2013 BMW R1200GS Adventure Touring Motorcycle TestMore than 30 years after the R 80 GS defined the large displacement touring enduro market segment, the 2013 BMW R 1200 GS–the sixth incarnation of the wildly popular Gelände/Strasse series – is a completely new machine from the ground-up, retaining the basic tenets of the boxer pedigree, while simultaneous moving the marc forward by embracing new technologies that may cause a few eyebrows to raise on the brow of staunch GS purists.
The primary objective of the K50 project – as the latest version of the R 1200 GS was known in-house at BMW – was not only to update a design that was nearly 10 years old, but to reassert the GS as the unmistakable leader in the market segment. However, with more than 50-percent of sales in the global large enduro segment and the best-selling motorcycle model of any bike over 500cc, one could easily argue that BMW GS engineers could afford to rest on the laurels; nothing could be further from the truth.Other than handful of fasteners and the rider’s footpegs, there are no interchangeable parts. The most obvious transformational clue is the addition of low-mount radiators and the switch to water-/air- cooling from oil-/air-cooling. The deft eye also notices that fuel induction on the new 1170cc twin is now straight down vertically. With the airbox above the engine rather than below the seat, this provide for a very clean foot and leg area free from any tangles associated with the rear facing induction of the previous versions.Spinning the head 90 degrees moves the exhaust valves from the front of the head, where air could easily cool them, to the bottom of the head, thereby necessitating the move to water cooling. This vertical design allows for cylinder alignment and the harmonizing of airflow that optimizes combustion and eliminates the need for secondary spark plugs that were used on the previous engines to burn un-burnt fuel at low rpm. Along with a slight boost in compression to 12.5:1, the new compact engine boasts a whopping 125 horsepower at 7750 rpm and 92 ft/lbs of torque at 6500 rpm.The transmission has been totally revamped and the gearbox is now integrated with the motor housing rather than a separate bolted-on unit. Moreover, the old single plate dry clutch has been replaced with lighter pull, eight-plate wet-clutch for increased precision in off-road situations and slipper mechanism has been added to prevent rear wheel hop and chatter in aggressive down-shifting and braking maneuvers on the tarmac.With a shorter integrated motor and transmission, the frame has been optimized to be continues from the head to the footpegs, with a new bolt-on sub-frame. This adds torsional stiffness and aids in precision handling, but just as important, it allows for a two-inch longer swing-arm while maintaining the same wheelbase as the previous generation. This improves suspension action and rear wheel grip on all surfaces.The additional horsepower and torque have necessitated wider tires. Both the front and rear tires are now one half inch wider and come in at 120/70 R19 (front) and 170/60 R17 (rear). These new sizes are unique to the new version of the 2013 BMW R 1200 GS and currently Metzler and Continental have models in limited quantities in the United States. Pirelli and other ire manufacturers are expected to follow suit.In congruence with the power and grip improvements, radially-mounted Brembo Monobloc calipers are mounted up front with 305mm rotors. The rear maintains the same 2-pistion floating caliper, but the rotor size has been increased from 265mm to 276mm. ABS is standard and easily switched off and on while underway via thumb switch on the left-side handlebar.Tearing a page from the playbook of the S 1000 RR and the new BMW HP4 superbikes, the 2013 R 1200 GS gets semi-active suspension that monitors the vertical travel distance and rate of the front and rear wheels and continuously adapts the damping to the road surface conditions making adjustments every ten milliseconds if necessary. Ten milliseconds is faster than the blink of an eye.In real world terms, if a rider is traveling at 60 mph and hits a pothole with the front wheel, the system will measure the impact and increase the rear wheel damping in time for the rear wheel to impact the pothole. The bike would have only traveled 11 inches during the entire process.As incredible as that sounds, its effectiveness is exponentially increased by the network effect. By utilizing the CAN Bus as the networking hub, the ABS braking system, ACS traction control system, fly-by-wire throttle response, and the Dynamic ESA suspension system all share information and theoretically work in harmony with one another. The rider has the option to select predefined profiles based on terrain conditions, the weight of passengers and gear, and personal preferences.Networked electronics like these typically require a crew chief and data acquisition engineer to setup properly, so BMW makes it easy for the R 1200 GS rider by creating five separate profiles (Ride Modes) that have been developed by factory test riders. For road use, there are three modes–Rain, Road, and Dynamic–that provide for smooth throttle and suspension setting and rather intrusive traction control to snappy throttle, a firm ride, and the ability for a little rear wheel slide before the traction control calms things down.For off-road use, there are two additional modes – Enduro and Enduro Pro – that are optimized for road tires (former) and knobby tires (the latter). The Enduro mode utilizes soft suspension settings for great traction, and allows for some rear slip while keeping the ABS effective with street tires on loose terrain.The Enduro Pro mode stiffens the suspension and greatly increases damping resistance to suspension bottoming; it also disconnects the integral braking functionality and allows the rider to operation the front and rear break independent of one another. Moreover, ABS is turned off in the rear, allowing for locking up the rear tire for tight pivot turns.A coded jumper plug is required to be installed under the seat to allow Enduro Pro to be selectable option, and it also provides the additional convenience of preserving the ABS and ASC setting after turning the ignition off and back on again. Without the coded plug, if the rider had ABS deactivated, it will revert to the default setting of ABS on.After reviewing the 2013 BMW R 1200 GS owner’s manual and adjusting the levers closer to the handgrips, and the handlebars and seat to a higher position, I fire up the new boxer and I’m immediately impressed. The exhaust note of the stock canister is deep, yet respectful. More impressive is how quickly the engine spins up when you twist the throttle, unlike any other previous generation boxer I’ve ever ridden. The new LED headlight configuration is distinctively BMW and a signature design detail. The switchgear is very thought-out, though it does require a pre-flight inspection to memorize the responsibilities of each thumb and index finger.On the tarmac in Road mode, the new GS feels almost like a sportbike with an upright riding position. I was pleasantly surprised at how effectively the GS handles through tight esses with a remarkably light feel that allows for side-to-side flickabilty almost as if it were a hundred pounds lighter.Touring through gravelly mountain roads strewn with pine needles and wet with morning dew can be unpredictable at best, yet the R 1200 GS carves its way with predictability–along with a small flash from the cockpit reminding me that the traction control or ABS brakes have been engaged. Outside of my peripheral vision picking up the queue, I would have hardly noticed.The new water-cooled engine feels like it has mountains of horsepower that inspire me to switch to Dynamic mode to appease the little devil hovering over my right hand. Throttle response is direct, but not harsh, and the fly-by-wire configuration provides a responsive connection to the rear wheel that allows for trail-braking into corners and drifting the rear wheel away from the apex.Of course, increased horsepower necessitates stronger binders and the new 2013 BMW R 1200 GS is beautifully balanced with a radially-mounted Brembo Monobloc braking configuration that takes braking performance to the next level. Matched with the wider rubber of the Metzler Tourance tires, the total package is progressive yet strong and never requires more than one finger application.After a few exciting hours of burning up canyon roads and I feel a track day is in the immediate future, but the task at hand is droning out a couple hundred miles of desert roads that separate me from a menagerie of dirt fire roads up and through the Sierra Nevada mountain range.On the highway, the one-handed windscreen adjustment is an added convenience and the windscreens itself offers great wind protection, especially for its rather compact size. However, the real game changer is the integrated cruise control provided by the fly-by-wire throttle modulation – easy to use with such smooth and seamless on/off transition that it allowed me to stretch out while riding and sync any off-bike stretching with refilling the 5.3 gallon fuel-tank.Away from the relative safety of paved roads, the R 1200 GS’s new electronics package really shines. The Enduro mode is optimized for street oriented tires and it really facilitates the negotiation of a large displacement motorcycle in limited traction situations – a great feature for road riders who may be new to off-road riding.The obvious trade-off is that a soft suspension setting is needed to maximize off-road grip from street tires and it’s fairly easy to blow through the 7.5 inches of front fork travel when riding aggressively. Large bumps and g-outs are best taken at slower speeds, as the motor and electronics package allow for speeds that will quickly outstrip the ability of the standard suspension to dampen and stabilize the bike.Blasting the new R 1200 GS through rocky desert fire roads brings a devilish grin to my face, as it’s hard for to resist looking back at the image of a dust plume billowing several hundred yards beyond my rear tire. The boxer configuration keeps the center of gravity low so standing up and steering the bike through the footpegs is a very natural experience that allows for quite deft handling even when at speed. This was effectively tested on a dusty two-track dirt path south of Bodie, Calif., when three mule deer decided to hop out in front of a barreling GS with result being casualty-free for both man and beast.On the gas in slippery off-road conditions, the traction control will allow the rear wheel to spin up a bit before the ASC tames the rider’s ambition and keeps everything in line, all but eliminating the typical high-side condition. ABS performs equally well and I actually preferred to keep the ABS engaged rather than disabling it, as I typically would on previous GS models.With all of the scientific engineering that has gone into the new 2013 BMW R 1200 GS, there is room for improvement. The stock footpegs are minuscule and can really fatigue the bottoms of the feet after just a few miles of standup riding, especially in softer-soled touring boots.The rear brake pedal looks like it was forged in a blacksmith shop around the turn of the century. How these two items were bolted onto an otherwise extraterrestrial adventure machine, I may never know, but fortunately they are very easy upgrades. I’m sure that BMW Motorrad will have a host of high-end accoutrements available as well as the many aftermarket companies specializing in the GS.Is the new GS the best GS ever? That depends on your disposition and your level of objectivity. There will always be the Luddite diehards that will consistently shun technological evolution. However, outside of that small subset riders, it’s safe to say that the 2013 R 1200 GS water boxer is the highest performing GS ever to come out of Bavaria, and probably the easiest to ride as well. I can’t wait for the Adventure model.Photography by Jon BeckRiding Style
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.