The Motor. Oh, that motor.
I must admit I have a soft spot in my heart for the GS boxer motor. My only experience with the boxer is my 4 years on my R1200 GS Adventure. I had never ridden a boxer motor before. I was more into horsepower – Japanese sport bikes and monsterly fast sport tourers, and powerful single cylinder dirt bike motors. (Side note: When is more power too much? KX-500. That is all I’m going to say.) When I finally decided to purchase my R1200GS Adventure, I was quite pleasantly surprised by the motor. The more I rode the bike the more I fell in love with those parallel cylinders sticking out in the breeze. It had lots of grunt, a lot of low end torque, was quite manageable in off-road conditions, but provided plenty of power to get out on the highway and pass cars and trucks and everything short of a liter class sport bike. Have you ever wondered why BMW owners are so loyal to the brand? I will tell you why. It is the boxer motor. That thing is sweet.
So how does BMW improve on an already awesome power unit? Carefully and thoughtfully. They know first hand how much people love that motor. BMW can make any motor they want – aka S1000RR, the K bike, etc., – yet they continue to make the venerable boxer. Why? Because people who have ridden one love it. Ever wonder why the BMW RT is still in production when BMW makes more powerful and sophisticated motors in other bikes? It is because the boxer motor works and works very, very well. People, including me, fall in love with it and keep demanding it.
BMW’s upgrade to liquid cooling on the boxer is well written about so I am not going to cover that in detail. What I will say is that the motor in the R1200 GS Adventure is da bomb. It was hard for me to fathom, but it is even better than the previous boxer motor. BMW didn’t screw it up, they just refined it and made it even better.
First off, there is more power. More power everywhere, from off idle as you pull away from a stop sign to more power as you crack the throttle leaving a tight turn on a dusty road to more power as you rocket out of a berm. On the dirt, you seldom, if ever, use the boxer motor in the meat of its power band, up around 5,000-7,000 RPM. You would be on your head if you tried. Coming out of a tight turn on a dirt road with limited traction, you must be careful with the throttle or the rear tire will light up and try to trade places with the front. The GS offers traction control designed for of-road use that limits this tendency. I rode the bike both with and without traction control. Off-road traction control allows you to slide the rear tire in a power slide, but only just a bit, just enough to make you feel like a hero. It worked quite well but I prefer to control the rear slide of the bike with my throttle hand. So most of the time I rode the dirt with traction control off. To do this you must be very, very careful with the throttle or the bike will quickly swap ends in poor traction conditions.
Throttle by Wire
During our briefing I was told this new GS has “throttle-by-wire” – in other words, the throttle is not directly connected by a cable to the throttle bodies. Instead the throttle position is deciphered by a computer, which is then processed with a lot of other info – air temperature and pressure, wheel slip, engine RPM and a dozen other variables – and the computer then commands the throttle bodies to open and control how much fuel is fed to the engine. I was concerned this would degrade throttle feel. I needn’t have worried. I forgot about the throttle by wire and only after riding the bike most of the day did I remember that my wrist wasn’t directly tied to the throttle. BMW engineers have done a very good job of providing a good feel for the throttle.
Ease of Maintenance
I think one overlooked item when purchasing a bike is the ease of maintaining the bike. I do all my own maintenance on my motorcycles. Some bikes are a piece of cake to work on. Others are much more difficult. My R1200 GS Adventure has always been a pleasure to work on. All the important parts hang out where you can easily get to them. I can change the oil, final drive lubricant, and adjust the valves in about an hour. Try THAT on a KTM 950/990 Adventure! Even if you hire your maintenance done, you pay for someone elses time, so if your bike is easy to work on it costs less to own.
The biggest complaint with maintaining the boxer motor – changing the clutch – has been eliminated with the new motor. The clutch has been moved from the back of the motor to the front, where it can easily be accessed and changed with minimal work. I have not yet seen how much work is involved to change the clutch in the new boxer motor, but it HAS to be easier than with the old motor, which required splitting the engine to reach the clutch. Good job BMW.
As mentioned earlier, the clutch has been moved to the front of the motor rather than the rear. This makes it MUCH easier to change the clutch on the boxer twin, much to the happiness of many BMW off-road riders. I have found myself babying the clutch of my GSA just because I didn’t want to go through the time, hassle and expensive of changing the clutch if I burned my unit out. The new clutch eliminates this worry.
BMW claims the clutch pull is 20% lighter on the new GS Adventure. Personally, I couldn’t tell any difference. After riding off-road for hours with lots of clutch action, I again found my hand tiring from the effort required to pull the clutch on the bike. So I cannot say the clutch is easier. It isn’t harder than my old bike, but doesn’t seem any easier.
What I did notice on the new GS Adventure was the lack of clutch feel. As an off-road rider and sometimes trials rider, I like the ability to “feel” the clutch go through the engagement point, the “friction zone” as some call it. When doing slow speed work I often drag the clutch on my bikes, only partially engaging the clutch while simultaneously applying brake to enable very slow speed operation. Working the clutch and brake together allows me to balance the bike and recover from an imbalanced position. It was hard for me to tell when the clutch started engagement, when it was slipping, and when it was fully engaged. I think a wider friction zone would help. The 2014 GS Adventure clutch seemed either engaged or disengaged, with a very narrow friction zone in between. It was very hard to work the area in between for slow riding and control. For normal street riding and much off-road riding this will not be an issue, but for slow speed work where I am trying to creep through a rough section, finesse the bike over or around rocks, or doing tight turns in a parking lot, the GS Adventure clutch is not optimal.
By nature I HATE traction control. It is just who I am. I am a typical American dirt bike rider with the philosophy “when in doubt, hit the gas.” This is contrary to the technique used by many European riders, who have more of a trials background and are more into finessing the bike. Even street riders learn the benefits of finesse, less they break traction loose on the back of the bike coming out of a corner. American flat trackers and dirt bike riders take the “point-and-shoot” approach – brake into a corner, turn the bike, get it on the meat of the tire, then whack the throttle open to blast to the next corner.
Most of the ride in Sedona I did with traction control turned off. But I knew I needed to test the electronics off-road so for 1/4 of my ride I turned traction control mode on. It worked exactly as advertised – I could get a small power slide out of the rear exiting a tight corner, and the bike wouldn’t try to swap ends with too much power at the rear. This will be a welcomed feature by many riders, especially those not experienced with riding in the dirt. Without traction control the big GS likes likes to swap ends in a hurry. The added power and ultra-responsive throttle, well loved by people like me, can be very hard to control without careful throttle usage, or an electronic aid like traction control. I had a couple of occasions where I almost added too much power and crashed my brains out. I had to be very, very careful with the throttle in loose dirt and gravel lest I end up on my head or under my bike.
The new GS motor was designed with off-road use in mind. All the delicate parts such as the throttle bodies and oil filter are tucked up and out of harms way. In the past if you wanted to fully protect your boxer from rocks you needed to purchase a catalog full of “farkles” to protect expensive engine components. Now it looks to me like all you need is a good skid plate (the stock one should only be used on pavement or very light gravel roads) and radiator protection (covered later) and you are good to go.
Ah, the downside of liquid cooling is the need for a radiator – those huge rock magnets with delicate fins and tubing that pass cooling air through precious liquid. Rocks don’t pass so well through those delicate cooling fins. In fact rocks can wreak havoc on radiators and can easily leave you stranded, or worse yet, with a seized motor.
BMW has done a good job of placing the radiators of the new GS Adventure high out of the way and deep behind the shroud, providing some minimal protection from rocks. But anyone who has followed another GS up a rock hill knows the big bikes can spit boulders the size of softballs out of the rear tire at warp speed, easily breaking headlights, windshields, and very expensive radiators. Every dirt bike I have ridden with a radiator comes with some form of radiator protection – even a small plastic guard is better than nothing. Unfortunately, BMW provides zero protection for the radiator on the new GS Adventure. Do NOT ride this bike in serious off-road conditions without some type of radiator protection or you will be forking over big bucks to either replace your radiator or worse yet, overhaul your engine.
Radiators are becoming commonplace on dirt bikes – unfortunately – and BMW has finally moved into liquid cooling so they can compete with other manufacturers. So good or bad, you gotta protect those things if you don’t want to get stuck on the side of a trail with steam boiling out of your overcooked engine.
Overall I think BMW has hit a home run with the new liquid cooled “water boxer” motor. It has more power everywhere and the additional power is especially noticeable down low where you need it when riding off-road. The increased crank weight smooths out the power delivery over the standard GS. The throttle by wire works perfectly, the engine is even easier to service and is better protected – except for the radiators. Is the new engine worth an upgrade to your existing GS Adventure? Not in my opinion. It is very competitive with other big dual sport bikes, but the existing R1200 GS Adventure is already a great bike so the new unit is an incremental upgrade to what you already have. If you are an experienced off-road rider you will love the new GS motor and if you are less experienced at off-road riding on big dual sport bikes, you will love the electronic aids offered in the latest GS. In fact, the bike would be a good upgrade if you scare yourself with your current GS – the electronic riding aids are just that good.