Kevin Turner takes the “short way round”
2006 BMW R1200GS review
Kevin Turner takes the “short way round” with a test ride of the BMW R1200GS
Ok I admit it; it was Long Way Round that did it. Prior to Boorman and McGregor’s heavily subsidised efforts to circumnavigate the globe I’d barely given the BMW R1200GS* the time of day. But watching those bikes make mincemeat of just about any terrain that dared challenge them nearly brought a tear to my eye. Like watching salmon battle the rapids; not a hint of caution, just the determination push on until the bitter end.
After the second episode I knew I had to have one of those bikes…then I saw the price tag. Eleven grand is a lot to pay for a motorbike. Even if it comes with ABS, bespoke luggage, a clever security key recognition thingy and tough, off-road spoked wheels to cope with the craters that dominate Trafalgar Square these days.
In the absence of any realistic way of paying for the bike I decided to arrange a test ride anyway and hope that my natural aversion to things not green and called Ninjas would prevail.
A quick note of thanks here to the guys at BMW Motorrad Park Lane, London. They were only too happy to let me loose on one of their bikes, and were remarkably friendly, professional and courteous from my initial e-mail enquiry to the point where I rode away on my Kawasaki having wasted about four hours of their time. Compared to the snobbish, patronising reluctance of most dealers, this made for an extremely refreshing change.
The BMW R1200GS is not a beautiful bike; front-on it looks like a bug-eyed Quasimodo with a squint. Its queer, beaky fender looks like an ice-cream scoop and the angular plastics remind me of a bad game of Tetris. In a word, it’s weird. But so is Paris Hilton, and sometimes weird doesn’t have to mean ugly.
The 1200 GS exudes a particular sense of beauty born out of purpose. Look at it and you’ll see Himalayan mountains, South American fjords, lunar landscapes. The BM is all about connotations, it reflects your dreams.
Anyway, enough waxing lyrical; what’s it like to ride? Frankly, stunning. It feels like a tank for about 30 seconds and then it morphs into an armchair. Being so high up takes some getting used to for a sportsbike rider, but being able to see beyond the car in front is definitely a positive.
The engine pulls nicely between 3,000 and 6,000 revs and surprisingly there’s virtually no buffeting despite the upright riding position. At a tonne-up (it’ll push 140mph) I did notice a slightly nervous twitch which I was told stems from the wind hitting your arms; it’s nothing major and I imagine you’d get used to it after half an hour or so.
Perhaps more surprisingly, I found it a doddle to ride in town. I’d assumed the size of the BM would make it a bit of a handful but I found myself nipping in and out of horrendous London traffic with ease. The boxster engine is relatively smooth, although twitch the throttle in neutral and it’ll jiggle side to side in a manner than nearly destabilised me a couple of times.
Again though, I have to put this down to my lack of experience with a boxster rather than any inherent problem with the bike itself.The brakes will spring your eyeballs loose if you’re not careful. They’re astonishingly powerful and I have to admit, I changed my rather snobbish opinion of the ABS system straight away. I still prefer the tactile nature of regular hydraulic brakes, but if you want to stop in a hurry, nothing but a brick wall is going to match the GS. And thanks to that alien BMW telelever suspension, the front stays planted and never dips, which is odd at first but apparently works wonders once you get used to it.
My only niggle (and this is a very small one) is the indicator cancel switch. You press a separate button with your right thumb to cancel the blinkers and I kept having to check I’d done it properly. It means taking your eye off the road, but maybe that’s why they made the brakes so good?
Unfortunately, I never got to take the BM off road, but thanks to Southwark council’s utter negligence, I got a good idea of what bouncing across a rock strewn desert path might feel like by riding around Camberwell for a while. The 1200GS irons out the pot holes and speed bumps nicely, making a pleasant change to the bone-jarring discomfort of riding the Ninja everyday. I have no doubt it does what it does off-road just as well as it does on the motorway or around town.
So, would I buy one? Unequivocally yes…if I won the lottery. It has to be remembered that for the price of a new R1200GS, you could line up three second-hand superbikes in your garage. That’s a lot of cash for a bike few people will ever use for its intended purpose.
Verdict: It’s an ideal commuter bike, especially if that commute involves crossing the Alps, but almost by definition, it lacks the thrill of a sports bike which, for now, is where my heart lies. But if anyone fancies sponsoring me to travel around the world, I’ll take the BM any day, Long Way Round or otherwise.
9.5/10 (.5 deducted for daft indicator cancellation thing)
I would also would like to mention the excellent service I received from Motorrad Park Lane
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