2015 BMW R1200GS Adventure Review

Backcountry exploration takes on a whole new meaning when 125 horsepower and 400 miles of range are available to facilitate one’s journey. It becomes a two-wheeled equalizer, where high desert two-track roads and mountainous jeep trails are both viable options for the rider whose goal is to string together tracks that will undoubtedly become an unforgettable motorcycle adventure.

Enter the latest BMW R 1200 GS Adventure. The benefactor of over 30 years of continual refinement, the latest incarnation of the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure endows the mastodon of off-road motorcycles with a plethora of technical innovations of near bionic proportions, allowing it to travel farther, faster, and to more corners of the world than ever before.

Aesthetically the big GS Adventure stays true to its iconic and rugged pedigree, with exposed cylinders, minimalistic bodywork, and aggressive, angular styling. The futuristic LED headlight design is its luminary calling card, announcing its presence to the world in a massive way.

California’s Eastern Sierra is the ideal venue for this type of riding, from the snow-flecked peaks scraping 14,000 feet skyward, to the heat-curling horizons of Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park; this is big country, and the perfect proving ground for big adventure bikes.

One thousand miles of challenging off-road terrain, twisty mountain roads, and wind-swept dry lake beds lay ahead of me, and would come together to form the yard stick to compare the 2015 GS Adventure against previous models, as well as some of the new arrivals from Japan and Austria, which have fortified the list of alternatives in the growing segment of “large travel enduro” motorcycles.

Preparing for an epic big-bike off-road adventure typically entails a full day of work, from selecting and stowing the kit, to balancing it front to aft and side to side, to painstakingly adjusting spring preload and sag to optimize the bike for off-road performance. The entire process has become part and parcel to the overall experience. However, many of the choices in bike setup consequently compromise the on-road handling for the tarmac necessary to connect me to off-road nirvana.

With Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment), those days are in the past. This sophisticated electronics package won’t pack your panniers for you, but it does take care of nearly everything else. I can load up the bike and, before I’ve navigated beyond the limits of my suburban neighborhood, I’ve got the preload set for street conditions, my preferred power delivery mapping firing nicely, and my thumb is poised over the cruise control switch in anticipation of sneaking past Friday rush hour traffic.

Atop the GS Adventure, the mastodon actually appears bigger than it feels. Vertical aspiration is incredibly efficient, and the physical manifestation are throttle bodies that are now located above the opposing twin cylinders, rather than behind them. This prompted the Bavarian engineers to discreetly integrate them into the fuel tank cowling and bodywork, giving the GS Adventure a wide stance, but simultaneously opening up a lot of room for the riders’ legs and knees for maneuverability.

With Michelin Anakee III tires mounted to the black anodized spoke wheels, tearing up the tarmac is an endlessly fun endeavor that actually makes cutting through crowded urban jungle environments a big thrill. The contact patch with the road surface has been increased by widening the front and rear tires to 120/70 and 170/60, respectively, lending more stability without adding any noticeable slowness to the handling.

Dynamic mode is my mapping of choice for street conditions, dishing out gobs of torque to pulse through city traffic. The meaty Michelins grip their way through the multitude of questionable short cuts that avail themselves above and below the curb line.

Once on the open highway, cruise control becomes more of a necessity than a nice-to-have feature. Coupled with the pleasurable content derived from a comfy seat, the combination actually allows me to go hours without stopping, and to fully take advantage of the dromedary capacity of the eight-gallon aluminum fuel tank.

Carving through the White Mountains, which peak at 14,252 feet (just 250 feet shy of their famous neighbor, Mt. Whitney), the air is incredibly thin and the thoughts of city traffic and highway slab quickly drift into distant memory. The terrain is amazingly diverse, from sharp volcanic igneous rock, to coarse sand washes and dry and loamy high alpine forest; the quest for traction is never-ending.

The standard enduro mode is the perfect setting to assist in my search for grip, permitting for predictable slip from the rear wheel, but not enough to allow the bike to step out in the form of a high side. Likewise, the ABS braking is tuned for off-road riding with non-knobby, street tires, where a degree of controlled lock-up is permitted.

This allows the brakes to work extraordinarily well, providing stopping power without the all-too-familiar sensation of ice-skating that was common on older versions of ABS systems when riders forgot to turn them off before heading toward the dirt.

As the trail tightens, Dynamic ESA comes in handy as I increase the suspension pre-load to navigate over rocky step-downs without dragging the undercarriage. In this type of terrain, clutch and throttle control is imperative to ensure the bike stays straight and upright, and this is where the new GS Adventure really shines.

With a multi-plate wet clutch and a heavier flywheel, the big bike negotiates the more nasty elements of the trail with the poise and grace of a typical light- weight dual sport bike in off-road conditions. The amount of confidence this inspires truly cannot be overstated when extreme technical sections separate the rider from a hot meal and a warm bed at the end of the day.

When the comfort of support services are not so far away, it is time to mount Continental Twinduro TKC80 knobby tires, drop the panniers and luggage, and realize the off-road capabilities that are provided by the Enduro Pro mode.

Deep sand is typically characterized as the archenemy of large travel enduro bikes. Minimal traction control, coupled with knobby block tires, proves to be an exciting sand-throwing experience, where getting up to speed and allowing the bike to plane on top of the sand, requires only a few pulls of the clutch.

Additionally, the Enduro Pro setting disconnects the linked braking, allowing the rear brake to be locked up with the rear brake pedal while still preserving the off-road ABS optimized for knobby tires. For those of us who love to steer with the rear wheel with inputs from the right-side extremities — namely the throttle hand and rear foot pedal—the Enduro Pro mode is an off-road hooligan’s dream. It is perhaps not so practical when the objective of the adventure is arriving to the destination, but the Enduro Pro setting is an exhilarating option if you’ve scheduled in a play day.

Without reservation, the most recent performance upgrades and accompanying electronic enhancements have resulted in the most versatile and easy to ride GS Adventure ever produced. So much so, it almost begs the question of whether big adventure bike riding has become too easy?

Crusty old diehards may think so, recounting each dent in the pannier of the R80 as a well-earned badge of honor, but at the end of the ride, it’s about the beautiful places one experiences and the total amount of fun accumulated.

Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of experience with large adventure bikes, from simple wanderlust to the serious off-road enthusiast, the 2015 BMW R 1200 GS Adventure is just a push of a button away from being the perfect bike.

Riding Style:

Photography by Don Williams

Story from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine; for subscription services, click here.