Longest Test: BMW R1200GS Adventure

BMW’s best-selling bike for the past three years, Tim Cummings revels in his role as supersub as the GS does what it’s supposed to do...

I kept waiting for the noise of the Starship Enterprise doors closing behind me when I got on the big Beemer. Maybe it was the mild insanity brought on by 15 hours alone in my Arai but at times it really did seem more like an intergalactic spaceship than a motorbike. It’s frigging colossal, weird but cool looking, it’ll go anywhere, it’s loaded with electronic gizmos and rider aids plus it’s incredibly distance capable. And it’s also up for a bit of a dogfight with smaller, nimbler machines too if the captain – sorry rider – fancies it. All that’s missing is that classic, comforting ‘Pphssshshm’ the Enterprise doors made when you climb on board.

Mega trailies are the new premium all round motorbikes and unless you’re planning to go off-road a lot, the latest R1200GS Adventure is the pick of the bunch. I couldn’t think of a better bike for blitzing Autoroutes to the south of France, flick-flacking mountain hairpins and posing in cafés when we got there.

Rob, Niall and I started a day after the others so blasted from the UK to the bottom of France in a single hit to catch them up. The BM was near faultless for this. The riding position’s spacious and comfy, the adjustable screen superb and the seat’s better than most. An old Airhawk pad improved it and I find on any long bike journey standing up on the pegs regularly to keep the blood flowing through your legs and bum makes for the comfiest ride - possible on the BM at up to 90mph. It’ll cruise at well over a ton, though fuel consumption’s better if you keep it under 90. It returned 43mpg over the trip that while perhaps isn’t brilliant, considering the sustained high-speed blasts it’s certainly more than acceptable.

If I had to pick fault with the bike, there’s some vibration through the bars at around 95mph. It’s not disastrous but is intrusive enough to be annoying and probably an indication BMW have tuned an antique design about as far as they should – although it makes more power in other bikes like the HP2 Sport. That said, despite the ambient temperature reaching forty degrees, the Adventure’s engine never overheated or poured too much warmth onto my legs. At one point Ben said the big Kwak was blowing heat out of the fairing like a jet engine and he was half expecting it to explode like a watermelon at any moment.

After a day of high speed autoroute bashing and a night in a cheap French hotel it was time to get stuck into the tight and three-dimensional Provencale back roads. Of course Niall and Rob cleared off on the sports bikes but I thought I’d leave the Harley and Boneville behind easily. Not so. To be honest, at first they were quicker than I was on the BM through slow and medium speed bends.

Maybe I’m just slow and I’ve never liked hairing into blind corners but the GS is colossal. You can throw it around thanks to the wide bars but it takes a bit of courage at first as it’s so big and tall. Its predecessor, the R1150GS Adventure had amazing mid corner stability. The 1200 matches this, so much so that with panniers fitted it’s easy to deck them out with the Michelin Anakee 2s that were fitted for this trip.

Parking up in some of the chichi seaside towns near Cannes, Barry and Ian reckoned their naked bikes would get all the attention. But put the BM on its centre stand next to either and they look titchy, almost toy like in comparison. Okay, the GS has lost some cred points due to all the clones in BMW clothing plodding about on them but there’s still something decidedly cool and purposeful about such a rugged, functional mountain of motorbike and in my book it’s more impressive than a camp little cruiser.

Rob was clearly in love with the GSX-R1000 as we could tell by the way he kept saying: “I love this bike”. He had fun on the Autoroutes, pulling big, rude stand up wheelies for half a mile or more, the front end hanging in the air like a salmon as passing Froggie motorists cheered. But if the GS hadn’t carried half his kit he wouldn’t have enjoyed himself nearly so much.

Ben and the GTR coped well everywhere except in town where the panniers stopped it filtering easily. While the GTR’s an impressive beast with a superb motor there’s a whiff of old man about it that puts me off. To be honest the BM’s size means it’s not the nimblest urban tool either but good steering lock, accessible torque and a commanding riding position all count in its favour.

Two days of riding superb roads in scorching weather flew by. If you’re in the area Route Napoleon, from Grenoble to Digby on the N85, then on to Cannes is one of Europe’s best and well worth checking out.

The slog home after any holiday is never the best bit but the big BM waltzed me back to Blighty in style and comfort. A handful of brief food / water / toilet breaks plus food on the boat saw just over 900 miles and the Channel crossing done in one 15 hour hit. I had to stop for two 20-minute power naps in French service station picnic areas as Hoyles had kept me awake all the previous night by constantly assaulting me with pillows in the hotel room. I found it a bit bewildering but I never went to public school. And while we’re outing suspicious behaviour from others in the group, middle aged bachelor, Barry, did seem very keen to take Polaroids of the younger lads by the hotel swimming pool. Anyway, underhand accusations of homosexuality aside we had a proper blast. Bikes, mates, sun, awesome roads and amazing food and booze in the evenings added up to two wheeled Nirvana. I’m not just saying it because it was ‘my bike’ but the BM was near perfect. If I was doing the trip again it’s the one I’d want.

Would I buy one? I was seriously considering it just before the credit crunch but was put off by questionable reliability and the high price. If I had more money I’d love one. It’s the ultimate all rounder and it’s very capable everywhere, even off road as long as you’ve got long legs, big balls, talent or preferably all three. More importantly it’s always fun to ride, looks great and is arguably the best all round bike on the roads today. The main complaint is a lack of midrange - standard

GS1200s feel almost turbo-charged after the Adventure - but then it’s not a light bike. But as a bike to do a trip like this on, the BMW is surely without peer. A clear winner, I believe.

What I love

  • Traffic parting presence
  • Comfort and fuel range
  • Good handling and brakes

What I’d change

  • Some engine vibes
  • Questionable reliability
  • High purchase price and running costs

Rating: 4/5

For: Brilliantly engineered, comfortable in every situation and 340 miles on one tank of gas
Against: Not the most engaging or fun bike, slight high-speed weave and almost as common as GSX-Rs

Return to the Longest Test

2009 BMW R1200GS Adventure Specifications

Price: £13,400
Top speed: 132.04mph
Engine: 1170cc, 8-valves, air/oil-cooled fl at twin
Bore & stroke: 101mm x 73mm
Compression ratio: 12:1
Power: 96.57bhp at 7,000rpm
Torque: 77.24lb/ft at 5,800rpm
Front suspension: Telelever
Adjustment: Preload
Rear suspension: Paralever
Adjustment: Preload and rebound
Front brakes: Four-piston calipers, 305mm discs
Rear brake: Double-piston caliper, 265mm disc
Dry weight: 223kg
Seat height: 910mm/890mm
Fuel capacity: 33 litres
Colour options: Red, grey