photography by Kevin Wing and Jonathan Beck
[This 2010 BMW R 1200 GS Road Test was originally published in the August 2010 issue of Rider magazine]
Standing beside the mud-splattered, 2010 BMW R 1200 GS in my garage, I was losing my patience. A friend who races dirt bikes—those skinny, lightweight things with power-to-weight ratios akin to Sidewinder missiles—refused to believe that the big GS can find its way down a dirt road, let alone one that’s been slicked, rutted and puddled by overnight rain. “You rode that in the dirt? It’s not a dirt bike!” Well, of course not. It’s the All-Bike. And it does fine in the dirt; even better on the street. The GS is the rare touring machine that’s as comfortable crawling up a ratty forest road as it is sailing down the freeway. At BMW’s press event near Yosemite in April, it was happy doing both.
The Munich team has been refining the GS since introducing the original R80G/S 30 years ago. For 2010 BMW boosted engine performance and smoothed out its delivery. Radial four-valve heads from the HP2 Sport are the main improvement, but changes ripple throughout the intake system. The new combustion chamber features larger diameter valves—an 8.4 percent increase for the intake and 6.6 percent for the exhaust—which mandated new cast-aluminum pistons. The valves lift a little higher now, with each of the dual cams activating one intake and one exhaust poppet. Upstream, BMW enlarged the throttle bodies from 47mm to 50mm, revamped the intake manifolds and fitted a higher capacity air filter. Two spark plugs per cylinder still ignite the mixture.
The GS appeals to a wide range of riders, from those whose bikes only see gravel in a rustic parking lot to the adventure-minded souls who explore the back-of-beyond at every opportunity. Each extreme has something to celebrate this year: Retuned intake timing for low- to midrange punch for the explorers, and an 8,500-rpm redline, up from 8,000, for the rev-happy crowd. BMW claims a 5 percent horsepower increase to 110 at 7,750 rpm, and a smaller torque bump to 88 lb-ft at 6,000 rpm with the same 1,170 cc displacement and 12.0:1 compression ratio as last year. It also lowered the final drive ratio from 2.82:1 to 2.91:1, so the 2010 could probably pull a plow in a pinch. The engine revs like a turbine when you twist the throttle now—horsepower doesn’t drop till redline, but torque takes a powder shortly after its 6,200-rpm peak. Strangely, although the 2010 bike equaled our 2008 test bike’s output on one run, the average of 12 runs on the Jett Tuning Dynojet dyno has the 2010 bike actually making a little less horsepower peak at the rear wheel, 93 vs. 96, though torque was the same at 73 lb-ft.
Lug it down or rev it up, the GS suits any style of riding. It didn’t break a sweat while passing six cars and a tanker truck in fifth gear on my ride home from the intro, pulling strongly until that Peterbuilt was a speck in my mirrors. An electronic exhaust flap complements internal silencer mods to add roar-power. There’s no performance gain claimed, but the Boxer’s new high rpm song just might be worth the extra weight and mechanical complexity.
Last year I bought an F 800 GS, reasoning that the 1200 was more than my 145 pounds could handle over hill and dale. Turns out I was wrong. Within two minutes of leaving the hotel for our test ride, we turned onto a soggy dirt road. It was sink or swim with the big dual-sport. The knobbies that BMW had put on all the bikes for the rain-soaked test loop kept the beast planted on the slick surface, helping me conquer whatever the road dished out. My confidence increased with each turn, each rocky section, each slippery rut approached and vanquished. First gear is too low for most traveling and is best saved for steep climbs and tricky pathfinding. Second is a GS rider’s best friend, taking you from slow plonking to 40 mph or more in mere moments, traction permitting. Spin up the rear tire in second or third and the GS will do feet-up power slides until your grin muscles cramp. But with faster travel comes the eventual need to scrub off some speed—you are on top of 538 pounds fully fueled, after all.
Whatever the surface, the GS binders are excellent. Four-piston calipers squeeze twin 12-inch front discs and a two-piston unit grabs the single 10.4-inch disc at the rear. Two fingers are enough on the pavement; one is plenty on looser surfaces. BMW’s integral anti-lock brakes are an $1,100 option on the GS. Unobtrusive in operation, they’re worth the price if they prevent just one mishap. They certainly helped me breathe a little easier while riding into Yosemite Valley through rain, sleet and snow. But I made a point of disabling the ABS—just come to a stop and push a button —when we hit the dirt, where it can extend stopping distances past the edge of a cliff. The GS model’s heftiness drives home the mass x velocity = momentum equation from Physics 101 when flying down a dirt road. Dakar-level riders will just pitch it sideways in the corners, but those of us hoping to see our next birthday will scrub off some speed and use the throttle to steer the bike through. Besides overshooting a couple of early corners, I only noticed the bike’s weight when pulling it upright off the sidestand.
BMW fit expandable Vario sidecases to my ride-away test bike before I left Yosemite. With my gear stowed inside and pavement ahead, the GS morphed into a sport-touring machine. The wind turned nasty while crossing California’s Central Valley, but the GS’s adjustable windscreen gave adequate
protection after I found the right setting, and the bike, still on knobbies, tolerated incessant crosswinds without complaint. The following week I received a set of street-biased ContiTrail Attacks and carved up the local twisties to my heart’s content, as well as taking another forest road foray. Enduro ESA (electronic suspension adjustment) made swapping surfaces easy—just push a button to set the suspension for the conditions at hand. Adding a passenger? Push the button. Been dieting? Push it again. Want to mess with your buddy’s head? Push it when he’s not looking.
The 2010 R 1200 GS uses BMW’s signature single-shock Paralever rear and Telelever front suspension systems to soak up the bumps and put the power to the ground. Testing with various settings on a variety of roads proved that the GS has the chops to perform as a sport tourer, rough-country pack mule or anything in between. It also has an excellent turning radius. I squeaked out a U-turn in the width of two parking spaces.
Boxers are known for clunky shifting, but BMW claims more precise shifting and better feedback for the 2010 GS, thanks to some shifter refinements. Hey, what’s better feedback than a big ol’ clunk? Kidding aside, the new bike does shift cleanly. The occasional gear change from neutral to first feels mushy and vague, but we’re at the level ofpicking nits here. If I wanted to complain, I’d ask for better fuel range. A bike with this much comfort and capability should go 250 miles between gas stops.
BMW calls the GS a grand touring enduro. As odd as that sounds, it’s the best three words I can think of to describe the All-Bike. I’m sure my dirt-biking friend would argue the point, but some people will never know what a GS will do because they’ll never give it a chance. That’s their loss.
Enduro ESA (electronic suspension adjustment) makes off-roading fun.
2010 BMW R 1200 GS Review Specifications:
Base Price: $14,950
Price as Tested: $18,195
(std. package of ABS, hand guards, heated grips; premium package of Enduro ESA, on-board computer, saddlebag mounts; cross-spoke wheels)
Warranty: 3 yrs., 36,000 miles
Ignition: Electronic (BMW Engine Management System or BMS)
Charging Output: 720 watts
Battery: 12V 14AH maintenance-free
Frame: Tubular steel space frame w/ engine as stressed member
Wheelbase: 59.3 in
Rake/Trail: 25.7 degrees/4.0 in.
Seat Height: 33.5/34.3 in.
Suspension, Front: BMW Telelever w/ 41mm stanchions & single shock, adj. for spring preload and rebound damping w/ 7.5-in. travel and Enduro ESA (as tested)
Rear: BMW Paralever w/ single shock, adj. for spring preload and rebound damping w/ 7.9-in. travel and Enduro ESA (as tested)
Brakes, Front: Dual 12-in. discs w/ opposed 4-piston calipers & semi-integral ABS (as tested)
Rear: Single 10.4-in. disc w/ 2-piston pin-slide caliper & semi-integral ABS (as tested)
Wheels, Front: Cross-spoke aluminum, 2.5 x 19 in. (as tested)
Rear: Cross-spoke aluminum, 4.0 x 17 in. (as tested)
Tires, Front: Tubeless 110/80-R19
Rear: Tubeless 150/70-R17
Wet Weight: 538 lbs. (as tested)
Load Capacity: 430 lbs. (as tested)
GVWR: 968 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gals., last 1.0 gal. warning light on
BMW Motorcycle MPG: 89 PON min. (low/avg/high) 38.1/40.1/42.8
Estimated Range: 213 miles
Indicated rpm at 60 mph: 3,500
BMW R 1200 GS Adventure Sidebar
Gentle Giant (Rider, August 2010)
by Arden Kysely
I thought I’d signed up to ride just the R 1200 GS at the press launch, but BMW had other ideas—like sitting my skinny butt and flimsy 68-inch frame atop the sky-high seat of their plus-sized R 1200 GS Adventure (Note to self: check life insurance before next BMW event). Festooned with round-the-world extras like crash bars, cylinder head guards, and a larger windscreen and gas tank than its little bro, plus 0.8 inches more suspension at both ends, this bike has presence. Teetering atop my 35-inch perch, I checked the fuel supply. Oh goody, a full 8.7 gallons of liquid carbon. Bring it on, behemoth Beemer!
Talk about anti-climactic, this bully is all bluff on the pavement. Once rolling (the scary part is holding the bike up) it feels top-heavy, but is still a kick in the twisties, especially considering the stock knobbies. The GSA is more nimble than it looks and has the same easy-to-pull hydraulic clutch, same finger-or-two front brakes and same torquey motor as the GS, just more bulk.
Mr. Big feels heavier off the tarmac, but he’s agile and balanced enough to creep along on tricky terrain. A clutch-saving first gear that’s 9 percent lower than the GS’s simplifies the slow stuff. If this cog won’t dislodge you, call a tow truck. Standing on the wide pegs—a relief after the skinny arch-busters on the GS—the Adventure was tractable and predictable at adventure travel speeds; wick it up and its handicap of 44 pounds plus 3.4 gallons of gas over the GS can be a handful (or two). The GSA may look intimidating, but ridden with respect it is a gentle giant. The only thing daunting about it, besides the height if you’re not long of leg, is the price—the $17,000 MSRP climbs to $20,245 with both accessory packages.