After 10 wonderful years and over 70,000km of touring heaven I’ve finally come to the difficult decision to retire my R1150RT work horse as I’m finding myself more often on more off the beaten track roads in the Alps, Pyrenees and Ireland. As much as I love the whole RT range I’m finding the RT too difficult to manage on rougher roads as it’s just not built for them and I guess my riding is evolving into another direction.
So, over the summer I’ve been looking at a few other bikes like Triumphs Tiger 800XC and the 1200 Adventure, but for various reasons I decided they were not for me. One of the requisites I have for any tourer is tank range. No one will convince me that a tank range of just 300km is enough for proper exploring, my RT had a tank range of almost 400km if I took it easy on the revs, this saved my bacon more than once as I limped into a petrol station in reserve. So my choice of bikes is slightly limited unless I carry a jerry can of reserve fuel.
Of course there is a certain ridiculously popular “touring” bike that is also very capable in rougher territory. It is a bike that I’ve never actually liked, and I still didn’t want to like it. Last week however I took it for a test ride.
I don’t do the test rides most people go for, a quick spin up and down a motorway does not cut it for me. By the time I got this bike back to the shop it looked like Charley Boorman had ploughed it through a Russian bog! The day I chose to take the bike out was, shall we say, a bit wet, and by that I mean the rain was horizontal, biblical, and dancing in all directions at once. And so, with a grin on my ugly mug that can only come from knowing it’s not my bike and I won’t have to clean it, I rode up into the nastiest, most broken, roughest and smallest roads that the Dublin and Wicklow mountains have to offer. By the time I got there, Mother Nature was in full bitch mode, the rivers were overflowing, the streams were torrents, the bogs were swamps, the potholes entertained whirlpools and the roads resembled something out a disaster movie. This was the perfect place for confirming my long running suspicion that this bike was nothing more than a fashion statement.
So what bike was I about to destroy I hear you ask???
I am of course talking of the R1200GS! God help me, I’ve stated countless times how sick I am of seeing so many GS’s on European roads over these last 10 years. They’re as common as road kill. Back in 2004, when the 1200GS first hit the streets I took one of the 1st ones in Ireland for a test ride, I thought it was really uncomfortable comparing to the RT, didn’t handle that well. It vibrated like an old Volkswagen camper and drank fuel at a shocking speed, and worse, its 20ltr tank gave an unrealistic touring range of just 300km whereupon I dismissed it as “in need of improvement”. As for my opinion of the older 1150GS, well that was not much better. And I never saw the point with the RT as a far better option for touring, unless you were heading to Magadan of course. But the bloody 1200GS kept on selling and BMW is still pumping these bikes out of the factories round the clock.
While I’m still not in love with the R1200GS, the newer model I rode last week surprisingly did impress me, much to my dismay. I took it out in the worst possible conditions short of an ice storm, with gale force winds and horizontal rain, on broken flooded mountain and country back roads. I had the idea in the back of my head to prove to myself that this bike would fail when Mother Nature has an epileptic fit.
Now, I’m not a serious off-road type and probably never will be, but I do love green lanes and weather smashed and broken mountain roads in the middle of nowhere, so I threw the 1200GS into the worst roads I know of, some completely flooded or strewn with rocks and debris and scarred with cavernous pot holes and all the while Mother Nature hurled her first winter storms in my face – thank God for Pinlock.
Now you might be thinking I’m a bit mad, but I assure you there is a reason behind this. While many people like the sea I love the mountains, any mountains. I love riding up there, hiking up there and camping up there and have been doing so since I was a kid. I’ve also come to have a deep respect for how easy one get into serious trouble when the weather turns paradise into a freezing hell in a matter of minutes, even in summer, and the higher you are, the worse trouble you can get into.
A number a years ago I got stuck overnight on a lonely Alpine pass when heavy rain dumped mud and rocks over a two-mile stretch of road, I was on the RT, and the RT was very very unhappy with the situation. Again two years ago a small avalanche dumped snow on the road down from Col de Allos entertaining me with a terrifying half hour trying to keep the RT upright while I inched my way through it! There have been more than a few other Alpine occasions in the arse end of nowhere when I really wished for a 21 inch front wheel and more ground clearance. So, either I only ride mountains in the summer, or I look for another tool for the job. That’s why I’m test-riding this GS in less than perfect conditions. I need a bike that can handle the good with the bad.
Well, as much as I hate to admit it the GS acted like it was just out for a sleepy sunny Sunday ride and for three cold wet hours while I tried to break the bike all that grew was my own growing embarrassment and grudging appreciation for the bike.
Only now, 8 years since it’s first release I get it. I now know why so many people are buying this bike. While I still think the 1150RT or 1200RT’s are one of the best touring bikes on the planet for normal roads, they’re simply not built for rougher roads or gravel. They are what they are. If I’d taken my RT on those roads, in that weather last week, I’d have been asking for trouble, or at least asking the AA to come a dig my RT out of a flooded road. So, if I want to ride the rougher off beat roads in the Alps I have to pass the RT over for the GS.
So there you have it, the RT is now for sale and I’m in the market for a GS. Unfortunately, at least for me, the standard 1200GS has one really stupid design flaw with it’s 20ltr tank and 300km range which is the same as a mid range road bike like my F800R. There has been any number of times over the years when the RT hit the reserve tank even with its range of 380+km – Sundays in rural France or Spain anyone? So it looks like I got to get my hands on a GSADV.
But I’m still not sure, is the GSADV too big for small Alpine passes? If anyone out there as an opinion on this I’d love to hear it.
Anyhow, I will be uploading videos of my summer travels in northern Spain and the French/Spanish Pyrenees soon, along with descriptions and maps to some of the best roads I’ve recently found, and great biker friendly places to stay in the region. But first, due to popular request I’ve started uploading colour versions of some of last years videos which I’d originally uploaded in Black & White. And for this years videos I promise not to be drinking while editing to videos LOL…
Here are the updated vids…
Motorbike Routes, Col du Bonette South Ramp 2012 Colour Version »
Motorbike Routes, Col de la Bonette North Ramp 2012 Colour Version »