My chum Craig came over at the weekend with his new toy, a brand new GS 1200. I’ve always been a fan of BMW’s uber traillie and this latest incarnation takes the GS concept to a whole new level, both in terms of technical specification and sheer physical size. I used to think my old G/S 80 was a big bike but the new 1200 is truly massive, to the point of being quite intimidating. BMW have made commendable efforts to reduce the weight of the GS when the 1200 was introduced in 2004 but when you add on all the current Adventure kit plus a full tank of fuel the bike tips the scales at a whopping 260kg wet. Having done a bit of Googling I was surprised to find the weight is by no means unusual for the class; Yamaha’s 1200 Tenere and Guzzi’s 1200 Stelvio weigh almost exactly the same so I guess the weight is the price the market has come to accept in exchange for all that sophistication. And the 1200 GS is certainly sophisticated with its plethora of on-board gadgetry enabling the rider to adjust the suspension and engine mapping whilst on-the-fly, not to mention plot a route on the sat nav.
Craig weighs up the local Welsh talent
Craig generously offered a test ride and I was keen to have a go. Being a bit short in the leg I found the GS was too tall for me to paddle around comfortably from standstill which made me uneasy setting off from a remote laybay on the Aberystwyth mountain road . Later Craig told me the bike was still set in pillion mode which raises the ride height… see what I mean about sophisticated? Once under the way the weight melts away and despite being almost as wide as a small family saloon, the GS feels positively nimble. Quite how BMW have managed this is a bit of a mystery but the GS is, by any yardstick you care to measure it by, a fine handling bike.
In many ways the GS is like a Porsche 911. The layout defies convention but over the years the relentless pursuit of Teutonic engineering perfection has overcome all the inherent dynamic challenges and come up with a fully-sorted, cohesive package which works far better than it has a right to. It’s quick, smooth, and stops on a sixpence. Judging by the popularity of the current breed of mega traillies the weight clearly isn’t an issue for the majority of customers but it concerns me that bikes, like cars , seem to be getting heavier and heavier . Any weight savings created by clever design and the use of exotic materials is soon cancelled out by the extra ECUs and assorted gubbins which modern vehicles are equipped with.
It raises an interesting question about where all this is going. Let’s look at the Range Rover as another suitable four-wheeled analogy . The Range Rover fair bristles with extremely sophisticated technology to make it more effective off road but 80% [possibly more] of the customers will never have cause to use it , yet they’re paying the penalty in terms of weight , price and fuel consumption. That’s the cost of dragging around diff locks, adjustable ride height paraphernalia and whole pile of technology which they will derives absolutely no benefit from. That said, if the Range Rover didn’t have this latent ability to climb 30 degree muddy slopes would the customers still buy them? I think the answer is, probably not.
The GS is in a similar quandary. As it becomes larger and more powerful BMW’s engineers have to develop more and more kit to give it some kind of off road capability even though the likelihood of one ever being ridden in anger on the dirt is very remote . But perhaps I’m over-analysing it and to be fair, the off-road focus of the GS is no more misplaced then the hyper sports focus of an R1 or a ‘blade and other bikes of that ilk which are blessed with levels of performance most of us can never hope to explore. We’re all automotive fashion victims one way or another.
However, no matter how much you debate it the simple fact remains the GS is a great road bike and it’s not hard to see why the GS is such a popular choice for hard core mileage munchers. It’s superbly built and in its own weird way looks a million dollars. During my brief trip on it I could tell it had superb composure on the road and was deceptively easy to ride fast. It also has road presence like no other bike [check out the pic at the top of the page] which in itself must contribute to safety. I wouldn’t relish tackling a muddy Shropshire lane on it but that misses the point of the GS. I reckon it would be would be just the job for a quick raid to Morocco.
Bavaria? The Dolomites? Nah, it’s Church Stretton.