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"Fast Bikes", April 1, 2013

BMW R 1200 GS


Since its launch in 1980 the Gelande Straße (that’s German for on road/off-road, if you’re interested) has provided the bedrock for BMW’s motorcycle division. In the last nine years, BMW has sold over 180,000 R 1200 GS models – and around a quarter of all its bike sales are GSs.

To put it simply, if the GS didn’t exist there would be no S 1000 RR, no WSB team to keep our Chaz in leeks, no naked S 1000 RR (it’s on its way...) and quite possibly no BMW Motorrad. The success of the GS is as crucial to the future of BMW motorcycles as Jordan’s bra is to keeping her from getting black eyes on a treadmill. With this in mind, can you imagine the stress levels involved when it came to developing a new model?

Rather than play it safe, BMW has instead decided on a brave move and abandoned 90 years of air/oil-cooled Boxer engine development and given the new GS’s motor a water coat. Kind of. Despite the GS having water-cooling it isn’t a true water-cooled motor as it’s only 35 per cent liquid cooled, the rest is still air cooled in traditional Boxer fashion. By using a ‘precision cooling’ technique, BMW has targeted the efficient liquid cooling system only on the areas of high thermal stress that require the heat to be dissipated quickly.

The addition of water-cooling is just one of the numerous changes that BMW has made to the new GS. Inside the engine nearly every component has been redesigned and, where possible, lightened. A quick blip of the throttle is enough to tell it’s a far more sprightly and faster revving motor than before.

Boxer engines have a traditional lazy feeling about them as the two huge pistons fire in and out within the cylinder heads – the new GS feels like someone has given those pistons a shot of espresso coffee and they’re now buzzing with intent. But something is missing.

At a standstill the engine feels eager to respond and oddly lacking in the traditional Boxer lateral movement when you rev it. BMW has lightened the crank and although there is a bit of a ‘Boxer sway’ it’s nothing like as apparent as before. It’s an odd feeling if you’re used to Boxers, but when you get moving you instantly forget about it and instead relish the GS’s new found turn of pace.

It may ’only’ have gained 17bhp and 4ft lb of torque, but the water-cooled engine feels faster and more eager to respond than the old motor. Crack the throttle open and you’re rewarded with a surprising surge of acceleration. Where the 2004 update from 1150 to 1200 made the older model feel heavy and sluggish, this new water-cooled motor has the same effect on the air-cooled model. But here’s the clever part; despite feeling faster and quicker to respond, the new GS still retains the non-intimidating feel of the older bike’s engine. The water-cooled motor isn’t brutal or aggressive in its power delivery, instead it’s smooth and relaxed, almost as if BMW has injected the old engine with steroids – which is kind of what’s been done.

If, however, this is a bit too much oomph for you, the new power models (Rain, Road, Dynamic and Enduro) alter not only the throttle’s response, but also the excellent traction control, semi-active suspension and ABS systems. Of the four fuel modes I found ‘road’ and ‘dynamic’ the most useful. In ‘rain’ the throttle response is pretty muted. A good test (although not prescribed by BMW) is to wheelie it. Holding the GS on its back wheel in ‘dynamic’ mode was not very easy as the throttle was too responsive. However, in ‘road’ it was considerably easier, something that demonstrates a far smoother throttle response. There’s also an ‘enduro pro’ mode, which can only be accessed with a special plug and isn’t recommended for road use. Those who want to fit off-road tyres on their GS and hit the trails will find the reduced interference of the traction control and an ability to skid the rear wheel useful, but I can’t see many GS riders venturing this far from Tarmac. And why would you when the new GS handles so well?

Impressive as the water-cooled engine is, the real surprise for me is just how much BMW has improved the GS’s agility. A new chassis, altered swingarm and uprated Telelever system have transformed the GS from a good handling adventure bike to a very good handling motorcycle that happens to also be an adventure bike. The chassis alterations have played their part in this process, but the biggest change has come from the new wheel sizes.

In the bad old days of big trailies the combination of unusual wheel sizes (generally 17-inch rear, 19-inch front) and semi-offroad tyres made for vague handling. Bikes such as the Tiger and Multistrada changed this by using 17-inch wheels. BMW has always stuck with the 17-inch and 19-inch combination. Over the years modern tyres have helped improved the feel, but until now I’d much rather have 17-inch wheels and proper road rubber. The GS has changed my opinion.

By equipping the new GS with wider wheels and tyres (120/70 from 110/80 on the front and 170/60 from 150/70 on the rear) as well as fitting new Metzeler Tourance Next tyres, BMW has cut out any sign of vagueness in the handling. The GS feels absolutely locked to the road in corners with the kind of stability that I never expected from these wheel sizes. As well as feeling lighter to turn in, the GS holds its line through a bend far better than before. It is a remarkable change, and one that may be due in part to the new suspension.

With any good electronic package the key to it being impressive is if you can’t spot it’s even there. BMW ABS (especially on the S 1000 RR) is a case in point. You don’t know it’s doing anything until it gets you out of trouble. The Dynamic ESA works like this. While it has the same settings as the old ESA (soft, normal, hard) the semi-active side just gets on with the job in hand and sorts the rest out. Without riding a non semi-active GS back to back I honestly couldn’t say how effective it is on the road, but on gravel tracks it did a remarkable job of dampening bumps.

The addition of a liquid coat doesn’t detract from the Boxer engine’s look or character and instead gives it extra grunt where it’s needed most. The improvements to the handling take the GS’s agility to another level and the semi-active suspension, as well as the new electrical gizmos such as the power modes, only add to the overall package. Last year’s GS model had just about been caught by its rivals, but now BMW has succeeded in moving the goal posts again with the 2013 version – it’s now up to the competition to raise their game to match this new standard.

So here’s to another 33 years of GS success, long may it keep bringing in the money so that BMW can continue to build awesome superbikes like the S 1000 RR...

ENGINE The engine is 35 per cent liquid/65 per cent air-cooled (was 22/78). The crank is lighter and the valves 1mm larger in diameter at 40mm intake and 34mm exhaust. The cylinders are now integrated into the vertically separated crankcases. The ‘ride-by-wire’ system is new with four main modes (rain, road, dynamic and enduro) and ‘enduro pro’ accessed via a dongle. Cruise control is an option as is semi-active suspension, tyre pressure monitors, and more.

CHASSIS The tubular steel chassis is new with the subframe now bolted on as a separate unit. The longer Paralever swingarm swaps the singlesided swingarm’s hub side over and the Telelever front end is updated in its design. Wheels are increased in width to 120/70 front and 170/60 rear with cast or spoke wheels as an optional extra. Radially mounted Brembo four-piston brakes come with ABS as standard and have 2mm bigger pistons than before.



Type | 1170cc, liquid-cooled, 8 valve, DOHC Boxer twin

Bore x Stroke | 101mm x 73mm

Compression | 12.5:1

Fuelling | Electronic fuel injection

Claimed Power | 125bhp @ 7,700rpm

Claimed Torque | 125Nm @ 6,500rpm


Frame | Steel tubular trellis

F Suspension | BMW Telelever

R Suspension | BMW Evo Paralever

Front Brakes | Four-piston radial calipers, ABS, 305mm discs

Rear Brakes | Two-piston caliper, ABS, 276mm disc


Wheelbase | 1,507mm

Seat Height | 850/870mm

Wet Weight | 238kg

Fuel Capacity | 20L


Price | £11,395 (standard), £12,435 (enduro spec), £13,815 (touring spec)

From | BMW Motorrad UK www.bmw-motorrad.co.uk 0800 777155


1170cc Boxer

New cool (ing)

Semi-active springs


238kg wet

125bhp (claimed)

From £11,395


Tracks, yes. Track, no


You’ll be surprised...


Only to test the throttle!


Can think of worse...


Depends on your age!

Verdict 9/10

The best adventure bike on the market has just got even better. BMW could have screwed up the jewel in the crown – thankfully it hasn’t



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