Ride Report: 2000 BMW R1150GS

Funky, Spunky and Germun-ky


Los Angeles, January 7, 2000 -- Life is often a set of compromises. For example, take politics. One presidential candidate may be just what you were looking for as far as managing the economy, but he or she may be a bit rigid on social issues. Then there is a candidate who might share your cultural ideas but whose views on the economy may be considered 19th century at best. Seems like you can't always get what you want. Motorcycles are much the same. As soon as you find a bike that you believe is your your personal Holy Grail, you notice that while it excels in some areas in others it lacks, if not outright sucks. A great sportbike on the racetrack is often miserable on the street, and don't you dare think about commuting on it. Then there is the bike that has all the ingredients to make a world-class tourer is terrible in the twisties and at track day.

Where do you turn, then, to find a motorcycle that fits you like your comfortable, do-it-all tightie-whities you wore every day of your freshman year of college? Indeed, you can't always get what you want.

But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. BMW thinks they have what you need with new for 2000 R1150 GS. They refer to the GS as an "adventure-tourer," but just about any motorcycle has the potential to become an "adventure-tourer."

Still, some motorcycles are better equipped than others for "adventure-touring" and the GS may well be the Swiss Army knife of two-wheeled motorized vehicles, not only able to do a bit of everything, but score consistently above par. The Stats, Please   More than 115,000 of BMW's R-series GS models have been sold since it's introduction in 1980, so you know they've done a thing or two right with this bike.

All BMW's roll out of the factory with the excellent Telelever front suspension system that does away with nearly all of the front brake dive found on other motorcycles. Another BMW exclusive is the Paralever shaft-drive system designed to eliminate almost all of the harsh driveline lash commonly found on high displacement, shaft-drive motorcycles. The 2000 R1150 GS comes to showroom floors with a redesign that makes the bike an even more attractive option. Headlining the list of changes to its fuel-injected, eight-valve motor is a new six-speed gearbox and an increase in displacement from 1085 to 1130cc.

When combined with a new exhaust system and changes made to camshaft timing, the alterations to the powertrain result in a claimed peak-power increase from 80 to 85 hp and a slight increase in torque from 72 to 73 lbs/ft. The GS has also been graced with a new, self-diagnosing Bosch Motronic MA 2.4 electronic management system, a larger oil cooler borrowed from the R1100 RT and a new hydraulic clutch to better cope with the added ponies and new transmission. Other chassis changes include a three-pound lighter Telelever system sporting 7.1 inches of travel, re-inforced rear frame mounts, footpeg supports and sturdier transmission housing where a shortened 506 mm Paralever rear end bolts on in place of last year's 520 mm unit. This year's standard features include a centerstand as well as saddlebag racks, hazard warning flashers, a catalytic converter, heated grips and a 12 volt plug for accessories.

Two-up, solo, twisty back roads or interstate droning; the GS does it all well.

Thanks to new body work and bolt-on bits, the most visually noticeable change to the GS is its restyled appearance. In addition to the asymmetrical twin headlamps, a three-position adjustable windshield and restyled upper and lower fenders, the rider's cockpit received an entirely new dash panel featuring a standard rider information display with a digital clock, fuel and oil level gauges and gear indicator. Further adding to rider comfort is the new, two-position (33.1 and 33.9 inches) adjustable seat height that makes this relatively large bike a consideration for a few people who -- at first glance -- might otherwise deem the bike too tall and cumbersome.

Fuel injection feeds horizontally-opposed cylinders featuring added displacement.

Primaries

Before we even began to ride this bike we were thumped hard by its looks.

While some of the staff thought the GS was extremely cool-looking and a breed apart, one lone staffer here considered it "too utilitarian and too functional looking."

Wherever you look, there's a conversation to be had about every square inch of this bike. Like the R1100 GS, the new 1150 possesses strictly love-it or leave-it looks.

Paralever shaft-drive rear-end is another of BMW's unique innovations.

The upper fender and headlight cluster give the bike a very distinguishable duck-like snout while the Telelever front visually still takes getting used to and the single-sided Paralever rear end makes the back of the bike look empty, devoid of some necessary appliance; that is until you attach BMW's almost flawless hard bag system that holds just about anything you could ever need to stuff in a bag. These bags and their mounting system are the best in the business. Whether you love or loathe the 1150 GS's looks, it becomes a moot point after a tank of fuel has passed through the injectors.

On the road this motorcycle's esthetics, or lack there of, is forgotten as you travel almost effortlessly down the boulevard, on the freeway, in the twisties, through inclement weather over fire roads and across state lines. The most noticeable differences between the new 1150 and the old R1100 GS are the larger displacement motor and six-speed box. The additional displacement teams with the new engine management system to deliver more power and a more enjoyable ride in every situation, either rolling down an interstate at 75 mph or blasting up a dirt road. Additional power is rarely out of place unless it comes on abruptly or at inopportune times, and the GS doesn't disappoint; it is so smooth and controllable that the extra oomph is always welcome.

We discover the joys of added oomph and a slick six-speed gearbox as a friend looks on and contemplates a career change.

The new six-speed tranny is a huge plus in all situations: the ratios of the first five gears have been tightened up and are great for around town and canyon back roads, while the additional overdrive gear keeps the engine speed down, making things smooth and economical on long stretches of straight and boring road.

Matched with the hydraulic clutch, the excellent Paralever suspension and the minimal amount of driveline lash that finds its way through the chassis, the entire powertrain performs flawlessly. The gearbox is now, for the first time on the GS, able to be rowed sans clutch and its engagement was solid and predictable. Even when slipping the clutch heavily while threading through traffic, it neither faded nor became grabby -- even when intentionally abused.

We need to clarify something: The R1150GS bike is not a dirt bike, yet, within reason, there's no fire or access road that cannot be competently negotiated. A few of the guys at BMW's press fleet center even went so far as to take a few GS's down to through Baja California to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, primarily on dirt roads that can only be negotiated successfully with a Global Positioning System, the sun and a huge heaping of luck. Most of the miles were on super-soft and silty roads and the GS's made it through with less effort than initially expected. One of the riders even made the trip two-up with his wife on the back. That's ballsy. And that's also saying a lot about what is primarily a long-distance touring "street bike" and, of course, "adventure tourer".

 
Strange, but beautiful, no?   Redesigned cockpit layout features digital gauges for rapid rider acquisition of vital data. 

Minime's dirt gene isn't as recessive as we'd hoped it was.   This may not be Dakar, but the GS laughs when you throw a bit of dirt its way.  

While the GS can handle just about any dirt road, it's real domain is the highway, where at at least 98 percent of "adventure-touring" is done. If you think you'll spend more than 10 percent of your time doing "real" off-roading, look for another motorcycle. Ford Expeditions are not purchased to explore every back road in existence, so don't plan on buying a R1150 GS as a replacement for a true dual-sport. But when used as intended, there is no better bike that comes to mind. Even when we rode two-up with our beautiful significant others on board (pardon the brown-nosing, but you guys understand) all it took was a few turns on the preload to tighten the suspension and we were able to keep up easily with most of the Sunday morning racer boys.

From Sting's Fields of Gold: "...something something fields of barley. Something something fields of gold..." (We can't remember the lyrics because our brains are shot from breathing noxious fumes in the garage, but we have a hankerin' that the lyrics relate in some way with this picture.)

The new adjustable windscreen provided better weather protection than we expected, given its diminutive size. But the new front end cosmetics take a bit of getting used to. From the rider's point of view the instrument cluster seems to be too distant; it's like looking at a computer screen on someone else's desk.

Eventually we got used to the location and, after a few miles, it slipped into our unconscious, at least until we needed information about the motor's vitals in a split-second; then everything about the rider's cockpit makes sense. It's very well laid out and easy to decipher at a quick glance. Also, don't think the heated grips are foo-foo addition here.

On cold mornings we realized that, even if our bodies were cold, as long as our hands were warm the ambient temperature didn't bother us. Maybe it's a mind thing. Maybe it's a GS thing. The Telelever front end, however, is still somewhat off-putting to the uninitiated. The lack of front brake dive is an odd sensation that sometimes leads to a lack of trust in the front end for some riders. After the first few miles, however, the awkward feeling goes away and complete faith in the front end is restored. In fact, we learned to love the lack of front end dive, and, in particular, the way the suspension soaks up all the road irregularities while staying up in its travel even on the brakes. Other manufacturers have tried unconventional front end suspension systems -- the Bimota Tesi and the Yamaha GTS come to mind -- but neither of those worked nearly as well as BMW's. The other BMW oddity, the ABS which so many people (including ourselves, admittedly) dislike, is actually a welcomed addition. It's not as intrusive as ABS systems found on other bikes and, for what the 1150 GS is designed -- touring, commuting and dirt-road riding -- it does nothing but bolster the rider's already high level of confidence in the bike. Again, BMW has made us wonder why these uncommon bits aren't more common among other manufacturers.

The Ballot is Cast

This BMW is a surprisingly competent canyon-carver for an "adventure-tourer."

There's just something about the GS that we can't quite put our fingers on.

It's a feeling of imperviousness that only comes with riding a bike that can do just about everything -- and do it well; whether it's dragging hard-parts on a twisty paved road or seemingly floating over a rocky dirt-road, the GS is in its element.

We the thought we'd nickname this bike Felix, as in Felix the Cat. Whatever is in your way, this bike has something in its bag of tricks to deal with it. That's a great feeling to have, be it in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles or on some rural mountain road that's not found on any map.

Doing what the Year 2000 GS doesn't much care for: Sitting still.

It's also something that's not so much mechanical as it is a part of the aura the bike possesses. And a bike's aura is not something that can be engineered in as easily as it can be engineered out. It's a good thing BMW has been doing this a while and knows when to leave well enough alone. After all, life -- and motorcycles and politics -- is a high-wire walk where it's all about balance.

The Year 2000 R1150 GS is so well balanced, if you make this bike your sole pick for your personal "Garage Stablemate of the Year" -- you'll sleep well at night. Every night. You made the right decision, dude.

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