R1200GS First Ride (Telegraph) Jan 2004


BMW has pulled out all the stops to make its new R1200GS lighter and smoother - and the results are apparent immediately, writes Kevin Ash

During the development of BMW's new R1200GS, design chief David Robb kept a container holding 6·6 gallons of water in the centre of his Munich office. Not because creating the replacement for the R1150GS, BMW's most successful model of recent times, was thirsty work, but because the water represented the weight the team was aiming to lose, 30kg (66lb). This symbolic mass was intended as a graphic reminder of what the current model was needlessly carrying – it is a huge amount of weight for any motorcycle to lose, and even with no other improvements its replacement would have been significantly better for shedding all those pounds.

BMW R1200GS off road
The weight lost from BMW's tourer is equivalent to 6.6 gallons of water

We have become accustomed to sports bike designers trumpeting weight reductions in terms of grams or ounces, so how has BMW been able to lose the equivalent of two heavy suitcases without omitting the engine or listing the wheels and suspension as optional extras? Impressive though it is – the target has, of course, been met – the achievement also points to a change in attitude at BMW. In the past it relied on the inherent lightness of the air-cooled, horizontally opposed "boxer'' twin configuration, which fostered complacency about the weight of other components. Since the Japanese showed that it is possible to make liquid-cooled fours that are considerably lighter than air-cooled twins, the Germans have finally taken on board the increasing complaints about their bikes' excessive weight and become as serious about the subject as the obsessive Orientals. Quite right, too, as savings here mean gains in acceleration, economy, braking and handling.

You notice as much within yards of setting off. The upright and commanding riding position is little changed compared with the 1150, but the agility has been transformed, the 1200 responding so much more sharply to steering input that an 1150 would be left trailing after a few corners. It's not as agile as the latest generation of street-sport machines such as the Aprilia Tuono or Ducati Multistrada, but the BMW would not be embarrassed by them, which is impressive for what is the world's biggest-capacity trail bike.

For all its off-road pretensions, however, the vast majority of buyers will use the GS as a touring bike, and the improvements are just as obvious here. It's extremely comfortable and protection from wind blast at speed is disproportionate to the size of the screen, while the slipstream hitting the rider is smooth and reasonably quiet.

The familiar-looking boxer engine is new, featuring for the first time a Lanchester-type balance shaft to tame the high-rpm vibrations that cursed previous BMW twins, along with measures to improve emissions, fuel consumption and performance. Peak power is up by 16bhp to 100bhp, while the torque is spread across a wider rev range – combined with the weight loss, the result is far punchier performance. The new, six-speed gearbox finally matches the best from Japan, with slick and positive ratio swaps, and now you hardly need to touch the change lever as the bike is quite quick enough when left in top.

The example ridden at the launch was fitted with optional anti-lock brakes (which can be switched off for riding in the dirt) when the handlebar lever operates all three discs and the foot pedal the rear only. It's also power-assisted, a system that has irritated with its on-off action during gentle braking but which on the 1200 gave no such cause for complaint. The stoppers now merely feel strong and effective.

BMW has also continued to refine its unique suspension. The telescopic fork and wishbone combination at the front (called Telelever) is backed up by a Paralever single-sided swingarm and shaft drive unit at the rear, with a double-jointed drive shaft and geometry designed to eliminate rear-end elevation under acceleration. It works extremely well, providing outstanding stability under the heavy braking of which the 1200 is capable or in severe crosswinds. Even the quirky push to the side in response to blipping the throttle (the torque reaction to the longitudinal crankshaft) is reduced, thanks to the contra-rotating balance shaft.

The suspension has some advantages over conventional systems, but the downside is additional unsprung weight. BMW has minimised this on the 1200 but its suspension still weighs more than that of a chain-driven bike with conventional forks, and the ride quality suffers accordingly. At speed the ride can be fidgety and big bumps jar more than you'd like, while some of the corrugated surfaces we experienced off-road utterly defeated the suspension, the wheels kicking off the ground so much that steering and braking control were significantly diminished. On metalled roads the front end always has an anaesthetised feel compared with most, but these losses are a fair trade against the gains.

Elsewhere there are plenty of neat touches: the multiplex electrics mean dash information is comprehensive, the screen is easily adjusted for varying rider height while the seat height ranges from 31·9 to 35in thanks to a combination of three optional seats and standard adjustability.

Tourers will be disappointed by the fuel capacity dropping almost half a gallon to 4·4 gallons, but the improved economy will compensate for much of that. Typical riders will achieve about 50mpg and be able to squeeze 200 miles from a tankful.

Availability could be a problem. The 1150GS was the best-selling bike in Germany in 2003 and is popular throughout Europe. The 1200 is a major improvement, retaining the knockout styling and character with far better dynamics. Demand will be stronger than ever, and rightly so.

Price/availability: £9,275 on the road. On sale March 13 2004. Contact BMW (GB), 01344 426565 (

Engine/transmission: 1,170cc, boxer twin four-stroke with eight valves; 100bhp at 7,000rpm, 85lb ft of torque at 5,500rpm. Six-speed gearbox, shaft final drive. Performance: top speed 136mph, average fuel consumption 50mpg (est).

We like: Torque, power, stability, brakes, style, responsiveness.

We don't like: Fussy ride quality, lack of steering feel, reduced fuel capacity.

Telegraph review Feb 2007

Comment on this article:
Found an error, noticed an omission, think any other change should be made or
just want to leave feedback? Please contact AndyW
  Thank you

Top of page