2013 BMW R 1200 GS

Road Test Review

Given its status as adventure-touring’s most popular, versatile motorcycle and worldwide best-seller, we made sure to cover BMW’s new liquid-cooled R 1200 GS touring enduro pretty thoroughly following the introduction in South Africa (Rider, April 2013 and at ridermag.wpengine.com). Now that we’ve had a bike stateside for a while, ridden it on familiar roads solo and two-up, taken it off-road and put it on our scale and the dyno, there’s a bit more to report.

Engine & Power: More power is good, and the new R 1200 GS lives up to its claims. Peak horsepower at the rear wheel on the Jett Tuning dyno was up from 95.1 to 112.1 at 8,000 rpm (redline is now 9,000), and it got a nice bump in torque from 74.6 to 82.3 lb-ft. The torque curve is much flatter, too. Both numbers are pretty much in-line with BMW’s claims of 125 horsepower and 92 lb-ft at the crankshaft. Getting that from the more compact engine is quite a feat. Since the bike hasn’t gained any weight, now it accelerates more like a sporting twin, positively howling up to 8,000 rpm before the power begins to drop off. And yet, even two-up and fully loaded there’s still incredible grunt down low for hills and passing, and the response from the throttle-by-wire is instantaneous without being abrupt. The new wet slipper clutch is much easier to modulate than the old dry one, with less effort at the lever, and is also easy to access for service. Shifting is a tiny bit noisier but more positive, with none of the former notchiness, and separate gearbox oil changes have been eliminated now that the transmission is incorporated in the crankcase.

BMW had to cool the tops of the pistons and areas around the bigger valves in the four-valve cylinder heads in order for the big GS to make more power and continue to meet emissions standards. So it used a “precision” cooling system with narrow water jackets around the tops of the cylinders and two small radiators. The liquid is only responsible for about 35 percent of engine cooling, but that’s enough that the engine can’t run without it. Air does the rest, so it can’t idle indefinitely without airflow, either.

Liquid cooling the combustion chamber area also freed BMW to relocate the exhaust valves horizontally, across the bottom of the head rather than in their former vertical position in front, closest to the air stream. Exhaust valves on the bottom begat intake valves on top and vertical throttle bodies, creating a more efficient intake path, freeing up space for the rider’s legs (think feet-down off-road) and moving the intake snorkels higher up for water crossings. Better cylinder filling meant a single spark plug can be used instead of two, and throttle-by-wire brings many benefits besides the addition of cruise control and switching riding modes on the fly—throttle-body synchronization is automatic now, for example, and less throttle effort and twist angle are required.

More power often comes at the expense of something else, of course, and there were a few important trade-offs. Boxer enthusiasts may find it’s missing some of the thumperish sound and feel of the former twins, and the vibration in the grips and seat has changed from a mid-frequency growl to a high-frequency buzz that seems to worsen as the bikes acquire miles. It doesn’t have as much patience as the former models for being lugged around off-road in second gear by us dirt donks, either. But the clickety-clack of the valves reassures it’s still a BMW boxer, and they still require inspection every 6,000 miles. As part of the power increase, compression has been upped from 12:1 to 12.5:1, but despite BMW’s verbal insistence that premium fuel is required, there’s a sticker under the seat that says 89 AKI is still the minimum. We ran ours on premium for the dyno run, then switched to 89 and didn’t notice any difference. Our test bike still returned 40.4-mpg average, too, about the same as our last two test GS models.

Weight & Load Capacity: Despite being more compact, engine weight increased 6 pounds and the radiators and plumbing add more, so BMW trimmed some fat from other areas. The front fender support is a cast aluminum piece now, for example, the oil cooler is gone and the standard cast wheels are 5 pounds lighter total. The net result is 539 pounds with a full tank and the Premium Plus options package with all the bells and whistles—that’s within a pound of our similarly equipped 2010 test bike. But the really good news is that GVWR/load rating is up 22 pounds, which gives a Premium Plus bike 451 pounds of capacity.

Handling & Suspension: Road Test Editor Greg Drevenstedt covered the R 1200 GS’s five riding modes and their effect on the throttle response, traction control, ABS and Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment in our April 2013 story. Suffice to say here that it all works extremely well off-road as well as on, at least when ridden by mere mortals like us in the loose stuff. Some fine adjustability to each D-ESA damping preset would be welcome, since Soft was too soft for some of us and Normal too stiff. To each his own. When we get a chance to sample the basic suspension package we’ll post an addition to this story online.

Beyond that, the only thing that jumped out at me was how the wider tires and wheels have slowed the steering down a bit. Since the bike’s steering geometry is essentially unchanged, most riders are unlikely to notice it, and the large contact patches probably stop and stick a little better in corners. But I miss the quickness of the former 110/80 and 150/70 front-rear combination. Our test bike came with the optional heavier cross-spoke wheels for off-road use, and riding it back-to-back with a lighter cast-wheeled bike I couldn’t detect any difference in handling on the street. (In rough off-road conditions the cross-spoke wheels do tend to flex and not bend or break as easily, but they are not easily trued should you manage to bend one anyway.)

Ergonomics: The bike’s new frame and more compact engine helped to narrow up the midsection, so big, tall MX boots no longer rub the rider’s seat when standing, and it’s easier to get your feet down at a stop. While the fore and aft adjustment for the pillion pad is useful, the pad itself is sloped slightly backward now and has a hump in front that made passengers feel as if they we’re going to fall of the back during acceleration.

Odds & Ends: Numbers on the new analog speedo are too small to be easily read, and unlike other models with it, the standard Multi-controller wheel on this model only operates BMW’s optional Navigator GPS. Without GPS, the Multi-controller is superfluous (I guess you can spin it and pretend it does something—rocket boosters?) and merely increases the reach to the left handlebar controls.

Make no mistake; the new R 1200 GS is improved in almost every way. Don’t get it for the liquid cooling, get it for everything else that comes with it. It remains the Swiss Army knife of touring enduros—now it’s just a lot sharper.

Pricing for 2013 R 1200 GS Options Packages

BMW Motorrad USA will offer its all-new liquid-cooled 2013 R 1200 GS with three options packages. The base model has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $15,800.

The base model comes equipped with:

  • Integral ABS (Disengageable)
  • Aluminum Engine Guard
  • Center Stand
  • Power Accessory Socket
  • White Turn Signal Lenses
  • LED Rear Light
  • On Board Computer (NEW)
  • Height Adjustable Rider Seat, Front and Back (NEW)
  • Longitudinally Adjustable Passenger Seat (NEW)
  • Stepless Adjustable Windshield (NEW)
  • Pillion Rider Foot Rests Removable for Off-Road Riding (NEW)

The Standard Package (offered at an MSRP of $16,600) includes base equipment as well as:

  • Heated Grips
  • Cruise Control
  • Saddle Bag Mounts

The Premium Package (offered at an MSRP of $17,990) includes base equipment as well as:
A Touring Package (priced at $1,450) featuring:

  • Dynamic ESA (NEW)
  • On Board Computer Pro (NEW)
  • GPS Preparation (NEW)
  • Chrome Exhaust
  • Heated Grips
  • Hand Protection
  • Saddle Bag Mounts
  • Active Package (priced at $740) featuring
  • Enduro ASC and Riding Modes (NEW)
  • Cruise Control (NEW)

The Premium Plus Package (offered at an MSRP of $18,870) includes base equipment as well as:

  • Comfort Package (priced at $620) featuring
  • Heated Grips
  • TPM (Tire Pressure Monitor)
  • Hand Protection
  • Saddle Bag Mounts
  • Dynamic Package (priced at $2,100) featuring
  • Enduro ASC and Riding Modes (NEW)
  • Dynamic ESA (NEW)
  • LED Headlight (NEW)
  • On Board Computer Pro (NEW)
  • GPS Preparation (NEW)
  • Cruise Control ($350)

The 2013 R 1200 GS is offered in four colors: Fire Blue, Racing Red, Thunder Gray Metallic and Alpine White.