2008 BMW R1200GS - The Best Gets Better

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.

Both bikes proved comfortable enough to make short work of the Phoenix-to-L.A. run following the central Arizona press intro. The GS's low-fuel warning light comes on every 175 miles or so, giving you another 45 to fill up. Vibration: minimal. Wind protection: good. The Adventure's larger fairing is better, but its added girth and more rolling-resistant knobbies dropped fuel economy to 38 mpg versus the GS's 42. That puts 330 miles between fuel stops-110 more than the standard model.

Somewhere between Quartzsite and Blythe, I'm having an easier time justifying $14,600 for a Namibia Orange GS than $16,600 for the Adventure. Especially since the option package du jour will add anywhere from $695 to $1495. Is the '08 GS perfect? No. Is it better? Much. At the end of a 545-mile day, it's still the best tool for more two-wheeled jobs than anything else I can think of.

Tech Spec

In the beginning there was the 1980 R80 G/S, which begat the '87 R100GS and then the '94 R1100GS Oilhead, '99 R1150GS and '04 R1200GS, which laid the foundation for what you see here.

Only the Buell XB12X Ulysses and KTM 990 Adventure possess comparable off-road capabilities.

Price $14,600
Engine type a/o-c opposed-twin
Valve train SIHC, 8v
Displacement 1170cc
Bore x stroke 101.0 x 73.0mm
Compression 12.0:1
Fuel system Bosch EFI
Clutch Dry, single-plate
Transmission 6-speed
Horsepower 105 bhp @ 7500 rpm
Torque 86 lb.-ft. @ 5750 rpm
Frame Tubular-steel trellis
Front suspension Telelever with electronicallyadjustable Showashock
Rear suspension Paralever with electronicallyadjustable Showashock
Front brake Dual Brembo four-pistoncalipers, 305mm discs
Rear brake Two-piston Brembocaliper, 264mm disc
Front tire 110/80R-19 Bridgestone Battle Wing
Rear tire 150/70R-17 Bridgestone Battle Wing
Rake/trail 25.7/4.0 in.
Seat height 33.5 in.
Wheelbase 59.3 in.
Fuel capacity 5.3 gal.
Dry weight 472 lbs.
Colors Silver, gray, orange, blue
Available Now
Warranty 3 yrs., 36,000 mi.

BMW of North America
300 Chestnut Ridge Rd.
Woodcliff Lake, NJ 07677

More punch, more polish and a load of electronic enhancements should keep the GS ahead of its rivals for another few years

They Say: "The third version of the ultimate long-distance enduro for globetrottersand adventurers."
We Say: "The best all-around motorcycle in the world just got a little better."