The R1200GS Adventure sells for more than the Standard and gives you longer travel suspension and a few other extras. The extra seat height makes it intimidating to anyone under 6 feet tall.
There are more of them than you think. The guy next door, even your closest friend might be one. You might become one. They are adventure riders, and it’s now thought that all dirt bike riders have a recessive gene that might wake up one day and compel them to go buy a massive twin-cylinder behemoth and ride it to Alaska. We’ve discovered a number of uncloseted adventure riders nearby; guys like Works Performance founder Gilles Vaillancourt, ISDE rider Pete Postel and Cycoactive’s Tom Meyers.
The whole adventure bike thing was sparked by the BMW GS series 30 years ago. At the time, BMW had won the Paris-Dakar rally with a modified Boxer twin and sought to capitalize on that with a special model. Today, the R1200GS is BMW’s biggest seller. Most of them never see a dirt road, much like a Jeep Grand Cherokee. And in fact, the early models were no more dirt-worthy than any other street bikes. But over the years, the GS evolved into something very specialized. It’s still no Baja racer, but it’s now very good at its identity as a long-range traveler capable of traversing bad roads, dirt roads and occasional trails in relative comfort. That’s the real key to understanding the GS: It combines adventure with comfort.
THE STATE OF ADVENTURE
The 2010 BMW R1200GS is very different from that first BMW 800GS that professed to be somewhat dirty. For one thing, the bike has grown. That 50-horsepower, 798cc, pushrod twin is now a 110-horsepower, 1170 with double overhead cams. It went from a Spartan version of the standard BMW to a more decked-out and accessorized edition. That’s because it found its mark. Instead of trying to compete with 600cc singles, the modern GS carved out its own territory as a way to travel dirt in luxury. So now it has an 8.7-gallon fuel tank, racks and places to mount saddlebags. Weight is still somewhat of a priority, and BMW makes an effort to keep it under 500 pounds. As silly as that sounds, the sheer size of the motorcycle makes you believe it would weigh much more.
The suspension of the GS is kind of wild. The rear end has a single shock mounted to an aluminum casing that houses a driveshaft, and the linkage quells the drive lash. If you ever rode one of the old-world boxers, you know all about the incredible suspension forces that a driveshaft creates. You could literally make the rear wheel leap into the air by tweaking the throttle suddenly. BMW’s Paralever design mutes that effect in the rear, while linkage to the front fork reduces fork dive, transferring that load directly to the frame. BMW offers two versions of the GS: the Standard and Adventure, the latter of which has more suspension travel, a taller windscreen and wider footpegs. Both have an electronic system that allows you to stiffen or soften the suspension with the push of a button.
This year, the motor was the focus of a very big change. There’s another cam under that valve cover. Even though the appearance of the horizontally opposed cylinders is mostly unchanged, there are now separate intake and exhaust camshafts, just like a 450 motocrosser. Fuel injection feeds the cylinders, and a catalytic converter sits in the exhaust tract.
RIDING THE BIG BOXER
The first time you ride a BMW GP you’re assaulted by odd sensations that will eventually become normal. The first is, of course, the size. You sit in a pocket in the middle of the machine and you can’t help but be somewhat intimidated. That goes away. You don’t have any need to become airborne at first, and the thought of breaking the rear wheel loose on a dirt road takes some deep breaths. You’ll get over it. After an hour or so in the dirt, you’ll think the BMW is normal, but you’ll redefine dirt riding along the way.
With such a massive machine, the major issue is always traction. Our test bike actually came with massive Metzeler knobbies, which are a great improvement over the pure street tires that come stock. But after one day of riding they showed wear—you can’t have everything.
You can lift the front end much more easily than you might think, which is handy for crossing rain ruts and small ditches. The standard riding position for the GS is standing on the pegs. You stand on dirt roads, you stand in turns, you stand everywhere. That allows you to weight the front end more effectively than the usual dirt bike method of sticking out your foot. Try that on the Boxer and you’ll just kick a cylinder. The standing position seems natural on the bike, even comfortable. There’s that word again. Comfort is what the bike is all about, from the windscreen to the heated grips to the nicely contoured seat (when you sit there). The suspension is plush at a moderate pace in the dirt. Don’t expect miracles from the electronic suspension settings, you’ll still bottom it hard on sharp edges.
Oddly enough, the motor is a great comfort feature, too. It has an incredible powerband. We talk about how long a modern 450 dirt bike pulls, but that’s nothing. The BMW’s new motor never seems to stop making thick, gutsy torque. You can easily leave it in one gear all day long. Third will work. When you open the throttle at low rpm, the motor just feels good. The longitudinal crankshaft gives it a side-to-side twist when you rev it, but that’s just another of those weird sensations that you get used to.
THE LONG RIDE
It’s almost impossible to ride a GS without wanting more. That’s why people end up in Alaska. The huge tank lets you go over 300 miles between stops, and that’s what you’ll do in the blink of an eye.
The whole adventure experience doesn’t come cheaply. A standard GS sells for more than $15,000. The Adventure model is $17,000. This year, BMW is also offering a special edition commemorating the 30th anniversary of the original 800GS, in colors similar to the Paris-Dakar BMWs ridden by Hubert Auriol and Gaston Rahier back in the day.
The big price tag is what keeps BMWs out of every man’s garage and reserves the whole adventure bike experience to the high-end. But when it comes right down to it, a GS still costs less than a Yugo. And even if you could cross the Mojave in a Yugo, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.