After Much Anticipation, We Hop Aboard the New GS

2013 BMW R1200GS pricing update here:

They say: “The Best GS of All Times!” We say: “They might be onto something.”

I'm still jet-lagged from BMW's launch event for the new _water-cooled 2013 BMW R1200GS_ in South Africa, but I can say one thing for sure: Breathe easy all you GS lovers, the gold standard in adventure touring has not been tarnished. We at MC were asking ourselves before this launch _how BMW could significantly improve_ what was already the standard bearer for the class. Amazingly, BMW did. A growing fleet of electronics, more power, and a host of ergonomic changes make the 2013 bike even more capable than its predecessor.

That goal seems pretty obvious, but it’s all in the execution. While the 2013 R1200GS is an all-new bike, the lion’s share of attention has been paid to the use of water to cool the boxer engine for the first time in BMW’s 90-year history. But the engine is substantially changed in other areas, including the rotation of ports—the exhaust is now on the bottom not the front, the intake on top and not the back—and position of the transmission in the cases. The other headline for the new powerplant is the use of a wet, multi-plate clutch. And as you might guess, the feel of the new engine and clutch is noticeably different than previous versions.

Starting the new water-cooled boxer in gear, as I did the first time, involves a very light clutch pull but the bike offers a slight tug forward against the reins. A little drag when cold is common for wet clutches, but something R1200GS owners have thus far been learned to live without. Once warm, the new clutch pack performs beautifully, especially in off-road or slow-speed riding, where only one finger is needed to modulate drive.

As the beating heart of every big GS, the new boxer engine needed to be good. BMW boasts 125 horsepower from the new mill, up from 110 bhp claimed from the previous model. The motor is predictably reminiscent of the outgoing powerplant, but more power and ride-by-wire throttle produce tractable power over a larger span of revs. The engine is a little less tractor-like in slow, off-road situations, and where the quick-revving new engine benefits with increased midrange or high rpm power, it is a little bit less friendly when lugging through a tricky section of dirt.

Among the many options debuting on the 2013 GS is Dynamic ESA, an evolution of the previous version’s Electronic Suspension Adjustment. Similar to the software that first broke cover on BMW’s HP4, the GS’s “semi-active” damping control monitors throttle and brake inputs as well as suspension movement to adapt to the conditions. Much like Ducati’s Skyhook system used on the Multistrada, Dynamic ESA is difficult to perceive while in motion, but the bike being stable and compliant in any situation is enough to let you know the system is doing what the designers intended.

Our test route included suburban traffic but mostly consisted of rural roads, both paved and dirt, and offered the perfect environment to test the many ride modes and suspension settings available on the new GS. Three modes—Rain, Road, and Dynamic—have been designed for street use, and range from “gentle” to “optimal” to “direct” in terms of throttle response. Think of Dynamic as “sport” and Road as “normal.” Automatic Stability Control (ASC) is configured for each mode to match conditions as determined by the rider, with Road offering less intervention than the decidedly cautious Rain mode. Dynamic mode is said to allow a “slight drift” on paved roads, though with warm weather and dry roads I never engaged the ASC on tarmac.

As with Ducati’s Multistrada, the ride modes transform the bike significantly, though BMW’s system is decidedly more subtle. Because the adjustments can be made on the fly, the changes can be felt instantly and are truly confidence inspiring. There’s nothing like switching the bike from Hard to Soft when transferring from a smooth canyon road to a bumpy city street—and having the bike turn from sports car to SUV beneath you.

Most impressive, however, is the off-road traction control available. Blasting along one of South Africa’s many hard-packed gravel roads, engaging the Enduro ride mode offered a comprehensive safety net. The ABS is configured much differently in Enduro than for the three road-going modes, and allows for a perceptible loss of traction entering dirt corners. Linked brakes add stability, yet are severe enough to slide the rear wheel on a dirt road by using only the front brake lever.

Exiting the same gravel-strewn corners in Enduro mode is great fun, the ASC delivering just enough power to hold long power slides without losing control. Choppy throttle input or holding it wide open causes an oscillating slide-and-catch symptom in the ASC, but even still doesn’t let the bike get out of control. Experienced riders will want the ASC off in these situations (and perhaps even ABS, so it’s good they’re controlled independently) to really cut loose, as I did, but there’s no ignoring that Enduro mode is an excellent option to have in a 525-pound dual-purpose motorcycle.

An optional chip from BMW will enable a fifth mode, Enduro Pro, that we journalists were able to exercise on a short but very technical off-road loop just before lunch on our long day of riding. Terrain varied from bumpy dual-track dirt roads to a difficult and awkwardly cambered slope of baseball-sized loose stones. The Enduro Pro mode allows for large powerslides and full locking of the rear wheel on descents, as well as channeling power to rear wheel much more directly. It wasn’t until I tried Enduro Pro that I realized how gentle the throttle response is in the standard Enduro setting.

Ergonomic changes include a lower seat and lower pegs, the latter being narrower as well. Most noticeable is how slender the bike is in the midsection. The new GS isn’t discernibly lighter than the 2012 model but it feels smaller under the rider, and with the classically wide bars is still shockingly nimble for such a large machine. One reason for the trim waistline is that with the intake ports on top of the cylinders there is much more room for legs, helpful when sliding around dirt corners or simply searching for comfort on a long trek.

German engineers on hand in South Africa were quick to say that the measuring stick used for the new R1200GS was, in fact, the old one. Simply because they felt it was already the best adventure-touring bike available. The goal for the new one, then, was to be the same but better. How much for all of this innovation? Pricing has yet to be announced. It’s likely the base GS will be close in price to the current bike—$16,150 with ABS but without ESA or ASC. As with the current bike, adding all the options will probably take you above $20K. Even a noteworthy bump to the price would be fair in my view, considering that the flagship GS is still as versatile and willing as ever, with more safety features and adventure capabilities than before.

Let’s face it, most GS owners will spend the majority of their time on pavement, which is just fine because the new water-cooled version is just as adept as the old one. A perfect combination of weight distribution, chassis geometry, and handlebar width make the GS feel far lighter than it is.
For 2013, BMW has improved the GS’s off-road capabilities through new suspension functions and updated electronics that give experienced, adventure-aimed pilots more flexibility without removing the safety net.
Hey, what’s that? BMW has hidden the new engine’s necessary radiators in the forward flanks of the fairing for best protection from debris and damage from falls.
As before, the R1200GS’s windshield adjusts to accommodate variously sized riders.
The black box behind the Sachs oil reservoir is the preload controller.
New LED running lights join with traditional asymmetric headlights to preserve the GS’s familiar face.
Brembo radial-mount calipers join with a revised ABS (featuring both tarmac- and dirt-specific modes) to give the GS fully modern stopping power. Linked ABS is standard on all GS models.
Optional engine guards protect the new DOHC, water-cooled boxer, which sees a 15-bhp bump in power and newly arrived ride-by-wire controls.
Heavy-duty skidplate is available as a factory option. New exhaust routing, with the ports on the bottom of each cylinder instead of at the front, helps packaging.
True GS aficionados recognize the Paralever shaft drive, but purists will be surprised to see it on the “wrong” side of the bike. According to BMW, the pipe and shaft positions were swapped because the test riders were tired of burning their gear on the previously left-side can. Really.
This single, central shock controls the GS’s Telelever front end, and is a critical part of the new bike’s Dynamic ESA. This “semi-active” suspension control adjusts damping according to riding conditions and is fine-tuned through three main ride modes.
Hallelujah! BMW has finally rid the GS of its oddball switchgear. The new bike’s resembles the K1600’s, with a multifunction rotary controller just inboard of the left grip. Management of ABS, traction control (ASC), and electronic suspension (ESA) is via dedicated buttons.
Even the base GS benefits from a small bash plate.