A long, northern ride with the BMW R 1250 GS

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About forty years ago when the original BMW R80 GS was introduced, the idea of a large, heavy motorcycle for on-road AND trail adventures was unheard of. It was met with more than a few raised eyebrows, but the magic of the boxer-twin engine mated to an off-road capable chassis and wheel setup worked so well that BMW has to be given most of the credit for virtually inventing the hugely popular segment known today as Adventure-Touring bikes.

With the popularity of these go-anywhere, do-anything machines, many manufacturers have since joined the fray, offering alternatives that are more affordable or more powerful and riders are spoilt for choice. With so many contenders now vying for the crown, the question is: Does the current BMW R1250GS still have what it takes to be the king?

The new King

The GS line has long been known as simple, robust machines you can count on when miles away from home. With the early “airhead” models that meant fairly simple air-cooled engines, without the complications of electronics but to keep up with today’s market, and yes even to define it, BMW has slowly beefed up the on-board tech that come with these amazing machines.

The biggest change on this 1254cc boxer engine is the innovation BMW has dubbed “Shift-Cam Technology.” A high-lift cam for greater performance on high-speed runs and a low-lift cam profile for greater economy and throttle control at slower engine speeds. There’s updated riding modes, dynamic braking technology and all kinds of creature comforts that keep you safe and comfortable no matter how brief or lengthy the ride.

But these bikes were built for the long haul and there is no more perfect way to put it to the test that to take it on a long ride. I joined BMW Motorrad Philippines as they brought their Service Caravan to BMW owners deep in Southern Luzon. The trip was a 3-day Manila-Tuguegarao-Dinadiawan odyssey that looped back to Manila — a mix of riding conditions which include some of the best riding roads the north had to offer. Gentlemen, start your engines…

In metro traffic

There’s no two ways about it, with a curb weight close to 550 lbs. and a seat height anywhere between 800-900mm, depending on which seat and suspension option are spec’d, the R 1250 GS is a big, heavy bike. And you feel that heft when walking the bike, it also takes a bit of experience to maneuver this beast in tight traffic but in experienced hands it’s surprisingly more agile than one would imagine. And despite the initial hulking impression it makes, the weight magically disappears once the bike is in motion. And with the flat twin layout its known for, the bike is blessed with an extremely low center of gravity which gives the 1250 GS its keen sense of balance.

Open road

Half the journey would be spent on the legal side of triple digits and the R 1250 GS is certainly built for highway comfort with its wide, well-cushioned seat. Wind blast is kept off the rider via its adjustable windscreen. The bike also now comes standard with a slick quick shifter for clutchless upshifts and auto-blip down shifts. It’s brilliant and easy to use but does require you to be going hard and high in the rev range for smooth action on the upshift. Next-gen ABS makes sure you keep both wheels spinning even under very aggressive braking, offering 6-axis cornering ABS that takes into consideration the lean angle and pitch of the bike to allow ABS braking even with the bike leaned over in corners. This is a level of control that we would really maximize as the route turned twisty.

Choosing between the five preset riding modes (Road, Rain, Dynamic, Enduro and Enduro Pro) is a breeze thanks to the handlebar dial and the now standard 6.5-inch colored TFT guage. Electronic Suspension Adjustment makes tweaks to your suspension settings on the fly super easy. The standard Road setting makes travel as comfortable as it can be, but the bike can wallow when pushed hard in the corners. To make the most of what the bike has to offer in the handling department, a simple flick of a button to Dynamic Mode will unleash the raucous side of 136hp when you pin the throttle to the redline and pitch it hard into corners. It’s hard to believe a bike of this size can handle as sharply as it does, it certainly has more capabilities than my riding skills could muster.

Homeward

At the end of three days of riding and about 1200 kilometers added to the odometer. I was still fresh upon stepping off the mighty GS. It’s a sure-footed bike that flatters you, it keeps you out of trouble without you noticing and most importantly, its rider aids frees your focus to allow you to consciously enjoy more of the thrills and views of your two-wheeled adventure. Even two days after the trip I still have a huge smile plastered on my face. I think it’s fair to say: Long live the King!    

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