Used buying guide: BMW GS

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What can be said about BMW’s legendary GS that hasn’t already been extensively documented? As well as being the longest running model in modern motorcycling, the GS has formed the backbone of BMW Motorrad with currently 25% of their sales coming from this machine alone.

It is, quite simply, the most successful modern motorcycle on the planet. But it doesn’t stop there.

As well as single handedly creating the most diverse and rapidly developing class around, the adventure bike market, the GS has also starred in TV series, traveled to the furthest flung corners of the world and even won the torturous Dakar Rally. It’s fair to say it has packed quite a lot into its 33-year life…

Originally launched back in 1980 as the R80 G/S, which is German for Gelände StraBe or off-road/on-road, the G/S developed out of a slightly crazy project between enduro rider Herbert Schek and BMW test engineer Laszlo Peres.

The pair created an 800cc Boxer dirt bike to compete in the German off-road Championship against smaller, lighter, two-stroke competition. After surprising success, the bike was used by BMW as inspiration for a new breed of road bikes.

In 1979 BMW’s bike sales were tailing off and a new management team took over, instantly demanding a new machine that could steal sales from the increasingly dominant Japanese manufacturers.

BMW’s engineers used the off-road Boxer as an inspiration. Was the world ready for a new bike that was a mix of off-road and on-road styling? BMW decided to test the water…

The original R80 G/S hit dealers in late 1980, a year later one in five BMWs sold was a G/S as 6,631 rolled off the production line. A legend was born and very rapidly sales went through the roof as the GS dynasty expanded to all four corners of the globe.

1994- 1999 BMW R1100GS

The facts:
Price for a good one:
£2500 to £3300
Engine: 8v sohc, 1085cc air/oil-cooled Boxer twin
Power: 80bhp @ 6750rpm
Torque: 72ftlb @ 5250rpm
Weight: 243kg
Seat Height: 840mm
Wheelbase: 1499mm
Top speed: 122mph
MPG: 45

What was it like then?
The R1100GS was a revolutionary model that prepared the GS family for the next century. Using a brand new Boxer engine with a four-valve head for the first time, BMW also integrated the engine as a major component in the chassis’ design as well as abandoning conventional forks in favour of a Telever front end.

Claimed to offer improved feel under braking, the Telever system looks like ordinary forks however the damping is taken care of by a central shock absorber.

Somewhat controversial to riders who aren’t used to such a set-up as it offers a different ‘feel’ from the front end, this system is still used today on the latest GS.

In 1994 riders simply accepted this as another quirk of the already unique GS and instead relished the GS’s incredible versatility.

Where adventure bike rivals such as the Honda Africa Twin and Yamaha Super Tenere were focused more on off-road capability, the GS targeted road riders who were looking for a comfortable long distance tourer.

The BMW’s huge 25-litre tank would easily see 200 miles between fill-ups while the relaxed (and adjustable) riding position, ABS and new LCD display allowed this to be achieved in both comfort and safety.

The new Boxer engine may only have made 80bhp, which was hardly ground breaking, however with of torque the GS would pull you, a pillion and luggage full of holiday gear all over Europe without batting an eye. And while on the move the new chassis with its lowered centre of gravity delivered a surprisingly sporty ride while remaining plush and composed over the bumps. The GS was now a genuine alternative to a tourer and BMW’s superb build quality soon won it an army of fans.

What is it like now?
The R1100GS is still a brilliant machine with unquestionable reliability and enormous practicality and as such expect used bikes to have fairly high mileages. A lot of second hand R1100GSs come with upwards of 50,000 miles on the clock and a few have even topped 100,000.

The engine is completely unburstable with only the clutch’s performance worth checking, however items such as bearings, suspension etc will start to need replacing/re-freshing at these mileages so always check the general state of the bike’s chassis.

Owners tend to keep full service histories so always be wary of a home serviced bike however apart from the usual checks buying a used R1100GS is a relatively hassle free experience. But should you buy one?

For around £2,500 the GS is a brilliant, reliable and extremely comfortable commuter that will just keep on going no matter what life throws at it.

Once the daily slog is over you can pack the GS’s panniers (always try and buy a used bike with luggage fitted) and head as far away as your imagination, or wallet, allows. No other used bike offers such versatility at such a low price.

2000- 2003 BMW R1150GS

The facts:
Price for a good one:
£3000 to £5300
Engine: 8v sohc, 1130cc air/oil-cooled Boxer twin
Power: 85bhp @ 6750rpm
Torque: 72ftlb @ 5250rpm
Weight: 249kg
Seat Height: 840mm
Wheelbase: 1509mm
Top speed: 130mph
MPG: 46

What was it like then?
Having moved the GS more towards road than off-road riding with the R1100 model, BMW were now facing tough competition in the adventure bike market.

A new breed of road-orientated yet off-road styled bikes such as the Honda Varadero and Aprilia Caponord were starting to emerge, each one delivering more performance than the GS.

In response to this threat BMW increased the GS’s capacity to 1130cc, boosting power by 5bhp and upping the Boxer’s mid-range grunt.

To improve the GS’s mile-munching ability a new sixth gear was also added while the chassis was refined and the styling altered with the introduction of asymmetric headlights.

But was this moving the GS away from its core audience of riders who bought it because it could be taken anywhere and used in an off-road environment? BMW had a solution and in 2002 it arrived – the R1150GS Adventure.

Returning the GS to its roots the Adventure was far more rugged than the standard model. Boasting lowered ‘enduro’ gearing, beefed up suspension, a bash plate, extended mudguards, lever guards and even the option of a gigantic 30-litre petrol tank (a smaller 22-litre item was also offered) the Adventure was designed to take on whatever the world could throw at it.

Despite few actually making it around the world, when Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor famously did succeed in their Long Way Round TV series the GS’s reputation was cemented.

This was the bike to be seen on and sales of the GS rocketed, however it wasn’t all plain sailing.

Group tests highlighted the fact that when compared to the new generation of competition the GS was heavy, sluggish to steer and the Boxer engine a little dull in its performance.

Although hard to fault when it came to practicality, the GS was starting to show its age somewhat and was in need of a refresh.

What is it like now?
This R1150GS is something of a purist’s model and when the 2004 R1200GS was launched sales of second hand R1150GSs went up due to its simplicity.

Devoid of CAN-bus or too many fancy gadgets, the R1150GS is the easily the best of the ‘old school’ GS models which is why it still commands a strong second hand price.

The increase in capacity over the R1100GS, not to mention the extra gear, makes this model an even better tourer and should you opt for the Adventure model with its enormous tank you can easily clear 250 miles between fill-ups.

Few bikes can boast the kind of practicality or luggage carrying capacity as a GS and owners find them hard to fault.

As with any model of GS expect high mileages on second hand bikes with condition reflecting the price. An Adventure is generally £600 more than the stock model however this does vary depending on mileage and level of aftermarket extras. As a first taste of the GS range the R1150GS is a great starting point.

It can feel a bit heavy with a full tank, however it doesn’t take long to get accustomed to the BMW’s weight and very soon you will understand what all the fuss is about…

2004 - 2012 BMW R1200GS

The facts
Price for a good one:
£5,000 to £11,000
Engine: 8v sohc (dohc), 1170cc air/oil-cooled Boxer twin
Power: 100bhp @ 7000rpm (108bhp @ 7750rpm)
Torque: 85ftlb @ 5500rpm (88ftlb @ 6000rpm)
Weight: 225kg
Seat Height: 850mm
Wheelbase: 1519mm
Top speed: 136mph
MPG: 47

What was it like then?
When BMW unveiled the brand new R1200GS the most significant object in the room was a huge blue container filled with exactly 30kg of water – because that was the amount of weight they had trimmed off the GS in its update.

This wasn’t simply a tweaked R1150GS, BMW had gone back to the drawing board with the R1200GS and reinvented the whole bike.

Sharper, lighter and more powerful than ever before, the only parts carried over from the outgoing model were the front brake discs.

This was a GS aimed at a whole new generation of riders who were demanding agile handling as well as touring ability and comfort from their adventure bike. So BMW responded.

As well as a new 1170cc capacity the Boxer engine was totally re-worked with a helical gears in the gearbox for improved action, a new balancer shaft to eliminate vibrations and new lighter internals with a twin spark head for better fuel economy and performance.

And it didn’t stop there, the new chassis featured a lighter swingarm and revised Telever system with far sportier geometry and improvements to the ergonomics. The transformation was incredible.

Chalk and cheese to the old model, the R1200GS retained all the practicality of the R1150GS but added in a new found level of performance and smoothness.

Through the corners the GS handled far more like a ‘conventional’ bike despite the 19-inch front wheel while the styling was fresh without sacrificing the traditional GS image.

The GS destroyed the competition thanks to its brilliant balance between sports and practicality and although KTM’s Adventure had the beating of the GS in an off-road environment the BMW was still the one that sold in vast numbers.

In 2010 BMW gave the GS a bit more poke with the addition of a twin cam head, but after six years at the top, and with the competition now catching up, this was a stop-gap until the revolutionary water-cooled GS was launched in 2013.

What is it like now?
The R1200GS is a brilliant machine that manages to look and feel like a rugged off-road bike without necessarily handling like one.

The large front wheel gives a good level of feedback while the chassis is sporty without sacrificing any of the GS’s legendary practicality.

Although there were a few early issues with reliability, BMW quickly sorted these out and now there is little to fear when it comes to buying second hand.

As a general rule the later model the better as the 2006-onwards machines are more reliable and the twin cam 2010 models the best of the bunch.

When you consider you will be paying £5,000 for what is a nine year old bike the GS can seem quite pricey, however depreciation is minimal and if you look after it the BMW will keep on running for thousands of trouble free miles.

If you are looking at sampling an adventure bike after a life of sportsbikes then the R1200GS is the one to go for. It may look quirky, but the handing is accomplished, the comfort sublime and the build quality excellent.

BMW have sold over 180,000 R1200GS models since 2004, which tells you all you need to know about this fabulous bike.

Other BMW R1200GS reviews

Model history
1980 – The original R80 G/S (Gelände StraBe) is launched. Powered by a 797.5cc 2-valve head Boxer engine with a single overhead cam and featuring BMW’s first monolever swingarm.
1988 – The R100GS sees the GS increase in capacity to 980cc while the slash is dropped from the GS name.
1991 – A new fairing sees the ‘beak’ replaced with a mudguard located between the forks. The engine remains unchanged.
1994 – The R1100GS is launched with a new 1085cc Boxer engine with a four-valve head and single overhead cam. The forks are replaced with BMW’s Telever front end.
2000 – A new millennium brings an increase in capacity to 1130cc for the R1150GS.
2002 – The first Adventure model is launched, the R1150GS Adventure which features a huge 30-litre (or 22-litre as an option) tank and upgraded suspension.
2004 – The GS sheds a staggering 30kg as well as gaining a new 1170cc engine and CAN-bus technology. The R1200GS is the most advanced GS to date.
2006 – The R1200GS Adventure is launched with a huge 33-litre tank, engine protector bars and long travel suspension.
2010 – The GS’s engine becomes double overhead cam for the first time, inheriting a version of the HP2’s motor with 8bhp more power.
2013 – A completely new R1200GS is launched with a partially water-cooled engine, semi-active suspension and ride by wire with variable fuel modes for the first time.

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Jon Urry

By Jon Urry

MCN contributor, original 916 & R1-owner, human labrador