2013 BMW R1200 GS Test Ride – Multi-Tasking Machine

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Many online reviews and magazines have nominated/voted the 2013 BMW R 1200 GS as the best in its category for 2013. I wanted to know why, and decided to find out for myself.

So I packed my bags and left Kuala Lumpur to Teluk Intan in Perak. The journey from KL to Teluk Intan offers a good mix of the twisties, long stretch of highway and off-road challenges, which offered ideal ground to test the much-talked-about R1200GS.

I tested the bike on the highways, rural roads and off-road, trying out the different ride modes and suspension settings available on the new GS.

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For the first time ever in 30 years, the 2013 BMW R 1200 GS – the sixth incarnation of the wildly popular Gelände/Strasse series – gets liquid-cooling on an all-new 1170 cc boxer twin engine. Liquid is directed to the most thermally stressed areas, yet retains air-cooling to keep the character of the motor.

There are five ride modes available: Road, Dynamic, Rain, Enduro and Enduro Pro- Fly By Wire System. It works in tandem with the optional semi-active electronic suspension and BMW’s popular ASC (Automatic Stability Control) and ABS systems.

The 2013 R 1200 GS’ traction control works much better now with the fly-by-wire system. The predecessor’s system cut the ignition in order to control the wheel spin, but the 2013 GS leverages on the electric throttle motors to reduce the amount of power being applied, thus giving you a much smoother result.

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The five ride modes transform the bike into different animals. The most aggressive mode of the lot is Dynamic, where it gives you heaps of great throttle and engine play. Once I turned off the ASC and ABS, this riding mode became much more aggressive.

The Road and Rain modes are much safer and pleasant, and without a doubt ABS offered more assistance on tricky surface conditions (wet roads or muddy off-road terrain). These two modes are definitely street/touring friendly, and I was happy to leave the GS in the default Road selection.

The semi-active suspension which has got a lot of attention amongst bikers around the world definitely performed well beyond any doubt. Whether I chose the aggressive pace in Dynamic or the pleasant ride in Road/Rain, the Telelever/Paralever components delivers a stable ride and the damping is complemented electronically.

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The availability of off-road traction control on the bike gave me all the courage I needed while riding thru Bidor’s back roads and pot holes. Going through uneven and wet gravely off-road terrain after a heavy downpour the night before can be unpredictable, but the R 1200 GS made its way with ease with the assistance of the traction control or ABS brakes.

I confess, off-road biking is not my cup of tea, but the Enduro mode’s gentle throttle gave me all the reasons to keep going. I was able to command the bike with ease, and had a strong urge to tackle the tougher off-road terrain, but since I was alone on that day, I didn’t dare to take the risk. Wanted to be back home in one piece, you could say.

The ABS is configured much differently in Enduro than for the three road-going modes, which goes to say that the engineers in BMW know what they were doing.

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One would expect when you add a something new to a bike, the bike will be bulkier. In the case of the R 1200 GS, however, with the new addition of the radiators, the bike looks more slender and trim. Great design, and kudos to the design team who put it together, making it compact yet aesthetically nice.

The minute you fire up this ‘multi-tasking’ machine, there is more ‘oomph’ to the sound compared to the previous model and it sounds more eager to get down to business. I was reminded by a hard core GS rider that the new water-cooled engine has abundance of horsepower compared to its predecessor.

So the proof of the pudding is to eat it – I switched to Dynamic mode and got the machine to give me all it had. Throttle response is direct but not harsh, and the fly-by-wire configuration provides a responsive connection to the rear wheel that allows for trail-braking into corners. Mid-range and top-end power are considerably stronger than on the old bike.

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From Sg. Buloh to Bidor on the highway, the new engine revs faster and far smoother, and it sports a livelier throttle. The engine is more responsive to input, with its fly-by-wire throttle delivering immediate control at the right wrist – twist the throttle more and the machine beckons you to push it further.

The new R 1200 GS feels incredibly smooth going down the highway. The bike cruises along at 140 km/h at 4,000 rpm in sixth gear, and doesn’t need to work as hard as the oil-cooled bikes at speeds around 140 km/h onwards. On many occasions while cruising at these speeds, I took the opportunity to switch on the cruise control until the next pit stop. Yes, you read right – this machine comes with cruise control.

When I am in my four-wheel ride, cruise control is my favourite item. I was dying to see how BMW managed the cruise control on this one, and after clocking about 100 km, I was very impressed with the outcome. The transition when adjusting or resuming speed was smooth, the cruise control coming in gradually. Thumbs up.

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On the Road mode, the new GS feels almost like a sports bike with an upright riding position. I was pleasantly surprised at how effectively the 238 kg (wet weight) GS handles through tight twisties with a remarkably easy ability to manoeuvre about, almost as if I was riding a bike half the weight. Or maybe because I felt stronger because of the heavy breakfast – two half-boiled eggs with a bowl of spicy pan mee complemented by a mug of hot Milo.

Many riders, including me, have yearned for an adjustable windshield for long journeys. The R 1200 GS has a solution to this; you can now adjust your windshield with the knob, which can be operated with one hand even while riding. I was however not able to adjust the windscreen while riding at about 70 km/h – might be due to the wind pushing it down or just that my fingers weren’t strong enough. The folks at BMW might want to consider an electronically-adjustable windshield.

In town, the GS has never been easier to ride. The old dry clutch, which wears off faster, has been swapped for an anti-hop wet clutch. It’s smooth but not as good as Japanese bikes, but still a massive step on and way better than the previous generation.

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Radiator fans blowing hot air straight to you after a long ride in the city can be very annoying. The R 1200 GS however blows the hot air down, and the radiator fan kicks in around at 200 degrees. Small things likes this do make a lot of difference when you are caught in a traffic jam.

Elsewhere, the position of the handlebar on the GS is swept back and low, which is excellent when you are on the saddle, but if you decide to stand on the pegs while on off-road environment, it needs some lift (i.e. your shoulders will be hunched). The seat is very comfortable, but on few occasions I squeezed THE muscle between my legs against the tank due to the slant forward design of the seat.

When the bike was designed, many concepts and technologies were adopted from the K 1600 and S 100. The electronics facilities are in abundance on the R 1200 GS. The electronically-controlled throttle bodies and fly-by-wire throttle have made it possible to integrate the traction control (ASC), ABS and electronic suspension (ESA) in ways that were really lacking in the oil-cooled bike.

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When the R 1200 GS was in the concept stage, the engineers at BMW ensured that the new water-cooled offering was as good an off-road machine as its predecessors. They didn’t want this new model to lose any of the off-road handling that has defined the GS over the last 30 years.

After riding this bike, it looks like BMW has definitely succeeded in making the bike every bit as off-road capable as the previous GS. I personally feel the new electronic aids – with the ABS and ASC designed for off-road in Enduro and Enduro Pro modes – are simply a gift to those riders who have a phobia of attempting off-road riding.

Took a few tricky corners from Bidor to Clearwater, and with no surprise, the radial-mount Brembo calipers did a brilliant job. Precise modulation and feedback allow for hard-charging corner attacks and more subtle trail-braking without breaking a sweat. For sure, the Brembo Monobloc braking configuration definitely takes braking performance to the next level.

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The 2013 R 1200 GS is equipped with a semi-active suspension that monitors the vertical travel distance and rate of the front and rear wheels and continuously adapts the damping to the road surface conditions. making adjustments every ten milliseconds if necessary. For your information, ten milliseconds is faster than the blink of an eye.

In simple English, if I was riding at 100 km/h and hit a pothole with the front wheel, the system will measure the impact and increase the rear wheel damping in time for the rear wheel to impact the pothole – the bike would have only traveled 11 inches during the entire process. In use, I didn’t feel anything, but I’m very sure the machine did what it supposed to do.

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The instrument display is very informative and visually appealing; the GS’s instrument console is a treat to the eyes. An analogue speedo dominates the left, with the analogue tach sitting above the LCD screen. Amongst the displays available are gear position indicator, trip meters, clock, temperature Ride Mode and loads more.

The changes seen on the new GS sums up to three things – faster, lighter and tighter compared to the predecessor. You can jump on to it anytime, power it up and zoom off to any possible challenges that one can think off, be it the open road or off-road. And that’s why I can’t find a reason not to love this multi-tasking machine.

The Hard Facts

BMW R1200GS
Tested: 1,170 cc, air/liquid-cooled four-stroke flat-twin engine, six-speed gearbox
Price: RM129,800 (OTR, without insurance)
Power/torque: 125 hp at 7,750 rpm / 126 Nm at 6,500 rpm
Tank volume: 20 litres

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