WRIST: Aaron Frank
MSRP (2013): $19,520 (as tested)
MODS: 2200 miles worth of squashed bugs
BMW's globetrotting GS has topped my dream-bike list since forever, so when Cook offered me our 2013 long-termer—the first water-cooled Boxer in the 90-year history of that engine configuration—I jumped at the chance. There was just one condition—my first assignment would be to ride the bike from the U.S. press launch in Valencia, CA, to my home in Milwaukee, WI, 2200 miles away. Because that launch happened at the tail end of our "Class of" test that already had me away from home 5 days, I was forced to make my return trip in just 2 days. I had done a similar trip a decade ago, on a Yamaha YZF-R1, and it was one of the more miserable experiences of my two-wheeled life—one I wasn't looking forward to repeating. But less than 50 miles into this ride, reveling in the next-generation Boxer's newfound power along the two-lane Pearblossom Highway just south of Willow Springs, I knew this ride would be different.
An LED headlight—not just a running light, as on other bikes—is part of the Dynamic option
I've said it before about BMW's K1600GT and this also applies to the GS, which delivers an even more comfortable riding position and only sacrifices some wind protection: This bike makes the Iron Butt Association's "SaddleSore" contest irrelevant. Anyone who can stand upright can comfortably click off a 1000-mile day on the GS, especially one equipped with the $620 Comfort Package that includes handguards and heated grips, which I appreciated over Colorado's snowed-in, 34-degree Loveland Pass, and excellent cruise control ($350) with a slick toggle to precisely adjust speed up or down.
The best option on this bike, however, is the $2100 Dynamic ESA that lays BMW's revolutionary semi-active damping system over electronic suspension adjustment that allows push-button preload adjustment (for different passenger and luggage loads), as well as Soft, Normal, and Hard suspension profiles. ESA is more than a novelty—it's fairly remarkable to glide over torn-up interstate wallowing in the long-travel comfort of the Soft setting, then, with just the click of a bar-mounted button, instantly tighten the ride for a twisty side road. It was especially illustrative to jump on the GS after spending four days on BMW's HP4 superbike that features Dynamic Damping Control without ESA. The dynamic advantages seem even more evident on the GS: ESA makes fairly radical changes to chassis attitude and feedback, but suspension action and reactivity remains remarkable consistent—and nearly perfect—across the many settings.
Cross-spoke wheels ($500) have nipples at the hubs and heads outboard of the rim bead, all
There are also four ride modes—Rain, Road, Dynamic, and Enduro (the latter, for off-road riding, is only available on Dynamic ESA bikes). Each mode alters not only power output and delivery, but ASC (traction control) and ABS strategies as well. Because my tester was delivered without an owner's manual, it took most of my first day to figure out how to navigate the various handlebar buttons to alter the electronic parameters—and disable ASC's obnoxious wheelie-abatement!—to suit my whims. A big part of my first weeks will be devoted to learning the nuances of these many systems.
Like I mentioned in my Megaphone column that appeared in our August issue, I'm going to resist the urge to modify this bike too much. With a more powerful engine and some of the most sophisticated suspension and engine-management technology ever fitted to a motorbike, there's little performance improvement to be gained, anyway. Instead, I'm just going to ride. The GS is already proven capable everywhere from Dakar to Dawson City to the Darien Gap. My ride home was mostly interstate, but a few miles of fire road in Utah's Fishlake National Forest—a touch of slickrock, too—got me dreaming of knobby tires, crash bars, and other "necessities" for exploring the off-highway potential of my new best friend. I'm looking forward to an adventurous year.