Why the R 1200 GS is the world’s bestselling motorcycle
And there’s no escaping it
Words and pictures by Wahid Ooi Abdullah
- Special promotion for this Triple Black variant from RM 104,900 as tested by us.
- Base colour option priced from RM 102,900.
- GS stands for Gelände/Straße (German: off-road/road).
- First GS was the R80G/S. Some 500,000 GS have been produced since.
- Of 73,357 BMW motorcycles sold in 2015, 41,692 were the R 1200 GS and R 1200 GS Adventure.
Who better to speak to when it comes to the GS range? We spoke to the first ever Malaysian participant in the prestigious BMW Motorrad GS Trophy – Faizal Sukree. Please click here for his comments on this R 1200 GS LC.
There’s a favourite story of mine in the Quran, which tells of a man who had tried to run away from his responsibilities, only to return to his tasks after much hardship.
The story of Prophet Jonah recounts on how he was sent by Allah to deliver His message of repentance to the people of Nineveh, Assyria (in modern day Iraq). However, none of the city’s inhabitants wanted any part of it. So in his frustration, Jonah decided to leave, with Allah’s instructions still incomplete.
Jonah boarded a ship to Tarshih, a Pheonician colony on the southwest coast of Spain, unbeknownst to him that Allah had turned the sky in Nineveh red as fire and the populace got the message. It was only after they gathered on a mountaintop to pray for forgiveness that Allah returned the sky to normal. The people went home and prayed that Jonah will return to guide them.
That night, the calm seas had turned into a raging ocean. The storm whipped the ship around like it was a piece of driftwood and the passengers threw their luggage overboard to alleviate the weight. It didn’t work.
They now decided to draw lots (not unlike a lucky draw) to cast a person overboard, as per sailing tradition.
It was Jonah’s name that came up in the draw. The passengers didn’t want to throw him overboard, because he was known to be a man of Allah, lest the wrath of Allah befall them. They drew lots again and again, and it was invariably Jonah’s each time.
Jonah realized that this was his destiny as predetermined by Allah and threw himself into the ocean. Instead of drowning, an enormous fish appeared out of the depths and swallowed him.
The BMW R 1200 GS needs no introduction, to be honest. Its brand name, features and exploits have already secured a place in the pantheons of motorcycle greatness. That greatness is reflected in sales figures. BMW Motorrad celebrated a record-breaking year in 2015, by selling a total of 73,357 units worldwide. Of that total, 23,681 and 18,011 were the R 1200 GS and R 1200 GS Adventure, respectively.
But that doesn’t mean we’re not to find out firsthand. I’ve had much consternation about riding the R 1200 GS LC due to its size and height. But during FM Autohaus’ East Malaysian launch in Kota Kinabalu in 2015, I finally rode the boss’ R 1200 GS LC (liquid-cooled) around the mall, after much convincing by him. That one short ride was enough to convince me of how good it was.
Fast forward to late 2016, when BMW Motorrad organized the BMW Motorrad GS Trophy in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Then we saw what the GS was truly capable of. The riders were riding their GS enduro-style, riding through whatever sadistic obstacles and challenges the marshals put up. Surprisingly, the R 1200 GS and R 1200 GS Adventures used for the competition were in stock form and only fitted with crash bars and other accessories from BMW Motorrad’s catalogue. We were also told by the competitors themselves that not one R 1200 GS has broken down over the one week of torturous riding and special tests.
The fear of a big, German adventure-tourer haunting my dreams to park one in my driveway welled-up right there and then. There had been offers to review the R 1200 GS LC since then, but I’ve always refused.
BMW Motorrad Malaysia had extended the Triple Black variant for our review, all dressed up for touring, hence equipped with BMW’s Vario Case side panniers, cruise control, grip warmers, tyre pressure monitor (RDC), and did we mention the panniers already? The one on the left could fit a backpack with a 15″ Macbook Pro and not a drop of rain or speck of dust got through. They didn’t even cause the bike to weave or become unstable at elevated speeds. Since BMW Motorrad is carrying a special promotion at the moment, you could have an R 1200 GS Triple Black in this exact configuration for only RM 104,900.
During the handover, I climbed on, put my right foot down and tried to reach the kickstand with my left toe. I almost couldn’t reach it. It was an embarrassing scene in front of the BMW Motorrad executives, but I finally got it up and rode off.
Stopping at the first traffic lights, I’ve moved a cheek off the seat to put a foot down and I was still tiptoeing. Not safe. I looked at the instrument cluster, then to the ESA button on the left handlebar. Could it be….?
A quick tap on the button once brought up the different modes for the ESA settings, as it cycled through SOFT, NORMAL, and HARD. On the other hand, holding onto the button brought up a pictogram of two helmets. Ah hah! It had been set for the weight of the rider plus passenger. I thumbed through the options, going from two helmets, to two helmets with a suitcase, and finally settling on one helmet.
It felt like sitting on a deflating balloon as the rear suspension reduced its preload. My foot went from tiptoe, to the ball of the foot and finally the entire sole was flat on the road. Hey, presto!
The ergonomics made so much sense. The rider triangle – correlation between the grips, seat height and position, and feet position – settles the rider in immediately. It didn’t take me more than 5 minutes for my 167cm height to get used to the controls and seat.
It’s a cliché to say, “The weight disappears as soon as the wheels started rolling.” I am now truly convinced that term was first coined for a GS. At slow speeds the bike was very stable and didn’t have the tendency to plop over to either side. There wasn’t any weight up high, since the Boxer’s cylinders stick out down low on each side.
The light turned green and the GS just rolled forward without the drama of having to slip the clutch. The down-low torque was just so smooth. Approaching the first sweeping corner, a slight push on the inside handlebar had the bike flying through.
Next set of corners were the left-right corners leading to the MEX Highway. Sitting straight up in the seat, I pushed the bike down. Again, it just swept through the corner without any wobble or protest. The entrance into the right corner was sharper and had speed breakers painted over it. The front Telelever and rear Paralever suspension absorbed the abuse like they weren’t there. Not wanting the bike to go wide midcorner, I dropped my torso to the inside and the GS responded immediately, pulling and hanging on to the inside line even quicker.
It’s a norm for sportbikes to do that, but on a tall, heavyweight like the GS was truly something else. You’re also rewarded with a gruffy and boomy exhaust note as you throttle out.
The GS showed its highway touring capabilities right away, with the engine just purring along, never feeling stressed. The screen had been set to the highest position and although it looked small, BMW had obviously put in lots of work to fine-tune its aerodynamics. There was no buffeting or whistling noises and my open-faced helmet (an Arai Ram 4) stayed still. I had thought that I was travelling between 110 to 120 km/h, until I looked down into the speedometer to discover that I was actually flying at close to 180 km/h.
Off the MEX Highway and into KL’s traffic jam central of Jalan Tun Razak.
The GS exhibited its easy steering capabilities here, maneuvering between lanes, but I had to be extra careful about the panniers. A friend remarked on Facebook when I posted the pictures of the bike: “If it were up to me, I’d drop those panniers and ride it through the city like a hooligan bike.” He’s right, actually. It was so easy to steer the GS around traffic that even mad motorcycle couriers found it hard to keep up, coupled to the engine’s excellent torque and strong yet progressive Brembo Monobloc brakes, in addition to that commanding view over the tops of cars. And I kid you not, other drivers made the effort to steer out of the way when I stopped behind them. Thank you.
We decided to put the bike to an outstation test to Pantai Morib near Banting and Tanjung Sepat over the weekend.
Travelling with the R 1200 GS on country roads confirmed this bike could truly handle less than perfect roads. The route to those locations was narrow and rife with surface changes, all sorts of corners and even dirt on the road.
The R 1200 GS didn’t care, not a bit. Getting to Tanjung Sepat 70 kilometres away felt like I had just ridden to my office downtown.
And the GS Triple Black certainly looked great to attract much attention everytime I stopped. People would just walk over and started pelting questions about it.
That’s nice and jiffy so far, but what about those pictures of GS riders taking their mounts offroad, like in the GS Trophy?
I was fortunately enough to find a small boat yard off the main road, accessible through an unpaved path. As soon as I stood on the pegs, the R 1200 GS’s uncanny weight distribution showed itself. It really felt like a dirtbike.
Standing up while riding in dirt lowers the bike and rider’s centre of gravity (CoG), but since the Boxer’s CoG is already way down there, standing up has the effect of adding to that natural stability. By the way, “GS” stands for Gelände/Straße (German for offroad/road).
The bike exhibited another wonderful trait on the return trip.
I was riding through the middle of a corner on the right lane when a car swerved into my path. This is a source of dread for any biker, as touching the front brake or chopping the throttle will inadvertently stand the bike up straight and overshoot the corner.
But something had to be done, unless I wipe out the bike, so I went for the front brake lever as hard as I dared while still holding a substantial lean angle. The GS’s front Telelever suspension didn’t dive like how a normal motorcycle would and the bike kept tracking through the turn.
In terms of riding modes, the R 1200 GS features four: ROAD, RAIN, ENDURO and ENDURO PRO. I left it in ROAD throughout even in pouring rain because the bike is just that good.
I had put in more than 700 km/h within the 5 days we had the R 1200 GS, because it was just so pleasant to ride, whether it was in the city, the country or offroad. It not only goes everywhere, but more importantly being good while going everywhere. It was super frugal on gas too, averaging 5.4 to 5.5 l/100km despite some hard riding.
In closing and in relation to the opening story:
Jonah prayed that Allah forgives his wrongdoing and Allah relented, willing the fish to release Jonah on a beach. Jonah then went back to the welcoming arms of those in Nineveh.
Run as I might from the R 1200 GS, only to be swallowed by the fear of how other bikes would fare in my future reviews in comparison to it and the overriding need to own one, it has been confirmed that I do indeed need an R 1200 GS.
|Engine type||Air/liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC, 8-valves, flat-Twin (Boxer)|
|Compression ratio||12.5 : 1|
|Bore X Stroke||101.0 mm X 73.0 mm|
|Fuel system||Electronic intake pipe injection, BMS-K+ digital engine management|
|Maximum power||125 bhp (92 kW) @ 7750 RPM|
|Maximum torque||125 Nm @ 6500 RPM|
|Clutch||Oil-lubricated (wet) clutch, hydraulically-operated|
|Front suspension||BMW Motorrad Telelever, 37mm forks, central spring strut|
|Front wheel travel||190 mm|
|Rear suspension||Cast aluminium single-sided swingarm with BMW Motorrad Paralever; WAD srut (travel-related damping), hydraulically adjustable spring preload and rebound damping|
|Rear wheel travel||200 mm|
|Front brakes||Dual floating 305 mm discs, radially-mounted four-piston Brembo calipers|
|Rear brake||Single 276 mm disc, dual-piston floating caliper|
|ABS||BMW Motorrad Integral ABS, can be switched off|
|FRAME & DIMENSIONS|
|Frame||Two-section frame, load-bearing engine|
|Seat height||850 – 870 mm|
|L x W x H||2210 mm x 953 mm x 1450 mm|
|Weight with full tank||238 kg|
|Fuel capacity||20 litres|