2014 BMW R1200GS Adventure | FIRST RIDE

A Bigger, Better, Badder Boxer for the Boondocks

By Marc Cook, Photography by Jon Beck, Kevin Wing
They say: “Designed for globetrotting opportunities.”
We say: “And those in your own backyard for that matter.”

As you would expect from a relentlessly Teutonic company, BMW's product development schedule is the picture of predictability. Out comes the all-new, water-cooled R1200GS in 2013 and you know, just know, that because the previous generation's Adventure model sold so well, it was just a matter of time before the new engine and chassis were given the full über-adventure treatment. When the first Adventure model arrived, it came two years after the then-new 1999 R1150GS, but was much closer for the new R1200GS in 2004 and on spec with the update to the twin-cam engine in 2010.

So here it is, the 2014 BMW R1200GS Adventure, debuting a year after the wasserboxer GS. It might almost be enough to drop a large fuel tank onto the frame and fit the standard GS with a bunch of engine guards, light bars, and other bushwhacking addenda—considering just how good the standard machine is—but that's not BMW's way. No, in fact, the GS-A has a host of significant updates and improvements to the basic GS platform in preparation for more adventuresome duty.

Let's start in the engine room. As you no doubt know, the current-generation GS engine was the first of what we expect to be a new family of modern Boxers. Essentially, everything was new last year except the opposed-cylinder configuration. The heads rotated to put the intake ports on top and the exhausts below, which created follow-on benefits that include more shin room for riders and a more rational intake tract. Plus, the intake ports are no longer interfering with the cam drive, which is still via chain to twin overhead cams operating the valves through rocker followers. What BMW calls "precision liquid cooling" is an abbreviated water-jacket system that surrounds the combustion chambers. According to BMW, the engine is still 65-percent air cooled, where the old one was 78-percent air cooled. This setup is a compromise between cooling capacity and system weight, which BMW says it optimized with compact radiators and minimal piping.

In the redesign, BMW also shifted the driveline components to place the transmission below the cylinder centerline and the clutch up front, where it can be serviced without literally breaking the motorcycle in half. This repackaging made the new engine much more compact, understandable when you know that the old system placed a large, single-plate dry clutch between the engine and the gearbox. BMW has used the engine's reduced height and length to optimize airbox volume and increase swingarm length. In the end, the 1,170cc engine gained 15 horsepower (now 125 at 7,750 rpm) and 3 pound-feet of torque (now 92 at 6,500 rpm) while also offering a smoother, broader spread of torque in the midrange and improved fuel economy.

In a general sense, the GS engine has not been modified dramatically for Adventure duty, but the few changes are likely to have a large impact on its off-road capabilities. First, BMW added 2 pounds of flywheel mass, good for a claimed 20-percent increase in crankshaft inertia. One of our few complaints of the new GS is that it's not quite the low-rev tractor as the older one; not something you notice much on the road but a characteristic that reveals itself off the pavement. This change should improve the GS-A's manners. Also, there is a new vibration damper before the first universal joint in the shaft final drive. BMW says this component was necessary because the GS-A's longer-travel suspension results in greater swingarm droop, but it's likely also a safeguard on driveline life for a machine expected to spend a lot of time in rough terrain.

Electronics joined the GS in a big way last year, including BMW's Dynamic ESA semi-active electronic suspension and ride by wire with multiple ride modes. All of those carry over to the GS Adventure for 2014. Like the straight GS, the Adventure gets a total of five ride modes: Rain, Road, Dynamic, Enduro, and Enduro Pro. The first three are street-biased modes. When you select one, Dynamic ESA jumps to a default setting—Soft for Rain, Norm for Road, Hard for Dynamic—but the D-ESA setting can be manually over-ridden. What's more, each mode determines the amount of ABS sensitivity and traction-control thresholds, with Rain being the most granny and Dynamic allowing a moderate amount of rear-wheel spin before intervening. And the ride modes determine throttle response, with "smooth" in Rain, "optimal" in Road, and "direct" in Dynamic. Throttle response and TC thresholds cannot be separated.

Enduro and Enduro Pro are meant for off-road work only. Enduro is tuned for on-road or dual-sport tires used in the dirt, and allows considerably more wheelspin before TC calls a halt and raises the ABS thresholds. It also defaults throttle response to "smooth" and D-ESA to Soft. Enduro Pro is intended for use with knobby tires by experienced riders. TC now has "minimal" intervention, which means you can hang the back end out but the system will eventually step in to slow your fun. Also, Enduro Pro also defeats the rear-wheel ABS while maintaining anti-lock protocols on the front end, only with much higher thresholds. So you can back it in with the rear locked and power out like a pro in this mode. Incidentally, Enduro Pro is enabled only when you plug a "dongle" into a port under the seat. All GS-As come with the dongle as standard equipment, but the company believes that the capabilities offered in the mode are more than most riders want and figured that a deliberate effort to make Enduro Pro possible was the best course.

Electronic capabilities get a hand from good old mechanical updates in the GS-A. Specifically, the plastic 5.3-gallon tank from the GS is replaced by an all-aluminum vessel holding 7.9 gallons of unleaded. (Yes, the old GS-A had more, 8.7 gallons to be exact, but BMW says the new engine is sufficiently more efficient that real range is roughly equivalent.) Suspension travel increases by 0.8 inches front and rear—now 8.3 inches up front and 8.7 out back—while the new GS-A has 0.6 inches more ground clearance than the old Adventure. BMW knew that the Adventure, taller and heavier, might lose some of the GS's lithe handling, so it pulled the steering-head angle in by a degree—now 24.5 degrees—and reduced trail by 0.3 inches to 3.6. To preserve stability, a non-adjustable steering damper is mounted to the lower A arm up front; this modification was made as a running change to the standard GS as well.

To really be a GS Adventure, the bike needs the same butch bits, which it has: tubular-steel engine guards, standard racks for hard luggage, a tubular rear luggage rack, taller windscreen and lateral wind deflectors, a front-fender extension, and standard hand guards. Finally, the GS-A rolls on tubeless-wearing cross-spoke wheels in the same sizes as the base GS, a new 120/70-19 front and a 170/60-17 rear, both representing an increase in width from the previous-generation GS.

Walk up to the GS-A and your first impression is that this is an imposing machine. Tall, heavy, potentially powerful, and just as likely to spit off a dirt newbie by the second hairpin. You think you'll need a couple of friends to pick it up off the deck when you inevitably drop it.

Some of those are actually true. But throw a leg over it, tippy-toe it off the sidestand, and start moving. By 2 mph, the machine feels totally manageable, with the usual strangeness of a big bike on knobbies. BMW fitted all GS-As with Continental's amazing TKC 80 street-legal knobbies, which are a no-cost option from the factory. (Most, however, will probably go out the door with street-biased rubber.)

The very first thing you notice is the increased flywheel effect. Where the standard GS seems just a little fussy off the line, the GS-A purrs away from stops with incredible ease, which is good for taking your mind off managing its mass as well as for finding traction in the dirt before the TC steps in. With the handlebar rotated slightly upward, I found an instantly comfortable riding position that worked on the road and allowed me to stand for virtually all of the 100 miles we spent off road during the press launch in Sedona, Arizona.

On top of the Contis, the GS-A tends to fall into corners—the initial steering effort is light and goes quickly to zero with lean angle. You find yourself having to keep the bike from tightening the turn. And the TKCs clearly don't have the pavement grip of street tires—making the big GS squirm and wiggle when pushed hard—but you don't mind once the road ends. Stand up, select any of two or three gears, relax your upper body, and let the GS-A do its thing. I figured that I would spend most of the day thinking about the nearly 8 gallons of fuel between my knees. Not so. The bike hides its weight well in most cases, and has such a commanding way of finding traction and grunting up hills and through water crossings that you can convince yourself this is not a nearly 600-pound motorcycle beneath you. The suspension is taut enough to ward off bottoming, and when it does the bike is predictable and never harsh.

While I tried both Enduro modes and rode a few miles with TC and ABS switched off, I came to like the basic Enduro setting best overall, albeit with the Dynamic ESA switched to Norm from the default of Soft. In this mode, you can still brake hard enough with the rear tire to get the bike turning and the TC threshold is high enough that you can spin the back on exits to help point the bike. But you also get the safety net of front ABS to keep you from washing the front, and just enough TC intervention to keep the back from getting wildly out of line. Enduro Pro is more entertaining but a lot more physical work, and the commando setting even more so.

And that's really the point with the GS-A. It's not a motocrosser. It's intended to do serious miles on unpaved tracks with the occasional foray into rougher stuff. It's not about speed, it's about getting there in one piece. Ridden at a reasonable pace, the GS-A performs far better than it has any right to. The biggest thing for me was to remember that the Beemer wants to be off the front tire as much as possible. Swing the back around entering a corner and get on the gas as soon as you can to keep the front end under you and the bike continuing the turn. It's relatively easy to overwhelm the front tire, but the bike has so much inertia that even with the bars wagging in your now-clenched fists, it really just wants to keep going.

Back on pavement, the GS-A shows why we love the new GS platform so much. The engine is powerful but smooth, getting slightly buzzy in the grips only at the top of the rev range. You can toodle along at 80 or 90 mph with little in the way of vibration, air turbulence, or other discomforts to distract from playing with the GPS or the trip computer. The transmission slips through its six ratios like some small Japanese supersport, and the slip/grip clutch has few quirks, thankfully. Better yet, the added crankshaft mass does nothing to dull the engine. It still revs quickly enough to be entertaining, changing from a rumbly drone at low revs to a sweet, almost gutteral growl near the 9,000-rpm redline.

And that 7.9 gallons promises 400-plus miles to a tank, which is great for when you're 390 miles from the next gas station but also pretty useful for saving time and headaches on shorter trips. I would expect the bike to handle much more conventionally on street-intended tires, but the TKCs do fine on the road; only their short life expectancy remains an issue.

If you can afford a GS-A, probably tire budget isn't an issue. BMW lists the base price as $18,200, which is actually $150 less than last year's model. However, BMW's people admit that almost no base machines actually make it to America. The "uptake" rate on the machine fitted with the Premium package is 98 or 99 percent. The Premium package includes contents of the Touring and Technology packages. In that case, budget for $21,550, which includes Dynamic ESA, four ride modes (two only on the base bike), the LED headlight, cruise control, tire-pressure monitoring, a mount and wiring for the BMW Navigator 5 GPS (but not the $800 unit itself), heated grips, saddlebag mounts. In comparable trim, the new machine is $1,055 more expensive, but carries $1,325 of additional equipment.

That kind of distinction is lost in the noise. The rider who can't resist the GS Adventure's rugged looks, tall stance, take-no-prisoners attitude—well, he knows who he is. This latest GS-A makes the base bike look almost stylish, feline. By comparison, the GS-A appears to be a massive Bavarian brute, prepared to throw a few punches at the biergarten. Pretty much what we expected, then.

VERDICT 4.5/5

BMW advances the cause of its round-the-world ADV machine, improving refinement and adding value (and beef!)

Tech SPEC

Price $21,550
Engine type l-c opposed-twin
Valve train DOHC, 8v
Displacement 1170cc
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower 125.0 hp @ 7750 rpm
Claimed torque 92.0 lb.-ft. @ 6500 rpm
Frame Tubular-steel
Front suspension BMW Telelever with ESA
Rear suspension BMW Evo Paralever with ESA
Front brake Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 305mm discs with ABS
Rear brake Brembo two-piston caliper, 276mm disc with ABS
Front tire 120/70ZR-19 Continental TKC 80
Rear tire 170/60ZR-17 Continental TKC 80
Seat height 35.0/35.8 in.
Wheelbase 59.4 in.
Fuel capacity 7.9 gal.
Claimed curb weight 573 lb.
Contact bmwmotorcycles.com

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fuadkhalil
it is advertised as 'unbreakable and unstoppable' and supposed to be made for off-road use.... I have one. Only ridden 2,000 km on it and already buckled the front wheel from hitting a few bumps on-road!!! It had proper air in the tire (2.5bar). Big problem! On my old bike, 2008 GSA, I have driven 22,000 km and that is what I call an unbreakable tank!!! No problems at all. Meanwhile, I am in the process of getting hold of BMW to see if they will exchange the wheel on warranty. If they do, I still think it wont solve the problem. I think it is a big mistake that they have made this bike with a low profile tire for a bike that is meant to go off-road!
fudgypup
Not sure how much I'm going to like the nannies putting that Enduro Pro switch under the seat.  Also not sure if this bike's frame is free from the steering head cracking problem of the standard GS.  I heard it was "strengthened" but have seen no confirmation.  A much better bike for the street but not sure it's as dirt-able as my '11 GSA.  Seems like it will only be a matter of time before BMW removes the "G" from the model name altogether.
fudgypup
Not sure how much I'm going to like the nannies putting that Enduro Pro switch under the seat.  Also not sure if this bike's frame is free from the steering head cracking problem of the standard GS.  I heard it was "strengthened" but have seen no confirmation.  A much better bike for the street but not sure it's as dirt-able as my '11 GSA.  Seems like it will only be a matter of time before BMW removes the "G" from the model name altogether.
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