Frame and Suspension
BMW developed an all-new frame to go with the water boxer motor. This new frame consists of “continuous tubular steel bridge-type frame”. Yea. OK. Sounds good. What I DO like about the new frame is that it is noticeably narrower between the knees. This is VERY nice for off-road riders and even for those who don’t get off-road so much. For us dirt riders, it makes the bike easier to grip with the knees and stand on the bike. Nobody will ever mistake the big GS as a skinny dirt bike, but it is much narrower in the waist compared to previous versions. And while the narrow waist of the new GS is much welcomed, I did notice that the bike widened out very quickly as you move forward or rearward on the bike. For example, riding up a steep off road hill I like to stand up and lean forward over the handlebars. My knees quickly were forced to spread wide as the tank/seat junction widened noticeably. The same goes for going downhill while standing. I like to stand up, crouch low, bend at the waist, and try to get my butt back over the rear of the bike. This tends to move your knees forward and again the tank widens quickly in this area. It is not as much of a problem when riding downhill as it is noticeable when riding uphill.
For street-oriented riders, this makes the bike seem shorter since your legs don’t have to straddle the additional width of the bike.
Another feature I like about the new frame is that the rear subframe is completely removable and replaceable, like a dirt bike. This is a nice feature on dirt bikes in that if you bend the rear subframe, you can easily replace it without replacing the entire bike frame. I am not sure how important this is going to be on a 570 lb dirt bike, since if you crash a BMW R1200GS Adventure hard enough to bend the subframe, you have most likely bent a lot more than just the subframe.
Aluminum fuel tank
As part of the 2014 GS Adventure upgrade, the fuel tank was switched from injection-molded ABS plastic to aluminum. BMW claims this increases fuel capacity and reduces weight. The thinner walls of the aluminum tank allow increased fuel capacity while taking up less volume.
Personally I am unsure about the benefits of the new fuel tank. During my one day on the bike, much of it standing while riding off-road, my knees left clear and unmistakable scuff marks on the aluminum tank where my knees rubbed grit into the painted aluminum. The tank also seems vulnerable to dents and dings from get-offs, rocks, and other projectiles hitting the thin walled aluminum. My existing 2008 GS tank seems much more durable, but I may just be imagining this increased durability. The side panels on my 2008 model are aluminum and my knees rub against those slightly while standing, but have never worn the paint. I am not sure why the paint started wearing on the 2014 model so quickly. Maybe the position of the tank, or the more narrow bike profile lets my knees rub more? Not sure.
The windshield on the 2014 BMW GS Adventure is easily adjustable with your left hand while riding. This is a nice change from the older Adventures, which required you to be off the bike and adjust the windshield with both hands. Hence, on my older model I pretty much just set my windshield where I liked it and left it that way. With the new GS I actually adjusted my windshield several times while riding – higher for highway use and lower for off-road use. This ease of adjustability while riding means I might actually use that feature more often.
My current 2008 BMW GS Adventure has ESA suspension installed. When I first got the bike I thought this would be just an expensive add-on that I would seldom if ever use. I was wrong. After many miles with an ESA equipped bike I discovered this was a VERY valuable feature. Most riders like me pretty well set their suspension when they first get the bike, and then seldom adjust it. Oh, maybe if you carry a passenger and the rear spring preload is easy to adjust, you might crank it up a bit to reduce sag, but in reality, how often do you adjust your suspension settings? If you are racing then I can see the suspension being adjusted for track conditions, but I am guessing well over 90% of riders seldom adjust their suspension and certainly not on an every ride basis.
With ESA you can do exactly that – easily and quickly adjust your front and rear suspension for each and ever ride, and in fact, for different parts of the ride. And it works. It works very well and is VERY noticeable. When I have the bike set for street riding, then hop off-road and hit washboard bumps, the rear rebound is set too soft and the bike squats as it accelerates. Switch the ESA to off-road mode and this tendency disappears – the rear of the bike just tracks the washboard ruts and doesn’t try to fishtail around.
The 2014 R1200 GS Adventure offers ESA on both the rear and front suspension. I experimented with several modes both on and off road and could immediately tell the improvement when switching to the proper mode. The bike works much, much better with the proper suspension settings – just like you would expect. And you don’t have to stop, get off the bike, and turn knobs or grab an air compressor to adjust the settings. This means you are far more likely to use the proper suspension settings for each riding condition.
What I would like to see next with ESA suspension is the ability to fine tune each setting using a laptop or smart phone. This way I could set spring preload just for my weight, make adjustments to compression and rebound settings to fit my specific riding style, and fine tune the suspension just for me. I expect to see this in the near future since it will be fairly easy to implement. Can you imaging pulling your bike into the shop, connecting to it with bluetooth, reading a data log of your last ride, then making minor changes to each mode to better adjust the bike for your riding style? That would be totally cool.
Handlebars and Switch Controls
The handlebars are the perfect height for me (I am 6’ tall) once I rolled them up just a bit so that they were at a better angle while standing. Some riders like much taller handlebars and will install risers, but I prefer mine a bit lower like on a dirt bike. I want my controls to fall easily a my fingertips while standing so that I can ride off-road with a relaxed hand grip. During rugged off-road riding I prefer to grip the bike with my knees and have a very light touch on the grips. This seems to substantially reduce the dreaded arm pump, keeps my mass centered over the bike, and gives me greater feel for how the front tire is gripping the dirt.
I did notice that BMW changed the turn signal configuration from their quirky and unique arraignment to a more standard configuration where the turn signals are controlled completely on the left handlebar. Just when I got used to and fell in love with their odd setup! Dangit! Having ridden dirt bikes and sport bikes for years, it took me months to get used to the old BMW turn signal configuration where you have a signal control on each grip. After 40,000 miles on my 2008 R1200GS I have come to love and prefer this setup. Oh well. The other way works just fine and is much more standardized.
I don’t have a lot of say about all the buttons and dials on the bike. I didn’t get to spend enough time to learn what all they do. The controller for the GPS on the left handlebar seemed nice but I do NOT like the BWM (Garmin) Zumo-based GPS interface – never have. I prefer the older but much easier to use off-road Garmin GPS-Map 276C interface. (More on that in a different post). Much of our riding was off-road and I don’t like to take my eyes of the road ahead to fiddle with dials, settings, and buttons on the handlebar. They seemed to work fine.
I was not all that impressed with the dashboard. It is a nice layout, but while riding the bike a lot of warning lights would come on in regards to traction control, ABS and ESA. For example, the traction control and ABS warning light glows when you turn those off, and they look exactly the same. I couldn’t remember which light was ABS and which was traction control. This made it hard to tell at a glance what was on and what system was turned off. I also don’t understand why a warning light should glow when a system is turned off. Nothing is broken. Wouldn’t some type of indicator work better than glowing warning light? Save the warning lights for system problems.
I did like the fact that you can set up the Enduro and Enduro Pro mode while the bike is moving, and those modes will stay that way even when the bike is turned off. There is NOTHING more frustrating than to be riding off-road on your GS with your ABS turned off, pulling over to rest and shoot the breeze with your buddies, then everyone takes off again and oh wait – you have to stop again and turn the damn ABS off because it turned itself back on when the bike turned on! I am SO glad they did away with that stupid setup.
Frame & Suspension Summary
Overall I really liked the improvements to the new 2014 BMW R1200GS Adventure. I really liked the much narrower frame/seat junction area. ESA has always been good – expensive but it works as advertised and is something I use on a regular basis. Not sure how the aluminum tank is going to fare – time will tell on that issue. I do like how the motor is much better configured and important parts are not hanging out in the breeze where they can be easily damaged. The luggage is the usual solid BMW gear. You can buy better luggage aftermarket, but the BMW aluminum panniers are plenty durable, well made and worth the money.
If you already have an R1200 GS Adventure, I don’t know that the upgrades are worth the cost of upgrading. Nice to have, definitely and improvement on the older model, but probably not enough of an improvement to warrant an upgrade unless you are an oil or software billionaire. If you are riding an older bike like the 1150 GS Adventure, then the upgrades are HUGE and well worth the upgrade cost. And if you are just getting into the big adventure bike market, you will be very hard pressed to find a better choice of bikes. The BMW R1200GS and GS Adventure are the market leaders and for good reason. All the other manufacturers are vying for second place.