Living with a 2008 BMW R1200GS Adventure

We review the R1200GS Adventure to see what it's really like to live with

Posted: 16 August 2009
by Johnny Cantlie

June 2008

At the beginning of March I became the proud new keeper of a 2008 1200GS Adventure, and it’s already changed my life. All the BMW GS models this year have an extra 5bhp and this Adventure of mine has the ESA electronic suspension system, heated handlebar grips, foglights and the beautifully fabricated aluminium panniers. It’s really quite a bike.

For those GSX-R riders out there who still think that motorcycling’s equivalent of a Range Rover Sport is an old man’s bike, here are some facts about my new GS. I can do a genuine 300 miles between fill-ups, that’s the equivalent of riding from London to Carlisle on one tank of gas. Superbike rider will have stopped for gas three times by then. I can cruise in total comfort at 100mph in a pocket of still air with my hands toasty-warm regardless of the weather, and since I’m on a BMW the police leave me totally alone. Once I get to my destination I can set my suspension to Sports mode from the handlebars (without stopping, of course) and proceed to carve the hell out of A-roads and B-roads at a velocity that will surprise the living shit out of you, Mr GSX-R man. And if you get in my way I will barge straight past you (or indeed, through you) if I’m in a real hurry. Best stay out of my way.

The Adventure has enormous presence on the road. Members of the public recognise it from the Long Way... series and it is simply impossible to ignore something of this size bearing down on you. And it looks good, properly hardcore. In the titanium/black colour scheme this is the sort of motorbike the Humongous would have dreamed about at night as he slept in his hockey mask.

The BMW has already proved its worth by doing things no other motorcycle on the planet can do. I went for a week’s snowboarding in Utah a few weeks back and had to get all my shit to Heathrow in a proper hurry. Six bungees and a bit of British ingenuity later and I’d created the Mk I snowboard carrier, strapping my Burton between the right-hand pannier and front crash bars with a perfect space in between for my feet. 25kg bag on the back, 25kg of fuel in the tank, and the Adventure didn’t bat an eyelid as we made it to the airport in record time. Just try doing that on any other bike on the planet.
Some random things I have noticed whilst dominating the roads of South-East England on my BMW (in no particular order) are: I now consciously nod at every other motorcyclist on the road as I am in a perpetually good mood. All of them, apart from GSX-R man, nod back. The sense of security while riding the GS is enormous; you could have a head-on with an artic on this bike and survive. The attention to detail on the Beemer is second to none – every part of this bike has been refined and thought about in a way that only a very select few Hondas can match. And girls are absolutely itching to be taken for a pillion blast on the back seat.

As with any new bike, there are areas the GS can be improved upon and this is where I will be beavering away. The throttle response is very fluffy below 3,000rpm (although Super Unleaded makes a noticeable difference - although it now costs £36 to fill up!) And although I may now be 37 years old I’m not quite ready to die just yet. So in a double-whammy I’m going to fit a full Remus exhaust system as supplied by Performance Parts Ltd to liberate some attitude, and match it with a Power Commander system to improve the fuelling at lower rpm. Euro 3 has been tough on bike engines and air-cooled motors even more so. You have to drop the BMW one more gear than you’d think necessary to keep it on the boil, and that low-down punch is what I want to get back. It’s going to be a long and happy road.

August 2008

There’s been some big changes in Heffalump country this month. The Adventure has a full Remus exhaust system fitted, a pair of brand new Michelin Anakee 2 tyres, a BMW top-box to match the panniers and a funky-looking enduro bashplate. And she looks seriously fit for it.

The Remus is a great combination of light weight, noise and affordable price. I wanted to lose some weight (done) smooth out the powercurve (done) and add some noise and character to the engine (bloody hell, done!) The work was all carried out by the easy-going but seriously professional crew at Vines of Guildford, and I set off for Wales with my new straight-through exhaust system blatting through the westbound traffic. 40 miles later I was deaf in my left ear, had tinnitus in the right and I hammered the decibel killer straight back into the megaphone. The chaps at Vines had laughed and told me I was daft to take it out. Funny how one always ignores people who know exactly what they’re talking about!

Whilst getting serviced the Adventure also had the latest software downloaded onto its ECU. This has cleaned up the fluffy running at low rpm, and along with the pipe the bike now pulls cleaner below 3,000rpm. I am half-tempted to fit a Power Commander to improve the fuelling, but I am loathe to meddle with the mileage this bike gives.

345 miles - that’s what the Heffalump will do between fuel stops. Unbelievable. I took a gallon of gas with me and ran it dry, and after 20 miles of the Range display showing zero, she finally coughed. This gives the GS the longest range of any production motorcycle on sale in the world today, and she gives a steady 46mpg at 80mph. Although with the hideous cost of fuel at the moment, a fill-up has risen all the way to £44 per tank for Super Unleaded.

The original Michelin Anakees finally started squaring off at the 7,500 mile mark, and the Anakee 2s have restored the BMW’s surprising agility through the corners. You can lean the old girl until the tips of the pegs kiss the tarmac while wet grip is huge – you have to be going seriously ga-ga to get either the traction control or ABS systems working in the damp.

The luggage-carrying capacity of the Beemer never ceases to amaze me. I basically live in this bike now. I’ve had computer monitors on the back, a pair of tyres lashed to the side, taken leathers, exhaust systems, plants for my garden and even eight surprised goldfish in one of the panniers to my sister’s house. The Adventure transports me around the South of England at high speed and in high style and it makes you feel totally invincible. When the bike was being serviced, I felt completely naked without it.
I’m putting together a plan in the back of my mind to have a world-sized adventure on my Adventure. It would involve many months and be my greatest voyage yet. We shall see...

COSTS SO FAR

• Remus stainless system, £616
Saves 10kg over stock, smooths out power. Keep decibel-killer in unless you want to go deaf. From www.performanceparts-ltd.com

• Pair of Anakee 2 tyres, £220
29% more life than the old Anakees, have given the GS back its love of fast cornering. Check:
www.michelin.co.uk

• 6,000 mile service, £280
Oil and filter change, ECU update, new tyres fitted, proper clean-up
• BMW topbox and enduro bashplate, £247 and £90.
• Replacement fog light, £55
After the last one was destroyed by a pheasant at 80mph. You should have seen the bird. Supplied and carried out by:
www.vinesofguildfordbmw.co.uk

• MAL German-style numberplate, £25, looks wicked and from www.malplates.co.uk

MILES: 8856

September 2008

Another month clicks past and it’s been a busy one for both my longly-suspended two-wheeled tools. The Suzuki RMZ250 motocrosser has been racing all over the place (we’ve done three meetings this last month alone) culminating in a terrifying outing at the infamous Foxhills circuit in Swindon where we shot the off-road products feature on page 126. With massive drop-offs and jumps the size of buildings, Foxhills is not a place you want to crash or you will be hurting yourself. And since I’ve managed to end up with race number 666, tempting fate is something I now specialise in.

But I’m getting much, much better at motocross. So much so that a £2.50, plastic and pewter trophy now sits on a shelf at home. Yes, I won a race! From start to finish, no less. I’ve moved up to the A-class (the fastest) in the Southern Motocross club, where my best finish has been a 12th. God, these boys are quick though. Once you get out of the slower groups the top 10 in the fast groups are properly, stupidly quick. There’s a chasm of talent (and of years) between the lads who make motocross look easy, and bumbling old men like myself. The irony being that the faster you are, the less energy you use, and the longer you can stay faster for.

The motocross is devilishly addictive and neatly replaces my speed addiction on the road. At the end of every meeting I’m glad my knees are both facing in the right direction and I vow to take a break, but by the Wednesday we’re gagging to get out again. And at Foxhills I cleared two of the five really big jumps, which makes me proud as punch. Surely, a massive life-ruining pisser is just around the corner now.

The RMZ continues to be joyous to ride. I’ve changed the sparkplug after she started stalling into hairpin corners (in motocross you don’t use the clutchfor down-changes, you just bang it down the box) and the oil/filter gets done every third meeting. Every time I swing a leg over my mate’s RMZ450, I’m reminded of just how right I got it with this 250 - they’re the perfect mix of light weight and power.

Whether racing MX actually makes you a better rider on the road is questionable. The two are such different disciplines that they bear very little relation to each other. You’re all over a motocross bike, you get very physical with it and if you rode a roadbike in the same way you’d knacker yourself out pointlessly. I rode the BMW to one of my race meets and the motocross crowd thought a spaceship had landed amongst them. “Look at the fucking size of that!” went up the cry, and 20 curious racers surrounded the big Beemer, prodding it with sticks to see if it would bite.

£45.26! That’s the big number for me this month on the Adventure. That’s how much it cost to fill up at Chlamydia Lane services off the M25. Bejesus!

MILES: 11236

January 2009

After 8 months and 20,000 miles, BMW have decided they need my longterm GS Adventure back. I can’t afford to buy it off them right now so it’s with a heavy heart that the Blunderbuss has to go back to its rightful owners to be sold to some lucky bastard.

 What an extraordinary motorcycle it is. I honestly don’t have a single bad thing to say about it. The only thing that went wrong during its extensive tenure with me was when the front wheel pressure sensor went gaga for 30 seconds, told me the tyre was going flat, then sorted its head out and never did it again. Other than that, it’s been completely without fault. The BMW has been vigorously hammered for miles on dirt roads, leapt through the air like Batman, been thrashed around foreign racetracks, commuted 120 miles every day, wheelied into 3rd gear, barged through traffic and has carried more payload than a family car. It is a motorcycle without peer or equal, and I actually don’t know how I’m going to live without it.

More than anything, the BMW Adventure makes you f e e l immeasurably confident and safe. Weather can’t get to you nor make you wet or cold. The perfectly designed bodywork, screen and heated grips make sure of that. Your knees sit in sculpted slots, safely out the way of the elements. You sit in your own cocoon of comfort and watch the world tick effortlessly along. The panniers open first time, every time, without a fuss and appear bottomless. I once had to take bricks home in one side and mortar in the other, a weight of at least 30kg in either pannier. Just clicked the suspension into ‘two-up fattie mode’ at the press of a button and the BMW barely knew the patio steps were on board.

 I rode from London to Sweden and back over a long weekend, a journey of some 2,000 miles through some of the most boring Autobahn sections of Germany. The Beemer burned its way through just five tanks of petrol (at a steady 44mpg and 330 miles to a tank), all the while humming along at 85mph to the baritone hum of its Remus exhaust. Boxer twins don’t sound like V-twins when you put a fancy exhaust on them. Instead of a throaty rumbled and roar, you get a higher-pitched tone that is positively painful with the decibel-killer removed. To the point that my tinnitus made an unwelcome return in my left ear. On the over-run the Remus pipe makes a glorious popping and backfiring, bouncing off brick walls and causing all the half-dead people who live in my local village to stagger and fall. Brilliant. I like it when people know you’ve arrived.

The electronic ESA suspension system is genius. Some owners have complained i t ’s over-complicated, but adjusting damping rates between Comfort, Normal and Sport on the move and then being able to adjust spring tension, all at the touch of a button, is not a gimmick and hugely useful. Churning round motorways - Comfort. Town riding - Normal. Fast road riding - Sport. Once you get used to the feel of the Telelever front end (the uninitiated call it ‘lifeless’, but you soon learn to trust it) the Adventure can be seriously hustled through country lanes and fast A-roads. Dropping the panniers and top-box off massively cuts the drag and make the bike handle better, but then it doesn’t l o o k a s h a rd . And industrial strength attitude is what this bike is all about.

At times, I’m ashamed to say, the GS turned me into a right yob. When cars drove at me/cut me up/sat six inches off my rear light, I’d sometimes come over all Travis Bickle and go for them. I mean, really road-rage. One poor Volkswagen Golf driver who decided to flash me after I overtook him on double-whites got stopped in the middle of the road, asked if he wanted to make something of it then told where to go. I can only put this down to my chameleonic character attaching itself to the big, brash image of the BMW. Normally I wouldn’t say boo to a goose.

The Adventure shares the same engine with the standard 1200GS model, but for some reason the bigger bike never feels as punchy or strong in the midrange as the standard model. When you’re pushing hard you’ve really got to keep the motor singing above 7,000rpm to get the most thrust. For everyday riding I never normally revved the bike above six grand, so the Adventure has two very individual riding modes. You’re either going for it and using the gas, or you’re cruising and using the torque. Like the engine sound, the Boxer twin is nowhere near as audacious in the midrange as it is with a V-twin, and the relatively flat delivery in the middle means (if you want to go fast) you’ve got to rev it anyway. I was going to fit one of those Power Commander devices from Dynojet to cure the obvious lean-spot in the middle of the Beemer’s powercurve, but decided against it as the fuel economy is so bloody good that I didn’t want to do anything that might punch a hole in it.

Tyres? I went from Michelin Anakees to Anakee 2s, brilliant adventure rubber with masses of grip in the wet and the rear finally squared off at the 9,000 mile mark. There’s plenty of choice in tyre fitments for this model, but I’d recommend the Anakee 2 without a second thought. Other than interval servicing from the brilliant people at Vines BMW in Guildford, that was all I did with the Adventure.

The fact is, it didn’t need anything more. This bike is perfect. Over eight years the GS Adventure has been refined into one of the best motorcycles ever made. It’s huge and intimidating to look at, yet to ride it is seamless and light. Everything has been thought about, from the adjustable brake pedal to the amount of tie-down points and the way it takes just three seconds to get the panniers on and off. The suspension is spot-on and the shaft-drive and gearbox faultless. Some owners have said that the finish on the latest bikes isn’t as good as it used to be, but after 20,000 miles there’s not one furry bolt-head or piece of rust. It’s an amazing thing, and I’m really going to miss it.

COSTS OVERALL

• Remus full exhaust system, £616 Saves 10kg over stock, great noise, but just too loud without db killer www.performanceparts-ltd.com

• Michelin Anakee 2 tyres, £220 www.michelin.co.uk

• BMW topbox and bashplate, £337 All servicing and maintenance of the bike was carried out by the supremely brilliant chaps at Vines BMW in Guildford, Surrey. Great crowd, good coffee
www.vinesofguildfordbmw.co.uk

• MAL German-style numberplate, £25 For that total Fatherland look, didn’t fool a speed camera though www.malplates.co.uk

Miles: 20,012

August 2009

Great balls of fire – the Battle Bus went wrong this month. In 25,000 miles of Adventure ownership (last year and this year combined) it’s the first time something bad’s happened, so I’m aghast.

The Beemer suffered total electrical crapout whilst sat outside Tesco. I came out with my shopping, loaded it up, hit the starter and... tick. Then the dash cut-out and that was it. Subsequent turnings on and off of the ignition brought about the same deadness. I went back inside for 5 minutes, came out and tried surprising the Panzerfaust into life by creeping up on it from behind, but still nothing. I took the seat off and, suspecting loose terminals, gave everything a tweak. Nada. I tried bump-starting it but, alone on an uphill carpark with 350kgs of bike, that was doomed. In the end I had to concede defeat and walk the three miles home, dragging my meat and vegetables behind me.

I got the bike recovered back to the guys and girls at Vines of Guildford the next day, where the problem was diagnosed as a faulty Exide battery. Apparently one of the elements inside had broken and the battery wasn’t passing its charge. All that was required was a new battery and off we went. But that’s not really the point. One day previous I’d been up to my axles in muck in the middle of nowhere (or as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get in Surrey). If the battery had gone then, or on one of the faraway rides I’ve done on GSs, then the rider would’ve been absolutely bollocksed. The irony here being that it was a non-BMW part that made the GS grind to a complete and total halt.

Axles in muck. Oh yes. I’ve been celebrating the Great British Summer (there’s a heatwave, apparently) by getting another set of Continental TKC80 knobblies (www.cambriantyres.co.uk) put on and gouging huge clods of earth out of the planet. There are some very technical trails just two miles from my house, a mix of mud, ruts, rock steps and more open terrain. And the GS just smashes over all of it. The only hinderance is the tall screen, so brilliant on the open road, that threatens to bash the underside of your chin bar when you’re standing up and manouevering. It’d be great if you could unclip it with dzus fasteners or something similar.

I came across two blokes on one trail on KTM250s, and they just looked and gawped as the BMW bashed and growled its way up the same incline they’d just assailed. “Fuck me, never thought I’d see one of those up here,” said one. I just laughed, stopped for a quick chat, then flipped the electronic suspension into Comfort mode and cruised home just in time for The Apprentice.

DATE RECEIVED: 4th February 2009
TEST DURATION: 11 months
TOTAL MILEAGE: 25756 miles
MILEAGE THIS MONTH: 1422 miles
COSTS THIS MONTH: £180
PURCHASE PRICE: £13,500



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