Which Version Of The BMW GS Series Do You Prefer?

Classic, custom, and cutting-edge

Custom BMW R1200GS
Custom BMW R1200GS inspired by its great-grandfather.Cliff Fisher

In this series, we’ll explore classic, custom, and modern versions of some of our favorite motorcycles. One model three ways. First up, the BMW GS. BMW’s GS is one of the canonical interpretations of a motorcycle. Its go-anywhere, go-long identity was met with initial skepticism but quickly inspired the creation of an entire category of motorcycles. It has also inspired countless daydreams of getting lost and waking up in strange lands—just ask my friend Charley Boorman. Motorcycle travel is about finding yourself and forgetting yourself. The GS’s bulletproof boxer twin, pack mule capability, and two-up accomodations make it the benchmark for discovery and adventure travel. Since 1980, riders around the world—and riders going around the world—have been fiercely devoted to the GS. And for good reason. One of the benefits a long-standing model provides is that it becomes a microcosm of technological and cultural development, affording motorcyclists a view of change that can even inspire their own interpretation of the machine. The GS, like all great model series, becomes a brand unto itself. For riders who crave vintage iron, a unique custom, or the latest tech, the GS is a good place to start. The Classic: BMW R80 G/S

1980 BMW R80 G/S
The 1980 BMW R80 G/S.Julia LaPalme

It's amazing to think that the R80 G/S went into production as an act of desperation. In 1979, Karl Heinz Gerlinger was tasked with turning around the ailing motorcycle division of BMW. He had 18 months to make BMW Motorrad profitable or else witness its demise.

Several years away from unveiling the multi-cylinder K bikes, BMW couldn’t compete with the Japanese Big Four on the technology front with such limited time. If you can’t beat them at their own game, change the rules.

Fortunately, an off-road-loving engineer had a previously nixed project lingering in the basement of R&D. It was the beginnings of the R80 G/S.

The G/S needed to be developed as quickly as possible, so using existing parts was the order of the day. BMW used the newly updated R80 powerplant, an R65-derived chassis, and an R100 front-end. Then it added something new: a monolever rear end that acted as suspension, swingarm, and final-drive.

R80 G/S
The R80 G/S has a timeless visage.Julia LaPalme

The R80 Gelande/Strasse (German for off-road/street) was a touring bike, a sportbike, an off-road bike, and a legend in the making. But at the time, it wasn’t immediately obvious what it was.

While reactions were mixed, the Motorcyclist reviewers understood what BMW was going for straight away, saying in the December 1980 issue: "The G/S gives every impression it can burn up the pavement as quickly as its bigger brothers… And there is no question the G/S [can] rack up the miles at a blistering pace. BMW has built not your run-of-the-mill dual-purpose machine, but rather a full-fledged street machine [that] can occasionally dabble in the off-road world. The G/S offers unique and exciting opportunities in a whole new field of riding, a field which it contests with virtually no rivals."

These days, practically every major manufacturer offers a competitor.

The Custom: Stasis Motorcycles BMW R1200GS Dakar

R80 G/S Dakar-inspired R1200GSA
Owner/builder/rider Cliff Fisher’s R80 G/S Dakar-inspired R1200GSA.Cliff Fisher

BMW's production R nineT Urban G/S is a stylistic ode to the original R80 G/S Dakar, but lacks the do-it-all spirit of the original and the outright capability of the modern bike. To truly bring together yesterday's look with today's functionality, Cliff Fisher, owner and builder of Stasis Motorcycles, based in Austin, Texas, started out with a 2007 GS Adventure and then let the nostalgic aesthetic take flight.

Fisher says, “I’ve owned a few adventure bikes, including a couple mid-’90s Ducati Elefant 900s, but the R80 G/S has always been the ultimate forefather to everything that has come since. I wanted a vintage bike that I could live with daily—one that shared the closest visual traits with the original ADV bike, but had the abundant fuel-injected power and ride that the modern platform offers.”

To accomplish the feat, Fisher completely reworked a vintage R80 G/S tank to accommodate the modern machine’s plumbing, fabricating a stainless sump/seat platform. To give the bike more vintage cachet, Fisher used a period front fender and rear rack from an R100GS and a vintage Maier rear fender. The R80 solo saddle is a replica built by Eleven ATX. Split radiators from an R1200C are concealed in a custom aluminum frame that also houses a headlight from an R nineT.

BMW r1200gs
Note: LED taillight surrounding BMW roundel. Stasis, in case you were wondering, is “a tongue-in-cheek brand name…referring to the numerous non-running projects filling the garage behind our house,” builder Cliff Fisher says.Cliff Fisher

“I’m probably the slowest builder ever,” Fisher says. “I have a day job in technology sales, a loving family, and home renovation obligations that often take priority. After gaining some momentum with four of my most recent builds being accepted to The Handbuilt Motorcycle Show here in Austin, I’ve found myself gravitating toward more dual-sport and dirt-oriented motos.”

Fisher splits ride time between the Dakar build and a 2009 GS Adventure. Because one GS just isn’t enough.

The Cutting-Edge: 2018 BMW R1200GS

2018 BMW r1200gs
The 2018 BMW R1200GS.Jeff Allen

After spending some time on the ’18 GS in California, I’ve got to admit, I’ve had trouble getting it out of my mind. As BMW’s flagship, it’s fully loaded with next-gen tech: auto-blip up/down quickshifter, semi-active suspension, Hill Start Control, Dynamic Traction Control, etc. The list goes on and on.

It’s not the tech package that makes the GS so appealing to me though. It’s the mechanical stuff—like the paralever/telelever suspension and boxer twin engine—and the machine’s well-executed raison d'être (“we’ll give you a comfy seat and big wide bars; what you do with them is up to you”) that make the biggest impression. BMW hasn’t strayed from the ethos of the R80 G/S; after all these years, it has furthered the original mission by implementing technology and design to constantly improve functionality. Other marques that have ruined their iconic models through dim-witted fettling should take note. I won’t name names, but feel free to do so in the comments section below.

For such a large machine, it’s incredibly balanced and easy to ride. For such a refined machine, it’s incredibly charming.

In some ways, today's R1200GS defies all the odds just as the original did. If you could own an original BMW R80 G/S, the Stasis custom Dakar, or a brand-new R1200GS, which would you choose? Comment below.