We all know that those shiny SUVs with lift kits and burly tires rarely touch a patch of sand or dirt, but that’s not the case when it comes to a certain two-wheeled SUV commonly known in the motorcycle world simply as “the GS.”
I am, of course, referring to the BMW 1200 GS series motorcycle, which comes in two flavors: the plain GS and the aptly-named GS Adventure. GS stands for Galande Straub, which is German for “this thing can pretty much climb Everest.”
GS1200s are the gold standard of the adventure touring (“ADV”) segment and these overgrown dirt bikes are just as comfortable blasting down the Autobahn at triple digits as they are fording swift-moving rivers in some remote corner of the globe, which is where many of them get pointed. This is a bike that doesn’t get a lot of baths in the driveway but does see a whole lot of miles in very challenging conditions.
New this year, BMW has moved the sealed driveshaft to the left side of the bike, a fairly big change for the platform. A heavier flywheel and new engine balancers should smooth out low-speed maneuvers. Targeted liquid cooling of the once air and oil-cooled 1200cc boxer twin returns for 2014 as well as the bump to 125 horsepower. But don’t look for any big radiators out in the breeze as the water jackets focus mainly on the exhaust valves and get some assistance from oil sprayers and even some air cooling. The radiator is tucked safely in the front fairing.
Back in 1980, when BMW unleashed the original oddball “G/S” on the world, its highest-tech bit was probably the solid-state ignition and a headlight. Over thirty years later, the ‘Long Way’ bikes now feature a plethora of tech including ABS brakes, traction control, adjustable suspension and ride modes for improved on- and off-road progress.
In what is likely to be one of the opening volleys in the techno pay-to-play scheme of “unlocking” more features for more money, BMW says “three additional riding modes can be added by ordering the optional Ride Modes Pro feature, which is accompanied by the Enduro settings for ABS and ASC for off-road riding. The three extra riding modes: Dynamic, Enduro, and Enduro Pro (which can be activated with a coding plug) make it possible to adjust the settings of both ASC and ABS and, if fitted, the semi-active suspension Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment).
Ah, the venerable “coding plug.” I wonder how long until it becomes the “hacked coding plug.”
If you think you’re ready to ride through Africa by simply purchasing the $19,000 GS, think again. You’ve only just begun to spend. Owners typically “farkle” their bikes with a long list of add-ons, including driving lights, GPS, two-way radios, tools, an endless array of side and top cases (known as “pannies” or panniers), and fuel storage. Don’t forget a good french press as well – these are BMWs, after all.
BMW also offers a new navigation unit, the Navigator V, which links into the bikes’ neural net and can be controlled while under way using a roll-and-toggle control on the left handgrip.
After you shake about $25,000 out of your wallet for the bike and riding gear, you’ll be ready to go – right after you buy another $1,500 in lightweight camping gear.
Expenses aside, the GS bikes are immensely capable machines in the hands of a skilled rider. If you want to see what ADV riding is all about from the perspective of your couch or Lay-Z-Boy, be sure to check out the adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi, er, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, as they pilot their BMW GS1200s around the world in their “Long Way” TV series, which helped make the GS BMW’s signature motorcycle.
If that show doesn’t get your travel bug itching, we don’t know what will.
Photos courtesy of BMW Motorrad/BMW USA