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BMW R1200GS (2013) Motorcycle Review

When BMW reimagined its R1200GS for 2013,
the classic big enduro evolved to become
the motorcycle it was always meant to be.

2103 BMW R1200GS 2103 BMW R1200GS 2103 BMW R1200GS

Motorcyclists can become an emotional lot when a model they’ve grown attached to goes under the knife. What will “they” do to it? Can “they” really improve it? Like, “they” don’t know what they’re doing …

And so BMW finds itself in this delicate spot in 2013 as it unveils an all-new version of its universally praised and best-selling R1200GS.

BMW’s big GS is one of the sport’s brightest icons and much like anything Harley-Davidson or the Porsche 911, very particular rules apply when progress must happen. Rule Number One: don’t mess with the original formula. The German brand obviously followed that one because, to the untrained eye, the new R1200GS looks just like the model it replaces. 

But make no mistake: what BMW is offering in 2013 is an all-new motorcycle, starting with a totally redesigned engine. While the signature Boxer Twin layout remains, the engine’s architecture itself is entirely new. For example, the clutch is now located at the very front of the cases and infinitely more accessible and serviceable than it was previously, when it was crammed at the back of the engine. 

The all-new six-speed transmission is now built-in the cases rather than mounted separately; it shifts much better than before and has a clearly more refined general feel. 

Intake and exhaust systems are now vertical rather than horizontal, a solution which makes both processes more efficient, contributes to the added horsepower and opens up more room in front of the rider’s feet. 

Finally, the cooling system is entirely new. While air is still the major cooling element, it now relies on water rather than oil as a secondary/stabilizing element. The net result of all these modifications is a significantly more compact motor generating 125 horsepower, 15 more than its predecessor. 

Add a longer swingarm, new subframe geometry and “semi-active” suspension, wider wheels and tires front and back, ABS technology that is basically the S1000RR’s, new electronics with a choice of three Street and two Enduro modes, and what you have is indeed the Total Makeover of the GS.

Swing a leg over the bike, hit the restyled starter button (which is part of new K1600-style hand controls) and amazingly—but not coincidently—what you see, hear and feel is pure GS. The throaty rumble of the Boxer Twin, the torque effect that slightly pushes the bike laterally when the throttle is blipped, the rugged, purposeful instrumentation, wonderfully balanced riding position, intelligently sized windscreen (which can now be adjusted on the fly by turning a knob) are all elements of the big GS’ DNA that remain comfortingly present. 

And yet, this is an undeniably improved motorcycle, which in itself is a feat considering how refined and well behaved the previous model was. There were no 2012 R1200GS units on hand during the model launch to confirm this with a back-to-back comparison, but in my view this is both a significantly lighter steering and faster GS. The lack of resistance when initiating a turn is actually shocking and leads me to believe the new engine’s lighter internals offer notably less inertia. Combining such a characteristic to clearly stronger power and to even more planted and precise handling results in one particularly inviting twisties-devouring vehicle. 

But tarmac related qualities are just half the story as the GS is all about its ability to seemingly switch from pavement to dirt. There’s something that truly embodies freedom about a motorcycle capable of venturing off the beaten path and there may not be another full-sized model that does this more naturally and transparently than BMW’s big GS. It doesn’t do double jumps—or singles for that matter—but with a bit of skill and good tires, the GS can dig surprisingly deep off road. One aspect this makeover hasn’t changed however, is how tall and heavy the GS feels on a tight dirt road. There’s just no way around it, the thing is a handful in those conditions. But get out in the open where it can stretch its legs a bit and it all makes sense again, especially with the help of the new electronics. I’m personally not a huge fan of endless riding modes and electronic nannies, but once in a while a combination of features comes along that is anything but a gimmick. The Enduro Pro mode is one of those. It deactivates traction control to let you slide the rear at will and combines the amazing efficiency—even off-road—of the S1000RR-derived Integral race-ABS with the very logical idea of allowing the rear wheel to be locked up if the rear brake pedal is used. All of a sudden, electronics become an ally off-road instead of a hindrance. Here, for the first time ever in the dirt, it allows the rider to fearlessly brake hard with the front AND lock the rear at will.   

The motorcycle BMW created by rethinking the R1200GS is exactly, and I mean down to the last detail, the bike it should have been. Even though it’s about a grand more expensive than last year’s model at $18,850, it offers more of everything, but never at any cost to the mythical balance that still makes it an amazingly versatile machine. Many have called it the best adventure motorcycle on the market. As far as I’m concerned, what we have here is the best motorcycle in the universe. 

Turns out “they” do know what they’re doing after all.

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