It made for an interesting comparison – getting off the old 1100 GS and straight onto Bavaria’s latest and allegedly finest new incarnation of the brand: the water cooled 1200. All the more so because the same route was used for both machines, on and off road….
The most noticeable difference between the two bikes is weight. You can feel a relative lack of it on the 1200. Which is surprising, because road ready the old 1100 was only 5 – 7 kilos heavier than the new 1200 (weighing in at 238 kilos fuelled), despite boasting a larger tank with greater capacity. In other words, the 1200 is more adept at disguising its weight than the 11, meaning it feels better balanced and a lot more agile. Airhead fans will be quick to be point out that the original R80 GS weighed in far lighter than either at 186 kilos fuelled up. Thus 35 odd years of development have bequeathed us a new machine over 50 kilos heavier than the progenitor – a single fact which neatly sums up one of the most regrettable trends in motorcycle design (as previously discussed): on the whole, bikes are still getting heavier. Intelligent weight distribution can offset the sensation of bulk on the move, but given two otherwise identical machines, the lighter one will always have a greater capacity for corner speed. And with the GS we’re talking about a bike with off-road pretensions, where excess tonnage can be a far more challenging proposition than on the tarmac.
ABOVE: the weird and the wonderful: an eclectic mix of 11s with a 12 on holiday……
The real lard arse in the pack was the rose tinted 1150 GS, the heaviest of the lot: one of the aims of the original 1200 design was to reduce obesity, and this it unsurprisingly managed to do – it’s easy to forget that the 1150 pulled an obscene 249 kilos all up.. The new 1200 is slightly heavier than the outgoing model, doubtless a legacy of the water cooled unit.
Fortunately, the new bike has much more to offer than an impressive ability to disguise its bulk. As previously highlighted on Bikerglory, modern electronics packages are an undeniable benefit to road riders, a fact assimilated faster by consumers than many media observers. The new 1200 offers ABS, ASC i.e. BMW’s take on TC, Electronic Suspension Adjustment and a variety of modes, including two Enduro settings. The chosen mode sets the parameters within which ABS and ASC work. This is most spectacularly evidenced in the Enduro modes, permitting controlled spinning up of the rear and controlled braking on gravel.
Cutting to the chase, the off road experience illustrated a massive gulf between the two machines. Both a novice off roader – me – and an experienced enduro rider benefited from the unexpected agility, poise and control effortlessly exhibited by the new model wearing standard, road orientated tyres. Despite its new found, tarmac orientated sporty pretensions, the 1200 impressed me most off road. The old bike had this rider considering the consequences of floundering under 250 kilos of Bavarian steel – and then having to pick the whole shooting match off the floor….
However…. it must be said that the contest was closer than might have been expected – as long as the action stayed on straight-ish tarmac: the 11 offers classic GS bend swinging fun, but it can’t compete with the new bike, especially in tighter conditions. What the 1100 does do is sit comfortably at 80 mph, its five speed box and fat mid range encouraging sensible speeds while facilitating smooth, clutchless overtakes. You never really feel the need to push, because the bike gobbles up the miles effortlessly at a decent road pace. The 1200 on the other hand has distinct sporty aspirations. Dynamic mode offers a firmer suspension setting by default and a more ‘direct’ throttle response. The water cooled lump suggests that utilising the upper part of the range on a regular basis would be welcome – but this enhanced tarmac performance capability raises some serious questions.
With the new 1200, the GS has moved towards more sporty adventure bikes, like the Multistrada and KTM 1190 Adventure. The problem is that the bars and ride position (attitude) are fundamentally less well suited to the kind of speeds the 1200 can cope with. In dynamic mode approaching 100 mph, you can feel a disconnect between arms, hands and front tyre that is entirely absent from a decent sports tourer, the class usurped by the new generation of adventure bikes – all of which are to some extent are compromised by aerodynamics once their newly found power is properly wound on. And for that matter BMW’s own R1200R, a naked bike, offers a far more dialled in ride on the road than the GS. Hit a surprise segment of poor road surface at speed while on the GS’s firmer suspension setting, and you know you’ve moved a few degrees away from complete control.
Arguably the older oil cooled engine is better suited to the traditional GS posture, precisely because you are unlikely to be doing the kind of speeds which could upset it. In a way the constant uprating of adventure bike power has created a new problem, requiring a new solution: semi active suspension. The GS will doubtless be sporting this technology in the future. The new 1200 out-handles the 11 everywhere on and off piste except in precisely the circumstances described above: straight line cruising on variable surfaces. If all you were doing was a predominantly uninspiring commute there would be an argument for spending a bit over two grand on a decent 11, and keeping the balance of the cost of a brand new 12 in the bank – we’re talking the fat side of ten grand. But venture further afield – or into a field – and that missing ten k becomes easier to justify. Few will be faced with a choice between a twenty year old two grand bike and a current year model update, but the comparison higlights an important issue. Inteneded application should be a key determinant when buying …..
Coming soon: a buyers guide to a GS on the cheap……