R 1200 GS has been a huge success for BMW and time was right to introduce the Adventure version in 2006. My adventure ended brutally in a farmer’s stone wall.
Words: Tor Sagen/Photography: Carlos Ballester
People seemed desperate for a little adventure of their own after seeing the Long way around TV series that featured actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman on BMW R 1150 GS Adventure bikes travelling the world. BMW sold something like 1.400 R 1200 GS in the UK in 2005 following the media circus surrounding the GS in various shapes. So UK was then chosen by BMW-Motorrad as the place to launch the new Adventure featuring the 1200 Boxer engine. At the same time everything got bigger and better, but also lighter than the 1150. When it comes to global endurance riding the GS Adventure stands virtually unchallenged and remains the choice for globetrotters on two wheels.
With a 33 litre fuel tank as the single most outstanding feature over any other bike, BMW has calculated a 465 mile (750km) cruising range! It’s even three litres more than the old R 1150 GS Adventure. Handling full versus empty fuel tank is a bit like Dr. Jekyll and Hyde as you have to get used to two different bikes basically. There should not be a single place in the world where you can run out of fuel before you have found the local petrol station. Compared to the standard GS the Adventure is a big beast of a motorcycle, much down to the size of the petrol tank and taller seat height. It certainly does not present itself as the ideal enduro bike and it isn’t. Due to better ground clearance and knobbly tyres it can handle much more variations in the terrain than the standard GS. But only the brave or stupid would try to follow a full on enduro off the beaten track. Some capability is there for emergency use in Mongolia or where the old Soviet commies used to hide away the intellectuals. The latest we heard was that one was ordered for Bin Laden so that he could nip over the Pakistani border more easily to fetch bread and 9mm AK47 ammunition for his Taliban fighters back in old Affie. Bleedin’ better than a camel and with BMW’s touring gear and helmet it’s just thought it’s that Hollywood actor and Boorman out escaping family life again. I’m sure there is a hairy bikers joke here somewhere too.
Back to reality, a large windscreen is standard for all those motorway miles that are inevitable if you want to go anywhere from anywhere. When wearing an offroad helmet the air seems to catch just in the wrong place on the helmet over the windscreen. If I had been a bit shorter, let’s say like Ewan McGregor, I would have been fine and well tucked in behind the screen. I missed my full face helmet a lot and it did not help much putting the adjustable windscreen to its top position. If you do go offroad remember to put the windscreen down to its lowest position as it is downright scary not being able to see the ground ahead of the front wheel through the screen. The spring travel are as long as it is possible to get them on the Tele/Paralever system, but not as capable as the superb suspension on the HP2 Enduro. The tank, engine and valve protectors make sure you can deal with a couple of spills before you need the AA. The seat is adjustable in a very easy operation and I chose the tallest seat height option as I had planned to take the beast offroad as much as possible. Stand up riding is really comfortable and both the handlebar and foot brake lever are adjustable. The hand guards protect your hands from rocks and the levers during a wipe out. As it happens, I managed to crash the Adventure, and apart from a broken Paralever, the bike would have been perfectly rideable after the crash. All levers and pedals were still intact even after the heavy impact with a stone wall. This is evidence of the rugged and solid construction and in most scenarios the GS would be categorised as unbreakable.
With the seat adjusted to its highest position, mainly for offroad duties, but also for a panoramic view over the surrounding traffic on the road, I found myself sitting 915mm above the ground. That is almost as high as the 920mm on the HP2 Enduro. The Adventure seat can be adjusted down to 895mm by a simple tool-less operation under the seat. The Adventure is not as manageable as the HP2 due to the shear weight and size of the thing, but only lacking 5bhp compared to the Enduro. More than enough considering the emphasis on poor road surface ability, where the horsepower comes in handy on long transportation stretches on motorways. HP2 Enduro is a completely different kettle of fish, however a much more exciting ride with unlimited amounts of torque available at all times in a lightweight chassis. On the move though, you only get a 70-80 mile range on the HP2 whilst the Adventure keeps on going almost an additional 400 miles. So no competition really, but interesting and I would recommend anyone considering the Adventure to have a go on the HP2 as well to see how BMW also makes proper offroad bikes from the big Boxer engine.
Offroad R 1200 GS Adventure is not as confidence inspiring as you keep thinking about all that weight that can come down crushing your legs despite wearing offroad boots. Slow speed manoeuvres off the beaten track are awkward and the Adventure works best where you can keep speed and momentum going. As on a well maintained gravelled road without too many obstacles. If you get bogged down in the mud on a tight trail you might never get out on your own. So keep it real.
The ABS brakes work well on the tarmac, but you just can’t get the same confidence on knobbly tyres as on road tyres on hard tarmac. Everything feels a bit looser and the rear wheel spun up quite often when the massive torque grabbed hold of the knobbly rear tyre. This can be perfected and will allow you to make every tight bend entertaining, but at the expense of excessive rear tyre wear.
The test bike was fitted with fog lights and they do provide extra light when the nights are dark and the fog thick. The mirrors stay clear most of the time despite the big thumping twin that tries to twist and shake the chassis to shambles. It never succeeds though and this Adventure bike has been engineered to perfection.
R 1200 GS Adventure is not a motorcycle that suits everyone. For some it will just be physically oversized and awkward to live with. But for its size and weight fully tanked up it handles really well. If you want a 450 mile range for mammoth touring duties there is nothing else on the market. For me the biggest sales arguments would be the titanic fuel capacity and the rugged hard macho looks. Just a shame the test ended with destroying the indestructible…
Ride from dusk till dawn, anywhere, ability
Powerful, torque-laden engine
Very specialised with knobbly tyres and big proportions