma the digital readout suddenly showed 48 miles to empty.
Responsible for the effortless power wheelies, the new 100 horsepower Boxer power plant is an absolute gem. Whether churning through deep sand at low revs, or hitting speeds in excess of 130 mph out on the highway, it just purred along. With no distinctive surges anywhere through the range, it keeps churning out strong, useable power until the rev limiter kicks in at 7750 rpm. Visually, the engine is different this year, using reshaped cylinder heads, which contain larger valves. These are opened and closed in the same manner, but are now filled with sodium to allow them to run cooler. Fire is still provided by means of dual spark plugs.
The pistons are larger and lighter this year. Running in the same 101 mm bore, they now travel through a 73mm stroke. The longer rods also connect to a new crankshaft, which is lighter and stronger. A new counterbalancing shaft is employed to damp out unwanted vibration. And I have to say that at 4000rpm in top gear, somewhere around 70mph, the GS engine is so intoxicatingly smooth, it is going to make long highway journeys an absolute joy.
Also improved is the six-speed gearbox. No longer using sixth gear as an overdrive, the ratios are all closer together. The gears are helical-cut, and the shift mechanism has been updated for smoother shifts. Internal bearings are also upgraded, and a glance at the spec sheet shows the service schedule at a remarkable 25,000 miles. Down at the left foot the changes are immediately evident, and in the exuberant words of Tom Van Beveran, “this is the best BMW transmission yet.” (He is a long time GS owner)
Taking the power to the rear wheel is a typical BMW Paralever shaft drive, albeit a lighter unit thanks to use of forged aluminum. Incredibly, it will never need to have its fluid changed as it is sealed for life. The torque arm now sits above it, for more ground clearance, and the rear wheel uses a visually pleasing hollow axle. Keeping the wheel in contact with the floor, the new rear shock remains adjustable for preload and rebound damping. There is a handy external adjuster knob located on the side of the bike, and it was easy to dial in a little more spring when we started getting wild in the dirt. Back on the pavement, traveling at law-abiding speeds, I relaxed it for a more compliant ride.
At the other end, the distinctive-looking BMW Telelever system is lighter and stronger as it uses high-strength forged aluminum. Trail has been reduced by 5mm for quicker steering, and the fork tubes enlarged to 41-mm for increased rigidity and strength.
Blasting down a tight, twisty dirt-trail, a left-hand bend came up a bit too quick. No worries, as I lightly brushed the front brake lever, scrubbed off the desired speed and made my turn. With the GS using power brakes, I had been initially worried that there wouldn’t be enough sensitivity in the dirt. With the bike featuring optional, partial-integral ABS (try saying that at happy hour) it takes a while to figure what is happening at any given time.
With the ABS activated, the front brake not only works the two four-piston calipers as they grab a hold of their respective 305mm floating rotors, it also adds in the correct amount of rear brake: A single 255mm disc and single two-piston caliper set up. The electric power-assist servo makes sure this is a very strong, precise process, and the brakes haul the GS down very rapidly. And, thanks to the ABS, there is no chance of locking the wheels. It does mean that you have to watch out moving the bike around with the ignition off as the brakes are not too strong, and I had an amusing incident on the edge of a steep cliff moving the bike for photos. To switch the ABS off, you hold the ABS button on the left-hand switchgear and turn on the ignition key. You can now control the front and rear brake independently. This is the preferred method for riding in the dirt; just remember that the system reverts back to full time ABS every time you turn the ignition off.
This comes standard, but there are plenty of things to be had for the accessory junkie. The bike comes stock with a beautiful set of cast alloy wheels, but for $135 you can order your new GS with some very cool looking cross-spoke wheels. Heated handlebar grips are also available and were fitted to our test mules. Heading into the mountains on a crisp morning, quickly gaining 4,000′ of elevation, these toasty grips allowed me to ride comfortably with lightweight gloves on. For a complete list of options, a browse through the BMW catalogue will bring you up to speed.
Heading back to Las Vegas through Red Rock Canyon for the last time at the end of our two-day ride, I settled into the comfortable seat and dialed the engine on the magical 4000-rpm mark. The ride was smooth and the scenery breathtaking. I had ridden the new BMW R1200GS more than 500 miles through some seriously tough conditions. Blasting through high-speed corners, howling along open highways, or flying over rocks and gravel in the desert, it had performed flawlessly in every situation. A dirt bike, touring bike and sport bike in one, with such sophistication as heated grips, adjustable seats and Anti-lock brakes, the new BMW R1200 GS might just be the perfect all-around motorcycle.