Just HOW good is Bike of Year?
WHEREVER THE ROAD MAY LEAD: The new BMW R1200 GS is as good a long-distance as its predecessor. Image: DRIES VAN DER WALT
Author: DRIES VAN DER WALT
BMW’s R 1200 GS has won South Africa’s inaugural Bike of the Year competition by the narrowest of margins. We decided to test the latest iteration of the iconic adventure bike to see what gave it the edge over the competition.
The big challenge when updating a legendary machine such as the R1200GS is finding ways to improve it without taking away from the character that gave it its lofty status.
For more than 30 years the big GS, with its robust boxer motor and rugged construction, has not only dominated the adventure segment of the market, but also developed a reputation of being one of the best all-round bikes available. The Boys from Bavaria decided to take an evolutionary approach by not fixing what ain’t broken. Instead they opted for refining the bike without losing sight of the character that has made it so enduringly popular.
FOUR SUSPENSION SETTINGS
The 1200 GS now sports an even more powerful version of the venerable horizontally-opposed twin engine, and a new concept of combined air and liquid cooling. The frame on the new bike is more rigid, while the Paralever and Telelever have been enhanced for greater steering accuracy off the road. The GS now provides even more four different suspension configurations that can be retrieved at the push of a button, so that suspension settings can be optimised for the various road surfaces on which the bike is likely to be used.
GALLERY: BMW 1200 GS does Sun City
One of the GS’ strongest points have always been how much of a Jack-of-all-Trades it is, and this characteristic has been retained in the latest version. During the review period I had the opportunity to test it in various settings – long-distance open road riding, soft-roading, playing in the twisties and highway commuting – and it took each role in its stride without as much as batting an eyelid. It is amazing that a bike so competent in rough terrain can be so comfortable during touring and handle so well when ridden hard.
An outstanding feature of the GS has always been how well-balanced it is, and this is another characteristic that BMW has retained. Riding it at a crawl in close traffic is a cinch, and although the GS is a big, heavy bike, size and weight seems to evaporate once it starts rolling. The torque from the boxer motor also helps to keep the bike feeling lively, and a quick twist of the throttle will result in instant acceleration no matter where in the rev range you are.
This versatility does not come at too great a price: the big Beemer returned a very respectable 5.6 litres/100km even though fuel economy was the furthest thing from my mind during the review. Refreshingly, it is not too far off from BMW’s claims of 5.5 litres/100km – I am convinced that it I put my mind to it, I could get the bike to be even more economical than its manufacturers claim. With its 20-litre tank this means fuel stops are more than 350 km apart, a fact you’ll appreciate on longer trips.
NOTHING MARS VERSATILITY
No bike is perfect, and the GS also has some faults. The most annoying of these for me was a flat spot at around 3 000 rpm – a fault that reared its ugly head both during commuting and off the road, which is the two occasions in which you tend to operate the bike in that rev range. The gearbox retains the clunkiness of the other R-series gearboxes, which is all the more noticeable on a bike as refined as the new GS. A minor irritation is the fact that the filler cap’s lock on the review bike was rather fidgety, being fairly difficult to lock and unlock.
These admittedly minor issues do nothing to mar the bike's all-round versatility, and the fact remains that it comes really close to being everything to everybody. Kudos to BMW for significantly updating the bike without killing its character. With the competition edging ever closer to dethroning the GS as the benchmark adventure bike, the Bavarian bundu basher will need every bit of that character to stay ahead of the pack.