“Large, in-charge, and the original gangster of the group, the BMW R1200GS is one hell of a motorcycle. At first, just looking at the bike, I thought it would surely be a heavy pig that I couldn’t wait to hop off of. How wrong I was; despite being the heaviest bike here at nearly 650 lbs, once you let the clutch out you hardly know it. The 1170cc air/liquid-cooled boxer Twin is a dream. It’s not the most powerful, but it has character for days and makes all the right noises. Paired with the factory quickshifter, I thought it shifted in both directions great, with excellent rev matching on downshifts, even from second to first.”

I had to let Troy take it away, because I couldn’t have said it better myself. The R1200GSA is a real pleasure to ride. It truly is. It just does everything on the street so well. It’s also packed with all sorts of technology and creature comfort features. Like Troy mentioned, the boxer motor is great, and not only does it make tremendously usable power, but it also has an exciting engine character – especially as the revs climb. Though it makes solid power downstairs, too – pretty much everywhere really. That paired with its highly addictive, raspy exhaust note and crispy ride-by-wire throttle response makes this bike super fun to ride. It’s smooth, too, with virtually zero transmission lash between your right wrist and the rear wheel.

The heart of the beast, an 1170cc boxer-twin, makes awesome, usable power across the entire powerband.

A BMW wouldn’t be a BMW if it weren’t equipped with top-notch componentry, and the GS Adventure certainly has it all. From four different ride modes (Road, Rain, Dynamic and Enduro), to its Dynamic ESA semi-active suspension monitoring system, which, depending on the ride mode you’re in, adjusts damping automatically and continues to monitor suspension movement for not only optimal ride comfort, but overall optimum traction as well. The mighty GS is ready for any type of terrain you throw at it, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Evans has perhaps been on more long-haul touring trips than anyone else on our team and he was impressed by how well the bike’s suspenders carried its load.

“The R1200GS was the pack mule of the trip, and it was loaded down with all of Sean Matic’s video gear. Once the suspension was dialed in to firmer settings, I was impressed with how well the GS handled during high-speed apex-strafing. Only G-out bumps betrayed the load it was burdened with by causing a brief wallow.”

Even loaded down with gear (pictured above isn’t even the half of it!), the R1200GS Adventure’s suspension adapts via its Dynamic ESA suspension monitoring system to provide a cush ride when you want it and firmer, sportier handling when you need it.

The BMW’s Road mode provides a stiff setting, and Dynamic offers an even stiffer one for sportier riding, while Rain and Enduro modes each uniquely soften suspension action. The Dynamic ESA will even self-adjust its preload to account for a passenger, too – one less thing you have to worry about or fart around with/forget to do. Here’s what Troy had to say about the BMW’s technology:

“While I’m not necessarily a fan of adding tech just for the sake of doing so, the R12GSA’s tech works without taking away from the riding experience. One thing I didn’t expect to be so cool is the TFT display. It’s good enough to hang on my wall and watch a movie on – it’s that clear. The fact it’s on a motorcycle – an adventure-touring motorcycle to boot – is astounding.”

Every one of our test riders, myself included, also tipped our caps to BMW for its TFT instrument gauge.

Ryan adds, “The amount of information that can be accessed through the GSA’s stunning TFT display is staggering. Just as well I suppose, since I could stare into that screen happily for days on end. The navigation wheel is also a fairly intuitive way of navigating menus.”

The Beemer’s TFT and technology offerings surprised even Evans, the most tech-savvy and critical rider on our team:

“I’m a tech geek, and simply sitting on the GS makes me smile. The 6.5-inch TFT display is a sight to behold, and once you’re familiar with BMW’s menu structure, a wide breadth of information and settings are available. The other technology I constantly used was the up/down quick shifter. None of the other bikes could touch its smoothness in rev-matching on downshifts at any speed.”

Another thing keeping the big GS Adventure hustling along smoothly is its Telelever/Paralever front suspension design. Just toodling on down the road you might not notice its effects – or benefits, rather – but when the pace picks up you’ll notice that the front end doesn’t dive under harder braking anywhere near how the other bikes, with their conventional forks, do. At 642 lbs, the BMW R1200GS Adventure is a big bike indeed, but between the front suspension setup, the Dynamic ESA system, and spot-on comfort and ergonomics, the GS is incredibly precise and nimble when slaying corner after corner. Our guest test rider John Nave said, “It handled like the lightest 640-pound bike I’ve ever ridden.”

642 pounds is a lot of moving weight (and that’s not counting you or what you put in the hard cases), but when it’s time to slow down, you can rest assured thanks to a pair of four-piston radially mounted Brembo binders and dual 305mm discs providing a great combination of bite and feel at the lever.

The only time you really feel the GS’ weight is picking it up off the side stand. The faster the wheels start turning, the quicker its heft melts away. Make no mistake, this thing can seriously hustle through a set of curves. As far as I’m concerned, the more curves the better. Sometimes you’ve got distance to cover, and the BMW, with its comfortable (and heated) seat, adjustable windshield, and spot-on ergos make this German ADV bike all-day comfortable for miles on end. Speaking of miles on end, between its 42 MPG average and its 7.9-gallon fuel tank, you could ride over 330 miles before having to stop for gas again. That’s a lot of trips down to your local Starbucks, but with the R1200GS Adventure in your garage, it could take you places where there are no Starbucks, no traffic, or distracted drivers. So, where are we going?

The GS Adventure handles touring duty as well as a two-wheeled Cadillac, but especially likes getting tangled up in the twisty stuff when you ride her aggressively. You’ll run out of gas most likely before she does. Ahhh, a story as old as time.

As far as R1200GS Adventure downsides go, 642 pounds is still 642 pounds, but if you’ve been paying any attention so far, it won’t be an issue unless you find yourself in some tricky slow-speed or technical situations. Another thing to get used to is the boxer engine’s cylinder heads. It’s easy to forget they’re there, until you have to act quick and put a foot down. You’ll be quickly reminded your leg’s range of motion isn’t what it is compared to pretty much any other bike with a non-boxer motor. The GS Adventure’s looks are also subjective. Personally, I dig the way it looks. I think BMW did a good job with the whole insectoid-transformer thing. It says the bike means business – in a post-modern apocalyptic kind of way. To others it might be one of the ugliest bikes they’ve ever seen. They might have to get their eyes checked.

Of all the manufacturers to try their hand at the insectoid-transformer styling exercise, we think BMW nailed it. When you see the mighty GS in your rearview mirror with its wide stance and cyclops headlight, it looks menacing and says, “get outta my way.” And so you oblige.

Evans is one who thinks it errs a little on the funky side: “Yeah, it looks big and bulky – maybe even awkward – but that’s not how it feels from the saddle.” From behind the handlebars the GS Adventure transmits nothing but good vibes, and it’s continually ready for you to crack the whip and ride it harder, but it’s also down to Netflix and chill on the interstate.

Since Troy opened up the discussion, I’ll let him wrap it up, too. Well, because again, I couldn’t have said it better myself:

“When all is said and done, the BMW is simply incredible as a street bike. After riding one I totally get why the R12 is as popular as it is. Combine a stout engine with a great handling chassis and suspension, comfortable ergonomics, and loads of tech, and it’s a winner in my book – which is crazy to say, as a 650-pound motorcycle shouldn’t be spanking a class of 500-pounders. But it does. Plenty of riders have already shown the R12GSA is also plenty capable off-road, too. Definitely a jack of all trades.”

The Big Wrap-up

When all the dust had settled and oil had spilt, it turns out everyone makes awesome adventure bikes these days. Surprise! The bad ol’ days of buying a bike and having to make considerable trips to the aftermarket to get it working properly for the long haul are over, not that I remember those, anyway. All of these bikes have their ideal customers and end users who will be thrilled with them.

A fantastic group of adventure bikes sliced seven ways.

Received from guest tester John Nave on the day this article was set to publish. We like to think we helped John make his decision.

It’s not often you find the heaviest bike with the fourth highest horsepower rating at the top of a motorcycle shootout, a testament to how great of an overall package the BMW is. The GS bested the Ducati Multistrada 1260 S by one percent in our overall scores despite the Duc having immensely higher engine performance numbers and the being the second lightest bike here. The Ducati is a comfortable sportbike for the long haul and despite its awkward low seat, the Multi’s raucous rip-roaring L-Twin and amazingly light handling landed the Italian a solid second place in our street shootout. Also noteworthy, despite being equipped with DOT knobbies, and the handling woes that come with them on the pavement, the 1290 Super Adventure R showed up third in our overall calculations.While we use a scorecard to tabulate all of these motorcycle’s specific strengths and weaknesses to choose an overall winner, the most dependent variable of choosing the best bike is YOU! You’re going to be riding it, you’re going to be choosing how and where you ride it, and you’re going to choose how much you want to spend. At the end of the day, your decision is yours and yours alone.

If you’re the kind of rider who plans on venturing into the backcountry on these big machines, stay tuned for part two of this big adventure bike shootout. I can all but guarantee the outcome and preferences will be different. To level the playing field on SoCal’s dry desert trails, each bike will be shod with Continental TKC80s to really give each bike a shot at the prestigious title of Motorcycle.com’s Ultimate Most Raddest Off-road Adventure bike title. STAY TUNED!

2018 Big-Bore ADV Shoot-out Scorecard

Click to enlarge.

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