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BMW GS 1200 & 1200 Adventure Test

The Magnificent Seven….

Letting the big GS drive the rear wheel without any throttle application, one hand covering the clutch, I watched ex Cycle World Chief David Edwards hit the ground in a split second just in front of me. Breathing deeply, fighting the anxiety welling up inside, the rear wheel slid sideways as I eased out of the seat to give it more traction. Sitting down to swipe at the snow piling up on my lightly cracked visor, I took a second wipe on the inside to try and clear the mist from my heavy breath. The temperature gauge was flashing 31 degrees, and passing cars lay abandoned at the angle they had slid to a halt as I squeezed the heated grips to keep some warmth in my frozen fingers. With my right collar bone broken from some earlier stupidity on the trails above Yosemite National Park, and the pain ripping through my shoulder feeling as if the back of my jacket was on fire I concentrated on keeping the bike in the rapidly disappearing tire track.

Bang! Another journalist went down in front of me with no warning and slid back into my path. Yelling at the top of my lungs for him to stop before we collided, Julian Taylor somehow managed to halt his bike’s descent and I made it past. With the rear stepping out, and knowing I couldn’t control the bike with my busted shoulder if this continued, I eased onto the pegs again to straighten it out. Now there was no one ahead. The Park Ranger wasn’t allowing anyone else up the road and climbing to 7,000 feet as the snow fell more heavily, I was alone.

Drawing on my thirty years in the saddle, and training by Paris/Dakas super human Jimmy Lewis on BMW GS machines, I pressed on. Deliberately keeping my speed low, I eventually noticed headlights as the only riders to make it caught up and passed me. Following them as we started descending, I’ve never been so happy to see 35 degrees on a temperature gauge. With the snow falling so hard now I could barely make out the bike in front we made the lodge. It was one of the wildest rides of my life with a broken collarbone, and I could have kissed my GS for bringing me through. I would never have made it without the heated grips, the traction control and the bikes incredible tractability. In fact, under the extreme circumstances it was the perfect bike.

Heading to the Tenaya Lodge, in Fish Camp, Ca, the day before, the ominous cloud cover and low temperatures didn’t bode well for the intro of the new GS models. Having ridden through two days of torrential rain and deep sand in the Ocala Forest in 2001 for the launch of the GS 1150 Adventure, I know any GS ride will be challenging. BMW builds these bikes to take people around the world, and isn’t afraid to prove they can go anywhere and deal with anything. I’m not sure if even they anticipated the crazy conditions.

Starting with a press brief by BMW’s North American VP, Pieter De Waal, I was interested to learn that the big GS range is responsible for around 30% of BMW motorcycles sold. Not surprisingly BMW is very focused on the GS lifestyle, and Pieter explained the training programs and facilities available to GS owners. Purchasing a BMW GS is a ticket to an adventure lifestyle that spans generations and continents alike. A lifestyle you can join and select what appeals to you personally. Never want to go off road, but like the comfort, styling and safety features? Want to take that round the world sojourn? No worries, there are 80 courses available in the US. Choosing this latter option would be my choice, as you can start at an event in your local area, improve your skills, or go all the way to 2010 BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy. Three riders selected from various countries compete on new R1200 GS bikes in an exciting off-road competition in South Africa.

What other bike or brand gives you the key to such a fantastic and adventurous club? With BMW GS riders making expeditions all over the world, to steal a well known BMW travel guru’s business name, the “Horizon’s Unlimited.” (I actually met this guy on his GS in a bus shelter in northern Norway during a rainstorm) And to prove this point, and the versatility of the big GS1200 and GS1200 Adventure, it was no surprise that BMW trucked us into the mountains around Yosemite National Park early in the year. They had no idea Mother Nature was going to make it more difficult than planned though!

The big news, apart from the lifestyle push, is the new engine. Without riding the previous generation, it’s not possible to make a direct comparison, but from memory this engine is a big leap forward. Torquey and smooth, it took till later in the day to realize I should try running it higher in the rpm to see how it performed. It was surprising how strong it felt, spinning-up quickly and smoothly while pulling effortlessly to the 8,500 red line. During these runs to redline, it quickly became apparent the exhaust note will be seducing gear heads and big twin aficionados the quickest though. Thanks to the external exhaust valve, it is crisp and throaty and it’s hard to think the bike is using a stock exhaust system.

Using new four valve cylinder heads based on their HP2 sport line, the new GS and GS Adventure are putting out five more horsepower and three more foot/lbs of torque this year. While this might not sound like a huge gain, the new engine makes consistently more torque and horsepower across the range from 2,000 rpm until around 7,000 rpm. At 5,000 rpm, it’s putting out 15 foot/lbs more torque and at 6,500 rpm close to ten more horsepower. So you can see why I got a surprise when I ran it up into the mid range and really found the power.

Inside the new cylinder heads, the valves are arranged in a radial fashion and both intake and exhausts are larger this year. There are new air-intake manifolds, larger throttle manifolds and a bigger air filter for more flow. Improvements have also been made to the combustion chamber and two new pistons take advantage of these changes.

BMW has always made intelligent motorcycles, and the new 2010 GS models have the choice to equip your bike with Enduro ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) or Integral ABS (Anti lock brakes that are semi-integral on demand). These extras come in various packages that include the heated handlebar grips, saddle bag mounts, on board computer, fog lights and handlebar protectors. The standard package GS starts at $14,950 and goes up to $17,695 with all the bells and whistles. Start with the new GS Adventure and the entry price is $17,000, which of course gives the bigger tank, windshield, foot pegs etc. Choose every option and the price goes up to $20,245. There is a lot to think about at purchase time with both models, as all of the extras make a lot of sense for the serious rider who rides a lot of miles over a wide variety of terrain.

A point to note here is the Enduro ESA adds an extra six suspension settings specifically for off road riding, and these are activated on the fly. This gives the new GS range a total of fifteen settings, as the bike already comes with BMWs standard range of nine. On existing models you see an image of a single helmet for solo, a single helmet plus luggage symbol for riding with luggage and two helmets to indicate you are ready for a passenger. The initial spring pre-load settings must be made while the bike is stationary, with the damping settings, comfort, normal, and sport being changeable on the move. With these new Enduro settings you can toggle between moderate bumps and strong bumps. Three damping settings are available for both these choices, and you can also turn the ABS off when heading into the dirt for more control. For those not familiar with these functions they are easy to operate with big, obvious buttons on the switchgear, and a few minutes with your friendly BMW sales staff with have you immediately up to speed.

No surprises on BMWs typically weird suspension this year. A Telelever front suspension unit replaces the conventional fork system found on most other motorcycles, and a Paralever rear suspension system lives out back. Without going into great detail, the Telelever  eliminates dive under braking and makes setting up and entering corners a breeze, while the unique shaft drive eliminates unwanted jacking under acceleration and braking for smooth riding at all times.  No changes to the body style of either bike this year, with the GS coming in Magma Red, Ostra Grey Metallic Mat, Sapphire Black or Alpine White, the Adventure I available in my favorite Shine Yellow Metallic or Smoke Metallic Matt. BMW also offers a limited edition 30 Year anniversary edition on both platforms. These will retail for $795 more than the standard models and pay homage to the Paris/Dakar racing bikes of the ‘80s and look fantastic.

Starting my day in the saddle of the Adventure, it’s noticeably taller and heavier. Although this extra weight and size just make it seem more amazing, I was definitely able to go faster and with more control (until plowing it into a bank) on the straight GS. You can still do it all on the Adventure. It just takes more concentration to hustle the bigger bike.

The true test of the new BMW GS 1200 came climbing out of Yosemite at the end of the day in the heavily falling snow. In all my years on two wheels, I can’t think of any other time I wanted predictable fueling, wide bars, and a balanced motorcycle as I crept up the snowy mountain. The GS just delivered and then some. With cars sliding off the road, emergency vehicles struggling, I climbed up that mountain with all the caution I could muster. Letting the engine plod along with barely any throttle input to maintain traction, it was an extremely tense period.

Back in the warmth of the lodge as we waited to find out what happened to the rest of our crew, I had a chance to reflect on a wild day. BMW has done it again, further improving their globe trotting GS line with a fantastic new engine. It’s been thirty years since we saw the first R80 GS and wondered who would want a big heavy off road bike with cylinders sticking out of the side. After another day of amazement in extreme conditions riding the new big GS models, I’m left wondering who wouldn’t?

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