Per reader request, I am publishing my impressions of my first ride on the 2014 BMW R1200 GS in pieces, rather than waiting for me to complete the entire review. This allows you to get the info sooner. Later I will compile these into one review document.
I love when BMW puts on a press review. Unlike some other manufacturers who roll out an “adventure bike” but won’t let you ride the thing off-road, BMW ENCOURAGES you to ride off road. And not just pussyfoot around in a controlled area. They lay out a great route that is challenging, and assign ride leaders who haul butt and dare us to keep up versus riding out front and keeping the pack slowed down so nobody gets hurt or damages a bike. BMW is not afraid of letting us ride their GS off-road, and dare us to ride it hard like a rented mule. And that is exactly what I did. Ride it like a cheap worn out rental car that had seen better days as a cop car.
We spent the day riding out of Sedona on a 200 mile loop – 100 miles pavement and 100 miles of dirt. The off-road terrain varied from hard packed graded county roads with loose marbles to deep gravel to what amounted to jeep trails. The route difficulty was just right for a GS ride – challenging if you pushed your speed, easily doable if ridden slowly and carefully. A passenger vehicle couldn’t have made the route, but BMW technicians followed us in a 4WD BMW X5 – slowly – as they crawled over the terrain.
I hooked up with one of the first groups of more experienced riders and we hauled butt, regularly hitting 70-85 mph in the dirt and hammering at a good pace along the more rugged sections. I regularly got the GS in a full lock slide going into corners, pulled a few wheelies, and generally hammered BMW’s flagship 570 lb behemoth dirt bike. Hammered it like a cheap mule I did. And it held up surprisingly well.
So how did the big GS work? Very, very well – for a 570 lb. off-road motorcycle. It is not a KTM 450 EXC, but that is not why people purchase this bike. And actually, someone who owns a 450 EXC would love a GS Adventure as their long distance touring bike.
First off, you can’t hide 570 lbs. Of motorcycle. You just can’t. The GS Adventure has a commanding presence, like a big gorilla in the room. Pull up to a gas pump on a Harley and maybe someone says “Hi”, maybe not. Pull up on an Adventure with full bags and you invariable hear “Cool bike. Where you headed?”
“Ah, well, I WILL be headed to the Amazon by way of the Darian Gap soon, but right now I am on the way to Starbucks.”
Even if you will never travel around the world on your motorcycle, on the GS Adventure you LOOK like you COULD travel around the word, and any minute. Just pull up to a stop sign on the way to work and instead of turning left to go to your boring job, you turn right towards Pruhdoe Bay. Or Turkmenistan. Or Mongolia. You could. And the big GS will get you there.
I was expecting the GS Adventure to be an excellent bike. I have a 2008 model and it is my favorite all time bike I have ever ridden. I love it. I also own several dirt bikes, and when I get serious about riding dirt, I jump on a dirt bike rather than thrash a $20,000 to worn out German parts. I have also owned and ridden full on sport bikes, big sport touring bikes, and even a Goldwing at one time (I had a virus in my head, OK?) I like to treat my GS as my “Goldwing of the Dirt”. Although that doesn’t really do it justice, because the GS isn’t anything like a Goldwing, other than being really big and heavy.
I use my GS to travel to far off (for me) adventures. I might jump on pavement for a half day, then cut off on dirt and gravel roads, follow jeep trails down to a great camping stream, or follow a jeep trail up to a nice viewpoint. I don’t hammer it in the dirt, but I am not afraid to ride it in the dirt. I love my GS Adventure. It allows me to travel far, far away in comfort, bring along plenty of camping gear, and still explore places inaccessible to street bikes.
What I didn’t expect was very noticeable improvements in the 2014 Adventure over my 2008 model. I guessed it would be a little bit better. Hard to improve on perfection, right? This model is a LOT better.
Enduro Pro ABS Riding Mode
The most impressive thing for me was the Enduro Pro mode ABS. I hate ABS on a motorcycle, especially an off-road bike. I am OK with it on a street bike although I don’t love it. On a dirt bike? No sir. That seems stupid since to go fast on a dirt bike you need the ability to lock the wheels and slide. If you want to go fast on a dirt bike you are always sliding – on corner entry, through the nasty stuff, on the exits to turns. Slide, slide, slide, in what seems to be an out of control crash at all times. Yet your rider skill keeps you in control and lets you ride fast.
But I was in Sedona to test the bike, not just ride the bike. My BMW ride leader said “put in in ABS Enduro mode first. That is safer and more controllable than Enduro Pro mode. Once you get comfortable with the bike, you might try Enduro Pro mode. But be careful with Enduro Pro ABS. It can bite you.”
WHAT? Screw the safe mode. Instead of listening to her instructions, I started out the day in Enduro Pro mode and was very, very glad I did. That mode ROCKS. I was left very, very impressed. It became obvious that the BMW engineers who designed and programmed this thing actually ride off-road. Fast.
BMW’s highly refined Enduro Pro mode turns rear ABS off completely. This allows you to control the rear wheel on the bike with just your rear brake lever. Perfect for a dirt bike rider. You can do full lockup slides, drift the rear into a corner, slide into berm shots, all the things you are used to doing with a dirt bike you can do with ABS mode on. SWEET! Especially when I don’t have to pay for any damage I do to the bike.
While the rear of the bike is controlled only by your foot on the brake lever, the front is controlled by you and a computer and software. In this case, the software has been much refined and actually WORKS when riding off-road. It works quite well as a matter of fact. ABS Enduro Pro mode allows the front to slide just a bit, but keeps you from locking up completely and washing the front end out. You can still slide sideways as I did when passing a slower rider and overcooking a turn. I was able to lock the back, really hammer down on the front, and drift the bike sideways into a turn, only getting a very slight indication through the front brake lever that ABS was working its magic. How did the BMW engineers do that? I have no idea, but I certainly got the hefty GS into a full on sideways slide trying to slow the beast down, and was none the worse for wear. I made the corner, didn’t low side or high side, just gassed the throttle and exited in the correct direction like Chad Reed throwing a bump-pass on James Stewart. As long as you keep your front end pointed in the right general direction, you can slide the back end around as needed.
Later in the ride I learned first hand the benefits of off-road ABS. I was blasting along a downhill hard packed road with sections of deep gravel on the sides and little marbles on the hard packed surface. Right as I was grabbing the brakes to slow for an upcoming corner, the bike started fishtailing and I knew instantly that I had a rear flat! I was clocking about 75 mph at the time and and the rear just blows in an instant. No warning, no wobbling, just flying down a dusty road and then BOOM the back end is wobbling like a drunk sailor. At speed.
The road in front of me made a small kink and a cactus-lined hidden 10′ deep hole loomed in my path. No problem to navigate with 2 tires and brakes, but with no rear traction and a butt end that was trying to trade places with the front, it got a little hairy. I grabbed the front brake hard and tried to control the back end from skidding around. The bike dropped off the hard pack, into the deeper gravel still moving at a fast pace, and the ABS kept the front tire biting hard as I tried to shut down 570 lbs of inertia in about 50 yards with no help from the rear. The ABS Enduro Pro mode allowed me not to worry about the front end washing out and let me concentrate on keeping the bike under control, scrubbing off the speed, and then allowing me to maintain steering so I could get the bike pointed away from the crevasse as I continued stopping. Looking back at my tracks I could see where the rear end of the bike was swapping sides back and forth, while the front end stayed planted and eventually allowed me to turn away from the danger.
Although I loved ABS Enduro Pro mode, I knew I had to test the other off-road mode as well, so I switched the bike to Enduro mode later in the ride. In this mode the bikes uses off-road ABS both at the front and the back. It worked exactly as advertised. I tried stopping hard in the marbles as well as deep gravel. I could feel the rear ABS working through the brake pedal, and both wheels stayed planted and rolling, yet bringing the big beast to a nice orderly stop. While Enduro mode would not be my personal choice of riding modes, I can see where it would really be fantastic for a less experienced off-road rider, someone who just wants to get the bike stopped without ending up on their head. Enduro mode should give riders who are less experienced in the dirt far more confidence when conditions get dicey. It works and works well.
I did not try out the street ABS modes, since I figured those have been well sorted out and reported on. BMW did tell me those modes were designed to work with street tires, and might not be optimal for knobbies on pavement. I didn’t have the cajones to slide the big Beemer on the asphalt like Nicky Hayden. I’m a dirt bike rider Jim, not a doctor! (Star Trek reference)
ABS off-road? I never thought I would say it, but dang, it works. I am betting we see it on skinny bikes soon.