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REVIEW: BMW R1200GS Adventure

June 9, 2012

BMW R1200GS Adventure

2010, Manual

£13,500, 0 miles+

Yes, I openly admit, I was (and am) an anal retentive in following Ewan McGregor, Charlie Boorman and Claudio von Planta in both Long Way Round and Long Way Down. I’ve always been into bikes, and had many a machine in my time – from CBR600 to Bandit 1200, Ducati Monster 900 to… yes. You guessed it. I took the plunge and bought a top of the range BMW GS1200 Adventure. With aluminium panniers. ABS. Heated grips. And some nice stickers. And furry dice.

I figured I’d always been a tight-arse when it came to bikes. Started with a CBR400 crash-damaged heap of flame-decorated junk (from a “friend”), then the ubiquitous Bandit 600; the problem always seemed to be, coming from North Manchester at the time, “I’ve got six grand sat in the garage for 8 months of the year whilst the Pennine Moors chonk their moorland urine over the streets”. Anyway. This time, I thought, yes, I will do it in style. Top of the range. ABS. Onboard computer. Stuff it. The Full Monty.

It was with great trepidation I picked up my Silver Beast. I’d named her Mary. After the donkey from my novels Kell’s Legend, Soul Stealers and Vampire Warlords. In the novels, Mary is a hardy and stubborn beast, and it gently amused me to name the BMW after such a creature of burden. After all, she’d be carrying my fat ass. And so, I blasted away from BMW in a cloud of exhaust fumes… only I didn’t. Being a heavy old beast, the BMW didn’t so much blast as lumber up to speed. 1200cc, yes, but not quite the kick of a Bandit 1200 (which is like sitting on a bullet), or even a Monster 900. Arse. Last time I buy a bike without a test ride… And, as has been well-documented in all manner of motorbike magazinery, the indicator switchgear was odd, left indicator on the left handlebar, right on the right. Sounds logical, but when you’re used to the traditional combined switch on the left with a push cancel – for 15 years (and now instinct), this new BMW demonology was as logical as a kick in the happy sacks from your darling wife (although I do confess, that eventuality can be logical; ouch).

Anyway, to business! The bike is called an Adventure, and this magazine is the Ultimate Adventure Magazine! So did the bike provide adventures? Provoke adventures? Instigate adventures? Did it grab me by the nackers and drag me into the arse-end of a rabid bottle fight? Did it drop me behind enemy lines, give me a flick-knife and bar of soap, and scream, “Get yourself home, laddie!”

Err. Not exactly.

It’s a good bike. Don’t get me wrong. And for touring? Oh yes! Big panniers. A nice reliable solid stance and motor. Good, predictable cornering ability. Shaft drive. Heated grips. Good wind deflection. Warm your legs on the parallel-twin boxer engine when it gets a bit nippy.

Did I take it round the world like Ewan, Charlie and Claudio, on the Ultimate Biking Adventure?

Err. Not exactly.

I confess. I am a “part time” adventurer. A part-time biker. In fact, I take my adventures and travels and explorations in little snippets. I have a wife and two kids, a mortgage and a job. Like most of us. And like most of us, I don’t really want to chuck it all in and head off to live in sweaty pants in the jungle for three years. That’s not me. I like having kids. Hell, I like having a mortgage. And I certainly like having a wife. I don’t like having Dave Lister underpants. I don’t like having socks full of maggots. I don’t like having a leech attached to my groin. And thus I sometimes reign-in my mania and at least try and be a sensible and reasonable human being.

The BMW took me on various trips, down to Hastings, up round the Lake District, to Penrith and Moffat, through the North Yorkshire Moors (stunning) and up to Loch Lomond (even more stunningerer). Not once did the bike miss a beat. It was dependable, and reliable, and lots of other words that end in “ibble”. When I got used to the machine, and despite its weight and dynamics, I could really hustle the big bugger, really throw Mary around – which is quite some feat, because for the first time in my life, this was a bike I actually dropped. In a jet wash. After just washing it. With a queue of car drivers watching. Bum.

Low speed manoeuvring could be very difficult. And I’m a touch under six foot, weigh 16 stone, and consider myself pretty strong. I tell you something – I look at Ewan, Charlie and Claudio with much more respect after actually owning one of these bikes. Because, to travel round the world on it, fully laden? You’d have to be insane. Or an actor under contract.

After all those miles without a problem, when I relocated from Manchester to Lincoln, and having just travelled 1500 miles in crappy old box vans fully laden with crappy old furniture, it was a relief – as my final burst of freedom, my final act of leaving Manchester behind – to bring down the bike. Wife and kids already ahead, I tonked on down the M62, then onto the A15 through North Lincolnshire. The sun was shining. The birds tweating. Mary was throbbing between my thighs like a good Big ‘Ol Thing. Oh how life felt good! Every car ahead was a target to be hunted down. I was an elegant bird of prey…. but wait. What was that stutter? A cough? A burble? Another stutter? Nooooo! Not what you really want at 90mph!

And then… silence. Gradually roll to a stop by the side of the road. Great. I check the onboard computer. Fuel tank nearly full. But hold on – it was nearly full 120 miles back, wasn’t it? Petrol cap off, slosh around, is there any sloshing? Can you hear any sloshing? Ring wife. Wait. Couple of friendly bikers stop to offer help, very kind of them, glad that sort of thing still goes on. I don’t expect THIS on my Beemah! Wife returns with fuel, I fill Mary up, bike works. Great, but not great. Stabbed in the back by a dicky fuel gauge. When returned to BMW, they casually informed me it was a common fault. I gave a dry smile. I could have done without that “common fault” when my wife was forced to drag the kids on another pointless 50 mile round trip after an original journey of 130 miles.

So then. Conclusions.

The 1200GS Adventure is a good, solid, mostly reliable touring bike, perfect for the road, insane on the rough stuff (and that’s insane in a bad way). Heavy and ponderous until you get on the gas, good storage via BMW’s aluminium panniers. Quality, but overpriced, I feel. It has ample space for your walking boots, ice axe, tent and sleeping bag – but after running up Helvellyn, would your legs really have the strength to hustle Big Mary to the Big Sleep?



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