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R 1200 GS Adventure: The Swiss Army knife of motorcycles

Photos by Jon Beck and Kevin Wing

Having often been reminded by my mother as a kid that comparisons are odious, when I climbed on board the new 2014 BMW R 1200 GS Adventure in Sedona, AZ, it was hard to erase the memories from thousands of miles riding the standard water-Boxer R1200GS. I was there for 200 miles of varying terrain to put BMW’s latest Adventure to the test. The Adventure immediately feels so much heavier, which it is, an additional 48 pounds, but the biggest initial difference was the slower steering due in part to the Continental TKC 80 tires, and a different feel from the engine. As we rolled out of town, though, all of these first thoughts quickly began to melt as I settled in to enjoy the ride.

During our press brief about the new model, BMW had called the new Adventure a “Swiss Army Knife,” but out here alone on the challenging dirt roads leading to Jerome, AZ, some 28 miles away, I marveled at the balance between the engine, throttle, clutch and other controls. I think the BMW team is wrong. It’s more like a Swiss watch.

The clutch action is so light and precise, and the throttle more connected to the rear wheel than the standard GS (with its heavier crankshaft), that every input feels completely seamless. The power brakes are the most intuitive system I have used. They have to be, as they repeatedly slow over 700 pounds of man and machine into tight, gravel-strewn corners at speed. Add in the ability to set the bike in Enduro mode – to control the electronics to best serve you in the dirt – and the sophistication of the experience is without equal.

The larger-than-life styling of the new BMW R 1200 GS Adventure works for me. It’s pure BMW as soon as you see it for the first time, and just looks so much more aggressive and modern than any previous generation Adventure. There is a new beak, a tapered windshield, and two aerodynamic air flaps on the sides to add to the exciting graphics package. The windshield is quickly adjusted on the fly with a simple turn of a wheel; wind protection on the road is everything you’ll need for those long days making miles.

I’ll never forget my first ride on the new 1150 version back in 2002; it felt as if BMW had created the largest, wildest motorcycle anyone would ever make, let alone take off road. Yet here we are some 12 years later, and they have simply eclipsed this first model in size, power and technicality, while making it easier to ride.

I am used to standing all day on adventure bikes and have gotten very comfortable in this position, but know that is not the case for some riders. With this in mind I wanted to see how the bike behaved, so for the first 20 miles of off-road riding I sat, except if I had to raise my butt off the seat for a pothole, rut or similar impediment. I came away very impressed. Sitting will certainly not restrict your ability to explore some fairly challenging terrain, and while your speeds will need to be lower, during adventure tours it might be an advantage as you have more time to enjoy the scenery. When standing, though, you will notice the thoughtful design of a tapered seat meeting a slender gas tank. This intersection is a big part of making the rider feel at ease in the dirt and it’s a marked improvement over previous models.

Reach to the bars is comfortable standing or sitting, and having my back straight with my rear in the saddle and my knees not bent at an extreme angle was certainly similar to existing BMW GS machines. This position is also sufficiently aggressive for working on sections of twisting asphalt for the more spirited moments that arise on a long journey. Nice touches to add to this comfort are multi-adjustable levers and the ability to adjust the rear brake and gear levers to suit your needs. With wider-than-stock foot pegs allowing for a more comfortable platform, it’s clear the Adventure is meant to be ridden all day, and more.

The view forward is clean and functional, with the Navigator GPS located above the compact instrument cluster. With an analog readout for both road and engine speed, it has a highly sophisticated command center beneath the round gauges. Digesting all that this super computer analyzes takes a fair bit of reading, so I’ll leave it out for now; but trust me, if there’s any information you want – from temperature to distance traveled, fuel consumption to tire pressure – BMW has you covered.

You will also find the same multi-controller for adjusting your NAV system as found on the K1600 lineup and the standard GS1200 models on the left hand side handlebar, and this is intuitive and easy to use on the go. Usual BMW pleasantries exist in the form of cruise control, quick-change buttons for the suspension and one to turn the ABS and traction control off, as well as all the normal switchgear.

Visually, the engine is identical to the standard R 1200 GS, and produces 125 hp at 7750 RPM and a healthy 92 pound-feet of torque at 6500 RPM. Compared to the previous generation engine, this is 15 extra horsepower and three more pound-feet of torque. The result is a noticeably stronger and more linear power curve across the range. Where the Adventure engine differs from the standard GS, though, is with an additional two pounds of crankshaft mass that produces 20% more inertia. Acting like a heavier flywheel, this one change is the key to the Adventure’s superior power delivery.

Sorry, Mum, but here’s another comparison to the standard GS: I’ve never quite gotten used to the slightly sensitive power delivery from the ride-by-wire throttle system, whether riding two up around the UK, crossing South Africa, or riding at home as my personal transportation. On an open throttle it’s a beast, fast and with incredible power; but there’s something about the system when cold or at low speeds I can’t quite adjust to. Weaned on a diet of throttle cables opening butterflies in carburetors, I yearn for a mapping program that emulates heavier throttle return springs, as it’s a little hard for my well-worn grey matter to adjust. Not so with the Adventure. The relationship between the throttle and the rear wheel is absolutely perfect, and when navigating tighter, technical sections of the rough terrain around Sedona at slow speeds, this was highly appreciated. With virtually no traffic on these Jeep trails, and spectacular views at every turn, they are the personification of adventure riding.

Now, when I’m in complete alignment with the standard GS and the Adventure’s electronics, is when it’s time to pick a Ride Mode. Both bikes comes standard with the option of “Road,” or for inclement weather “Rain” modes, and if you order with the Premium package, the Ride Modes Pro feature adds on Dynamic, Enduro, and Enduro Pro. The last mode requires you to activate a coding plug located under the seat. Here it all gets complicated, with these last three modes working in various ways with the traction control or Automatic Stability Control (ASC) in BMW speak, the anti lock brakes (ABS) and the electronic suspension adjustment (ESA) if Dynamic ESA is selected.

For a short period of time I switched into Enduro Pro mode, which allows you to lock up the rear brake if needed. This mode retains the ABS up front, but allows more latitude before lock up occurs, which is certainly confidence inspiring. The traction control is less invasive, as I found out in the dry, dusty conditions, with an ambitious twist of the throttle exiting a corner. This broke the Continental TKC 80 loose, yanking me straight out of my comfort zone. With the sight of the rear wheel coming round to meet me, and my heart in my mouth, once back in a straight line I pulled over and switched back to regular Enduro mode.

Here the traction control will allow you to hang the rear end out enough to turn the bike, but won’t let the bike get out of control to the extent I described. In this mode the Dynamic ESA will soften the suspension settings for you automatically, so I left my bike on this setting while on the dirt for the rest of the day. More aggressive riders on these knobby tires will prefer the Pro mode I’m sure, but the standard Enduro setting was designed to work with street tires so is a good bit more invasive. The ABS is certainly not invasive; the new Adventure throws out the old wisdom of turning the ABS off in the dirt. Yes, it works that well.

As delivered, the new Adventure will have a more street-focused tire wrapped around the wider, cross-spoke wheels; the Continental TKC 80s were added specially for our aggressive day in the dirt. BMW loves to show how capable their new bikes are by taking us on long, challenging rides during press intros.
Frame and suspension are also virtually unchanged from the donor platform, although the there is 0.8 inches of additional spring travel at the front and rear. To offset this taller suspension, the rake has been steepened by a full degree and the trail tightened 0.3 inches. The net result is just a 0.1 inch increase in the wheelbase from the standard GS to 59.4 inches There is also an additional 0.4 inches of ground clearance, and while the bike will still ground out in the rough stuff if you get too aggressive, it’s a marked improvement compared to earlier generation models I’ve ridden.

In the saddle, stability is without fault at high or low speeds, standing or sitting, and I’m sure a part of this is the additional steering damper. This is true on the road also, and hustling up to Jerome on the last few miles of smooth, serpentine tarmac, we would have surprised all but the most committed sport bike riders with the pace.

You still have to be aware that as tested, with a full 7.9 gallons of fuel and luggage in place, you are in control of a motorcycle weighing well over 600 pounds. BMW is claiming a road-ready weight of 573 pounds. This means you need to make sure to file a flight plan if turning on the dirt, or in off-camber parking lots and when in small, mountain towns like Jerome, as you don’t want to be man handling this beast around. With a standard seat height of between 35 and nearly 36 inches, depending where you set it, you can see how this is going to be a challenge if you don’t plan ahead. People with shorter inseams are going to want to opt for a low seat option, and it’s worth noting you can also adjust the tilt of the standard seat.

You are ready to vote for the new Adventure with your checkbook. For the as-tested Premium package, you will need $21,550 in ready funds. Technically, you could order the bike without all the bells and whistles for $18,200, but only two percent of all new purchasers go this route, according to BMW.

For your Premium package, you get a list of all new items: Dynamic ESA, on board computer pro, GPS preparation, cruise control, LED headlight and Ride modes pro, with LED auxiliary lights, saddle bag mounts, heated grips and tire pressure monitor (TPM) as in the previous years. These are all on top of the standard ASC, integral ABS, steering damper, stepless windshield, on board computer and a host of other features that come standard. Engine protection bars, hand protection, the adjustable seat to mention a few. Color choices range from racing blue metallic matt, alpine white or olive matte, so you have an interesting choice here, too.

Acknowledging the GS as the flagship of the GS line, BMW has done it again, improving, refining and sharpening their Adventure without losing any of the character and personality that has attracted people to these large enduros since 1980. Round-the-world travelers choose it as their mount of choice for decades, for good reasons, but you don’t have to be heading across the Taklimakan desert to enjoy the new R1200GS Adventure. It’s equally at home in your own state, but with a fuel range of over 400 miles, and the ability to carry six months’ of gear, it’s ready to take that round-the-world-expedition whenever you turn the key.