A 2,500-Mile Review Of The 2019 BMW R 1250 GS

Racking up the miles and putting in the off-road time on a trip to BMW’s Enduro School.

2019 BMW R1250GS.
2019 BMW R1250GS.Patrick Cox

On the heaviest travel day of the year, snow’s swirling around the freeway, and I’m safely ensconced in the heated-seat comfort of my all-wheel-drive Volkswagen. And what should I see coming down the road but an icy-screened wasserboxer, its high beams puncturing my ease and self-assurance with the realization that I’m doing it all wrong. Here I am in a station wagon, my bikes covered in the garage for the winter, while this boss is on two wheels riding to who knows where. Riding. Riding in this?

I’d venture to say that similar impressions have created the GS’s mythos, practically redefining BMW Motorrad’s entire image over the course of its near-40-year production run.

As equipped, my R 1250 GS test unit cost $22,615.
As equipped, my R 1250 GS test unit cost $22,615.Rob Bandler

As a younger man, smitten with motorcycles fast and red, I considered the GS the province of eccentric engineering professors who wear socks with Birkenstocks and whose idea of a good time is chronologically organizing their bike’s decades-long service records. While the Italian marques owned the rights to motorcycling’s image of romance and daring in my mind, BMW treaded dangerously close to the edge of lame.

Then, a couple of years ago I rode a new R 1200 GS, and this year the new R 1250 GS Adventure. I was an immediate convert and recanted my youthful aspersions. Preconceptions, it must be admitted, turn out to be misconceptions nearly all of the time.

Still, I’d only ridden the GS hundreds—not thousands—of miles, and all on paved roads. Neglecting a large part of its raison d’être discomfited my sense of fulfillment.

Riding Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park.
Riding Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park.Rob Bandler

So, to partake fully of the “GS life” (a term popular enough to have become a hashtag on Instagram, regrettably), I decided to do, well, everything one does on a GS. In addition to daily riding and grocery-getting, I took a fully equipped R 1250 GS on a 2,500-mile Appalachian tour culminating with two days of off-roading at BMW’s Performance Center in Greer, South Carolina.

While my midsummer trip didn’t resemble my foul-weathered inspiration or fully embrace the far-flung aspiration of my GS preoccupation, it’s accurate to say I did just enough to sample the GS Life and let its opposed-pistoned lore seep into my consciousness in a new way.

Mornings in Shenandoah.
Mornings in Shenandoah.Rob Bandler

I’m riding with my friend Rob, and we’ve come on and off the Blue Ridge Parkway for a couple of days, and I realize, other than the expected plethora of Harleys, the GS appears to be the most common motorcycle we encounter. And it’s no wonder. The parkway may not take advantage of its long-leggedness or utilize its off-road capability, but it does highlight an essential GS quality: charm.

The parkway’s constant-radius corners and beautiful views are great and all, but the 45 mph speed limit is constricting enough to potentially make a motorcycle ride monotonous. Happily, we find park police look the other way while we speed along at a faster clip. Still, our somewhat meandering pace would be stifling on another bike. But on the GS, in lieu of speed, the bike’s comfy ergos, unflappable chassis, plush suspension, and slightly quirky motor satisfy a different longing. That is: to sample the unimpeachable competency of its design.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is full of beautiful views. If you’ve never ridden it, it makes for a relaxing trip. There are few access points to the parkway, so plan your trip accordingly.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is full of beautiful views. If you’ve never ridden it, it makes for a relaxing trip. There are few access points to the parkway, so plan your trip accordingly.Rob Bandler

Even with the stock exhaust, the engine note is as heady as the pipe organ blasts of Bach’s great Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (if not less ominous sounding). And while the ShiftCam motor’s power delivery is the definition of smooth and tractable, it retains a constant presence at any rpm. It just _feels_ good—the subtle, charming lilt upon startup a portent of things to come. For all its technical refinement, the big boxer still has an air of peculiarity about it, a distillation of practicality and fantasy left over from its very genesis.

It’s worth remembering that when the GS was introduced in 1980, BMW’s touring lineup was looking a bit stale next to higher-performance bikes from Japan. Beemers could be summed up with the adjectives “reliable” and “comfortable”—words that don’t exactly jump off the page in marketing material or inspire lust in would-be buyers. Practicality, it seems, can be somewhat at odds with desirability. Just ask the Italians, who in decades past, built machines so egregiously unreliable the whole thing veered toward farce. And yet, gluttons for punishment that we are, motorcyclists’ esteem for said machines was undiminished.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is full of beautiful views. If you’ve never ridden it, it makes for a relaxing trip. There are few access points to the parkway, so plan your trip accordingly.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is full of beautiful views. If you’ve never ridden it, it makes for a relaxing trip. There are few access points to the parkway, so plan your trip accordingly.Rob Bandler

The GS went a long way toward changing BMW’s identity thanks to the groundwork of a host of enduro racing insiders like Development Engineers Rüdriger Gutsche and Laszlo Peres, who had a history of building their own boxer-powered racebikes right under the noses of BMW management. And then there was Herbert Schek, who at the behest of BMW’s Hans-Günther von der Marwitz, raced and won the 1968 ISDT on his own highly modified boxer, foreshadowing the brand’s future trajectory.

By adding off-road capability to its formula for comfort and reliability, BMW surreptitiously created a new category of motorcycle that would become the pabulum of motorcyclists’ dreams and the catalyst for exploration for decades to come.

“Stop sign? What stop sign?” At the BMW Performance Center.
“Stop sign? What stop sign?” At the BMW Performance Center.Rob Bandler

Even BMW testers couldn’t resist taking the first two R80G/S prototypes to South America for an Amazon-to-Andes shakedown. While my Appalachian journey pales in scope, I find consolation in the bruises and sore muscles acquired during two days off-roading in BMW’s Enduro Skills Class. I trade my R 1250 GS press bike for one of the school’s GSAs, and have the most fun I’ve had on a motorcycle all summer.

The instructors teach us to tackle tight single-track, hills, gravel, sand, and ruts. I find the limits of my skill over and over, crashing more in two days than I used to in an entire summer’s worth of dirt biking as a kid.

Typical view on the parkway.
Typical view on the parkway.Rob Bandler

After dumping it in the sand pit after failed attempt number—I don’t know—eight (?), the GSA is coated in sand and smoke is pouring out of the exhaust. I use my last ounce of energy to lift it on its centerstand before collapsing next to it. I can’t help but admire how stately it looks with sand packed between the cylinder head and crash bar and covered in my riding shame.

It’d look better covered in glory, but since ineptitude is all I can muster, it’ll have to do. The Skills Class forces me to do things I’d never attempt on my own. And with a little practice, I’ll be the better rider for it.

When I jump back on my non-Adventure 1250 GS, I revel in the security of paved roads and the knowledge that the machine beneath me could ably ford rivers on the way to Russia’s Magadan or traverse the long stretches of Alaska’s Dalton Highway gravel.

View of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
View of the Blue Ridge Mountains.Seth Richards

The truth is, many of us—GS riders included—don’t get to pack up our lives and embark on some round-the-world journey. Or even ride solo through a Thanksgiving snowstorm to visit family. But we can spend a long weekend riding curvy roads and roosting in the dirt. All on the same bike. The GS’s stolid resoluteness manifests itself in practicality, utility, and comfort—attributes that have become the new romance of the adventure set.

In the margins of our quotidian lives, there exists a place where dreams and aspirations, hard realities and the ice-covered screens of our motorcycles become the impetus to ride wherever, for however long or short, for the sake of the ride itself. The GS Life, then, is more about the spirit of adventure, rather than of adventure itself. If any single motorcycle can shoulder such a burden, it’s the bike that created the burden in the first place. And the R 1250 GS does it better than ever.

The HP Package include these slick spoked gold wheels.
The HP Package include these slick spoked gold wheels.Patrick Cox
Skyline Drive. While the drive can be heavily trafficked in peak season, catching the right weekday can provide miles of Winnebago-free riding. And it’s spectacular.
Skyline Drive. While the drive can be heavily trafficked in peak season, catching the right weekday can provide miles of Winnebago-free riding. And it’s spectacular.Rob Bandler

Gear Box

Helmet: Arai XD-4

Jacket: Alpinestars Big Sur Gore-Tex Pro Tech-Air Compatible

Pant: Alpinestars Big Sur Gore-Tex Pro

Check out the rear wheel horsepower and torque power output of the R 1250 GS’ engine.
Check out the rear wheel horsepower and torque power output of the R 1250 GS’ engine.Robert Martin

2019 BMW R 1250 GS Price And Specifications

PRICE $22,615
ENGINE 1,254cc, air-/liquid-cooled boxer twin
BORE x STROKE 102.5 x 76.0mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 12.5:1
FUEL DELIVERY Electronic fuel injection w/ ride-by-wire throttle system
CLUTCH Hydraulic multiplate wet clutch
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE Wet multi-plate slipper clutch; cable actuation
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/shaft
FRAME Two-section steel tube
FRONT SUSPENSION 37mm BMW Telelever; 8.3-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION BMW paralever; 8.7-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Hayes 4-piston calipers, 305mm twin discs w/ linked ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo 2-piston caliper, 276mm disc w/ linked ABS
WHEELS, FRONT/REAR Cross-spoke wheels; 19 x 3.0-in. / 17 x 4.5-in.
TIRES, FRONT/REAR 120/70R-19 / 170/60R-17
RAKE/TRAIL 26.3°/4.1 in.
WHEELBASE 59.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 33.5 in./34.3 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 5.3 gal.
CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT 549 lb.
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT November 2019