Ride Report: 2014 BMW R1200GS Adventure

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>> Aaron Cortez

Ride Report: 2014 BMW R1200GS Adventure

The Adventure/Touring motorcycle market has exploded in the last several years, but the bike that started it all - the BMW GS-series - is still the adventure bike by which all others are judged. We did a lengthy test of BMW's flagship model, the R1200GS Adventure; read on to see what three very different riders thought of this iconic bike!

Adventure/Touring bikes are without question the fastest growing segment of the motorcycle industry. The slew of ADV offerings from virtually every manufacturer in recent years bears this out; KTM with the aggressive 1190, Ducati with their gorgeous Multistrada, Yamaha with their versatile Super Tenere. But as different as each of these bikes is, they interestingly all get most of their DNA from the same place, the adventure bike that started it all: the BMW GS.

Over the years since the launch of the first BMW adventure bike, the now legendary GS platform has become a mainstay of the segment, evolving into the venerable BMW R1200GS you see today. The model has gotten bigger and better over the years, and with 34 years to perfect it, the GS is the two-wheeled definition of refinement. Many would even say this is the adventure bike by which all others are judged.

bmw r1200gsa ready to be ridden
The brand spanking new BMW R1200GSA, ready to hit the road.

But interestingly, even with the distinction this bike has in its class, it is still an oddball of sorts, with its ultra-wide boxer engine, shaft drive, cantilevered front suspension, and massive overall size. It is features like this that distinguish it readily from its competitors, but they also beg the question: what is this sophisticated machine like to ride?

Well, that’s what we’re here for. Once again, the BikeBandit team got together to give you the real deal on what its like to ride one of these fine machines for the long haul, and not just a spin around the block. Three riders, three unique perspectives – read on to find out more!

Notes from BikeBandit CEO, Ken W.

The BMW R1200GSA is a fantastic road bike, and wonderful to ride on the open highway. On our ride from our headquarters in San Diego to the MotoGP race in Austin, TX, the BMW was the bike everyone wanted to ride. It is refined and comfortable, and slices through the air at high speeds with ease; even at its top speed of 138, it is very stable and predictable.

The electronic cruise control was a blessing on the long ride, and a big fuel tank, comfortable seat, and a big windshield you could adjust one-handed combined to make the BMW the weapon of choice for cranking out miles.

I’ve owned two previous version of the R1200GSA, the 2008 and 2010 models, and some noticeable improvements have been made in the new model. First of all, the new liquid-cooled engine is much torquier, and it can wheelie with ease with the traction control turned off. The engine doesn’t really seem to have a “power band”; there’s just torque everywhere, and the engine will chug right along, even at very low RPMs. This is what allows this huge bike to just tractor its way up steep inclines and across rough terrain, and the low center of gravity of the new "water-boxer" engine has actually makes keeping the bike up a little easier than it looks.

texas state troopers pulled us over
But officer, we're professionals doing a performance test on these bikes. We swear!

The bags are very sturdy and mounted solidly; these things seem like they could take a beating. The mirrors are a lot more useful in the new model, the pegs are big and sturdy, and I loved the stock heated grips (which is a feature you don’t realize is so great to have until you’ve used them.) The self-cancelling turn signals are a great safety feature, and they work well. This bike is also perfect for two-up riding.

There are a couple of very minor drawbacks to the BMW that should be mentioned. It is harder to accessorize due to its CANbus electrical system, which needs to be worked around to install most aftermarket electrical components. The gearbox is also rather clunky; you really need to shift this bike with some purpose.

Overall, what I loved most about the GS is that it has no “bad habits.” With over thirty years to develop the model – ten of those years in its current form – BMW has had plenty of time to perfect this platform. There’s none of the funny quirks and weirdness associated with a newly introduced model. The BMW simply works.

(I also want to give props to the folks I got to ride through Texas Hill Country with, from Tucker Rocky Distributing, the makers of Speed & Strength, First Gear, and distributors for Arai Helmets in the US. The trip was a blast!)

Notes from Acquisition Manager, Jake S.

bmw r1200gsa riding trails
Crusing down some local San Diego trails on the big Bimmer.

Having never ridden a BMW before this was a new experience. I was always told what great bikes the GS1200’s are and had high expectations. Perhaps this was my downfall. Coming from a MX background and owning both a Kawasaki Versys and Yamaha FZ1000 I understand very well what makes a good street and offroad machine.

The BMW is a fully loaded offroad touring machine. The electronics are amazing on this bike unfortunately I didn’t have time to play with everything, and honestly it is a bit overwhelming for a BMW newbie to take in all at once. However I really enjoyed the dash layout and seat when comparing to the new KTM 1190. With a fully adjustable windscreen there is no excuse for not being able to find all day comfort.

The GS can be intimidating when first climbing on board due to the large size and wide handlebars. At 6’4” I have no problem getting my feet down, but could see this as a real issue for some. I took the BMW out on some dirt trails and was very impressed with the stability the traction control provided. While you get the impression of a big bike sitting down, standing up gives you a whole new perspective. The seat is thin were it needs to be, the bars are tall enough and comfortable, and the footpegs are perfect for stand up riding.

Power is fast and smooth with quiet exhaust note; perfect for avoiding noise pollution… if that’s what you are concerned about. What is it with the flat engine design? Do they hang out to make maintenance easier? Or to warm your legs in the winter? Not the ideal setup for offroading.

However after taking a step back and considering what this bike was designed for I could see taking this bike across the country and hitting every truck-trail or dirt road I could find. It’s a great long distance bike, and will conquer any dirt road you can find.

Notes from Content Writer, Aaron C.

bmw r1200gsa bikebandit review
I've never felt so small on a bike as I did on the GSA...this thing is a beast!

I’m going to caveat my review by saying that I’m a total newb to adventure motorcycles, and don’t have near the experience other people on the team do with these types of bikes. However, my clean-slate point of view might be helpful to some who are new to the sport, and thinking about getting a GS.

My first impression: man, this is a big bike! The BMW R1200GSA is one of the largest bikes I’ve ever ridden. It’s not just the weight and size; the ergos of the bike seem like they’re for a much larger person, with unusually wide bars and a very tall seat height, and the massive width of the fuel tank and engine made this 6’2” rider feel positively miniature.

I found the engine and gearbox to be clunky, but the engine sure is torquey. You can really feel each one of those big cylinders banging away, especially at low RPMs. The way the engine makes power is odd, but in a good way; like a diesel truck, there’s torque everywhere, and it just feels powerful. But the horizontal configuration was odd to me - I’ve never seen an engine so wide on a motorcycle!

As unwieldy as the Bimmer is, it is definitely very refined, just as you’d expect from the German luxury automaker. Everything is solid-feeling and precise, and the bike behaves especially well when under way at a quick pace. I can see putting some serious highway miles on this bike.

Overall, the BMW is a world-class motorcycle and it shows, but I felt like it was way too big, very over-engineered, and – with its unusual front suspension, boxer engine, and shaft drive – just too out-of-the-ordinary for me (however, those are exactly the reasons certain riders will love this bike.)

And that's just the thing; I feel like this bike is one of those love-it-or-hate-it kind of machines. I didn’t love it, especially in comparison to the exciting KTM 1190 we recently rode, which seemed to have a lot more personality. But I’m the first one to say that it may be that the unique and purpose-built BMW R1200GSA is simply out of my league.

What do you think of the iconic BMW GS Adventure, or of the developments in the ADV/Touring market as a whole? Join the discussion in the comments below and let us know what you think!

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