As it so happens, Denis’s recent change of heart on the BMW R1200GS was echoed by a similar experience within the Twisty Ride crew. Two members took on the GS this summer and became… well, changed men. Really.
Let us first go back in time for 5 seconds. The big trip of the summer for us was the StelvioThe Stelvio Pass (Italian: Passo dello Stelvio; German: Stilfser Joch), located in Italy, at 2757 m (9045 feet) is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps, and the second highest in the Alps, slightly below the Col de l’Iseran (2770 m, 9088 feet)., which is regarded by many as the best road in the world.
So we got it all prepped up with the guys and, as you have it, it was also my brother’s 30th birthday this year. Since he is an honorary member of the crew I decided to invite him along too. The only “issue”, and I’ll repeat that I do like Harleys, is that my brother drives… a Harley. Arguably not the best bike for twisties. His does not seem to have a brake at the front. Or a fork for that matter. So I was a bit concerned that, given the amount of forward planning required to ride this bike, he would miss a turn. Thus I went on trying to find the perfect bike for him to join us on this trip.
On my list of criteria:
- Needs to be powerful enough. Let’s just say that the Twisty Ride crew is a rather lively bunch. Some would even go as far as using the word “competitive”.
- Needs to be easy to get used to. Although I’ll argue that moving from a Sportster to any other bike will feel like an improvement.
- Needs to turn well. Because there will be loads of them.
- Needs to be a tad comfy, because that’s 6 days on the saddle.
- And above all, needs to be safe. As in: very safe.
This last point is important so I’ll expand. Like many other bikers I’ve ridden a fair number of bikes over the years. And if I have to identify the unique feature that scares me the most in a bike, it wouldn’t be the power, you can control that, not the weight, once underway you can manage it, and not even the brakes. No, it’d be the kinematic chain (a.k.a. chassis and suspension), the stuff that brings it all together. Yes because when you’re taking a corner and, say, it’s wet, and there’s like, for argument sake, a deer, you will want to grab the brakes. Which will, on a majority of bikes, result in you being in the forest; or even becoming the forest, depending on the speed.
Thus, out of all the bikes I’ve ridden, the one that kept on re-surfacing was the 1200 GS:
- Power: check. Anything north of 110 bhp is powerful enough in the twisties. It’s all about being able to carry speed in the corners as opposed to drag racing. In fact some riders go slower the more powerful the bike is as it becomes too much of a handful for a normal-ish brain.
- Ease of use: check. The position is completely natural and it’s a well-balanced bike. The electronic suspension is magical too.
- Turns well: check. Trailies always do thanks to the big lever that also serves as handlebar.
- Comfy: check. It is comfy. The screen works well, heated grips for when you’re a littl’ cold, good posture etc.
- Safe: nothing beats the telelever + ABS when it comes to safety. Nothing. Some will say that they can’t feel every little stone there is on the road with this system. That’s because they are not sliding down on their arse. Ok. Fair enough, there is a difference with a CBR which has a very very good, very well sorted chassis and suspension. But at the end of the day, the only bike that you can really do emergency braking with is the BMW. It does not dive, pure and simple. One of the guys was riding a 1200S (HP) down the track against some tuned 600 (same power…). The 1200S was not the fastest bike on a straight line but he managed to continuously out-brake everyone. He reckons he can brake one second later than everybody else thanks to not having to compress the fork.
So I went and rented a 2012 R1200GS for my brother. And you know what, he was able to follow the group. Better than that, after a day he became settled right in the middle of it with more experienced riders trailing behind. Now let us remind ourselves that this man is currently the proud owner of a 883 Sportster which, given all the performance mods currently on the bike, is probably pushing 36bhp. He just does not drive at pace. What happened? So I rode the R1200GS too. It is a very good ride indeed. The limits of the bike are reachable yes, but mostly because of the semi-knobby tires giving up on hard braking. The GS is sane, turns well, brakes well and pushes decently too. I had fun, it was good. It suddenly became eligible as a future bike. And while the sports bike riders of the team had all sort of aches, you come out of a GS almost refreshed.
Now, like Denis, I was a bit of a skeptic of the GS. I do like its look however and I thank it every day for the massive boost it has brought to the motorcycle world through its TV appearances. It’s just that I didn’t really see it as a fun bike. But it is. And it is convenient too. I am not a skeptic anymore. And my brother… well he is currently browsing the images of customized telelever chassis…
Final note: owing to the fact that we own a motorcycle shop, it was never a question to find a bike with good luggage as we could easily fit it with the right stuff. However it has to be said that the GS comes with very good hard panniers. They have a clever system to expand them if required and are easy to lock on the bike or take home.