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2010 BMW R1200GS and GS Adventure Review

Riding BMW's rugged all-rounder through rain, sleet, and snow

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2010 BMW R1200 GS Adventure

The GS hits the dirt.

Photo © Kevin Wing
The BMW R1200GS is a venerated standard-setter when it comes to round-the-world readiness. While the GS's big makeover in 2004 dropped a whopping 66 pounds and boosted horsepower to 100, the bike's more recent changes have been more evolutionary than revolutionary.

For 2010, the GS receives a new valvetrain, which we put to the test on off-road trails and roads surrounding the Yosemite area. We encountered a snowstorm along the way, and finally capped off our ride with a 300 mile blast down to Los Angeles the following day.

How did BMW's latest adventure enduro perform under these taxing conditions?

The Goods: New Dual Overhead Cams for Better Breathing

>>Click here for a 2010 BMW R1200GS and GS Adventure Photo Gallery<<

Apart from minor tweaks which include new brake and clutch fluid reservoirs, grippier windshield adjustment knobs, and new instrument panel graphics, the big news for the 2010 BMW R1200GS is a dual-overhead cam valvetrain that's been transplanted from the HP2 Sport onto the GS's air-cooled, 1,170cc boxer engine.

The better breathing setup-- visually differentiated by two bolts on the valve cover rather than four on the 2009 model-- adds more low and mid-range torque, runs more smoothly, and offers stronger pulls toward redline (which has been bumped from 8,000 to 8,500 rpm.) Sodium-filled valves have also been added for more efficient cooling, and a new piston is matched to the radially arrayed valves. The larger valves and throttle manifold don't hamper fuel economy (which is rated at 43 mpg city, 51 mpg highway), and a new exhaust valve and muffler internals have been added to deepen the engine's sonic personality… and speaking of personality, the new valvetrain is more of a character enhancer than a spec sheet booster: it adds only 5 horsepower (for a total of 110) and 3 lb-ft of torque (bringing total twist to 88 lb-ft.) But as I explain below, those changes proved notable the road.

The GS model starts at $14,950, a $200 gain over the 2009 model. The GS's Standard Package includes heated grips, handguards, and integral ABS for $16,400, and the $17,695 Premium Package adds electronic suspension, an onboard computer, and saddle bag mounts.

And For You Adventuring Types... The Goods, Part II

2010 BMW R1200 GS Adventure

The Adventure model's cockpit; note the huskier tank, roll cage, fog lights (on the left), handguards, and added wind protection.

Photo © Kevin Wing
The Adventure version of the R1200GS is aimed squarely at longer distance riders, and starts at $17,000, a $250 bump from last year. The Adventure's Standard Package rings in at $18,700, and adds heated grips, ABS, and saddle bag mounts. The $20,245 Premium Package offers electronic suspension, an onboard computer, and fog lights; as with the non-Adventure variants, these figures don't reflect a $495 destination charge.

All Adventure models are wrapped in protective metal bars (for the inevitable adventure-related mishap) and clad with aluminum cylinder head covers, cross-spoke wheels, handguards, and a larger windscreen. Wide enduro footrests and an adjustable footbrake lever are also included with the Adventure package. The GS Adventure's fuel capacity is 3.4 gallons greater than the GS, for a immense total of 8.7 gallons. Suspension travel gains .8 inches (totaling 8.3 inches of front and 8.7 inches of rear travel), and first gear is 9% lower. And now for a couple of drawbacks: the Adventure model's seat height is raised 1.5 inches (to a towering 35.0 inches), and wet weight jumps a whopping 60 lbs, to 564 lbs… ouch! Understandably, 0-62 miles per hour arrives slightly more slowly than the non-Adventure model: it takes 3.95 seconds, a .25 second penalty.

If not already part of a package, available options on both models include Automatic Stability Control ($400), ABS ($1,100), heated hand grips ($250), and a Tire Pressure Monitor ($250.) On the non-Adventure model, low suspension is available for an extra $250, while a low seat can be added as a no cost extra.

Swing a Leg Over and Ride: Commanding Views, Slightly Snappier Thrust

Once you've climbed aboard the tall BMW GS, you're afforded a view from a saddle that's relatively narrow in contrast to the bulky tank— which is even heftier on the Adventure model, as seen in this overhead shot. The switchgear features some of those notoriously quirky BMW controls, among them turn signals that operate separately on the right and left grips (not unlike Harley-Davidson's arrangement), but are canceled using a slider button on the right grip. Some BMW-philes say they don’t mind the setup, but it's also admittedly not the most logical; the controls are said to be abandoned next year in favor of more conventional arrangement.

The big twin engine cranks to life with a jolt, slightly shaking the bike as it vibrates to life, and throttle twists shift the body to the right side, thanks to the torque reaction of those big pistons. Though your seating position is upright, the GS's saddle is placed somewhat inside the bike, as seen in this profile shot which conveys the rider's nestled perch.

The single-plate dry clutch operates with light effort, and the shifter clicks into place with precise, easy feedback; wearing offroad-style boots, pedal effort is practically nil.

Our test ride through Yosemite began with a brief on-road section followed by offroad trails-- some still puddled up from rain-- and the GS made a nearly seamless transition to the dirt thanks to its plush suspension (which, on our test bike, could be adjusted on the fly to one of 15 different settings, thanks to the electronic ESA system.)

2010 BMW R1200 GS Adventure

The aftermath: our BMW R1200GS test bikes the night after the snowstorm halted our ride.

Photo © Kevin Wing

Back-to-back rides between 2009 and 2010 models revealed an appreciable difference between engines; whereas the '09 didn't charge quite as aggressively towards redline, the '10 seemed a tad punchier and more eager to rev, bouncing off the limiter when pushed. But those forays towards the red section of the tachometer certainly didn't happen on trails, since the big twin powerplant's torquey power delivery enabled extremely light use of the throttle. In fact, torque is so abundant that— at least when surface conditions are slick— easing the bike forward requires not much more than delicate clutch slippage.

Neither of my test bikes were equipped with the optional traction control system, but the 2010's powerband proved flexible enough to remain in one gear throughout most trail sections, offering dirt spraying powerslides with slight flicks of the wrist. Switching to tarmac (with ABS switched back on) revealed more than enough power, with 100 mph speeds approached fairly effortlessly. It's certainly not the superbike engine-powered road rocket the Ducati Multistrada 1200 is, but the Beemer's 110 horsepower mill is more than capable of aiding and abetting the pursuit of dangerously high speeds… not that we faced that issue about two-thirds of the way into our ride, because the ambient temperature dropped to 34 degrees, triggering a flashing snowflake icon on the bike's digital display, which was soon followed by actual snowfall and ice on the road-- enough to force us to park our BMWs… at least until our 300 mile ride home the following afternoon.

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