BMW R 1250 GS A & F 850 GS A: Living among lions
Adventure is defined as ‘an unusual, exciting and possibly dangerous activity, such as a trip or an experience or the experience produced by such an activity’. Charles Boorman precisely understood the premise when he decided to travel from London to New York via Western Europe, passing through Russia and Canada. Back in 2004, the iconic ‘Long way round’ 30,000 plus kilometre adventure was pulled off on a couple of motorcycles. The motorcycles in question were none other than the BMW R 1150 GS’. In fact, for the last 40 years, the definition of adventure on two-wheels has been two words long – Gelande Strasse. GS in short and off-road/on-road in simple English. And the legend still continues to grow strong with each passing iteration. In fact, in 2018, BMW sold over 30,000 R 1200 GS’ in Europe alone! The success has seen the GS badge evolve. You not only get the big-bore, boxer-powered R variants today but even middleweight parallel-twin powered Fs. We managed to bring the only two GS’ with the Adventure badge together to find out what makes them particularly special.
The Baap of ADVs
When the R/80 was launched, the German media went gaga over it, calling it the ‘Best thing BMW has ever made’. Last year, BMW launched the R 1250 GS and our colleagues from UK resonated the same emotion. The cee cee game has been going up like inflation with every iteration but what the Rs haven’t lost is the authenticity. The boxer has always defined the flagship GS. The 1250 is no different. The massive 1254cc engine makes the most power it has ever made at 134bhp. That might seem ordinary when compared to the Ducati Multistrada 1260 Enduro but the GS tops the charts when it comes to the torque. With 143Nm, there’s so much of it that the front wheel tends to lift up at full throttle, even in third cog! And this ain’t a sport bike, mind you; it’s a ginormous, 268kg monster that scares the daylights out of you even when stationary. VVT has finally debuted on the flagship Beemers and that not only adds low-down grunt but also peak performance, which the R series always lacked. So tractable is the engine that even in sixth she tussles around at 30kmph without any drama whatsoever. The 1250 might look intimidating, but honestly, it is one of the easiest bikes to tame in the whole BMW ADV range. Add to it, that unique blend of orchestra which feels inspired from Christoph ‘Doom’ Schneider of Rammstein. You’ll never need those rock band concert passes ever again!
I found myself at home when I rode the R 1200 GS last year and thought that it had the best ergonomics ever for a big ADV. However, the R 1250 GS does it even better with a super-wide bar and perfectly-shaped tank recesses. This being the Adventure variant, the suspension travel is more than a large SUV’s with 210mm at the front and 220mm at the rear. It even gets a 30-litre tank, over the 20-litre one found on the regular GS along with massive protective bars for that protruding flat-twin. You also get electronically adjustable suspension along with a brilliant TFT cluster that can put the iPhone X to shame with its fluid transitions.
All of this adds to its superior touring capabilities along with enduro shenanigans. Our bike came with road-biased Metzelers which made it difficult to haul it around on dirt but with the optional Karoo 3 knobbies, the GS simply blows your mind away. If you’re getting one, make sure you opt for the knobbies right at the dealership.
The R 1250 GS, then, is more like a gentleman’s adventure tourer that can take you to the end of the world and back without fatigue. Pack a week’s clothing, a sleeping bag and tent, tins of beans along with your wife. The R 1250 GS will take it all. And it will take you there quick.
But if you want something more exciting, the F 850 GS Adventure should be your pick.
The wild child
I wasn’t really impressed with the F 850 GS when I test rode it a couple of months ago. The F 750 GS impressed me with its impeccable road mannerisms but the 850 felt like a compromise between road and off-road. The F 850 GS Adventure fills that void and tilts the scale towards the off-road side of things; exactly where it always should have been.
The naming convention plays an important role in the BMW range. F denotes a parallel-twin powered machine but bagging the GS badge takes some hard work. Thankfully, the GS Adventure has been bestowed with enough goodies to bag the title. It gets propah dual-sport, laced rims at both ends with a 21in-17in setup. The suspension travel is even more than the 1250 at 230mm/215mm (front/rear). The rake is a lazy 28deg but again, the purpose here is off-road stability over agility. The seat height is a massive 875mm and the Adventure also gets engine protection in terms of additional metal body panels.
The 853cc parallel-twin motor is mounted onto the engine for weight reduction and optimal weight balance. In typical GS fashion, it doesn’t make power in the range of its Italian rival but the torque is exemplary. However, unlike the flat-twin, the 850’s parallel-twin is not as tractable. It comes alive post 4,500rpm after which the 850 simply goes wild. If you are on trails, make sure you gas it properly, for the 850 loves to throw the tail out on every single occasion. And nudging you to do it often, BMW has tuned the engine like a super angry-sounding vocal chord. Trust me, the audiophiles among you will love to rev it, simply to hear the pops and crackles.
The 850 is always eager when it comes to the handling too. Ours came with an electronic suspension but I fondly remember how I unintentionally got my knee down on the F 750 GS a couple of months ago. Such is the handling of the F bikes that you’ll barely miss the Multistrada 950. And same applies to its off-road performance too. I’d stick my neck out and say that it’s better than the Tiger 800 at off-roading, barring the lack of lowdown grunt.
I have no skills to perform calisthenics on these giants unlike Hrishikesh who couldn’t get enough of the R 1250 GS. But the R 1250 GS really is a gem of a machine that can keep the amateurs as well as pros happy. There’s something for everyone when it comes to heading out there and creating an adventure of your own, be it on road or off it. And that explains the massive numbers the R’ brings for BMW.
The F 850 GS, on the other hand, is the best mix between an adventure tourer and a dual sport in the middleweight class. The Adventure variant especially takes the game a step forward in the right direction.
Should BMW have stuck with ‘why fix it when it ain’t broke’ formula? Not really. They have taken the game a step ahead with the new breed of GS and breaching the 30,000 mark is going to be a simple task to achieve