Photos courtesy of BMW Motorrad
We’ve all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s what was running through my mind moments after I was invited to BMW’s recent 1250 GS/RT press launch.
I currently own a 2016 R 1200 GS Adventure and an ‘18 R 1200 GS Rallye, and I am a tremendous fan of the BMW R 1200 GS motorcycles, so I certainly wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to ride the new bikes. I just couldn’t help being skeptical about how BMW could possibly improve on the 1200 GS. Who was the lucky person that got stuck with THAT job?
The R 1200 GS has been the BMW’s best-selling motorcycle for several years and has been a top choice for those riding the globe or adventuring into far away, remote places. When these world travelers tell their stories, I’ve never heard any of them say, “I sure wish that 1200 motor had more power, more get-up-and-go, as I am constantly overriding the motorcycle.”
I chuckled to myself, and the more I thought about it, the more excited and intrigued I became. I was about to find out how BMW had made sweet, even sweeter. I was equally excited to sit on the new R 1250 RT. I’ve heard many wonderful things about the RT describing its comfort, smoothness and ease to ride. I will admit, I wasn’t looking forward to actually riding the RT, believing that sport-touring is just not my thing.
The sprinkles on the cookie for me was that the event was set for Palm Springs, California, in the heart of the Sonoran Desert with sun forecast for the area. At my home in Central California temperatures had been colder than normal lately with relentless rain for weeks on end. Once I rummaged through my gear looking for my best options for this event, I rolled out with two gear bags. The first was my adventure bag, filled with all things adventure. The other, my I’m-going-to-ride-a-tourer bag, stuffed with the street gear that I thought would look quite sharp while riding the RT. Though both sets of gear were waterproof, I wasn’t planning on the rain clouds following me on down to Palm Springs, but I always find it best to be prepared.
I woke up the next morning in Palm Springs with the sun piercing through the cracks in the blinds, creating a golden glow in my modern mid-century hotel room. As the morning haze cleared and I recalled what the day had in store, I bounced out of bed like a poptart in a hot toaster. I had a flashback to a GS Trophy special test I participated in last summer as I darted around the room panting for air while scrambling to quickly gear up. Today was the R 1250 GS day, and I was downright dizzy with excitement.
My eyes widened with excitement as I observed the long line of BMW R 1250 GS and GSA motorcycles sparkling in the morning sun just outside the resort’s front door. I could hear my heart beat as I bounced around in my boots rubbing my hands together like a little kid with an extraordinary Christmas gift.
The first thing I noticed were the classy new colors of Cosmic Blue, Black Storm Metallic and HP Motorsport, (a sporty red white and blue paint scheme). The 1250 GS Adventure’s options are Ice Grey, Kalamata Metallic Matte and the HP Motorsport. A smile spread across my face as I stopped in front of the GS Adventure with the HP motorsport colors and my name on the windscreen.
I walked around the bike to inspect my toy for the day. I first noticed the cylinder covers had a sleek new design. The exhaust manifold had been intelligently re-routed to not dip as far forward, although the oxygen sensor was sticking up in the front and looked like it was a bit vulnerable. The intake snorkel cover had been redesigned, and the engine and tank protection bars have been routed differently than its predecessor. The auxiliary lights had a more rugged look with an increase in size and diameter. I also noticed the brake calipers were embossed with a BMW logo rather than a Brembo. The full color 6.5” TFT display with integrated Bluetooth was beautiful and easy to read. I toggled through the different screens with ease and within a minute or two I was comfortable maneuvering through all the functions. With the Bluetooth connection from the TFT-display to my helmet and smartphone, I could listen to music, skip to the next track, adjust the volume, make, take, or ignore (giggle), a phone call, and navigate using my smartphone’s GPS. Although there is still a cradle for the GPS, it seemed to me that there may not be as much of a need for a BMW Navigator VI. After I jumped on board and righted the bike, I didn’t notice the 15 or so pound weight increase. The riding position felt familiar and unchanged.
Then, I fired it up and gave the throttle a slight roll. Immediately, my the hair stood up on my arms, and it was apparent that the redesigned boxer engine was not the motor I was familiar with. Where the previous R 1200 motor kind of talks to you with its clicks and clacks, the new 1250 engine has a deeper and more sophisticated sound. It vibrates less and is as smooth as a sip of Merlot. BMW accomplished this by incorporating a newly designed fuel injector needle and toothed cam chains which replace the roller ones. The idle speed is now lower by 100 rpm and while the old R 1200 engine was offering 1170cc, the 1250 is at 1254cc.
BMW boasted the new 1250 engine has a longer stroke, larger bore and piston, more torque and increased power, while combining variable valve timing and differential valve lift. What does this all mean? It means they went from homemade hand-dipped ice cream to gelato. Torque has increased by 14 percent while horsepower is up 9 percent.
The new engine is 6 percent more fuel efficient, which works out to be about a dozen extra miles between fuel stops and is equipped with dual knock sensors to handle the low grade fuel found in some remote locations. I found the creamy smooth throttle response apparent at low, midrange and top end, and the bike was easier to control at low speeds while negotiating technical terrain, with less chance to stall. When the throttle is cracked open, the extra grunt and added power is sweet, but for me the increased torque is where it’s at.
The sporty new GS and GS Adventure also come standard with Dynamic Brake Control (DBC), a fantastic aid when emergency braking. We’ve all seen it; panic braking while the throttle is still on. The driver of the car doesn’t see us and pulls out—our eyeballs get wide, teeth grit, and we brake hard before we roll off the throttle. The bike will react by revving and bucking, becoming difficult to control. The DBC function should help with a more positive outcome in this type of situation. Another nifty standard feature is the Hill Start Control Pro, or HSC Pro. The partially integrated ABS system enables the rear brake to be applied when only applying the front brake lever on a five degree or more gradient. This is designed to help keep the motorcycle from rolling backward or forward on a slope. The HSC braking is automatically released when riding off or when the brake is applied firmly.
Six different riding groups set out on our 180-mile loop. The route would take us through the town of Palm Springs, along the canyon, and into the Joshua Tree National Park, with lunch in Pioneertown. After lunch, the riders with a GSA would trade with another rider on a GS, and ride it to the next break stop. From there, we would swap again and then enjoy twisty pavement leading us back to the hotel. I instantly noticed the improved handling as we worked through traffic and stop lights. When I sat idle at a light, I stretched my 28” inseam, sliding off the seat to set one toe down on one side of the bike. With my bike back home, the 1200 engine has more vibration causing me to consistently pay great attention to keep the bike in balance while stopped at idle. The R 1250 motor idled much more smoothly, and I found myself enjoying being relaxed at the light and able to look around without worrying about rebalancing a trembling machine. The bike was also much smoother during takeoff from street lights and before long, I was believing that BMW in fact, did improve on an already great bike.
We then entered Carnage Canyon. Our ride leader led us onto a dirt roadway, and I toggled my mode button through Rain, Road, Dynamic Pro and landed on Enduro Pro. The canyon was filled with deep sand that stashed large rocks and rubble below its surface. The track in front was severely worked from riders ahead of us and, what we would say on the East Coast, “all stove up.” I quickly put myself into sand mode, staying loose on the bars, positive throttle, no clutch, eyes up and steering from my waist down. A large grin was frozen on my face as I slowly carved my way through the down riders. The bike was smooth, easy to control and the low-end torque was like cheating. I soon realized our group had caught up to the group in front of us as more riders parked their bikes on their sides. Suddenly, as I was trying to split a down rider and a ditch, I joined my friends in the sand. Like true adventure riders do, we helped each other pick up our bikes and got moving again. After some help removing grapefruit-sized baby head rocks from in front of my tire, I switched to rain mode for a moment to help get the bike moving, and I was off and rolling.
We blew off the dust and left the sand wash behind us as we picked up speed for the open road. I wanted to see if I could detect that moment when the ShiftCam switches between partial load at the small cam and over to full load at the large cam. I was looking for changes in the revs, surging or a sign it was happening. It was not detectable, and there was no trace of the ShiftCam operating whatsoever, other than the extra power! The road started to curve and soon we found ourselves in a thrilling run of twisties. At times I was so busy concentrating on the feel of the bike or how much I could push it, that I didn’t realize what gear I was in. I had to glance at the laptop-sized TFT display to determine my gear. It became apparent that the new 1250 engine was extremely forgiving, and I could pretty much tease the bike and select just about any gear I wanted, only to find the bike pulled smoothly and effortlessly through each corner.
While riding back to the hotel I let out a big sigh, fogging up my visor. I did not want the day to end, and I certainly did not want to return the bike. If you are like me with an R 1200 GS or GS Adventure in your stable and you take this new 1250 for a spin, your old bike will never feel quite the same.
We parked the bikes at the back lot of the hotel where the new 1250 RT models were waiting for tomorrow’s ride. I hesitated for a moment, then walked up to the row of RTs. It is the closest I had ever been to one, aside from a showroom floor. At first glance it seemed bulky with its large fairing and oversized windscreen, although it did look as though it would be comfortable to ride. I decided since it was the same 1250 motor that I had enjoyed all day, tomorrow’s touring experience should be better than I had originally thought.
As it did the day before, I awoke to the morning the sun creeping through the blinds. Only this time, it was annoying, as I buried my head under the pillow and decided to stay in bed a little longer. Now running late, I suited up, grabbed my helmet and headed out, but not before pausing briefly in the hotel mirror to make sure I looked the part of a touring rider. With a smirk and a nod, I headed off to meet my RT. As was the case a day earlier, through the tall tangerine doors of the resort and in the front lot was a perfect row of BMW R 1250 RT motorcycles waiting patiently.
There were several sophisticated colors in the lineup of bikes and my ride had the option 719 Blue Planet Metallic paint scheme. With a slight hesitation, I climbed up into pilot position and fired up the bike. Unlike the GS, some buttons and functions were unfamiliar to me. Laugh if you must, but one of my favorite features of the RT is the power windscreen that raises and lowers the windscreen with a simple push of the button. Quite the upgrade from the GS’s manual windscreen with the turn knob that is awkward to reach while riding and difficult to turn at speed. The RT also had some features that I recognized from the GS, such as optional ride modes, adjustable seat height and adjustable suspension. Like the GS, the RT also has an automatic preload control option. When this option is selected, the bike adjusts the rear preload and the front and rear damping automatically, so that you get the best ride possible. This is such a cool feature, and I think the days of manually adjusting preload and damping may be coming to an end.
A piercing horn beep startled me and yanked me from my RT trance. It was time to roll. We followed our leader out the hotel exit and began a 220-mile loop. As we diced our way through traffic, I could not believe I was riding a touring bike. I expected it to feel awkward and heavy. I thought that I would be battling the bike and struggling with silly things like riding posture or what height I should have the giant windscreen set at. Then, the unexpected happened. My lips stiffened, my cheeks and brows raised up and a humongous smile spread across my face. Within just a few miles I was absolutely having a blast and enjoying the bike!
By mid-afternoon the weather had turned from warm and sunny to cool with light rain. The rain did not concern me at all, as I had now become extremely comfortable on the RT. With a push of the button, I raised the windscreen to keep rain drops off my visor and to cut back on the wind noise and make it easier to hear the music in my Bluetooth headset. My BMW EnduroGuard gear was keeping me completely dry. With a couple clicks I had my heated grips on and, “Wait, what’s this?!” There was a heated seat! My face was aching from my permasmile as I switched into rain mode and started carving away at the smooth, curvy roads with full confidence. The ShiftCam 1250 motor was just as smooth as it had been on the GS, making cornering almost effortless.
Much too soon the ride was complete, and we parked the bikes in the hotel lot. I remained sitting on the bike for a few minutes. Before the day started, I didn’t give the RT a chance. My mind had been set that this oversized touring bike was just not my style, and now, here I was, thoroughly impressed by its intense power, incredible handling, smoothness and comfort.
After I gathered up my helmet and gloves and turned toward the hotel lobby, I stopped, turned back to the bike, set my hand on the raindrop coated fuel tank and gave it a pat. “Until next time,” I chuckled to the RT. “We will ride again.”
Laughter filled the night as a group of riders surrounded the evening bonfire sharing stories from the road. A bowl of marshmallows was passed around, along with the most interesting roasting sticks I had ever seen. I selected a stick and quickly put it to the test. It was a good four feet in length, smooth and perfect for roasting. It didn’t heat up like metal sticks, causing the treat to slide off into the fire. It didn’t catch on fire or burn, and it was long enough I also didn’t catch on fire or burn. I doubled up on the marshmallows and let out a chuckle.
As I mentioned before, we’ve all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, if you’d like to improve it, then I guess that’s perfectly fine.