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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

My Thoughts on the Big Beemer - R1200GS

Many years ago my wife and I watched "The Long Way Round", Ewan and Charley traveling around the world on really cool BMW GS's. Ever since then I have lusted after one, knowing that the $20K price tag would be a huge factor in me never owning one. But the big GS screamed adventure touring. Since then middle-aged men, with dreams of riding The Road of Bones have gobbled up adventure bikes. All the major manufacturers, except HD have jumped on the big ADV bike market. HD, aka Buell had a quasi ADV bike, but they went the opposite way and shut production of Buell down. Feet and fists in the wind baby.

After owning my Vstrom 1000, I have since learned that sometimes a better ADV bike is something smaller. For me anyway. If I'm gonna be riding some gnarly off road, like the LWR boys did in Mongolia and Russia, I'd want a 250. Just watching them muscle around and repeatedly pick up those huge bikes made my aging muscles and bones creak.

However, no matter how you slice it, the big, expensive Beemer is a hell of a motorcycle, and in my opinion worth all the 20,000 dollars of the the price tag.

Thanks to Canada Moto Rallies and BMW Motorrad Canada I was given the good fortune, make it, incredibly great fortune, to be able to ride a brand new (650km on the ODO) 2015 R1200GS at the Fundy Adventure Rally. How many lucky arseholes like me get to take a brand new $20K motorcycle and ride an off road rally with it? Oh and thanks to Editor 'Arris, I was able to ride the Clinton Smout rider training school on the CMG long term test GS.

Other than a very brief stint on the CMG 1200GS, which was basically a 1km highway run, I had no experience on the new liquid cooled machine. So I dove into the deep end,  with my first real ride being a student at the riding school.

Clinton was going to make me do new things while on top of a new, big, bike that I wasn't familiar with, and it was all slow speed tight manoeuvres.

A little background first. Originally I was told I'd be riding the CMG Honda CRF250L in the riding school, which I thought "awesome, little bike, it's gonna be easy" I had videoed the morning class, so I knew what to expect. I used to own an XR250R, so I figured the LRP (little red pig) wouldn't be too different.

That's when 'Arris decided to switch up bikes on me. His lovely wife Courtney wanted to ride some of the afternoon school, so being considerably more petite than I, she got the 250, and I was upgraded to 1200. The 1200 I had never really ridden before. I was a little worried. We all have egos, and I don't really like mine bruised or deflated that often. I figured at least I'd give the class an opportunity to learn how to pick up a big bike after it's been dropped.

Oh.....and did I mention it was my first time on gravel since the previous years rally. Ya, it was.

Thankfully, due to the anal retentive and attention to detail engineers at BMW my worst fears never materialized.

Climbing aboard the big Beemer, it's easy to be overwhelmed with the size, and the complexity of the machine. However the bike feels slightly narrower than my old Strom. The bars are nice and wide and clutch pull is light. The dash has a wide display of options and modes. It was in Enduro mode, which I knew nothing about, other than the ABS is off, sort of. More on that soon. I'm gonna leave all the mode selection crap to later, because at this point, I was told nothing about the bike, other than the key fob is velcroed to the tank, and you press the on/off button then hit the starter.

The new GS is throttle-by-wire. In other words there is no actual throttle cable, it's all done by computer magic, manipulating a bunch of 1's and 0's to give you the desired throttle output based on how much you twist your right hand. At first I really didn't like it. It felt jerky and almost on / offish, like a tap. This is not ideal when your first ride on the bike is slow, slipping the clutch, barely moving exercises.

The great thing about humans, is the way we can adapt to new things, and before long the jerky throttle-by-wire became easier to use. Oh did I mention it was sensitive too.

My fears of lugging the big bike through a tight obstacle course were unfounded. Once standing on the pegs the weight of the big bike disappears. The centre of gravity is nice and low, and the bike is very stable and balanced at slow speed. Of course some helpful words from our instructor Clinton helped me manoeuvre the bike through the tight course without any issues what so ever.

I attended a presentation given by former Honda Canada el presidente, Warren Milner on bike design. One of the facets he touched on was predictability. Basically you get on a Honda, any Honda and it will feel and ride with a certain predictability. All the manufacturers are the same, and BMW is no different. The big GS and it's middle sibling the 800 are very similar in ride.

Last year I rode the 800GS which was a great bike for the conditions we encountered throughout the day, the 1200 was like riding the 800, but with a little more girth, refinement, and power.

I do think the 1200 is easier to ride slow, and when I mean slow, I mean crawling slow. It seemed better balanced. Today was spent mostly in first gear. We did a short, and rather slow trail ride as a group, and overall the GS was easy to ride, no issues what so ever.

The next day would be the real test, the rally itself.

Unlike last year, I never once scared the crap out of myself at this years rally. I overshot a couple of corners in 2014 with a just a tad too much speed trying to be a Marc Coma, and almost put BMW's 800 into various ditches and weeds in the Sussex area. Not sure if I learned my lesson from last year maybe the 1200 was a little better at handling it, or maybe my riding skill was better? I'm thinking I slowed down a bit.

I could go into all the details on the riding modes, but I won't, because I don't know. I never left Enduro the whole day. I do know there is rain, dynamic, enduro, enduro pro, and road. You can Google it if you are the least bit interested. The mode selections change the suspension, ABS and TCS settings.

Yesterday during the riding school I was using the CMG longer termer. Today I was on one of the BMW demo machines. This one had a key and not the FOB setup. Not a fan of the FOB thing, maybe it's my age, don't like them in cars, don't like them on bikes. Other than that I think it was basically the same bike.

BMW gearboxes are typically clunky, and the 1200 was certainly no different. Shifting on the CMG bike was a little smoother and I had no issues finding neutral. The demo bike........well it was a pain in the arse trying to get that thing into neutral at times. No idea why, maybe it was the lower mileage, but stopping on the side of the road to take video became a frustrating dance on the shifter to find the elusive green light on the display. Out of the whole day riding I'd say that was my biggest gripe. I'm thinking it was bike specific.

Since I was stopping to take video here and there, and then having to catch back up to my team, I spent a lot of time shifting under hard acceleration. This combined with the sensitive throttle-by-wire made for some lurching when shifting through the gears. It became less of a problem later in the day as I came more accustomed to the bike.

I can't find the horsepower stats, but 115hp comes to mind, and this bike hauls ass. The power is addictive, and combined with the great suspension you'll soon find yourself hauling down a dirt road at over 140kph. That, believe it or not, is a downside, because I could easily see myself getting into a lotta trouble with that much HP on tap.

The bike is so well planted, and balanced that at speed it just glides over everything, potholes, ruts, etc. Not much knocks it out of line. The downside.....well once a bike this big gets out of line things can go wrong really fast. Luckily for me and BMW, I never had the misfortune. A couple of ruts at 90kph got my attention, but the ol' girl just powered thru them.

Brakes....... luckily I never had any panic stops, so I never really got to appreciate maximum braking. I believe in Enduro mode, ABS is still active on the front brake, and limited on the back brake. You can still lock up the rear end at slow speeds. Since I had no issues with the brakes, I'd call them good, and easy to modulate, especially when using the front brake only to get you down a steep rock strewn ATV trail.

Through the day I took the GS through slippery muck, mud holes, up steep hills, down steep rock strewn hills, high speed dirt roads, and interstate and it just took everything in stride. It was a beautiful bike on the highway, cruising effortlessly at 120-130 with plenty of power on tap for passing. I took it down stuff I'd never dream of riding my old Vstrom through.

Is it the perfect adventure bike? Well for North America and Europe, I'd say it is as good as it gets. Not many bikes are comfortable to ride slow through gnarly terrain, and then will get you home quickly on the interstate at 130kph, or tour across American on the I95 to return via the TAT. It goes from touring bike to a big dirt bike by simply standing up on the pegs.

Downsides? Well there is the price. $19400 Canadian will get you the base model, and like all things Bavarian, option packages will add up quickly. Plus, if you like the dealer to do your maintenance work, that too will extract more loonies from your wallet. First service is in the $1K mark.

Footpegs, ridiculously small and skinny, way too small to standing on for any length of time. I was constantly moving my feet around on the pegs towards the end of the day to help relieve pressure points on the sole of my feet.

Weight, although not really noticeable, unless you are coming from a KTM 350EXC, is definitely gonna be a factor if you have to pick this thing up. Fully loaded for a multi-day trip, by yourself.......let's hope you don't have to pick it repeatedly.

Other than that I couldn't find much wrong with it. I mean to really know if you'd like a bike or not you'd have to live with it for a month or two, and I don't think BMW will let a hack blogger do that.

So.....would I buy one? Maybe, if cash wasn't an issue, but even then I'd be on the fence about it. I like smaller bikes, and right now I want to tour on the Guzzi, and for $4000 I can get a slightly used Honda CRF250L which is all I really need for some off road adventure. With Guzzi and a CRF in the garage, I'm still over $9K richer, or less in debt, because, lets face it, money will always be an issue.

Now, if someone gave me one, hell I'd be overjoyed.

When I retire, absolutely, it would be the perfect retirement present, and make a great one only motorcycle that I could comfortably do everything on. So in another 14 years, when I get the gold watch from work, and hang up my wings, I'll dropping in to see the local BMW dealer and coming home with the new GS.

Thanks to BMW Motorrad Canada and Canada Moto Guide for letting me abuse their bikes. You don't know how much I truly appreciate the opportunity to be allowed to ride such fine machines.

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