BMW’S GENTLE GIANT. Remember those TV shows that starred Ewan Mcgregor and Charley Boorman? The one where they toured parts of the world on motorcycles that they treated as beasts of burden, fully loaded with the only gear they’d need for the month long journeys that took them across more than 14 countries? If so, read on. If not, check out a few episodes. I’ll wait. Good? While some may say that BMW’s Gelände/Straße (German for off/on road) gained popularity and household name status after the shows, it’s easy to dismiss the fact that the idea of a dual purpose BMW motorcycle started in the 1980s with the R80G/S. From then on, from Paris to Dakar, to the International Six Days Enduro, the GS line of BMW Motorrad has been racking up the miles and the smiles for many would be adventurers, even more so that technology and innovation has always been a focus of the GS family. Needless to say, these intimidating motorcycles have grown in size, capability, and performance, and they haven’t stopped since. In the Philippines alone, there is a solid following for the BMW GS and their variants, ranging from the F 700 and F 800, to the top of the line GS 1200 Adventure variants, all donning crash protection, luggage, auxiliary lighting, rider creature comforts, and maybe even the kitchen sink. Save for some Enduro training with BMW on a closed off-road course, my experience with the GS 1200 was limited to a few block radius courtesy of some friends, so I was thankful to have the opportunity to keep the motorcycle for a few days, courtesy of BMW Motorrad Philippines, and use it as a daily ride. How was it? Let’s count the ways.
- Get over the size: It’s extremely easy to see the GS 1200 as a hulking machine that weighs a ton and is too tall for most people. While the height issue can be remedied by purchasing lower suspension and seat option, which my demo motorcycle had, the weight factor comes in only when maneuvering the bike from a sloped parking space. Other than that, the motorcycle feels light and nimble for something tipping the scales at 500 pounds, even more so once you really get moving. The balance of the engine, chassis, riding position, and wide handlebars make maneuvering the GS 1200 a breeze. The height also adds confidence when approaching traffic since one can easily spot gaps and open lanes to breeze on by.
- 125 bhp of real, usable power: It my not have the highest horsepower of the adventure bunch, but the power delivery and throttle feel of the GS 1200 is almost perfect. Let out the clutch in first gear and you can chug along with rush hour traffic or queuing vehicles with ease. Once the road opens up, twist the throttle in any gear and you get smooth power that only gets punchy when you want it to. Take it off road and the bike’s low center of gravity and engine configuration can have you clearing obstacles and making tight figure 8’s in low gears with barely any throttle application. Less stress on you left hand and less fiddling with stalling the bike means more fun and concentration for the road ahead. Did I mention that the shaft drive is almost completely maintenance free? Hassle free riding for quite a while.
- 20-liters of go anywhere fun: I literally only spent a thousand Philippine pesos on gasoline for 4 days. Topped up, the range computer displayed 320km until empty. Take note that the range was very pessimistic. Some of my friends reported getting 400kms on a tank with the GS 1200 non-adventure (adventure variants get 30 liters and up), so expect more range, especially when cruising along in comfort.
- Creature comforts: On my demo bike, I enjoyed heated grips (great in the rain, mind you), LED headlights, electronically adjustable suspension and dampening (ESA), a quickshifter (Gear Shift Assist Pro), Enduro/Dynamic riding modes, ABS, Traction Control, GPS mount and handlebar controls, a comfortable seat, and a fantastic adjustable windscreen. And it just starts there. Additional options include side bags/panniers, top boxes, crash guards and protection, auxiliary lighting, heated seats, different pegs, a myriad of styling options, and, more importantly, seating and suspension options for almost any rider. The list is actually as long as my arm, and I have long arms. All of this is readily available from any Motorrad dealer and can be bought with the bike right away, or added on by their service specialists later on. There are also aftermarket options that span the globe, so no two GS 1200s are ever alike in the long run. Oh, and my significant other almost fell asleep during a cruise on the pillion seat, hats off to you, BMW.
- Road presence: They say to ride like you are invisible, but with the GS 1200, people actually stop or slow down to check the bike out. I’ve had more people make room for me on this motorcycle than any other, and I was devoid of all the bags and additional lights for visibility. The huge front and intimidating height makes you a bigger road user, increasing conspicuity greatly. The LED headlights and taillights are also fantastic, providing great visibility and throw even in the darkest rides.
In closing, the GS 1200 spoils the rider and passenger with comfort and technology that is usually copied by other manufacturers. And, if imitation were the best form of flattery, the GS 1200 would be much shorter. One thing’s for sure though, the GS 1200 has made the world, and even the country, a much smaller place. You won’t really know for real what I’m talking about until you ride one, and notice you’re several hundred kilometers on a scenic dirt road, overlooking a gorgeous view. Oh, and still be home before lunchtime. Now isn’t that happiness for everyone?