It was Saturday, it was a beautiful spring day around these parts of the world, and the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon (EMCWOR) had a 2014 BMW R1200GS demo hanging out in front of the store. I had some time to kill while my Multistrada was being worked on the shop last Saturday, no need to twist my arm… I will take the BMW out for a spin.
The quality of the fit and finish remains the same with BMW motorcycles. The overall design and the ergonomics of the motorcycle shows the project team paid close attention to who adventure riders are and how this bike was going to be used. Well, they’ve been doing this for more than 30 years, they know who we are. They invented this segment of the motorcycle industry.
I had ridden the 2013 water-cooled model last year (see 2013 R1200GS report here), but that bike was a base model. This 2014 model had the fixings. I was especially looking forward to trying the Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (Dynamic ESA).
Dynamic ESA is not unlike what is available in the 2013-14 Ducati Multistrada and called Ducati Skyhook Suspension (DSS). Although there are differences on the way these two applications work on the BMW and the Ducati. More on that later.
Besides the riding modes, this bike had heated grips, cruise control, the ability to turn ABS off with a switch (instead of a convoluted menu driven process like in my Triumph Tiger), and a wheel-shaped control that operates the GPS. The bike comes set up for a GPS (Navigator IV base). It also has an ESA suspension adjustment (normal, soft, hard).
This bike was equipped with the Garmin Navigator IV (Navigator V should already be available for sale). The position of the GPS is great in terms of eye-sight. It probably could be set up a bit higher up for me; as it was, it partially covered the tachometer.
With these specs this 2014 BMW water-cooled came from the factory set up for what we call adventure riding. From show room floor to your dreamed adventure ride, nothing else needs to be done. That’s one of the reasons this bike remains top of the heap on the adventure corner. Another reason being how it performs on whatever terrain you define as adventure riding. And in the unlike scenario something goes wrong with the bike, you have BMW service and support basically on all corners of the world, including an unrivaled 3-year warranty.
But not everything is perfect… you have to get used to that beak. If Bauhaus applies, form follows function, there must be a reason for this ugly duckling shape, right? Or not. I have not discovered that yet.
And if you read my review of the 2013, there is the side stand issue. It hinges from farther ahead on the bike when compared to my other bikes. I have to make a conscious decision to move my foot forward to find the tab to deploy it each time I park the bike. But maybe all 1200GS bikes were like that?
But it is all out of sight, out of mind when you get the bike going, you don’t see the beak, you don’t need the side stand. The red 2013 I tested last year was brand new. This white 2014 already had 750 miles on the clock when I took it out for a spin. This may explain why the motor of the 2014 felt more willing to rev than the 2013, although the 2013 was already an improvement from the 2012 and 2011 models I tested. First thing you notice is the typical BMW boxer exhaust note, but on these water-cooled bikes it sounds angry, goes well with the motor’s revised stance.
Once in motion I immediately started playing with the settings. I settled with Dynamic for the ride mode (options are Dynamic, Road, Rain and Enduro — this model could be set with Enduro-Pro as well). And the suspension was set to normal (choices are Hard, Normal or Soft), with the pre-load at “rider without luggage” (other options are rider with passenger and/or luggage). Settings can be changed using a couple of buttons in a very intuitive way. And you can change settings on the go, I closed the throttle, with the clutch in, and changed settings. The riding mode takes a few seconds to take effect, but it is all very clearly displayed.
On “Dynamic” mode the bike felt engaging, something I didn’t quite experience with the base model. The bike really smooth with a touch of aggressiveness. Not a Ducati, of course, but it is plenty good, I never felt it underpowered. And like my previous ride with the 2013, it settles on a very nice touring mode at 4RPM at 70MPH. At that combo you can cruise in comfort all day long. And from there the bike still has enough torque to accelerate without the need of a downshift.
It is in the “Dynamic” mode that the bike feels more aggressive, and in that mode the fueling shows a bit of an on/off edge when coming off a start. This mode is good for when you want to push it hard. But when coming to town or you are tired and just want to take it easy, change it to “Rain” mode. I observed that in rain mode that engaging characteristic disappeared, in a Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jakyll way, the bike assumed a more compliant role, riding becomes effortless. I did not try the “Road” and the “Enduro” modes.
The bike felt always ready for action, it was a willing partner to whatever came to my mind. A true rider’s motorcycle, or a comfortable and compliant tourer. Unfortunately, once again I did not try it off pavement. But there is nothing there to make me think it would not work well on dirt and gravel roads.
Overall, the bike felt really planted on the road and all types of curves and pavement irregularities. The main change in the 2014 was the addition of a steering damper. I never felt the 2013 needed it, but then I only rode it for 50 miles. There were reports where people noticed a head shake with the previous bike. In any case, if there was any issue there, the 2014′s steering damper solved it.
Overall, I liked the bike with semi-active suspension better than the “analog” suspension of the 2013 base model. But I like technology, I enjoy the benefits of electronic assistance. Both BMW and Ducati use Sachs technology for their semi-active suspension. However, the Dynamic ESA in the BMW felt softer than its DSS application on the Multistrada. It could be that the BMW is geared more for comfort on its three modes (Soft, Normal, and Hard) while Ducati may have dialed their application to a more sport oriented mode. Maybe there was more to the BMW settings that I missed, maybe I should take it for another spin. Yes, I need to do that. Maybe the shop should let me try it on a gravel road.
Having said that, the BMW felt solid at all times, and in my opinion, the Dynamic ESA felt more solid than the “analog” suspended base model I tested last year. I did not feel the Dynamic ESA was lacking anything compared to the Ducati DSS, and I actually wish the DSS had a setting where the suspension felt more comfortable and compliant on its softest setting for when I’m just touring. Overall, both BMW’s Dynamic ESA and Ducati’s DSS, in my opinion, are the way to go for large displacement motorcycles. For me, there is no looking back to analog suspension on these big bikes. Even KTM has joined this effort!
Talking about KTM, I’ve been trying to score a test ride on the 1190 Adventure. First the local dealer told me I needed a chaperone rider, and since they didn’t have the staff to do that, I could not ride it at that time. I checked with them now and they say they sold their demo. They have a bike on the floor but it is not a demo and their demo allocation is done for this year. It reminds me of the Long Way Round when Charlie wanted a KTM, but KTM did not trust they would make it and denied them of the 950 Adventure bikes for which Charlie lusted. BMW gave them the bikes and well, the rest is history… which, as history itself tells us, it tends to repeat itself. What?
The question is: would I buy the BMW? Like I said before when I tested the 2013 bike, if I were down to have only one bike, this bike would be a top contender to the job. I can say this with more conviction today than before about the 1200GS: I really like the new character given to the boxer motor since they became water-cooled; the Dynamic ESA hit the spot for me; and although it is fun to customize a bike for your travel needs, the BMW R1200GS remains one of the few bikes ready to ride, from the showroom to your dreamed journey to the end of the world without adding any accessory.
If you are in the area, stop by at the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon (EMCWOR), take it for a ride and decide for yourself.