Review: BMW R 1200 GS Rallye

Since many years the BMW R 1200 GS is a best-seller in a lot of a markets. But you’ll have to admit it doesn’t score much eye candy points. So what did the Germans do to make the 1200 GS such a success? Time to find out, because – to the surprise of the peeps at BMW HQ – I had never ridden this chart-buster.

The GS story started in 1980 with the R 80 G/S. More than 35 years of development and improvement later I have a date with the 2017 BMW R 1200 GS. Compared to the 2016 model, there are no huge changes. A minor Euro4 update of the boxer engine, minimal stylistic modifications, some new electronics. The biggest news: there are two versions of the GS. The Exclusive version for those who fancy a classy appearance, the Rallye version for those with off-road dreams. I rode the Rallye for a week.

A beast with an image (problem)

The BMW R 1200 GS Rallye stands out with its blue paint job. If you ask me it’s one of the best-looking color schemes in 1200 GS history. Lupin blue metallic it’s called. The Rallye version underlines the off-road character of this GS with cross-spoke wheels, large Adventure footpegs without rubber inserts, a flat Rallye seat, a stainless steel radiator guard, a low windshield and no centerstand. Just add a decent set of allroad tires, a skid plate and engine protection bars and you’re good to go on that all-road adventure.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get BMW’s permission to test the GS off-road. Too bad. On the other hand: only a minority of all GS’s sold will ever leave the paved roads. So chances are that if you read this you’ll never even plan to ride off-road.

My first motorcycle was a BMW F 650 GS and when I just started riding that motorbike, I couldn’t imagine ever riding a 1200 GS. Such a big and heavy looking bike. How can you master such a behemoth? Who would even consider riding that thing off-road?! And then there’s its image. Or should I say image problem? Because of its price tag it’s often seen as a (rather expensive) toy to counter a midlife crisis. The GS almost feels like some kind of a status symbol. At the same time, due to its success it suffers from flavorlessness. Everybody has a GS. Quite boring, isn’t it?

Not easily disoriented

But once you hop in the saddle, the R 1200 GS wins you over effortlessly. To begin with, it’s incredibly easy to ride. You’ll rarely notice you’re handling 240 kg of Bavarian steel. It’s striking how balanced and even light the bike feels.

It doesn’t matter if you brake hard or ride full throttle: the GS is always stable and perfectly manageable. Slow and tight manoeuvres can be done with extreme precision and lots of control. Same story for fast cornering.

The GS gives so much confidence you might start thinking “Hmmm, I could take that corner faster” or “Gosh, a bit of off-road can’t be that hard, can it?”. Of course BMW has developed a lot of things to help you with that. Let’s start with the suspension and the brakes.

The brakes do an excellent job. They are predictable and accurate. When braking hard there’s barely any nose-dive and when accelerating full throttle the front end rises less than you’d expect. In both cases the stability remains excellent.

Whether that’s a consequence of the standard suspension or the optional semi-active suspension Dynamic ESA, I can’t tell you. Only a test with a GS sans ESA would make that clear. However I got one with. Dynamic ESA continuously monitors the bike’s conditions and adjusts the suspension accordingly. There are two ESA settings to choose from: Road and Dynamic. The Dynamic setting is stiffer while the Road setting offers more comfort. If you like to keep a firm pace, the Road setting will cause some agitation in the rear end, so you better choose Dynamic.

While the previous ESA generation allowed you to specify the load of the bike (solo, duo, with or without luggage), the latest ESA anticipates automatically to the bike’s load and adjusts its settings subsequently. For more info about Dynamic ESA, over to Reiner.

Traction control (in BMW lingo: ASC or Automatic Stability Control) and ABS are both standard on the GS, but neither has a lean angle sensor. If you fancy that sensor, search the option list for ABS Pro and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC). Whether you choose with or without the sensor, both ABS and traction control can be switched off with a simple push on a button. Quite practical for those who like some off-roading.

Those who like some off-roading might consider the optional Riding Modes Pro. Without them, the GS has two riding modes: Rain and Road. If you purchase the Riding Modes Pro, you also get Dynamic, Enduro, Dynamic Pro and Enduro Pro. You can set the latter two completely to your liking. The riding modes influence the throttle response, ABS, traction control, ESA and sound. Which influence exactly is easily deductable from the riding modes’ nomenclature. For example, the Enduro riding mode allows minimal brake locking and slight slipping, and has a softer throttle response. More details? Reiner to the rescue.

So should you really spend money on the Pro Riding Modes? The Dynamic mode indeed has a more direct throttle response, but I’m not sure it’s worth the cash. I think the off-road guys can do their thing easily with just the riding modes and the disengagable ABS and traction control of the standard configuration. Although the ABS Pro and DTC are great options. You won’t need them every day, but they might save your ass more than once.

Enough options banter for now, let’s talk a bit about the two-cylinder boxer. With 125 hp and 125 Nm the GS is not the strongest allroad on the market but it has more than enough power to put a big smile on your face. It takes up quickly in low rpm’s without being jerky and shows quite some muscle till you reach the limiter.

Rodeo ride

With the quickshifter you amplify the sporty character of the BMW R 1200 GS. The Switch Assistant Pro (as BMW calls the quickshifter) lets you switch up and down clutchlessly. Though it’s not a cheap option it isn’t flawless. Upshifting for instance is best done when you’re accelerating decidedly. If not the GS might act like a rodeo horse. Also the sixspeed gearbox has room for improvement. For example the 1200 GS regularly bucks when you kick it into first gear.

The Akrapovic exhaust (an accessory too of course) also adds a good amount of sportiness. The GS gets a louder and sportier sound. If you switch up with the quickshifter, the Akra will usually treat you to sweet pops. Sometimes when you close the throttle too. For some this will be a bit too much but you won’t hear me complaining.

The small (and standard) Rallye windshield can be raised and lowered with a wonderful no-nonsense button, which you can easily do while riding. It doesn’t lead all the wind away from you but in the highest position it does a remarkably good job. And if you plan to do off-road, you simply don’t want a high windshield.

If you do plan to do off-road, maybe you should look into the the optional sports suspension. It’s based on the R 1200 GS Adventure’s suspension and raises the ground clearance of the GS Rallye by 20 mm, enlarges the travel and shortens the wheelbase.

The sitting position is straight-up and comfortable, with the arms in a wide, relaxed position and the legs in a convenient angle. The Rallye seat on the test motorcycle was the low version: 860 mm high whereas the standard Rallye seat is 880 mm. The seat is rather narrow, so you have a better position when standing on the footpegs. On the other hand it doesn’t offer enough space to ride comfortably with a passenger. It’s also quite firm and at certain rpm’s it transfers some of the engine’s vibrations (just like the handle bars and the footpegs by the way). But I didn’t find it disturbing enough to start whining.

Conclusion

Maybe its dull image scares you off, maybe you don’t really like its looks, maybe its price seems too high. Well, maybe you should put these prejudices and objections aside and testride a BMW R 1200 GS. Because this is a sublime machine. It just rides fantastic. It behaves a lot easier, lighter and more agile than you’d expect. Its stable riding behavior also stands out. And the Rallye trim just looks cool.

The GS Rallye has everything to be the ultimate all-rounder with a high comfort level and an engine that has plenty of punch. And countless videos and reports prove that off-road it can often handle more than the average guy/girl who buys it.

After this first encounter with the GS I finally understand why you regularly see 1200 GS owners switching their old GS for the new model. This is an icon, and rightly so. If I had more money in the bank, I wouldn’t doubt for a minute.

Pros

+ Excellent riding behaviour
+ Remarkable maneuverability and stability
+ High comfort level
+ Boxer engine: lively and full of character

Cons

– Gearbox lacks refinement
– Expensive toy to play in the mud
– Vibrations at certain speeds

Tech specs

Engine type: Air/liquid-cooled four stroke flat twin engine, double overhead camshaft, one balance shaft
Bore x stroke : 101 x 73 mm
Displacement: 1,170 cc
Power: 92 kW (125 hp) at 7,750 rpm
Torque: 125 Nm at 6,500 rpm
Compression ratio: 12.5 : 1
Engine Management: Electronic intake pipe injection
Emissions: Closed-loop 3-way catalytic converter, emission standard EU-4
Top Speed: Over 125 mph
Fuel Type: Unleaded super, octane number 95 (RON)
Alternator: Three-phase alternator 510 W (nominal power)
Battery: 12 V / 11,8 Ah, maintenance-free
Clutch: Oil lubricated clutch, hydraulically operated
Gearbox: Constant mesh 6-speed gearbox with helical gear teeth
Drive System: Shaft drive
Frame Type: Two-section frame, front- and bolted on rear frame, load-bearing engine
Front Suspension: BMW Motorrad Telelever; stanchion diameter 37 mm, central spring strut
Rear Suspension: Cast aluminium single-sided swing arm with BMW Motorrad Paralever; Dynamic ESA Semi-Active Suspension
Wheels: Cross Spoke
Front Wheel Travel: 8.3″ (210 mm)
Rear Wheel Travel: 8.7″ (220 mm)
Front Wheel: 3.00 x 19″
Rear Wheel: 4.50 x 17″
Front Tire: 120/70 R 19
Rear Tire: 170/60 R 17
Front braking system: Dual disc brake, floating brake discs, diameter 305 mm, 4-piston radial calipers
Rear braking system: Single disc brake, diameter 276 mm, double-piston floating caliper
ABS Option: BMW Motorrad Integral ABS (part-integral), disengageable
Wheelbase: 59.3″ (1,507 mm)
Castor: 3.9″ (99.6 mm)
Steering: 64.5°
Length: 86.9″ (2,207 mm)
Width: 37.5″ (952,5 mm) incl. mirrors
Height: 55.6″ (1.412 mm) excl. mirrors
Seat Height: 34.6″ (880mm) for the standard Rallye seat
Unloaded Weight: Road ready, fully fuelled: 538 lbs. (244 kg)
Weight Max Capacity: 1,014 lbs. (460 kg)
Payload Capacity: 476 lbs. (216 kg) (with standard equipment)
Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gal (20 l)
Fuel Reserve: Approx. 1 gal. (4 l)

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