2004 BMW R 1200 GS Review | Dual Personality
Having virtually invented the adventure-touring category of motorcycle, one might think that BMW would be inclined to sit back and rest on the immense success of the GS line—far from it. The German bike maker, which garnered four victories in the bike-destroying Paris-Dakar Rally during development of the early GS models, has an all-new motorcycle—the 2004 BMW R 1200 GS.
Like a trusty Swiss Army knife, the BMW R 1200 GS has always enjoyed a militaristic functionality with regard to looks and design. For 2004, some sleek bodywork changes add a more aerodynamic feel without sacrificing any of the machine’s tough good looks, bringing a sense of refinement to its powerful character.
Fortunately, the engineers at BMW have gone a lot deeper than mere cosmetics. Owing to its overall weight and top-heaviness, the old GS always felt a little unwieldy off-road—even a tad intimidating on off-camber single-track trails or in slow maneuvering in muddy conditions. BMW has carved a remarkable 66 pounds off the previous big GS, bringing the dry weight down to 440 pounds, and moving more of it down low in the process. The result is a 1170cc motorcycle that is a lot more inviting to take off-roading.
Along with the welcome weight reduction came an increase in engine performance. Adding 18 horses, bringing the total to just shy of 100 horsepower, and finding 85 ft/lbs of torque, makes the lighter GS very exciting to ride.
BMW has cured the twin-cylinder engine of its sluggish response in the very low rev range, and managed to produce a crisp hit from the slightest twist of the throttle. Also, the boxer-style motor has had counter-stabilizing engineering incorporated to eliminate the inherent side-to-side vibration when the throttle was rolled on while standing still.
The most alluring aspect of the GS has always been its ability to perform extremely well in two very different environments. It takes to dirt and pavement with equal agility. The new bike is incredibly smooth on the pavement and capable of 125-plus mph—a remarkable feat for an adventure-class machine. With a comfortable riding position and a five-way, tool-free adjustable windscreen that effectively routes the rushing wind around the rider, high-mileage days will unfold somewhat effortlessly due to minimal fatigue.
When the pavement ends, the 2004 BMW R 1200 GS’s suspension really shines. Using travel-dependent damping in the rear, the suspension soaks up the little shakes and rattles of grooved fire roads, as well as the unexpected hard hit from a drainage ditch or pothole, without so much as a flutter, regardless of speed. The bike’s bulk is forgotten immediately, and even the return to earth after an occasional airborne episode is absorbed without objection. Not exactly what the BMW was designed for, but it is capable nonetheless.
Not surprise coming from BMW, the 2004 R 1200 GS is a gem of engineering. Transmission, clutch, and brakes work with an ease and fluidity that allows for a smooth syncopation while accelerating, shifting, and braking, making the rider feel a part of the machine.
The cockpit layout manages to accommodate a range of sizes and shapes, making each rider feel comfortable in the saddle. Hands and feet fall effortlessly onto handlebars and pegs of the GS. The footpegs have been lowered for a more relaxed knee position without sacrificing any ground clearance. To personally fine-tune the bike to your particular taste, seat height and angle are four-way adjustable.
Skid plates line the underside of the motorcycle, protecting important bits from the terrain. BMW’s EVO brake system is standard equipment, while Integral ABS, with on-demand deactivation when riding off-road, is available as an option.
As is always the case with BMW, amenities abound, from the smart and functional expandable hard side bags and heated handgrips, to an optional GPS system. Buyers can choose between cast alloy wheels and traditional spokes, both designed for tubeless tires, and from three stylish paint schemes—Desert Yellow, Rock Red, or Ocean Blue. Add a top quality apparel line to the mix, and it is easy to understand the customer loyalty BMW enjoys.
This motorcycle’s street worthiness, combined with its penchant for dirt, sets a standard early on in the adventure-touring category that puts other manufacturers in the position of playing catch-up. With the advancements bestowed on the new 2004 BWM R 1200 GS, it is apparent that BMW doesn’t plan to loosen its hold on this class any time soon.
What rider doesn’t love a look back at the motorcycles that preceded today’s tech-savvy creations? Welcome to the Ultimate MotorCycling retro review archives; we’re revisiting some of our favorite reviews from year’s past, highlighting the machines that laid the rubber for what’s on the today’s showroom floors. Enjoy. – Ron Lieback, ed.