Review: 2005 BMW R 1200GS -

Sean Alexander
by Sean Alexander

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BMW motorcycles have a loyal following and legions of admirers. However, aside from last year's Rockster, I haven't found a BMW boxer-twin that I truly like. That's what I would have told you a month ago, if you'd asked me what I thought about Beemers with cylinders jutting out of their sides. That was then... Ask me today, and I'm more likely to reply with something like

"Man, that new R 1200 GS is a neat bike."

Though I have said less than kind things about them in the past, BMW was gracious enough to invite me to the intro for their new R 1200 GS "Adventure Tourer" and I'm glad they did. Aside from a few niggling development issues, this new GS is ready to compete with the latest adventure touring bikes from Triumph, Aprilia and Suzuki. More than just an ugly new face and decal project, the new R 1200 GS is significantly lighter, faster and less quirky than the R 1150 GS it replaces. It steers lightly, shreds twisties, does great wheelies, cruises comfortably, buzzes lightly and generally acts like a modern 85Hp motorcycle should.

Thank you BMW, we've been trying to get Sean to take a bath for months!
Much of the credit for this newfound functionality goes to a thorough redesign of the entire power train, chassis and engine. BMW claims that the R 1200 GS makes 100Hp at the crank. MO dynoed our test unit and it put an honest 85Hp to the ground, so this number is completely believable. Slightly less believable is BMW's claim that the new GS weighs 496Lbs dry and is "Lighter than every full-fledged competitor out there." I wonder what bikes BMW classifies as "Full Fledged" competitors? Harley Electra Glides perhaps? Surely, a Suzuki V-Strom is lighter. Ok, I'll be nice. Fact is, the 1200 does feel considerably lighter than the 1150 GS and its asphalt canyon and off-road performance is much improved. It is now good enough that I would need to do a back-to-back comparison test, to determine the best all-around bike between an R 1200GS, V-Strom, Tiger, and 950 Adventure. Hmmm.... Perhaps a grand MO comparo / adventure tour is in order!
Antique Roadshow, I mean, FACEOFF!
Because we can, we dyno tested a local 90K mile 1988 R 100 GS with our 2005 GS - just in case you were considering the upgrade!
My initial impression of the new R 1200 GS, is that like the other bikes in its class, the BMW sits high and those short of inseam will be somewhat intimidated by it's stance. However, I am a tall person and found the extra room afforded by its rangy layout to be quite comfortable. The GS' standard seat is independently adjustable front and rear, so not only can you change the seat's height, but also it's angle. At its lowest setting, the bike is livable for shorter riders, but if you are under 5'7" or so, I'd recommend sitting on one first, before ordering or purchasing. Another item that quickly caught my attention was the new instrument cluster, which incorporates an analog speedo and tachometer with a large multi-function display that is easy to read in direct sunlight.

The only flaw I found during my time on the GS is that the digital fuel gage often failed to reset itself after a fill up. This meant that on more than one occasion, the trip computer displayed "Range 0 Miles" for most of a tank of gas. The technicians on hand assured me that it was a pre-production software glitch that would be fixed, before the bikes hit a showroom. The rest of the controls and layout are typical BMW, with their intuitive turn signals and 50Kw microwave oven heated handgrips that are suitable for roasting squirrels, while you play the harmonica by the campfire. Neat details abound on this bike, like the integral mounts for a new style of BMW expandable metal side cases and that hollow rear axle that you can shoot photos through. The bike hardly qualifies as "Beautiful" but it is easy to call "Neat", "Funky", and "Cool".

When the Press Ride starts, I'm immediately impressed with how much stiffer and more responsive the 1200 GS feels. Riding from the hotel to the highway, it's fun to toss around and I do a couple of wheelies, lest some of the other journalists confuse me with a professional. After we get to the highway, we spend a heck of a lot of time droning along in a straight line. This is tedious but serves to underline how comfortable the bike is, as well as highlighting its enhanced horsepower when we merge with traffic, or pass truckers. On this long drone, the new boxer-twin proves to be a bit smoother than the old 1130cc engine. More importantly, there is no evidence of the "surging" that has plagued oil head boxers in the past. About the time I start wondering if this ride is going to be an Iron Butt event, we turn-off the freeway and head up into the mountains for some canyon strafing.

Always the rugged individualist, Sean wears his enduro jacket on the street and his street jacket in the dirt.
Actually strafing is far from what we're doing, seeing as how the group pace wouldn't put any pressure on an 85 year old grandma in an 55 year old Buick on bald tires. At this relaxed pace, I am able to notice the beautiful scenery and concentrate on the weather, my navel, the dirty email that my fiancé sent me from home, and most importantly, our upcoming lunch stop. Funny enough, after 100+ miles in the saddle, I'm still completely relaxed and content to hold my place in the group.

I smile in my helmet at the realization that this "funky" new BMW does a fairly decent impression of a soulless Japanese appliance. Fortunately it is only an act, like all good entertainers, the R 1200 GS can play many roles. I find this out later in the day, when I escape from the group's clutches and get a chance to blast through a twisty and deserted back road, alone. The engine note won't cut it on the MotoGP grid, but the GS is highly entertaining nonetheless. Its canyon performance is similar to a V-Strom, which is to say that it's fun and easy to ride fast. The servo-assisted partially-linked ABS brakes are powerful and up to the sporting task.

Sean Alexander
Sean Alexander

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