Then one day you’re casually trying to cram old pants, one sock, your wallet and half a set of waterproofs into an old school bag ahead of a four-hour ride home. You’ve been partying at BSB for three days solid, in your leathers. You smell like the inside of an ass and you just want to get you and your hangover home. As you’re contorting your kit onto your bike, a bloke walks up, slings a weekend’s worth of kit in one pannier and pulls a fresh set of riding gear out of the other. Within seconds, he’s packed up, climbed on his GS and gone. You’re left scratching your head and not just because you haven’t washed your hair for days. How can it be?
The next stage happens quite quickly. You decide to book a test ride on a GS, just to see what all the bloody fuss is about. You don’t tell your mates in case they disown you. You go for the ride and you buy one that day. “Sign here sir, and welcome to the world of civilised motorcycling.” Your life just changed forever.
If this sounds familiar, you probably already know just how good the BMW R/GS series already is. If you’re not quite there yet, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but just give it some time and you’ll get there. Appreciating the virtues of the BMW GS is as inevitable as getting grey hair in your beard. The sooner you get your head around it, the better. Read on and do just that.
Due to the nature of my job, I’ve managed to dodge the charms of the GS fairly well for years. I first realised they were good about 11 years ago. I realised they were amazing last week in Spain during this press ride of the 2019 GS Adventure.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes the GS and in particular the Adventure variant so good at what it does, but it’s not impossible to look at each area and see what’s been improved over the last few years. Lets start with the motor.
The Boxer Twin has grown to 1254cc, is air/oil cooled and now runs Shift Cam technology. In short, Shift Cam allows variable valve timing and valve stroke on the inlet cycle, as well as asynchronous opening of both valves. Asynchronous is not a word I use everyday, so I looked it up. It means ‘not happening at the same time’ and in the context of this motor means that it’s possible to make the two inlet valves open at different times, causing an enhanced swirl of the air fuel mixture as it enters the combustion chamber. This enhanced swirl literally equals a better bang for your buck. Click this video to bring these words to life.
The Shift Cam is actuated in one of two ways, the first is via a throttle position sensor. If you opt for a large throttle opening, the bike realises you mean business and the shift cam goes to work. If you gently accelerate across the 7,750rpm available before peak power, the shift cam will shift at 5000rpm. No, you can’t feel it, yes it is very clever and yes, it is similar to the system that Audi use on some of their engines. The Audi Valvelift system works on exhaust rather than inlet valves though, which means Audi gives better blow for your money than BMW does. Take out of that what you will.
Numbers wise, peak power has been pushed to 136bhp at 7750rpm, torque has also been boosted to a healthy 143Nm at 6250rpm. Two things strike me as interesting here. The first is that during the press launch of the BMW HP2 Sport in 2008, a very efficient man told me that BMW had reached the peak of technical evolution in power terms for the Boxer Twin motor. That bike made 128bhp at the crank at 8750rpm and here we are a decade down the line making more power using fewer revs. Granted there’s been an increase in engine capacity, but only by 84cc so certainly not enough to claim anymore than a whisker of the power increase. The second thing that’s interesting for me is the notion that adding more power still makes a bike better than its predecessor. This is of course true, but lets not kid ourselves. The Net improvements in power terms are beneficial for us but they’re a result of the Gross requirement to beat emissions regulations. The GS is the cash cow of the BMW range, it was critical that this bike remained EU Emissions friendly and BMW has managed that. Fair play to them, I say.
The rest of the bike is pretty special as well but it’s the Shift Cam system that’ll be the thing you end up boring your old sports bike riding friends to tears with on Facebook. It’s a beautifully simple system that I enjoy watching slow mo videos of just as much as Ducati Desmo valve videos. I need to get out more.
Get out more we did, onto some of my favourite roads in Spain. Andalucian sun shone down on our target market baldy heads as we prepped for a day of old man biking in style.
Within about 85 seconds of leaving our hotel, the first wheelie of the day was lazily dragged out of bed and fired down the approach road to a dual carriageway. It wasn’t mine but it looked pretty fucking cool, so I did one too. My mental rolodex flicked back to the last time I rode a GS, or indeed any boxer twin. There was no memory of wheelies, which made me appreciate the engine work that BMW has done even more
I was comfortable as well. Not just a little bit comfortable, but properly settled in for a ten-hour day in the saddle comfortable. The screen is easy to adjust with one hand and has a huge span of adjustment. The bars are wide and pitched at a relaxed height in relation to the seat. The seat itself felt firm and squishy in perfect measure and the pegs were right underneath the centres of my feet without any effort. I also had the heated grips on, and the cruise control. In fact, I poked and prodded every single button I could find to see what they did. There are a lot of buttons on this bike. Each time I pushed something new, the TFT dash told me what I’d just done. The dash itself is the cleanest and most legible of any TFT system I’ve seen. It’s 6.5 inches across so you would expect it to be easy to read, but the layout of the info contained within it is also very clever.
Clever like the suspension, which adjusts electronically if you tick the Dynamic ESA option box. I’ll be honest, I gelled with the bike in minutes. One area I was hoping to find something to pick a fault with was the brakes. Previously Brembo, but now made by some weird mountain bike related company called Hayes.
I had a look at their history and they appear to be very good at what they do. Seventy years in the business and various supply contracts from power sports (Skidoos and ATV stuff) to Military grade systems. It’s understandable that BMW will have looked around for the most efficient system in terms of unit price as well as performance, business is business after all. On the road the front brakes on this bike were faultless in any riding scenario. Faultless might not sound good, so I’ll upgrade that to brilliant. One finger light and absolutely packed with feel at the lever, I was hugely impressed. Shedding speed from 100mph down to 20 for second gear hairpin bends was fun, completely controllable and consistent all day. If you have concerns over there not being a fancy badge on the brakes, just look at the rear calliper as that’s still Brembo. If you have concerns over the performance, I can tell you now you’re wasting your time worrying.
Our road ride was at a comfortably quick pace and the GS Adventure loved it. Fluid direction changes, punchy drive out of every corner and relaxed cruising in between. There’s a reason why you see so many of these things out on the road and it’s not just because of Ewan and Charlie. Not only was the pace easy to manage, but it was also fun. Genuine smiles at junctions and people putting a warm hand over warmer tyres at the coffee stop was a clear sign to me that I wasn’t the only one enjoying myself.
We based ourselves in the car park at Almeria circuit, much to the amusement of the track day riders that were there too. Textile jackets and hinged helmets hung everywhere. We looked like that guy I described earlier. If only the track day guys knew how capable this bike was out on the road.
One of the things that needs mentioning with the GS Adventure is the fuel tank, because it’s ginormous. At thirty litres, there’s an achievable 400 mile range on a full tank. In theory, I could leave my house in London with a full tank and ride to Spain with only one stop for fuel. That’s almost, but not quite as amazing as the Shift Cam system. Naturally you’ll use more fuel if you try harder and we had to test the Shift Cam system as much as possible, so the claimed figure of 59.6mpg dropped in to the low 40s or high 39s. We didn’t spend much time at one speed on boring motorways though, thank God.
It wasn’t all road riding, a couple of the bikes had the road friendly Bridgestone A41 rubber swapped out for knobbly Metzeler Karoos so that we could experience the bike in the dirt as well. For this section, I removed the seat and adjusted it into the lower position. Obviously because I’m so naturally gifted off road, I spent most of the ride stood on the pegs, but stopping and starting is easier if you have a better foot hold and shaving 20mm of seat height from 910 to 890mm did exactly that for me.
Remember I rode the Ducati Multistrada Enduro not long ago and spent half a day off road on that thing, so I had a benchmark in my head. If anything, I was surprised to find after the gentle off road section that I preferred the GS Adventure’s road manners (not strictly performance based) to the Ducati, but would opt for the Multi Enduro over the GS Adventure in an off road section. Both bikes are big, both have stacks of systems to help keep you heading where you need to go but in terms of feel, I preferred the suspension on the Ducati. Also, when I said I was naturally gifted off road, I actually meant that I was very average, so I’m not talking about pushing any kind of limits here. What I did find was that I was able to cruise at 50mph along the tracks and trails we hit in complete comfort. The bike was busy beneath me but it was doing all the work.
Once we’d finished off road, we packed up and headed back to the hotel. At this stage the ride turned into a 268kg cat herding competition. There may have been a few motorway wheelies, I can’t remember as I wasn’t even there. I heard it was great fun and we all enjoyed a cold beer after a properly cool day on great bikes. Would the day have been better if we were all on S1000RRs? It would have been faster, but I’m not sure if it would have been better. My name is John and I’m a huge fan of the BMW GS Adventure. There, I’ve said it. I mean it too.
The bit about money.
The base spec GS Adventure costs £14,415, you only get a couple of riding modes at this price. For £14,865 you could go for the Rally model, which looks cooler and has gold wheels. The TE model is the one with three extra riding modes (including Dynamic Pro and Enduro Pro), an excellent quick shifter, heated grips and other toys, that costs £17,550 and is the one you need to aim for. If you can stretch to that one, you really should go the whole hog at £18,100 and opt for the Rally TE which has everything you could possibly want in a GS.