MCN Fleet: Can you really ride an R1200GS off-road?

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There’s a reason why enduro bikes are as thin, light and lithe as possible, with all extraneous fat stripped away to reveal pure muscle and sinew: because the last thing you want off-road is a lardy motorcycle. You’d need some pretty impressive ocular dysfunction to look at BMW’s R1200GS Rallye and think ‘oh yeah, I’d love to ride that off-road.’ It’s obvious mass and physical presence being a serious concern for most riders – especially those with less off-road experience. But the shock weapon in the GS’s armoury is that it’s bloody great on the rough stuff thanks to its inherent poise, and a suite of astoundingly useful rider aids.

I took the Rallye to Wales recently to take part in the GS Trophy qualifiers, where you compete in a two-day assault of road orienteering and off-road challenges. Clearly it despatched the wildly varied Welsh roads with effortless aplomb, but it was on big fast forest tracks and threading through nadgery trials sections where it really impressed.


At speed the electronics – I was riding in Enduro Pro mode – turn you from fumbling cretin into confident attack dog, weighting the outside peg and drifting through corners, while never having to worry that insistent braking will end the party early. The off-road ABS settings are so impressive that even Simon Pavey (Dakar veteran and head of the Off-Road School) rarely turns it off. The balance, grip and traction in all situations always makes you feel inadequate, and – even as a relative novice – the big GS doesn’t feel at all intimidating. The only time I crashed was when I switched all the systems off, and suffered an epic fail trying to negotiate a tight uphill off-camber turn. The Rallye ended up pretty much upside down, and I rolled away like the world’s softest marble. But with human and motorcycle picked up, it was straight back to the action. So, can you ride one off-road? Yes, easily. But should you? Well – that’s debateable right now.

This week’s admission from BMW that some GS models have suffered fork failures – usually when used off-road, is a serious concern. The problem often manifests itself initially as oil leaking, but at worst as a full fork tube detachment where the stanchion meets the top yoke. There is now an active recall on all GS models built from Nov 2013 to June 2017 – so make sure yours gets checked, and has the free remedial work carried out.

See more updates on our R1200GS Rallye longtermer.


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Richard Newland

By Richard Newland