2008 BMW R1200GS - The Best Gets Better

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing

Don't try this at home. But after hammering a 504-pound motorcycle over basketball-sized rocks at 50 mph all afternoon, we can say that it looks like the CAD/CAM types back in Munich did their homework once again. After you stop thinking about normal human-survival instincts and various laws of physics, BMW's '08 R1200GS is perfectly happy on surfaces that would snap most bikes its size in half. It's a bit happier on any sort of surface than last year's model, despite the fact that only diligent students of the breed can pick out the differences.

Brushed-aluminum fuel tank accents and gold-anodized fork legs tell any astute GS spotter he's just been passed by the latest version. A fistful of subtle styling changes sharpen up the silhouette, but the big-deal differences-an alleged 5 extra horses, more sophisticated electronics and friendlier ergos-are hard to spot. BMW already owns the adventure-tourer market, where the GS is a runaway best-seller. What do you do for an encore after every Long Way Round viewer on the planet has a GS in his garage? Go after everybody else.

A quick scan of the cockpit reveals more electronic accoutrements than before. The Info button on the left-hand switch pod toggles the LCD dash display through average speed, mpg, ambient temperature, etc. ABS is familiar, and cancelable for off-road duty. But Automatic Stability Control and Electronic Suspension Adjustment are new, the latter offering nine options for the pavement and six for the dirt.

Both the GS and its bigger paramilitary brother, the Adventure, are considerably easier to get along with, so long as you respect their limits. Both bikes are tall enough to hide a GSX-R behind. The Adventure cockpit should come with a boarding ramp and supplemental oxygen. Remember that they each weigh twice as much as a real enduro bike, and with a little practice they'll do a lot more than you'd think in the dirt.

More suitable suspension and knobby-esqe Continental Twinduro rubber add up to an edge for the Adventure, but with a full 8.7 gallons of super-unleaded on board, it's 60 pounds heavier and a genuine handful on technical terrain unless you take your time. The revamped six-speed is excellent, but there's more slack in the Paralever driveline than we'd like. A whiff of throttle erases that and keeps the Telelever tracking. Closing it relaxes the front suspension enough to make scary/painful/expensive changes to your cornering trajectory. But fear not: With the ESA toggled to its stiffest settings, the maximum GS will claw its way over, around or through the sort of terrain that would stuff the average 4x4's oil pan into its air filter. A new tapered-aluminum handlebar helps the off-road cause on both bikes, and its new reversible mount makes standing up on the Adventure's broad, saw-tooth pegs much easier.

Though presumably useful for traversing black ice, the default ASC-traction control to you-makes the engine feel like it's gagging on guacamole whenever the rear wheel spins appreciably faster than the front. Cue up Sport mode and it's a lot less intrusive, letting you pull the trigger without snapping sideways near the 5750-rpm torque peak. Both ASC and ESA are more convenient than essential, but dialing up maximum preload at both ends without getting off the bike is nice. And though an overabundance of high-speed compression damping translates to a harsh ride over pavement seams and pockmarks, the suspension on both bikes does a better job of keeping the wheels in line on any surface.

The lower, lighter GS feels a whole lot more composed through the twisty bits on its more pavement-oriented Bridgestones, but either version can embarrass allegedly sportier bikes. Brakes are excellent, ABS is unobtrusive and steering is light. Cornering clearance is effectively unlimited. And though the extra power isn't immediately apparent, there's enough thrust on tap between 6000 and 8000 rpm to maintain an astonishing pace.

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