BMW’s GS series of motorcycles have always been unabashedly good at devouring miles and crushing continents. It’s what they’re made to do, and do in comfort. That’s why when I found myself with a two-wheeled road trip to the Quail Motorcycle Gathering on the horizon, I decided that the new R1250GS would be the perfect tool for the job.
“Tool” is a perfect way to describe the GS, too. It’s not a pretty motorcycle by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn’t have any jewel-like qualities; it’s not an exotic thing. The BMW is absurdly overbuilt and incredibly well-engineered. But it’s also meant to be as adept at taking its rider around the globe as it is taking them to Starbucks.
Now, I’m no stranger to larger bikes — my personal motorcycle is a not-small Triumph Tiger 800 XCx. But even so, the amount of machine under you when you’re on a GS does take a moment to get used to. Going from my Triumph to the Beemer was like going from a midsize sedan to a full-size SUV. Unfortunately, a big downside to riding a giant, fully loaded bike is that, in rush-hour traffic, it makes lane-splitting (a legal act in California) difficult.
Once aboard the R1250, the first thing that strikes you — other than the towering riding position — is the amount of onboard technology. The grips are loaded with an almost innumerable collection of buttons and switches that control everything from your turn signals (auto-canceling, natch) to the firmness of your electronically adjustable suspension.
The main interface between the rider and the gorgeous TFT LCD dash is a bumpy wheel on the left-hand grip that can be rotated, rocked left or right, or clicked. It looks a little like something you’d find in the raver kid sale bin at a Hot Topic, but it’s intuitive and effective, especially with the BMW’s deeply customizable interface.
One of the coolest things about the Beemer is the inclusion of an honest-to-god keyless start system. Keep the reminiscent-of-early-2000s-VW combination fob and key in your pocket, mash your gloved hand onto a button on top of the triple tree and you’re good to go. Thumb the starter button, and you’re off.
Other comfort features include a manually adjustable windscreen that you can work with one hand, heated grips, cruise control and much, much more. The GS line is notorious for being riddled with all of BMW Motorrad’s latest and greatest gadgets, and after just a few minutes aboard the thing, it’s clear that this reputation is totally warranted.
My particular tester is an Adventure-spec bike, which in addition to sounding super cool, means it comes with some more off-road focused goodies like a larger diameter spoked front wheel, a special off-road anti-lock brake setting and, of course, locking hard aluminum fitted luggage. The Adventure trim can be optioned with off-road-friendly tires, but those wouldn’t have been ideal for my paved-road voyage.
My tester also packs BMW’s wildly overpriced and totally unnecessary GPS system. The interface for the Garmin-based system is controlled through the bike’s handlebars, and when riding, it’s really tough to use. Oh, and it’s also a $900 option. Just stick to Google Maps on your phone.
The R1250GS is powered by a 1,254-cc, liquid-cooled, flat-twin engine that produces a respectable 134 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque. The motor is paired with a six-speed sequential transmission and shaft final drive — as is traditional with BMW, as opposed to a chain or belt.
The GS’ transmission is probably my least favorite aspect of the bike, and this is something endemic to BMW’s boxer-powered bikes in general. The shifts always feel slightly rough and agricultural. The bike is equipped from the factory with a quickshifter, but it’s so crude as to be unusable. The quickshifter on the Aprilia Tuono I recently rode — a bike that costs nearly $10,000 less than the Beemer, mind you — has a much more useable quickshifter.
Still, aside from the unlovely transmission, the powertrain is excellent. The GS isn’t going to wow you with its engine note (it too sounds a little tractor-ish), but it has sufficient power and torque, and the overall response is smooth and predictable. The throttle isn’t jerky, either, which can sometimes be a trait of modern motorcycles, thanks to tuning to meet emissions.
The GS’ suspension is a marvel. No motorcycle the size and weight of the R1250GS should be able to ride as comfortably or handle as well as it does. And a large part of the bike’s competency stems from BMW’s unorthodox front suspension design.
BMW’s Telelever front suspension isn’t new, per se, but it is incredibly effective. Rather than using the bike’s suspension forks to control all of the damping and manage all of the twisting forces imparted by turning, Telelever uses another wishbone system with a coil-over strut that works with thinner-than-they-would-otherwise-be fork tubes. The system corrects geometry issues that lead to brake dive and make the bike feel incredibly predictable and hooked-up.
Out back, BMW keeps things pretty GS-traditional with a monoshock and its Paralever swingarm. Paralever is a single-sided swingarm design that not only locates the wheel and houses the bike’s driveshaft, but also pivots just before the rear differential, which helps to prevent a phenomenon known as shaft jacking which — stop giggling, it’s a real thing — that can affect shaft-driven motorcycles.
The brakes are sizable 305-millimeter twin discs up front with dual, four-pot calipers, and out the back you’ll find a single, 276-millimeter disc gripped by a single, dual-piston caliper. An anti-lock braking system is standard, as is traction control.
The GS’ BMW-made brakes are so brilliant, in fact, that they managed to save my life when a battered old Chevy Astro van pulled out from a blind driveway without looking, just a few dozen feet in front of me. The bike hauled itself down from mildly extra-legal speeds with no drama, no chatter from the ABS at the lever and no sketchiness going forward. It was as undramatic a panic stop as I’ve had on a bike — not that I’ve had that many panic stops.
The rest of the bike is beautifully assembled, and everything feels like it’s of the highest quality, as one would expect from Motorrad. BMW doesn’t make cheap motorcycles, and it shows in the GS.
The GS’ massive, 6.3-gallon fuel tank means you can go quite a distance between fuel stops — I covered around 200 miles between fill-ups, keeping in mind that I was loaded with luggage and gear — which is both a blessing and a curse. A long range is great for making good time, but it also means prolonged sits can cause your knees to cramp.
Still, my long ride was blissful, with the salty smell coming off the ocean mixing with the eucalyptus trees on the roadside. The nasal blat of the Beemer’s flat-twin engine even managed to win me over, partly because it wasn’t overly loud and partly because it got decidedly angrier as I piled on the revs.
Still, as competent as the R1250GS is, I’d have a hard time justifying the more than $30,000 price tag with luggage and options. Still, this is a wildly capable motorcycle — certainly more capable than I am as a rider — and you totally get the impression that you could take it around the world the long way.