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Motorcycle Review - BMW R1200GS

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

BMW R1200 GS

By Nicholas Frankl

Senior Editor

If you thought that the I-Drive was BMW’s only idiosyncrasy, then clearly you do not ride motorbikes. For, just as the Porsche flat-four and flat-six boxer engines are the soul of the brand experience, the flat-twin is the life blood, design and engineering anomaly of BMW’s motorcycle heritage upon which it has firmly established a devout and loyal following around the world, including many of the world’s greatest adventure riders.

 Spending most of my riding on high power sport and custom bikes, I was intrigued to try the latest 1200 GS. After years of continuous development by those masterful German engineers, the flat-twin is now far more civilized and powerful. The torque ‘steer’ and NVH qualities have been fundamentally improved, BMW creating an intimidating bike to behold, if not to enjoy. The first thing that you notice is the sheer size and height of the GS. The front mud guard and headlamps are almost chest high and the saddle is above my waist (I’m 6 ft) until you’ve climbed aboard and settled in. The controls are all typical BMW - meaning ‘individual’. I must declare that whenever I have ridden Bimmer’s I have found the left and right controls, the individual indicators and the sculptured yet easily missed horn, very frustrating. No doubt BMW will counter with reams of data from happy customers, but as much as I tried and really wanted to literally get to grips with it, I just found myself constantly searching for and often missing the button when I most needed it. To be fair I have little doubt that if I rode a BMW as a daily driver and nothing else, I too would eventually acclimatize to the controls.

This bike looks mean and turns heads like a Honda RUNE. It screams, take me on or at least take me off road. It is the automotive equivalent of the H1 Hummer – battle tried and tested to the limits, it scoffs at the sight of tarmac and feels like it really will take you round-the-world before it’s ready for breakfast, or an oil change. The test bike came equipped with standard ‘knobby’ tires, which didn’t instill too much initial confidence, especially ridding up the wet canyons, as they have considerable play both in the tread and the tire wall and that combined with your above usual riding height makes for a gradual learning curve. My first trips were around town to meetings in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, and I soon found the GS to be an excellent wingman: the ride height affords you brilliant visibility, a tremendous advantage in traffic; the upright riding position is comfortable and relaxed; the unique anti-dive front suspension / braking system works superbly, particularly as it comes with ABS; and the light and very tight steering lock is well-suited to diving into spaces and maneuvering through tight city bumper-to-bumper traffic.  Within an hour I was riding up and leaping off curbs like a kid with a new skateboard and even receiving admiring glances from the LAPD, who also ride BMW’s, but not the GS.

The more the GS and I got acquainted the more I enjoyed riding the bike. Each trip became a mini-adventure. Equipped with the mother of all industrial strength saddle bags, the type of bag that you could drop from a helicopter and worry more about the ensuing crater than the bag, the GS felt wide, and as I didn’t want to leave a gash down the side of some hot shot producer’s black 7-series, the silver cases were retired with the easy release of two color coded clips. The GS was now ‘naked’ and looked and felt all the better for it.

The 100-bhp boxer twin pulls strongly from low revs, but runs out of puff quiet abruptly as you approach 7,000 revs.  With 85ft lbs of torque you need to keep it in the right gear if you want decent pick up. Fortunately BMW provides you with a handy digital gear selector readout and an all new 6-speed gear box which is a pleasure to use. At full chat, it will not embarrass you even when tagging with all but the fastest sport bikes and, on the highway, the engine is happy to cruise at 80mph all day. With an adjustable front screen, buffeting is reduced, and although I didn’t find it totally effective, it does a decent job. After an hour on the handlebars, which by the way have a two-stage heated grip, you will find a little numbness setting in, a characteristic of this type of engine configuration. Of course what this bike was made for and where it’s most at home is on a moonlit Saharan night, tearing through sand dunes, the GPS and three satellites keeping you on a steady course as you venture where no machines were ever meant to, but where the inventiveness of man and the power of technology allows mortals like the Dakar Rally riders to play in the least hospitable terrain to be found on earth. Unable to take the time off required to compete in the Dakar rally, I did the next and nearest best thing and ventured into the Hollywood Hills, Griffith Park and up to the Hollywood sign. The GS was hardly troubled by the meager trails I threw at it, but it gave me chance to take a bike off road and explore a new kind of riding experience, a very different one from blasting leathered-up through mountain highways and velvet blacktop. The ABS is totally cool and gives even the novice (me) rider a great deal of confidence. When I did discover a steep hill, (well it looked and felt steep to me) the GS powered straight up without batting an eye. BMW knows why its riders buy this bike, so they set up a special training camp in the hills of Germany, near the factory, to teach the latter-day Lawrence’s of Arabia how to master this craft.  If you’re ever riding in Europe, you might want to consider a visit.

The bottom line is that although I’m yet to see the film, the concept of ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ - that of circumnavigating the globe with a mate on a motorbike and taking the path less well-trodden - is incredibly appealing and if that’s a goal, then the GS is the machine for you. Equally, equipped with road tires, the GS becomes an excellent commuter machine that will hold all your junk and then some and enable you and a passenger of almost any size to literally rise above the motoring crowd in comfort.

BMW R1200GS - $15,250



Air-cooled/oil-cooled flat twin four-stroke

Bore x stroke

101.0 mm x 73.0 mm


1170 cc


100 bhp @ 7,000 rpm


85 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm

Compression ratio


Valve gear



2 x 36 mm intake / 2 x 31 mm exhaust

Valves / cylinder


Engine oil capacity

4.0 quarts


2 x 36 mm intake / 2 x 31 mm exhaust

Valves / cylinder


Engine oil capacity

4.0 quarts



Fuel requirements

Premium unleaded

Fuel capacity

5.2 U.S. gallons

Charging system

600 Watts @ 12 Volts


12 Volts 14 Amps/hour

Cooling system

Air and thermostatically controlled oil cooling

Thanks to:

Arai helmets:

Clothes maketh the (riding) man

As well as the GS, BMW also sent me some examples of their latest high performance clothing line. The two piece denim suit is quite unique, featuring tough burn resistant Kevlar interwoven throughout the material. The jean pants have impact protection in the knees which is barely noticeable from the exterior, they don’t have anything for hip protection, but in my experience if you’re looking for street wear, then hip protectors give your derrière the appearance of a sumo wrestler. The jeans jacket is very cool and urban looking, low cut with front breast, side and inner pockets. It also has a leather patch across the rear shoulder section and comes with a neat hidden zipper in the back to zip into the pants. Protection comes in the form of molded foam inserts in the elbows and shoulders.

Obviously this suit is not meant for replacing high speed leather-wear, but for day time and evening casual use, it is brilliant and gives you a level of comfort and confidence no Levi 501’s can ever do. This way you can look cool arriving, parking and inside your favorite bar without compromising on safety.

Although it’s early days for the suit, I will keep you updated on how it performs as the materials wear-in over the next few months.

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