What do you get when you update class-leading bikes? Yes, we really wanted to know too, so we tested the new BMW R1250 GS Adventure and R1250 RT
Life is full of difficult decisions, isn’t it? Do you go for chips or rice? Is it a pint down the pub after work or Coronation Street with the wife? Okay, some decisions are easier to make than others but difficulty aside, if you are anything like me, the most important decision you will make this year is what bike you go for. And if touring the world is your bag, BMW might have something to interest you – the mile-munching, boxer-engined Beemers have been treated to a new motor and electronics package.
That’s right, the R1200 RT and R1200 GS Adventure, which have been kitted out with a new 1254cc motor (rather than the 1170cc jobby in the outgoing model), have become the R1250 RT and the R1250 GS Adventure respectively. But that’s not all… the new, bigger engine has another 10bhp (up from 124bhp to 134bhp) and a shed load more torque which is up 19Nm, from 124Nm to 143Nm. The extra power and torque is partially due to the additional 84cc, yes, but BMW has also added some variable valve timing capability into the mix with its ShiftCam Technology, which it says “increases power across the entire engine speed range, reduces emission and fuel consumption levels and optimises running smoothness and refinement”.
As well as the new motor, both bikes have an updated electronics packages and some slightly new styling, which would take the most eagle-eyed BMW connoisseurs to spot. The Brembo front brakes have also been binned in favour of BMW-branded calipers made by an American firm called Hayes, which is better known for making mountain bike braking systems. But you still get Brembo callipers at the rear.
But the GSA is still a GSA and the RT is still an RT, and although they might have always looked different, they have both always been very capable of munching miles comfortably and quickly. But we wanted to dig deeper. Would the new RT be the armchair-on-wheels to make long stints in the saddle, a tankful at a time, something to enjoy rather than endure? Or would the adventurous GSA be the master of all the trades you need it to be (and Jack of a few others, too)?
To find out, we headed to sunny Spain and clocked up a bunch of miles on both of the new models to see what they are best at. You’re in for a surprise!
When you are selling as many R1200 GSs as BMW is (nearly 30,000 in Europe last year alone), the temptation, I imagine, would be to let sleeping dogs lie and leave the GS be. But no. The Germans have decided they can improve the all-conquering all-rounder. Since the GS’s first iteration in 1980, the horizontally opposed, twin-cylinder engine configuration has been increased in cubic capacity time and time again (so there is no surprise that we are now looking at 1254cc), each time delivering more power and torque, but never losing the bike’s GS, or Gelände Strasse (off-road street), feel.
On aesthetics alone, it looks like a very capable bike off-road. Big handlebars, wire-spoked wheels, a sump guard and some big crash bars all add to the look, but to me the off-roadiness is largely down to the bike’s physical stance. The GSA, with its great big front end and super-high seat (which can be lowered), looks like you’d have your work cut out just to climb onto it, never mind ride it. I’m 5ft 10in tall and I struggled to climb on it the traditional way – by swinging a leg over the back. I found that the best way was to mount it was as you would a horse, by first getting one foot on the peg (or stirrup, in the equine sense) to step up to the bike (or horse) before swinging said leg over. Once in the saddle you are greeted with a trick looking dash, the likes of which you would expect to see on a top-of-the-range sportsbike like the new S1000RR; it’s a full-colour TFT number and it looks great.
When fired up, the engine has the same, very distinctive boxer rumble to it. A twist of the light-feeling fly-by-wire throttle seems to be effortlessly translated into revs, as the injection system works faultlessly to deliver fuel to the horizontally-opposed cylinders.
So far so good. What I was really looking forward to though, was experiencing the new BMW ShiftCam Technology. According to BMW, the electronic valve faffery is completely unnoticeable when riding either model. The deviant in me saw that as a challenge and I tried my best to feel something happen at 5,000rpm, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t feel, hear or see anything peculiar happen, at any point, which would have given away the ShiftCam’s presence. Instead, the motor was deliciously smooth, from tick-over all the way to its 9,000rpm rev limit. But the thing about the GSA that really grabbed me was the torque and low down power. The big fat engine seemed to have more power than you could ever need on a bike like a GS; but it was great fun, and it gave the bike an edge that some big adventure bikes lack slightly.
When bombing along on the road, the GSA offers plenty of comfort and its stature really gives you the feeling of being king (or queen) of the road. Although the 20deg Celsius weather in Spain didn’t warrant the use of the heated grips, they would no doubt be utilised back home and I can imagine the hand guards would be a godsend in colder climates at 113kmph too. The seat was comfortable and the 30-litre tank ergonomically shaped for the knees to be tucked in nicely. An easily accessible twisty knob made raising and lowering the screen a piece of cake – I found that the screen at the highest level suited me the best. Everything aboard the GSA was pretty darn cushy as far as I was concerned.
And to make things even better, the electronics package on the GSA does a remarkable job of taking care of your every need, as well as keeping you as safe as possible. Gearshifts are made easier thanks to the quickshifter and blipper systems, which both worked faultlessly on our ride.
The ABS and traction control systems also work well, particularly in Dynamic mode which allows you to push the bike a little bit more before any electronic intervention takes place. I felt like I really needed to try if I wanted to put myself in danger when riding the GSA, it always seemed to have my back.
Having ridden it on the superfluous road of Spain, I can tell you that it is by no means a sports bike and the big Beemer could quite easily be forgiven for not acting thus but, for such a big lump, it was surprisingly nimble. Okay, it’s nothing like a supersports bike but on the more ‘involved’ stretches of our ride when we were chucking the GSA at one corner after the next after the next, things proved surprisingly good. First and foremost, the front brakes deserve a round of applause on their own. They were fantastic, with loads of feel and plenty of strength, and not a jot of fade. Bravo Hayes. Secondly the ease in which the GSA turned was, well, unbelievable really – how can a 268kg bike be so nimble? Perhaps it’s down to the big wide bars offering plenty of leverage, or perhaps the semi-active suspension – either way, I was shocked at the thing’s capabilities.
After a good stint in the saddle of the new R 1250 GS Adventure I did find my fingers tingling quite a bit, such is the vibey nature of the engine, something that every GS I have ever ridden has seemed to suffer from, but it wasn’t a show stopper. I loved the GSA and I have got a feeling the new model will keep on selling just as well as its predecessor.
This really is a whopper of a bike. Sporting the same 1254cc boxer engine as the GSA, the RT looks to be an entirely different concept. The mass of bodywork, the low seat and the panniers instantly slot the RT into a different category to the GSA; it’s a big tourer – a far cry from the adventurous-looking GSA. As I threw a leg over for the first time, I tried my best to avoid kicking a pannier on the RT, but failed miserably and left a big rubbery skid-mark on the top of it (this became a regular occurrence).
Once seated, the RT seemed to fit my frame perfectly. I wasn’t keen on how far forward the side-stand was, as I accidentally kicked the back of the left cylinder as I tried to hook my foot around it, but it only happened once – I was more careful from then on. With the stand disengaged and the bike perfectly vertical, my feet were easily able to touch the floor relatively flat-footed; this was particularly beneficial as, when stationary, the bike’s 279kg really made itself known, especially when a degree or two of lean was introduced.
As per the GSA, the RT we rode came with a keyless ignition system (an additional extra to the standard bike), which normally I find rather a pain in the neck, but the BMW has a little cubbyhole near the front of the tank (like a mini glove box) in which the key fits nicely so you don’t have to go rummaging through your pockets to find it every time you want to fuel up. Not that you would have to do that on the RT anyway, as the filler cap is also keyless. Neat. The ignition is turned on with a big button where the key would normally be, at which point the TFT screen in the middle of the dash lights up. The screen is flanked by an old-fashioned speedo (to the left) and rev counter (to the right) which are, in turn, flanked by a pair of speakers. The dash is huge, and like something that you’d expect to see in a Ford Mondeo, as are the mirrors.
On tick-over the RT sounds the same as the GSA, if slightly muted. When rolling, the characteristics of the motor feel the same; very smooth with bucketloads of torque. The initial difference was how smooth the RT felt as a whole package (rather than just the engine). I glided along in complete comfort, it was bliss. In fact, everything on the RT seemed to be aimed at comfort. The five-level grip heaters, the five-level seat heaters, the huge great big screen and the comfortable seat all helped towards providing a sumptuous experience on-board the RT. I was particularly keen on the fact that the RT we rode came with a stereo, although it proved inaudible at anything over 100kmph, even turned up to full blast, not to mention the fact that it kept switching between channels as I inadvertently toggled the BMW Motorrad Multi Controller Wheel on the left handlebar. But it was a nice touch, and we could listen to the Spanish hit parade, if we so wished, whenever we pulled over.
The torque and smoothness of the engine made the RT mega easy to ride. I found that anything above 80kmph was fine in top gear – the thing would just plod along quite happily and always have enough poke to drive itself sensibly up to motorway speed. We navigated a few quiet motorways during our ride and made good use of the cruise control system, which is really easy to use and works brilliantly. Like on the GSA, the quickshifter and blipper both work perfectly and, again, make the ride that bit easier. The hill start assist function came in handy a few times on the RT as our route took us through the foothills of the Sierra Alhamilla mountain range in southern Spain where there was many a steep junction to contend with. It was a great feature that, as expected, worked really well.
The twisting roads were less kind to the RT. Where the GSA had felt surprisingly nimble, the RT made its limits known. While the rear brake seemed very effective, likely owing to the masses of weight bearing down on the rear wheel, the front brake felt a little less impressive, especially when trying to brake downhill. It was more than capable of doing what most would ever be likely to do on it, but the Adventure felt as though it was capable of a little bit more and I didn’t like how keen the ABS was to join the party on the RT. The same can be said for cornering, it was mega stable and would roll round any corner comfortably until you asked to do it at speed, at which point the bike would just drift wide in an ever increasing arc, until you ran out of tarmac.
The BMW R1250 RT is a bike that’s been fantastically designed and very well built. BMW has taken something good and made it better. It’s fast and as comfortable as anything else out there with two wheels.
The new RT and the GSA might well use the same engine and frame, but they are very different machines. That said, they both tick lot of the same boxes; they are fast, comfortable, and capable of being laden up with a week’s worth of pants and socks, your toothbrush and your wife, and being ridden from here to wherever you please? Yes, indeed they are.
The Adventure may be a little bit more at home off road than the RT… okay, a lot more at home off road. And the RT might be a bit more chilled out when it comes to long stretches in the saddle on the motorway (not that the GSA isn’t capable of that). But really, which bike you go for would be down to preference. For some it will be a case, simply, of what the bike looks like, or more to the point, what they look like riding it. For others, short-leggedness would rule the GSA out, but for many, a desire to venture off-road would rule it in.
While the RT may seem less intimidating, it can be a handful when the hairpin bends are coming thick and fast. You might be a long way up on the Adventure, but it does seem a bit easier going round the tight stuff.
I think the two bikes suit two different riders. The R1250 RT is for the rider who wants to go fast, wants to be comfortable, wants to load his bike up with a weeks’ worth of pants and socks, his toothbrush and his wife (or husband) and chart a course around southern Europe. He isn’t going to stray from the beaten path, he needs plenty of space for his wife’s (or husband’s) shampoo, conditioner, eye liner, lip gloss, daytime shoes, evening shoes (flat ones and heels, oh and the nice purple ones with the little buckle at the back); he is going from one hotel to the next and wants to travel in style.
The R1250 GS Adventure on the other hand is for the rider who wants to go fast, be comfortable, load his bike up with a weeks’ worth of pants and socks, his toothbrush and his tent, and go wild camping in eastern Europe with his mates. He plans on getting lost at some point and stray from the beaten path, and needs room to carry his sleeping bag, gas stove and plenty of beer.
The R 1250 GS Adventure retails in India at `18.25 lakh while the Pro variant with all the bells and whistles costs `21.95 lakh. Of course, the R 1250 RT isn’t here yet, but going by the R 1200 RT’s pricing and expect it to cost anything less than `21 lakh. These are prices that make anyone looking for a ‘cheap run-around’ instantly dismiss the bikes, but for those about to do serious miles, and those who demand exquisite comfort and performance, the bikes are looking pretty damn tempting regardless of what it says on the price tag.