Many thanks to North Oxford BMW for arranging the loan of the R1200GS.

If you want to contact them call 01865 31900

or e-mail:

website address:


BMW R1200GS Road test

The touring enduro is re-invented

Road test by Adrian Percival

*Click on the image to enlarge*

R1200GS courtesy of:

North Oxford Garage Ltd Wolvercote
Tel:01865 319000
Fax:01865 319090

I had the opportunity this week to test the new BMW 1200GS courtesy of North Oxford BMW. Having been to the launch and taken my first look at the all new bike, to say I was impressed at how BMW had transformed the old 1150GS from carthorse to racehorse is an understatement. The new GS may look a little similar to it's predecessor in looks and size, but that's where it stops..

The 1150GS has been replaced by a very different bike. To start with it's lost some 30 kgs and it has an extra 15bhp and 18% more torque from the new 1200cc motor, bringing it up to three figures from 85bhp. Also in the mix of new designs and standards for BMW the 1200GS gets engine balance shafts which seemingly halt the gentle side to side rocking of the bike when ticking over, and virtually stop it lurching to the right when you rev the motor.

For about 25 years BMW have built GS versions of the Boxer engines bikes. Up to about a year or so back they only had some off-road capabilities. But as far as touring and long-distance goes for 25 years the GS range have probably been best road bikes BMW have ever built for many many riders. The GS has always had an upright riding position, softish suspension, smooth and constant pulling power and a fairly rugged 'Land Rover' look that every conservative, responsible rider could ever want for responsible road riding. They started off with the 800 cc R80 and grew it to the most recent R1150GS. Then the 1150GS Adventure was launched in 2002 with the same outlook on touring but with a much heavier construction and a lot more off-road bias. The GS has been BMW's best selling bike for a long time now, the new 1200 version with it's all new design, engine, extra power and lighter weight will certainly ensure its continued success.

For the time being the Adventure will be staying in parallel to the new 1200GS, but some time in the future I would expect that this model will be replaced with a new, lighter, more powerful, long travel suspension Adventure - Dakar - Desert version with all the off road capabilities and rugged looks of the old Adventure.

So what's the bike like to ride?

In recent years we have all become accustomed to Japanese and European sports bike design boasting weight reductions on each successive year model. Figures of 1 or 2kg or a saving of 300 grammes spring to mind, but BMW has taken this much further and lost the huge amount of 30 kilos, that's similar to a couple of bags of cement from the DIY store! And they did all this without making the engine or wheels optional extras!! This achievement signals a change in attitude from BMW, who in the past have always relied on the reasonably light air-cooled, horizontally opposed "boxer'' twin. But it's not about the weight of the engine, it's the weight of the other components that have always been BMW's downfall. The Japanese can produce lightweight frame components and lightweight in-line fours that are considerably lighter than BMW's air cooled twins, so the Germans have finally done something to address the number of complaints about excessive weight and have become as serious about weight as the obsessive Orientals. And rightly so, savings here mean big gains in acceleration, rideablilty, economy and braking, so much so that riding the 1200GS is completely new experience over the old one.

Get on the bike and the first thing you notice is that it's lower than the previous model, the rest of it feels somewhat familiar. The switchgear is little changed and the general layout is pretty much the same, but roll it off the centre stand or flick the sidestand up and then you feel the lack of weight. Press the starter and feel the difference with the all new balancer shafts taking away the right hand movement from the boxer twin. Within yards of setting out you know that this bike is agile, it's different, it has a lot more power and with the new 6 speed gearbox being smooth and non clunky like the old models there's no wincing or worry when changing up or down, in fact clutchless changes are now a pleasure, and there's no huge gap between 5th and 6th as on the old model. This weight advantage is immediately apparent, changing direction is just so much easier and the bike is - dare I say it - chuckable!

The riding position is still very GS, it's upright and particularly commanding and little changed from the previous GS. That's where it stops though, the 1200 responds better in every way, and after a few corners the older 1150GS would be left trailing in the wake of the R1200GS. Of course there are other bikes in similar categories that will out handle the BMW, Ducati's Multistrada is one, but the BMW would never be embarrassed by it, in fact I would go on to say that the BMW will embarrass many modern sports bikes on any road especially county roads and lanes, which says a lot for the biggest capacity trail bike in the world.

On general roads the 'Beemer' eats up the distance as always, the ride is comfortable and I experienced none of the so called 'sharp edge seat, or numb bum syndrome' mentioned by some people. Motorway riding is a non-event, the new bike is stable and pretty turbulence free with the fully adjustable screen deflecting the slipstream mainly away from the rider in a smooth and reasonably quiet way. With 100bhp, on tap and a wide torque spread across the rev range you get a far punchier performance, add this to the new six-speed gearbox and you hardly need to touch the gear lever as it's quick enough when left in top.

Get off the motorway and out onto the country lanes and that's where the GS is in its element. Riding around the Cotswold roads is always a pleasure, but on a sportsbike you need to keep to the faster A or B roads in order not to get sore! On the GS take all the small roads and explore, that's what this bike is all about. It tackles every road you can throw at it with ease, the suspension soaking up all the ripples and bumps, never putting a foot wrong on almost any surface. But, what's this - in the specifications you will see that the new bike has a lot less travel than the old one. Up front you get 190mm as opposed to 210mm, and at the rear you again loose another 20mm of movement, but the end result is even better handling because of the lighter weight and better power of the bike, but there lies the room for improvement when the Adventure version gets launched!!

The engine of the 1200 is basically all new and, despite having a bigger capacity seems smaller and weighs in at 3kg less than the old one. The rideability on any road is now excellent, with almost endless power available from low revs giving smooth acceleration and reducing the need for lots of gear changes. The new balancer shafts eliminate that torque reaction on acceleration or throttle opening and mid corner acceleration is now 'normal', in other words the bike is now very smooth wherever you decide to accelerate..

The 1200GS I rode was fitted with BMW's anti-lock brakes (which can be switched off for riding off road) where the handlebar lever operates all three discs and the foot pedal only operates the rear. The system is also servo-assisted like a number of other BM's, but on the GS it seems to have been cured of that irritating on-off action when gently braking, the 1200 had no such problem, the brakes just feel strong and give plenty of feel back to the rider.

Look over the bike and you'll see plenty of new and neat things. There's a new dash which give you full information and is easy to read and set. The new screen is easy to adjust from almost vertical to about 45degs, and the seat is adjustable for height in two positions, and there's a standard immobiliser fitted to the 1200. Serious tourers will probably be disappointed by the fuel capacity dropping down to 20lts, but the improved economy should go a long way to compensate for that. Ridden as 'normal' I would think you will be able to squeeze about 180+ miles from the tank.

Does it still look like a BMW? Yes, definitely. Maybe it has been refined and has taken on a somewhat modern look about it, but at the end of the day the sticking out boxer twin is as characteristic as the front grille of the BMW car, as is the Telelever and Paralever suspension, and the high front 'nose' mudguard. Yes it's a BMW GS alright!!

For all its off-road looks and capabilities, and as most 4x4's in the world, the R1200GS will be used on-road as a touring bike, and for that it's absolutely suited to the task. All the improvements on this new bike are long overdue and have brought the GS into it's next 25yrs. The 1150GS was the best-selling bike in Germany in 2003 and is very popular throughout Europe. The 1200 is a huge improvement over the old model and yet it still retains that rugged image and character but with far better handling and power that before. The demand for this bike will be stronger than ever, and justifiably so, but availability could be a problem as BMW are masters of supply and demand, so I would get your order in now for delivery later this year!

I for one would love to own a 1200GS, it's a bike I would use every day all year round. It begs to be ridden, and on a Friday evening just pack up that fantastic luggage and disappear off into the wilds of somewhere with your handy GPS to guide you back...what a bike!!


Copyright © 2004. All rights reserved. Users may download and print extracts of content from this website for their own personal and non-commercial use only. Republication or redistribution of content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Motorbikestoday.