Review: 2013 BMW R1200GS

Steve Bond
By Steve Bond
Posted on November 23rd, 2013
0 Comments

One score and 10 years ago, BMW brought forth a motorcycle to cross continents, dedicated to the principle that all motorcycles are not created equal.

Yes, the iconic GS is 30 years old and has attained legendary status after single-handedly starting the Adventure Touring boom.

BMW has been steadily tweaking and improving the big GS over the years and, at first glance, you might think the 2013 model only got a bit of a facelift. But, actually, it’s pretty much all new.

The major improvement is liquid-cooling although, staying true to its air-cooled Boxer roots, the engine is still 65-per-cent air-cooled and 35-per-cent “precision liquid-cooled.”

Coolant is directed at hot spots in the heads and cylinders, while large cooling fins dissipate most of the heat generated. The twin rads are mounted just below the steering head, one on each side.

The new engine pumps out 125 horsepower (up from 110) and 92 ft.-lb. of torque (up from 88).

The gearbox is now integrated into the engine case instead of bolted onto the back, making for a shorter engine and allowing a longer swingarm, which aids traction and suspension compliance.

The changes hugely improve the GS’ shifting action and the new gearbox is a huge improvement over the previous 1200GS, but falls short of BMW’s F700GS, one of the best available.

It’s still a tall motorcycle, although the stock seat is adjustable to either 850 or 870 mm, and BMW offers a lower suspension that can bring it down to an Ewok-accommodating 790.

ABS is standard, as is a fly-by-wire throttle system and five rider-selectable power modes. These modes don’t affect peak power, just the way it’s delivered — softer in Enduro and Rain modes, normal in Road, and quite aggressive in Dynamic and Enduro Pro modes.

Even though the wet weight is up 9 kg to 238, the new GS feels much lighter, probably due to the lowered centre of gravity and the narrower waist.

As soon as you hit the starter button, the raspy exhaust note sounds much different from previous versions. Blip the throttle and there’s virtually no lag — the revs rise and fall instantly. Pull in the surprisingly light clutch, snick it into gear and you’re away.

In Road mode, throttle response is progressive and smooth. Short shift the Boxer and ride the bow wave of prodigious, low-end torque as you leave the bottom-feeding four-wheelers behind.

The power tapers off up near redline but who routinely spends much time there anyway? Low end and mid-range is where it’s at and that’s right in the GS’ kitchen.

Steering is light and neutral and the sit-up riding position is almost ideal. In traffic, you can see over most cars and, because you’re sitting up nice and high, traffic can see you.

I cracked my shins on the cylinders a few times when putting my feet down at stops but soon got used to the placement.

I found the seat a bit hard and, even when playing with the height and slope adjustment, couldn’t really find a comfortable position. Your posterior results may vary.

Suspension travel is a generous 190 mm up front and 200 at the rear. Damping is very well-controlled over all conditions I experienced.

Heated grips and ABS are standard and, as usual, BMW offers a catalogue full of options to tailor a GS to your requirements.

Cruise control is a $400 option, and you can also add GPS hookup, an onboard computer, traction control and Dynamic Electronic Suspension.

With this Dynamic ESA, the system is semi-active, meaning it measures what’s going on and adjusts damping and spring rates accordingly, within the parameters of whatever mode is selected — from exceedingly plush in Enduro to sportbike-firm in Dynamic. It also automatically adjusts the level of traction control and ABS effectiveness.

I didn’t do any serious off-roading with the GS, mainly because I don’t have that much experience hustling a 238-kg motorcycle down dirt tracks.

I did check out a few dirt roads and dual-track however, and thought the engine was a little too responsive until “Enduro” mode was dialed in. The chassis remained composed and felt rock solid, even when the occasional sandy spot was encountered.

Fuel economy was decent, ranging from 5.3 L/100 km on a highway jaunt to just over 6 on a stretch of around-town and dirt roading, so the 20-litre tank will provide an excellent fuel range.

Like SUVs, most big-bore Adventure Touring motorcycles make excellent pavement pounders but never see dirt.

But, should an owner want to live the dream of riding to Alaska or Tierra del Fuego, the R1200GS would be more than capable.

The vehicle tested by freelance writer Steve Bond was provided by the manufacturer. Email: wheels@thestar.ca.

2013 BMW R1200GS

Price: $19,200

Engine: 1,170 cc, opposed twin, four-valve, six speed transmission

Fuel Consumption L/100 km: 5.3 to 6.1

Power/torque: 125 hp/92 lb.-ft.

Competition: KTM Adventurer, Triumph Explorer, Yamaha Tenere

What’s best: Handling, rideability, adjustability.

What’s worst: Seat just didn’t fit me.

What’s interesting: Dynamic electrically adjustable suspension

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