Adventure riding. What the heck is that? Seems like whenever I land on a bike, things naturally gravitate to an adventure – somewhere along the line, guaranteed, so I guess it all comes down to what you want to call an adventure. Some people think that getting their order right at a Timmies is an adventure; others may feel more satisfied when they’re up to their knees in mud and blackflies on some obscure logging road north of 60. I suppose it all depends on your taste.
BMW has had a long running thought that some people are more up for an adventure than others and that’s precisely why they rolled out their GS and GS Adventure line. From what I’ve seen, felt and heard, BMW hit the nail on the head because if there ever was a ‘cult bike’, the GS line-up is it… say ‘Long Way ‘Round’. Then check
out www.advrider.com or www.horizonsunlimited.com and you’ll see what I mean. So far this riding season I’ve clocked on more than ten thousand klicks on an R1200GS Adventure and about five thousand on a standard R1200GS, (my special thanks for some awesome help from Richard Jackson at BMW Motorrad Canada) so I guess I’m qualified to pick out the differences between the two. Grab a mug while I drag out a soap box and spout off about what I like and don’t like.
The first thing that one needs to consider about swinging a leg over a GS or a GS Adventure is looks. I gotta tell ya folks; any GS is one butt-ugly bike, in a beautiful sort of way. I think they designed the military Hummer or maybe some feisty tug boat after these bikes. Both of the machines have ‘attitude’ plastered all over them so you’ll either love ‘em or hate ‘em. The other thing that will exclude a bunch of folks from the GS line is that you can’t be vertically challenged because the GS seating position is nowhere low to the ground. I’d say that if you’re less than 5’ 10” you’ll probably be tippy-toes on a GS and your feet will hit nothing but air on the GS Adventure, which can make for some fun times, if not dramas, when you put your foot in a pothole…ask me and I’ll tell you what I did at the Mosport Race Track, once in my own driveway (that was really embarrassing) and… “Whoops”… clunk, “What the heck! I’m six feet tall!” Go figure. Once you get over the looks and can manage the seat height you’ll find that your adventure is about to begin. In real short terms (Oy), both these machines are simply amazing to ride and once you start, the grin factor just goes ballistic.
The BMW Boxer engine is a legend in the motorcycle world. It’s tough, it’s powerful, it’s stood the test of time and it’s even kind of neat to look at. It’s also a very expensive motor to build – at least in comparison to inline twins and fours – simply because of the basic design. Both the GS and the GS Adventure Boxer engines pump out the same 100 horsepower, which allows for some pretty free spirited riding. Both machines apply those horses to the ground in such a brutish manner that you can’t help but laugh out loud. Going from 100 km/h to some very scary numbers is really quick; the massive torque (115 Nm at 5500 rpm) is enough to glue anybody’s eyeballs to the very back of their sockets. The transmission shifts all six speeds with meaning and when you throw electronic fuel injection, electronic engine management and twin spark into the mix, well, basically – on is bloody well on and off is bloody well off. Believe me, there is nothing ‘cushy’ about this power plant. It has two goals…gobs of power and gobs of engine braking. However, to say it’s un-civilized is a misnomer, after a while you learn to shift like butter and utilize the incredible Boxer muscle.
The main differences between these two machines – outside of the power plant; and some subtle differences in the transmission …is that they are totally different. The GS Adventure is longer (1511 mm vs. 1507 mm), the Adventure has a taller suspension and seat height (910 mm vs. 840 mm), and it’s also wider (955 mm vs. 915 mm) than the GS. The tank is big on the GS (20-litre) and it’s obscenely huge on the Adventure (33-litre). What does all this mean to an adventurous person? The GS does some pretty neat things but the Adventure does those same neat things with a little bit more ‘Die Hard’ authority.
As far as riding the two brutes there are a few things that definitely come to mind. Number one has to be the fuel tank. There’s a 13-litre difference between the two and you’ll notice it when you fill up and take the Adventure off the side stand. Grunt. You’ll also notice all that tall weight when doing low speed cornering, although it’s pretty easy to compensate for. Just remember that you’ve got a bucket load of fuel sitting high and you’ll be fine.
The wind coverage on the Adventure is simply phenomenal, the windshield is deceptively well designed; although it looks small, it performs big and is very comfortable to sit behind and rack up some big numbers on the clock. The GS windshield offers reasonably good coverage but don’t think of riding behind it without a full face helmet. Actually a full face helmet on either of these machines; or any bike is a good idea. Personally I would never go back to a three quarter helmet, ever – regardless of the machine. Full face, especially the flip-up full face designs are just way too comfortable for those who desire big numbers on the clock. Honest, but I digress here. The GS windshield does a pretty good job of keeping you out of the nasty stuff; however, I could eventually picture installing some aftermarket deflector bits in the hope of staying a bit drier whilst bashing through a Texas belly-washer.
Other bits and pieces that stick out… the Adventure has cross-spoked wheels and they’re built in such a way that you can change out a spoke without removing the tire, just in case you cream a spoke or two on the Mongolian frontier. The GS has stock aluminium wheels that offers a little less maintenance but are strong enough to suit the needs of almost the most serious adventurer. From what I could find out, cross-spoked wheels are a much stronger wheel when it comes to staying round on real nasty surfaces.
The suspension on the Adventure has 20 more millimetres of travel than the standard GS, which means that you can take a bit more ‘Yipee Ki-Yea’ abuse before finally bailing into the rhubarb patch and elevating yourself to urban legend status. The GS has rubber coated pegs; the Adventure has serrated pegs which aren’t bad as long as you remember things like pant cuffs and boot straps… Insert: “Whoops”, clunk, “how the…”
Lighting, now I have to be honest here, I’m comparing apples to oranges here as the Adventure has two PIIA lights on it and the GS doesn’t, so I’ll try to contain my comments to just the headlights, but let me tell you, PIIA lights knock one monster hole in the night. Standard lighting on both machines is exceptional, good low beam angle coverage without offending oncoming drivers and the high beam offers exceptional forward coverage. Out-running the standard lighting on either the GS or the Adventure is doable, but you’ll be posting some pretty daft numbers on the speedo for night riding. By adding the BMW PIIA optional lights it becomes semi-close to daylight riding…minus moose and other lesser beasts that may be wandering about.
The seating on both bikes are comparable. Comfortable? Sort of, how’s that for a description? Both machines offer a very straight up riding position. I can best liken it to a horse, where the rider’s ankles are in line with their upper back. Ergonomically it’s the best position for shrugging off some serious abuse, but it takes some time to get used to. Forget armchair lollygagging, you’re here for a purpose, which if you play your cards right may offer up an adventure. Hey, that’s why you bought the damn thing in the first place, isn’t it?
Cornering, this I need to tell you about. Grab a GS or an Adventure and take on some sport bikes in the twisties. Arrgh. Now we’re talking some serious fun. Both the GS and the Adventure corner like the wind. I kid you not, when you’re sitting that tall, have instant torque along with some exceptionally quick brakes; you can crunch some serious G’s through just about any corner. The GS / Adventure’s Telelever / Paralever suspension along with some seriously sticky Michelins will make you laugh like a hyena as you launch into the next sweeper. Simply set up the adjustable suspension and go for it. Insert grin factor + 10 here. Oy. Now, once you’ve blown off some sport bikes, go find an abandoned rail bed and putt through some nasty’s…Take a picnic basket ‘cause you’ll need some nourishment way before your GS does. This dirt interlude will also offer you the opportunity to turn off your optional ABS brakes and engage the optional Electronic Stability Control, how cool is that?
GS – Adventure downsides (depending on your outlook)…Okay, you’re happy riding one butt-ugly bike that has zero chrome. You’ve come to terms with the high riding position. What’s the down side? Well, I’m a firm believer that if you ride ‘em you’ll scratch ‘em, ergo, I scratch my bike more than I like. I also carry some serious Band Aids. When it comes to a ‘big whoops’, the stock Adventure is much nicer to lay on its side than a standard GS, why? The Adventure has a whack of stock crash bars whereas the stock GS doesn’t. Looking at all the protective equipment on the Adventure it almost comes across like a BMW dare. Some engineer in Germany, who has figured out all the angles says, “Go ahead, drop it. I dare ya.” I can tell you that dropping the Adventure is financially easier than dropping a stock GS, although they’re both about the same to pick up – unless the GS Adventure has a full gas tank. By the way, picking them up becomes easier with practice, no less embarrassing though. If you go for the stock GS, look seriously at adding some optional crash bars because you know deep down that somewhere along the line you will end up sitting on the ground wondering just how the heck you got there. I guess it comes down to a “pay me now, or pay me later” type of mentality. I don’t know why BMW doesn’t ante up the price of the standard GS by a few bucks and stick a set of cylinder guards on as a stock piece ‘cause let’s face it, they know you’re gonna drop it.
Downside number two. THE HORN. Oy. BMW, fire everybody in the horn department because both the GS and the Adventure horn suck beyond comparison. My other bike is a K1200LT and the horn scares me when I push the button. Here’s this ‘in yer face’ bike with a horn that sounds like a strangled canary. Strikes me as being diametrically opposed; I’ve bought an ‘in yer face’ bike, so give me an ‘in yer face’ horn… please. I may need it someday; after all, I ride in Ontario where cage windshields have been known to blind drivers.
All in all…Wow; what a toss up. If you want to do some serious round the world stuff, buy a standard GS and put some optional bits and pieces on it. If you want to go to a place that no man has gone before and you want to go with confidence along with a 700-kilometre gas range, go for a stock GS Adventure and be happy that you’ve got a whack of extra gas. Both machines are exceptional. Both will make you seriously question your abilities, they will ask you to do more and beg you to take that far flung path. They will enhance your riding abilities or make you cringe and opt out for public transit. Both of these machines are not for the faint of heart, yet they are the best machines for the heart. I now saddle up and say “ahh, home” regardless of where I am. Then I apply tons-O-torque to the roadbed and my face breaks into this uncontrollably loopy grin.
The other real nice thing about both of these brutes is that they look good when they’re dirty, come to think about it – they look even better dirty. Now that’s attitude.
So where does your adventure lie?
Ride Safe. Ride (Very) Far! Stu