2010 BMW R1200GS | First Ride

Double stuffed

It's a classic GS experience. Half an hour ago I was cruising comfortably along a Spanish motorway. Ten minutes ago I was scratching down a twisty back road with my toes clipping the asphalt. And now I'm standing up on the pegs on a gravely path snaking through the Andalusian countryside.

This off-road excursion isn't very ambitious; it's just a short detour before it's time to get back on the road and return to our hotel. Then again, most GS owners' globe-trotting daydreams aren't rooted in reality. But aspirations are a powerful marketing tool, and BMW has sold nearly 200,000 R1200GSs since the model was launched six years ago.

For 2010, both the GS and its heavy-duty Adventure sibling received updated top ends. The new mill maintains the traditional 1170cc displacement and four valves per cylinder but doubles the cam count and increases valve diameter (up 3mm for the intake and 2mm for the exhaust) and lift for more peak power. Performance is increased to a claimed 110 horsepower at 7750 rpm-5 up on the old unit. The new motor revs 500 rpm higher, too, maxing out at 8500 rpm. It's stronger by several horsepower almost everywhere from 2500 rpm to that limit, especially at 5000 and 6500 rpm, where it's got about 10 more ponies. There is, however, a distinct dip between those points, where the old engine briefly claws ahead.

The engine tweak is the primary update, but other minor changes include a new cable-operated exhaust power valve, plus reworked baffles inside the single silencer. Styling is unchanged save for new color options, and the red bike I chose looked good with its accessory hand guards. Having always admired the GS's tall, bird-like profile, I was glad they hadn't muddled with the appearance, although I was less impressed by the messy-looking exhaust power valve. But firing up the new DOHC twin unleashed a notably louder, more aggressive exhaust note that's instantly exciting. The bike's ability to pass emission tests presumably owes much to that unsightly valve, so all credit to it.

The aural accompaniment made me keen to give the GS some stick as we set off from the launch base near Malaga in southern Spain. The plan was to follow the coast road east to Motril before veering north onto the steeper, twistier roads of the Sierra Nevada. Even before we'd gotten out of town and reached the open road, it was clear that the new sound was matched by extra performance.

The improvement isn't dramatic, but I'm sure I wasn't imagining the extra spring in the boxer's step as it charged forward in response to a tweak of the throttle. The bike pulled from 2500 rpm without complaint, punched hard through the midrange, and generally felt lively and wonderfully flexible.

Occasionally I noticed a slight lag in throttle response near that 5500-rpm torque dip, but it wasn't a problem. Apart from making a quick pass on the freeway, there was no real incentive to work the GS hard. I much preferred to short-shift through the six-speed box, riding that wave of torque for which flat-twins are so well known.

Fuel economy doesn't seem to have been affected by the four-valve layout. Assuming the accessory onboard computer is accurate, the GS averaged about 33 mpg despite some pretty high cruising speeds. That equates to a range of well over 150 miles from its 5.3-gallon tank.

Comfort is another aspect that's basically unchanged, which is no surprise because it has always been outstanding. The one-piece bar and thick two-piece seat, in conjunction with well-placed footpegs, give plenty of room. The only inconsistency is the windscreen, which is a hair too low to fully block the windblast, even when lifted to its highest position. BMW doesn't recommend using the Adventure's taller screen (which fits), because the standard model's mounts aren't as strong. But some riders have done so, and I'd be tempted to do the same.

One option I found especially appealing was the Enduro ESA, which lets you change the suspension damping on the fly. Run it soft for the bumpy off-road bits, then firm things up when you re-gain the pavement. On road or off, the GS is a sound-handling bike. It's not light by any measure, but it hides its weight well once underway, and that wide bar gives enough leverage to allow easy direction changes despite the bike's dual-purpose geometry and 19-inch front wheel.

Bridgestone's road-biased Battle Wing tires gripped well enough to make good use of the GS's generous cornering clearance, and the bike also stopped hard, helped by the optional part-integral ABS that links the front and rear wheels. Our testbikes were also fitted with ASC traction control. I can't say I noticed it on the road, but it's not a bad thing to have in reserve. Like ABS, ASC is easily disabled for off-road riding by pressing a button on the bars.

The Metzeler Karoo knobbies fitted on the R1200GS Adventure we had along made it even better off-road. It's a brilliant bike-no doubt about that. It's also undeniably, unmistakably huge. At 35 inches above terra firma, its seat is 1.5 inches higher than the standard GS perch, and at 492 lbs. it's also significantly heavier-and that's before you fill its enormous 8.7-gallon gas tank, let alone add running lights, aluminum saddlebags and other globe-trotting accessories.

The Adventure gets the same engine updates as the GS, and that extra power is arguably more beneficial on the larger, heavier bike. Considering how capable the standard GS is, you have to wonder why riders would want a more expensive, heavier and more unwieldy version. But there is something undeniably exhilarating about sitting in that commanding saddle, knowing you can cover more than 300 miles before you'll need to stop for gas.

I spent my last blast on the Adventure back on the main road, thinking that it was simply the most complete do-it-all bike I'd ever ridden-and that if I had to own just one bike forever, it would be one of these.

The R1200GS's new engine makes a very good bike better still. But even if you can afford the high price that is sure to climb higher with accessories, it's important to be sure that this is a bike you really need and can use. The GS is up to the challenge. The question is: Are you?

** The same tried-and-true GS, now with DOHC cams and a tad more power.

Ducati Multistrada, KTM 990 Adventure, Suzuki V-Strom DL1000.

Price $14,950
Engine type a/o-c opposed twin
Valve train DOHC, 8v
Displacement 1170cc
Bore x stroke 101.0 x 73.0mm
Compression 12.0:1
Fuel system EFI
Clutch Dry, single-plate
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower 110 bhp @ 7750 rpm
Claimed torque 88 lb.-ft. @ 6000 rpm
Frame Tubular-steel trellis with single-sided swingarm
Front suspension Telelever incorporating a Showa shock with adjustable rebound damping, optional ESA
Rear suspension Paralever incorporating a Showa shock with adjustable spring preload, optional ESA
Front brake Dual BMW four-piston calipers, 320mm discs, optional ABS
Rear brake BMW two-piston caliper, 265mm disc, optional ABS
Front tire 110/80-R19 Bridgestone Battle Wing
Rear tire 150/70-R17 Bridgestone Battle Wing
Rake/trail 25.7°/4.0 in.
Seat height 33.4/34.3 in.
Wheelbase 59.3 in.
Fuel capacity 5.3 gal.
Claimed dry weight 473 lbs.
Colors Red, gray, white, black
Available Now
Warranty 3 yrs., 36,000 mi.

BMW of North America
P.O. Box 1227
Westwood, NJ 07575

Verdict 4.5 stars out of 5
There are many good reasons why this is one of the best-selling motorcycles on earth.

2010 BMW R1200GS
The biggest change for 2010 is the cylinder heads, carryovers from the HP2 Sport. Larger valves enjoy DOHC actuation, higher lift and a higher redline that translates to more midrange power and torque.
The standard (adjustable) seat height is excellent for long-legged types, while an accessory low seat and optional lowered suspension are available for shorter folk. No such option is available for the Adventure.
Cockpit view reveals a few fresh details including restyled instruments, brake and clutch master cylinders, and larger screws that make adjusting the windscreen easier with gloved hands.
The GS is nearly unstoppable, but the bike's size and weight are never far from one's mind off-road. Those thoughts are even more prominent aboard the taller, heavier Adventure.
The Adventure gets longer suspension travel, a larger windscreen and wire-spoke wheels, plus hand and cylinder head guards that are optional on the base model. MSRP is $17,000.
Accessory luggage mounts via crash-worthy stainless-steel scaffolding. Waterproof aluminum panniers provide 82 liters of storage space. Adding the top box bumps that figure to 114 liters.