BMW R1200GS Adventure Test Report

Story by Stu Seaton// Photos by Stu Seaton
September 9 2010

Roger, Mojo’s multi-talented guy, phoned me up and said: “Would you mind doing a review on the 2010 BMW R1200GS Adventure?” There was a certain amount of redundancy in that question. Rog knows I love riding dual-sport machines, and for the most part they’re all great bikes; some are just better at doing certain things than others.

Big trailies allow me to load them to the gills, go fast when I want to go fast and slow when I find those single-track trails that end up getting me hopelessly lost and in some sort of a muddy adventure.

Yessir, just my cuppa tea. Let’s go!

Since my son was getting hitched in Victoria, B.C., I thought I could feed two birds with one scone. A brand-new 2010 GS Adventure was waiting for us at Vancouver’s Pacific BMW. Sheldon Coles met me with a big smile and a crushing handshake and then loaded me down with about a year’s worth of mind-blowing trails that could be found in the general direction of where we were headed, which was Whistler, Lillooet and then a quick swim over to the Island. Oh, to live on the Left Coast, where there is simply no end to adventure riding!

I jumped aboard the GS, poked the starter and immediately just about jumped out of my skin. Wow, listen to that! I thought there was an aftermarket exhaust can on it, but no, it’s OEM all the way. Gone is the piffling putter of previous GS’s; this one sounds like it’s ready for some serious action. The kid in me broke out in laughter. I wheeled past Sheldon, who was just about to give me the how-to about the GS. “I guess you’ve ridden these before,” he said. I replied that I’ve put a couple of clicks on a GS clock. I then popped the seats off, hooked up my indignant Garmin Lady, packed up the palatial BMW (aka Touratech) panniers and we’re off – that way, I think?

As I hit the suburban streets, I’m still taken aback by the exhaust note. It’s not offensive by any means – it just sounds so different from my ’07 model that I’m having a bit of trouble adjusting to the fact that everything looks comfortably familiar but is definitely different at the same time. The model I had came equipped with electronic suspension adjustment (ESA), which gives you different suspension preloading electronically, with just a push of a button. I messed about with the different settings and found that they all seamlessly engage quite nicely. So much for wrenches and knobs. Because of our load, I chose the “sport” setting, which seemed to offer the best suspension performance when hitting some rough road, even serious road-construction bumps.

The new GS Adventure has also had a horsepower makeover to the famous 1170 cc boxer engine, with the addition of twin overhead cams, first seen on the HP2 Sport. I could feel the additional torque when taking off from a dead stop and also when passing at highway speed. No downshifts are required unless you are bored and want to have some fun. Generally, just a roll on the throttle blasts you past anything in your way. I’m quite sure that the 2010 model would allow you to collect copious performance awards from the local constabulary if your brain allowed your right hand some adolescent latitude. Of course, past models would easily do that, but this one just seems to do it all without a thought, and with that stock exhaust note, it seems to power up with more authority.

As I rolled along, I felt that there was some sort of gearbox change, particularly first and sixth. They seemed to feel shorter, more manageable. I always found that first was just a tad too tall on my ’07 model, especially when I’m mired or having to go real slow and feathering the clutch to get over a stubborn obstacle. I couldn’t walk the bike out of mud without getting the odd whiff of clutch, and I always thought a shorter first gear would be a real benefit. Well, there is a change, and yes, the 2010-model first gear is shorter by two options, the regular 2.375 ratio or the optional 2.600 ratio. I’m pretty sure that my demo carried the optional shorter first, which I found very much to my liking. Now I could be much kinder to the hydraulically operated clutch and still get out of a daft situation, which I seem to have a propensity to find myself in, usually at the most inopportune time.

headlight of the BMW R1200GS AdventureHandlebar switchgear has remained the same, and so have the ergonomics, which I’ve found very comfortable at the worst of times. Anyone thinking of entering the dual-sport market, especially those coming from the cruiser world, will need to get over the seating position. Forget the “easy-boy” lounger position. A straight-up position on the GS is what you’ll get; however, you’ll find that this position, where your ankles are in line with your neck, is the same position that won the West. Look at a saddle on a horse and you’ll get the picture. In this position you can take tons of abuse without hurting.

The movable windshield and huge frontal mass of the Adventure offers plenty of rider protection, but don’t think that anything less than a full-face helmet will offer any great long-haul comfort, because it won’t. When you’re talking the difference between a cruiser windshield and a dual-sport windshield, it’s apples and oranges, although the GS Adventure windshield has all the wind and water going in the right directions.

By now we’re into the curves of the Sea to Sky Highway and I’m finding that, even fully loaded, this machine positively loves corners. I’ll agree that at 256 kg (563.2 lb.), the GS is heavier than any sport bike, but try it in a tight corner and you’ll wonder where you lost the weight. Just pick your line and let ‘er go, even if there’s some nasty pavement at the apex. With 210 mm (8.25 in.) of rear-wheel travel and 220 mm (8.6 in.) of front-wheel movement, coupled with BMW’s famous telelever and paralever design, the GS Adventure just eats up the nasties and offers smooth sailing.

Braking is both a dream and a worry at the same time. With optional integrated ABS tied to twin 305 mm front discs and a 265 mm rear disc and coupled to the ground with hot Bridgstone Battle Wings, you will stop much faster than any cage, so if you need to throw out the anchor, watch your rearview mirrors. However, once the panic has subsided, you can rely on 110 horsepower and 88.5 foot-pounds of torque to get you from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds, or in layman’s terms: “wow.”

The GS Adventure still has a tall seat of 910 mm (35.8 in.) adjustable to 890 mm (35 in.), which may exclude some vertically challenged folks from boarding. However, if you have the inseam prerequisite, then you’re good for a maximum payload of 475 kg (1045 lb.), and with a 33-litre tank, you’ll be logging some big numbers in no time. According to BMW specs, you should be clocking about 717 km at 90 km/h (4.6 L/100 km) or 541 km at 120 km/h (6.1 L/100 km). By anyone’s books that’s a considerable haul before you’ll be looking for a gas station. The gas gauge on the GS is still a bit of a guessing match, but the range computer is pretty accurate. I find that the gas gauge goes down fairly quick and then stays just below midpoint for the longest time; perhaps it’s the configuration of the tank, tall and skinny on the top and fat on the bottom?

Instrumentation has remained much the same as previous models, except that the digital readouts for gas level and engine temperature have switched sides – for a while I thought I was making gas. The speedo and tachometer are both clear analog-dial readouts, coupled with a large digital display that indicates which gear you’re in and a ton of other info if you scroll through the computer function found on the left switchgear: ambient temp, time, fuel consumption, range and “Oil OK.” Between the analog and digital readouts are turn-signal indicators and warning and neutral lights. Everything is in big print and very easy for even the bifocal crowd to read.

There’s a ton of specifications that I could bore you to tears with, but if you want to find out more just go to, where you can drill down to all the specs you want and more.

So how does the whole package work? I have a grin on my face right now, if that means anything. Two up and heavy will nibble a bit more fuel, but the big boxer never seems to lack anything, power is completely predictable, and there isn’t any appreciable brake fade under repeated hot and heavy stopping. Stainless-steel braided lines offer instantaneous feedback, plus any “braking brain-fart” is covered by the ABS system. Suspension makes short work of just about everything out there, and vibrations are close to nonexistent. The rearview mirrors are mounted far enough outboard to give you an unrestricted view, even with a passenger and luggage.

If you get caught out at night in “critter alley,” you’ll find the stock lighting with the optional lowers will punch one massive hole in the night. That being said, if you had a good morning start and you’re now riding in the dark, your passenger may not be so happy in the butt department. Riding that long will prove that the passenger seat is a tad unforgiving, and the panniers have a tendency to dig into the back of the passenger’s legs.

Getting on and off can be a challenge for your passenger as well. My wife, Bobbie, stands about five foot six, which offers some interesting on-and-off moments. Without the panniers it’s easy, but with the panniers it can be a pretty tall step. We found it best if Bobbie got on first and got off last. That allowed her to slip into my seat and step off using the rider’s pegs, missing the panniers entirely. We finally got the on-and-off routine down pat while the bike was on its tough-looking side stand. Just make sure you’re in gear and on level ground, as gravity can be sneaky.

By now we were in Whistler and the next morning I decided that since the panniers (that easily pop off with a well-designed ignition key lock mechanism) were now in our room, it was time for some solo fun, er, test riding. That’s when I found a trail with a great big “get lost” sign written all over it, wandering around Garibaldi Park. It was just begging me to try it out, so I did.

The first thing that you want to do when riding off-road is to flip the ABS off. There seems to be a change in that function within the 2010 model, because even though I thought I had disengaged the ABS, there were some rocky declines that I think engaged it. I had to give the bike a mulligan on this, as there wasn’t an operator’s manual onboard for me to confirm if I was setting it correctly. Regardless, I did what I seem to do all the time, which is to accidentally find a near-vertical trail that peters out into trees on both sides with about a six-inch single track left in the middle. After what felt like an hour, sporting a sweaty grin, I managed to get the bike turned around and headed down the mountain. Having 110 hp on a single track is like doing brain surgery with a sledgehammer. I told my right hand to behave, and we escaped with nary a scratch.


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