BMW R 1200 GS
John R Hunter
I once owned an R80 ST, a derivative of the first GS series, and I loved it. Iíve since ridden all the versions of the modern GS bikes and I love them too, as they manage to mix touring comfort and back road ability, with a touch of the hooligan. Not for nothing are these bikes perennial road testerís favourites, and Iíve come close to buying one on several occasions. You can imagine then that I have really been looking forward to testing the new R1200GS, as BMW have by all accounts taken a great bike and made it even better, More power, less weight, slimmer build Ö bring it on!
It did not start well. Within the first three yards, I very, very nearly dropped it. Itís a right turn downhill out of the garage, and as I pulled away it stalled, my fault, but a combination of quick clutch, light flywheel and hair trigger throttle was the real culprit. For the next couple of miles, trickling along at 30mph through the outskirts of Dundee, the bike is fidgeting and jumping like a pit bull on a chain, again a light flywheel and aggressive over-run cut off on the fuel mapping I suspect, not what you expect from a BMW. Iím sad to report that my first ten minutes on this bike were a big let down.
To the north of Dundee is some great biking country, fast open roads through the rolling farmland of Strathmore, leading up into the single track lanes of the Angus Glens. Itís a dry, crisp spring morning, the traffic is light, and I am beginning to get to grips with this new GS, and my opinion improves with every mile. This is one rapid bike, but even better are the new servo assisted linked brakes with ABS which are nothing short of awesome. There is no dive under braking, and with suspension that soaks up bumps almost unnoticed, making progress is licence threateningly easy. As Gavin the salesman had said, "this bike sprouts horns". Very true!
This new GS feels less bulky, you sit lower into it, the seat seems improved, and the wind protection is better too. Mind you, there is fair bit of weight transferred onto your wrists, and without much wind pressure to relieve it, I found my wrists quite strained at the end of my run. This tends to promote cold hands too, which is a shame as the hand protectors are the best Iíve tried, and you can ride without the need for heavy gloves. They are an option I see, remember to tick the box.
I decide to try it under motorway conditions, so I pick up the A90 dual carriageway, and lope along at 70mph counting off the GATSOS, which by now Iíve memorised (so theyíre real useful then!). As I expected, the bike treats this sort of stuff with complete disdain, it is utterly relaxed, the wind protection is excellent, so have no qualms about buying one of these if you want to go long distance touring. Itíll eat motorway miles for breakfast.
I get bored with cruising, so I take a minor road and head towards the hills, until I am on a single lane road, with a smattering of gravel. This is hardly off-road stuff, but it is into bike explorer mode, and half of the bike is coping well. The new lighter chassis is excellent, and as ever the broad bars give easy leverage in tight conditions, and the lower seat and slimmer build are noticeable too. Trouble is the engine doesnít want to play. I find myself using first and second, in situations where Iíd much prefer to be using second and third. When trickling along like this, you need an easy transition on and off power, and this particular bike at least just doesnít have it. A lack of torque and flywheel pull from idle makes this a tricky bike in these conditions, and arguably a backward step from the older models.
I discuss this back at the garage, and the consensus seems to be that perhaps this particular engine is not running as smoothly as it might, and of course it is far from run in with only 1000 miles from new. I hope this is the case, but of course until I ride another one I cannot be sure. I have my suspicions though that in lightening the engineís internals, and extracting more power, this low throttle jerkiness may be the trade off. If someone knows otherwise, write and tell me.
So have BMW made a better bike? They have certainly made a different bike, one which is lighter and faster, but which has a discernibly different feel and character from the previous GS. If you are a GS owner who loves the bike for the way it can humble superbikes down a twisty bumpy road, I can pretty much guarantee that you will love the new improved version wholeheartedly. If however your GS is a mud spattered old friend, which dependably covers the miles, and boldly goes where others donít, usually with a half a ton of camping gear strapped to the back, you may want to take a long test ride on the new bike before you decide.
Faster is not always better.
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