BMW R1200GS Adventure African Tour and Motorcycle Test

photography by Mark Tuttle and Arnold Debus

Since BMW has used the word “Adventure” in the name of this latest big boxer model, as it did with its R1150GS predecessor, the company decided to show us the machine’s real intent. It so happened that nine of us Yankee scribblers were in South Africa for the intro of the new F800 and R1200S models, and our hosts were kind enough to arrange a special ride for us on the 2007 BMW K1200GT and BMW R1200GS Adventure (which had already been introduced to the other countries in attendance).

After a two-day dash around West Cape Province on the K1200GT, come morning in Knysna the GTs were re­placed with these brawny, tall-seated R1200GS Adventures, complete with panniers and a middling-sized trunk. With eight gallons of gas in the tank, they weighed about 600 pounds. Half-a-dozen BMW people were going to ride along with us using the standard GS models—which looked positively lithe by comparison.

Baviaanskloof Wilderness
Scenery that is typical of the Baviaanskloof Wilderness area in South Africa.

“We’re camping tonight,” said our leader, “so pack what you’ll need.” I figured that BMW had blown their budget, and was saving money with this gig. Far from the truth, it turned out. Off we went with less than 20 pounds of pressure in the knobby Continental TKC-80 tires—we would be off the pavement within half an hour.

Some 15 GS bikes in all turned north on R339, a good gravel road that led up to the heavily forested Garden of Eden. The road climbed into higher country and as we entered the Lelievlei Nature Reserve, our leader took a sharp left up a gnarly two-track scramble to the very top of the mountain. At the summit he told us that by successfully negotiating that little bit we had passed the secret test, and were ready to tackle the 444,000-acre Baviaanskloof (Valley of the Baboons) Wilderness Area. This was still a ways away, and we had to begin by going back down that two-tracker.

Motorcycle river crossing
Splashing through the first and easiest water crossing on the 120-mile ride. Keep your mouth closed.

We crossed Prince Alfred’s Pass, rode a little bit more pavement, and then after a large lunch, turned onto a dirt road. The beginning was through gently rolling hills, descending into a deep valley between the Baviaanskloof and Kouga mountains. The road was perfect Adventure riding, and we strung out over a mile or more to avoid the dust of those in front, paralleling the Baviaanskloof River (mostly dry during the South African autumn). Although there are reputedly a lot of wild animals out here, we did not see many as they probably fled at the approach of our caravan.

When we arrived at our campsite, it looked like something out of a Cecil B. DeMille epic. Here was a huge field with large tents, one for each of us, with comfy beds and hot showers just a brief walk away. After an amazing al fresco dinner, we sat around a big campfire telling stories under a fullish moon until Morpheus dragged us off to bed. So much for roughing it à la BMW.

In the morning we continued along the Baviaanskloof River, but now there was water in it, flowing from local springs. A good deal of water in places, which we cheerfully splashed through. When we stopped in a shady grove for midmorning refreshment, our leader said the next section would be the toughest, a twisty climb up the side of a mountain on a narrow road the surface of which was mainly bare rock.

Africa motorcycle tour group
The group takes a well-deserved breather by a cool stream.

Here I was glad for the fact I had done a BMW enduro school the year before. While the Adventure is big and heavy, it can also be quite nimble, rather like the dancing hippos in the Disney film Fantasia. Stand up on the pegs, grip the bars firmly, fan the clutch when necessary and make believe you’re on a 250-pound trials bike. It was fun, and proved the versatility of the machine. The six-speed transmission offers a first gear low enough for some serious plonking.

The Bergplaas at the top of the mountain is rather like an American mesa, flat and moderately fast, with enough loose rock to keep one wary. With the fertile valley of the Gamtoos River visible in the distance, we crossed over the highest point on our little jaunt, the 3,770-foot Combrinck’s Pass, before the long, slow descent to paved road once again. Then we gassed up, pumped up the tires and headed back to our hotel in the town of George, some 150 miles away. The knobby tires are not rated for more than 90 mph, and we adhered to that restriction.

Africa campsite
Our campsite was plush.

This was a damned good ride, well organized with outstanding entertainment value, a great introduction to the latest Adventure. If I wanted to motorcycle around the world in the near future, I would probably do it on one of these, forever in search of an equally comfortable campsite but avoiding soft sand and deep mud.

[This article was originally published as “Valley of the Baboons” in the the November 2006 issue of Rider magazine]


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