published at 10.04.2012, 12:44

The birth of a legend – GS history, part VII

A new benchmark – the BMW R 1200 GS

The R 1200 GS replaced the R 1150 GS in 2004. The new model was an industry surprise and weighed only 199kg dry – a reduction of 30kg compared with the R 1150 GS. However, the low weight wasn’t achieved through compromise. On the contrary, the R 1200 GS surpassed its famous predecessor in every respect and set new standards of agility, handling and reliability.

With a capacity of 1,170cc the boxer engine was the largest ever fitted in an endurance machine. With an output of 100 hp (74kW) and a maximum torque of 115Nm, the new GS guaranteed a supreme power curve and sufficient pulling power at all engine speeds – on or off-road. Thanks to the first-time use of a counterbalanced crankshaft in a boxer, the engine generated less vibration than its predecessors, despite being larger in cylinder capacity.

An important factor for long-distance travellers was that the engine, although tuned for super-grade unleaded petrol, would happily run on normal fuel without any manual adjustment. Fuel consumption was improved by eight per cent compared with earlier models and power output and torque were raised by nearly 18 per cent.
The chassis principle had not been abandoned although the frame was new and every detail had undergone modification and weight optimisation. A striking feature of the Paralever was that the torque strut was now located above the suspension arm, which gives greater ground clearance and better protection to the strut from damage on difficult terrain. Externally, the new GS had an unmistakable face that featured careful alternations to the asymmetrical double headlamp, and a windscreen that could be adjusted to any one of five positions, without tools.

The on-board electronics differed from previous models, with innovative CAN bus technology now used. This system simply switched loads off if they developed a fault or short-circuited, doing away with the need for conventional fuses. During diagnosis, any faults could be located quickly and effectively. The digital instruments were designed to be lightweight and functional, with a flat-screen display generating a wealth of the information for the rider.

In October 2005 the new R 1200 GS Adventure was added to the line-up. This latest ultimate overland machine had a 33-litre tank – 13 more than the standard GS – offering a range of around 750 kilometres, which is invaluable in far-flung corners of the world where filling stations are scarce. With technology largely based on the standard GS, it had a wealth of features specifically designed for long-distance travel. These included a wind-tunnel developed screen with flaps to protect the lower back area from draughts; protective bars in the tank and engine area; aluminium covers over the valve covers, therefore reducing any crash damage to a minimum and keeping the rider ‘on the road’. Wider rider footrests provided more grip when riding standing up, and a stable luggage rack could have heavy loads strapped to it.

These latest GS machines were a massive success. Barely three years after its market launch, the 100,000th R 1200 GS rolled off the assembly lines in Berlin in September 2007. Of these, 84,373 were classic GS and 15,627 were Adventure models. And although this made the R 1200 GS the most successful BMW motorcycle of all time, thoughts had already turned to developing the next version – a model update – which was soon to be unveiled at the 2007 EICMA motorcycle show in Milan.
The uprated GS delivered 105 hp and featured new gearing and new back wheel transmission, as well as an enduro-spec Electronic Suspension Adjustment option, specifically developed for combined on- and off-road use. Ergonomic improvements were made to the handlebar, hand protectors and seat, while tank covers were now made from stainless steel. Arevamped front wing and a new LED rear light were among some of the other obvious differences from the predecessor.

Two years later, again at the EICMA show in Milan, BMW unveiled its 2010 model R 1200 GS with the welcome news of a further update to the Boxer engine technology. The GS would now feature the DOHC power unit from the HP2 Sport, with engine characteristics specifically overhauled and optimised to suit the needs of the GS. This meant a hike in power to 110 hp at 7,750 rpm, with 120 Nm of torque on tap at 6,000 rpm.

The current R 1200 GS remains the top seller, with around one in every four BMW bikes sold being a GS. And although the ‘over 500cc’ motorcycle market is shrinking worldwide, the GS continues to be in massive demand and is still the benchmark against which all enduro bikes are measured.

Next instalment: a BMW GS doesn’t necessarily need a Boxer engine – all about the F and G series bikes