Published: 15.05.19 at 3273 miles
Is the shine beginning to dull after an average year of mileage?
The average UK leisure rider barely manages to knock 3500miles together between New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve each year, apparently. That’s not so bad, is it? That’s 35 sunny Sunday 100-milers. I’d probably trade the recent lashing rain of my daily rides for a bit of that. So, after an average year of miles in two months, is life with the GSA getting better – or has the sheen already dulled?
It’s easy for familiarity to breed contempt – and I wasn’t really expecting to feel particularly impressed by the new R1250GSA. The big Beemer’s most cunning trick has always been managing to astound with a breadth of skills that fail to be dominated by any single characteristic. It’s an odd way to be brilliant. Dull, even. But while some bikes (like BMW’s own S1000RR) are so good that you end up feeling bored by your own inability to find their limitations – the GSA manages to make you feel like you’re the clever one. It flatters you whether you’re at six tenths or nine. And if you get to eleven, it’ll bail you out.
It didn’t take more than a handful of miles to realise that the new 1250 boxer twin confirms to the rules of GS brilliance: do it faultlessly, but don’t draw attention to yourself. By the time a 1 and three 0s formed a line on the new TFT dash, it was clear that both nothing and everything has changed on the 1250. It looks the same, rides the same, feels – and makes you feel – the same. But the new engine has added a bit of pizzazz that wasn’t there before.
It’s crisper, fruitier, more characterful. It actually reminds me of the last of the air-cooled versions, before that water jacket somehow sanitised the package.
I’ve never had much interest in ‘connectivity’. I don’t want to talk to other riders, make phone calls, listen to music, or even listen to satnav instructions. I’m no luddite, I just relish the sound of a bike, and the lack of all those other noises and distractions, while I’m riding. But with all that clever functionality lurking within the dash, I felt a bit guilty not using it. So, I ordered a Cardo Packtalk Bold, and got myself connected.
The dash makes it all impressively easy – but I kept forgetting to use any of the functionality. When I do remember to use the dash/Cardo/phone three-way, I find myself almost equally enthralled and pissed-off by it. On a tedious motorway blast there’s no doubt that a bit of music helps the miles drift away, but navigating the dash to find the album you’re looking for is a clear distraction. Phone calls, too. Every time the phone rings it scares the crap out of me, and my first thought is always ‘bugger off’, even if it’s someone I want to talk to. I still don’t want a synthetic voice telling me when to turn left, right, or go straight on, either.
Apart from having everything sync’d so that I can take emergency calls, this brave new world of connectivity has receded as quickly as it arrived. I like to know I can use it all – but I don’t do so.
During a chat with an R1200GS owner about all the mods I’ve made so far to the 1250, it was interesting that the three things I felt most confident were of genuine value, were also the things he said he was now about to go home and order. They were: the Wunderlich headlamp guard, the Avant fender extender, and MudSling hugger extender. They’re almost invisible additions on the bike, and while the first is just for peace of mind (especially if you ride a lot of firetracks with mates) the latter pairing are seriously useful. The Avant stops your engine’s front plate looking like a dartboard, while the Sling keeps that expensive Dynamic ESA unit free from crud, and massively reduces the amount of filth the GSA’s rear wheel chucks up the back of your thighs.
And invisible excellence seems to be defining the GSA so far. Park it anywhere and someone will come to ask about it, tickling your pride of ownership gene – but it draws no attention in motion. Ride a sportsbike, and someone will try racing you, but ride a GSA and most riders seem to take no sense of challenge from it. Until you scythe past them in serene comfort, and bugger off over the horizon before they even saw you coming. On a 200-mile sunny lap of Lincolnshire on Sunday, I genuinely can’t think of another bike I’d have chosen over the GSA to do it. I didn’t even need to fill up, and still have 78 miles in the tank.
Update three: Come on feel the noise
Published: 01.05.19 at 2614 miles
New Akrapovic end can transforms the GSA’s rear end
One of the stand-out things you notice about the R1250GSA is the build quality. The design may be overtly fiddly in places – and a complete bastard to clean – but the quality of the parts BMW have bolted together is very pleasing. With one exception. Looks may be subjective, but I think the standard exhaust silencer stands out as a – quite literally – glaring disappointment. The spangly finish looks cheap and tinny, and the plastic end cap does nothing to bolster its quality credentials. So I’ve binned it.
In its stead now resides a new Akrapovic that maintains the GSA’s Euro4 road-legal credentials, meaning any over-keen Plod have no right to hassle you, while absolutely transforming the looks, and soundtrack, of the GSA.
Sticking to the aesthetics for a moment: The matt black finish on the titanium can is luxurious and understated, which means that while the can is marginally longer that standard, it doesn’t look bulky. The carbon end-cap is superbly well finished, and the new carbon link-pipe shield is equally quality and attractive, adding some tech bling and detailing without being too ‘look at me’. The fit is typically Akrapovic (perfect), and while it couldn’t be simpler to fit – with just a couple of bolts to twiddle – the clear photographic and written instructions mean even a complete spanner novice won’t be spending more than ten minutes making the swap.
Then there’s the noise. The standard GSA actually sounds pretty decent, but the Akra has added a marginally naughtier bass line to the orchestra, and a tangible increase in rumbling pops and bangs on the overrun. It adds personality and character to every mile, without ever feeling intrusive or jarring. The baffles don’t come out, and nor would you really want them to – it already sounds like an endure bike on steroids, and any more bark would only make it offensive.
Is there a power boost to note? Well, no, not really. There’s no perceptible difference at all at the top of the rev range, but there is a smidgen more pep in the midrange, making the front wheel dance and skit a little more as you fire through peak torque in 1st to 3rd, and it feels crisp at cruising speeds.
Next, we’ll test the full headers, too – to gauge how much benefit can be found by removing the collector and exhaust valve.
Update two: Wired for sound and vision
Published: 17.04.19 @ 2175 miles
Electrical additions reveal huge GSA’s tight space constraints
“Then just cut into the loom to pick up a live feed.” It’s a simple enough job – but it’s also one that has regularly deterred me from fitting certain modifications. Electrical looms, like brains, can be sensitive things. Interfere with one wire, and the radiating electrical confusion can be unsettling. If you’ve ever suffered a malfunctioning alarm, or the effects of biblical electrical bodgery, you’ll probably already be on the same ‘leave it alone’ page as me.
The 2019 R1250GSA is absolutely dominated by its electronics, and the CAN bus system that fires every aspect of the GSA’s skill set is not something I feel very comfortable tapping into, even just to pick up a live feed. So when I fitted the new INNOVV K2 camera system this month, I also used a HEX Innovate CAN bus controller to simultaneously prevent sleepless nights, while also giving me even more scope for further accessory plug-ins.
Despite often thinking ‘I wish I’d caught that on camera’, I rarely ride with a GoPro rolling, and if I have remembered it, chances are that the battery died 100meters before the spectacularly good/bad thing happened. Charging batteries, pressing buttons, downloading memory cards. It’s all a bit tedious. The INNOVV K2 eliminates all that logistical misery. Plumb it in to your bike’s power source (a direct battery connection with a switched live), and the front and rear facing cameras record from the moment you turn your ignition on, until you turn it off again. And you can download images and video via its inbuilt WiFi straight to your phone.
With the HEX also plumbed in (power feed from the battery, and an inline plug’n’play connection), I could use its clever functionality to switch the K2 on/off with the ignition, even programming the kill times, and monitoring battery draw. Full reviews to follow on both systems soon, but it’s what I also learned about the Beemer that’s worth noting.
Some bikes are a serious misery to work on. The GSA isn’t one of them. So long as you own a decent collection of Torx bits, there a watch-like functional precision to pulling the BM apart that some Japanese manufacturers would do well to mimic. But BMW’s ruthless efficiency also means there’s no room to hide anything. The INNOVV control box isn’t massive, but there was nowhere to secrete it inside the bike, so it’s mounted in the alcove by your left thigh. The diminutive HEX box is hidden beneath the pillion pad, but it only just has room to nestle there. For such a gigantic bike, the opportunities to secrete additional bumpf are few – and devoid of generosity. If you have an accessories habit that keeps your local bike dealer very happy indeed – spare a thought for where the hell you’re going fit everything, because if it’s not meant to be on the outside, you’re going to struggle to fit it out of sight.
Update one: Life's great Adventure
Published: 27.03.19 at 1543 miles
It’s the UK’s biggest-selling big bike – but how does the new 1250 really shape up in daily use?
You do hear some serious rubbish spouted about BMW’s GS. From the persistent assertion that it’s an old-man’s bike, to the ‘facts’ that it doesn’t handle, is slow, rubbish off road because it’s too big, and that it hasn’t really changed since 2004. All those assertions are so far wide of the mark that you’d need a satnav to find your way back to the truth. The latest addition to the list of expert opinions so freely offered is that you can’t tell the difference between the out-going 1170cc boxer twin and the new 1254cc ShiftCam engine. Anyone who drops that pearl of wisdom into your lughole deserves your finest ridicule and sarcasm in response.
From the moment the shaft-drive starts spinning there’s a surging willingness on tap that just wasn’t there before. Smoothness, too. Trickle along in 6th at 40mph, open the throttle, and you’re rewarded with instant drive that rapidly builds to illegal pace. Launch hot off the line, and it has to rely on the anti-wheelie electrickery in first and second (and third if it’s a bumpy road) to stop the front wheel leaving tyre marks on the clouds. It’s lively, it’s torquey, and it’s astoundingly flexible. And a tangible step forward over the Shift-free 1170.
The obvious question – and one I’ve now been asked by every 1200 GS owner I’ve spoken to – is: ‘is it worth upgrading?’ The odd truth, considering all of my gushing endorsement above, is that I wouldn’t actually feel hard done by if I’d recently bought the 1200. Yes, the new Shifty boxer is a big step forward, but I’d still only trade to the 1250 when I was good and ready. There are no chunks of chalk and cheese here – but more a choice between a cheese you’d happily eat every day, and the one you want to eat every day until you die from premature cheese congestion.
So, with over 1500 miles showing on the superb TFT dash, what are the obvious hits and misses so far?
Screen idolatry – HIT
The TFT dash might not technically be new this year – you could buy it as an option last year – but it is the first time it’s been standard fitment. And it’s such a boon for the GS. Most manufacturers have a TFT in the range somewhere, but I’ve not found one yet that beats it for effortless intuitive use, connectivity ability, depth of information, or presentation. It’s an iPad-like masterpiece of interactivity.
Switching darkness – MISS
The thought of backlit switchgear would have had me shouting ‘pointless’ out loud only a few years ago – but with so much going on around our switchcubes these days, it’s almost becoming a necessity. I bemoaned this point about the Ninja H2 SX I ran last year, and the new GSA suffers the same problem in the dark. With better button layout and tactile differentiation, it is easier to work out what you’re pressing in the darkness on the GSA – but only just. Come on BMW, you’ve got the know-how – light them up!
Shifty cunning – HIT
With so much else of the 2019 model GSA being the same as the 2018 model GSA, it’s not really a shock to say that the biggest hit on the new bike is the ShiftCam boxer twin. As engines go, it’s almost perfect. Character, torque, a pleasing swell of power, pure drive without that biting edginess you get from some engines. It’s so smooth, too – from all over the rev range, in any gear, it just builds and builds. Aggressive enough in the first few gears, it tours, scratches and softens for off-road in equal measure.
Keyless all areas – HIT
Keyless ignition is one of those things I used to believe answered a question no-one had asked. But when the keyless works on both the ignition and the fuel cap, it really does make sense. I only ever have to remember where I’ve secreted the key if I need to lift the seat, or remove/fit or lock a pannier. That mostly means that I never have to remember where the key fob (which I’ve wrapped in a protective Wunderlich holder – £30, nippynormans.com) is, just relying on the dash to let me know I’ve got it somewhere on my person.
Pipe nightmares – MISS
Whoever thought a shiny, sparkly exhaust end-can finish was classy is probably the same person who has a pole and a glitterball fitted in their lounge. Amidst a sea of high-class finishes and deft design touches, it sticks out like a foil-wrapped burrito in a platter of hors d’oeuvre. It’s not going to reside there for long, with a program of improvements planned that will include a black Akrapovic end can, and headers at a later date, to see what more can be pulled from the engine with less Euro5 interference.
The rise and rise of the adventure bike had led us to this: a 268kilo steroid-abusing enduro-styled globe-shrinker that’s wide enough to intimidate Transit vans and clever enough to bamboozle your expectations of what such a behemoth should be capable of.
I've covered more than 40,000 miles on various incarnations of the GS over the last decade, but the GS Adventure has always eluded me.
I’m excited by the new 1250 engine, which feels tangibly fitter and feistier than the 1200, and the sheer practicality of a 300-mile tank range, van like luggage options, and its all-weather all-terrain capabilities. Is this the best GS ever built? Only the miles will tell...
Read the full BMW R1200GS Adventure Rallye review
Read the full BMW R1250GS Adventure review
- Key stats: • £18,100 • 134bhp • 105.5ftlb • 790-910mm seat • 268kg (kerb)
- Rider: Richard Newland (45, 5ft 11in, 110kg)