40th Anniversary of the BMW GS
Coming from a background of Japanese bikes my first experience of a BMW Boxer made me squint… It certainly wasn’t love at first sight that’s for sure.
As for the big GS variants, well, surely if a designer had come up with a blueprint for an adventure bike that had two big cylinders hanging out the side you would think he was taking the piss, surely?
But here we are, 40 years later and the GS has forged its own legend in motorcycling folklore with a following and iconic brand strength that is the envy of other manufacturers.
The GS certainly didn’t invent the spirit of adventure motorcycling, that’s been around as long as motorcycling itself, but I do think the GS can lay claim to bringing a bigger and more luxurious side to adventure-touring that has essentially become the new normal. This is a segment of the market that BMW effectively invented, and one that now has almost every motorcycle brand clamouring for a piece of the pie that BMW baked. Most though are yet to get the recipe quite as right as süß (sweet) as the Germans.
The GS range has grown with the popularity of the brand as smaller and more accessible offerings joined the big Boxers. The single-cylinder F 650 GS was introduced in 2000 while the first of the parallel-twin series debuted in 2007 with the F 800 GS. More recently an entry-level G 310 GS was added to a GS line-up that in 2021 now comprises a fleet of models ranging from the tiddler 310 right up the Bavarian burger with the lot that is the R 1250 GS Adventure.
My own personal experience of GS was somewhat limited until around 2006 when I joined BMW owners on a TS Safari. The bike had gone on a diet in 2004 that saw 30 kg stripped from its mass in the transition from 1150 to 1200 while the 2008 model introduced a new era of electronics with the first generations of traction control and ABS that actually started to become more of a help than a hindrance. Electronic suspension was also first introduced in 2008 and heralded BMW as the trailblazer for bringing new innovations in technology to mainstream motorcycling. This was also the time that I really started to personally gel with the big boxers.
I have since completed a number of GS Safari and GS Safari Enduro events and have ridden big Boxers in every sort of terrain imaginable on both model launch events and Safaris. I would say it was around 2008 that I first really gelled with the GS.
Those adventures include a largely solo trek from Cape York to Wilsons Promontory taking in the most northern and southern points of the Australian mainland.
From the deserts of the Northern Territory and outback QLD, across some of the highest navigable tracks that straddle the NSW and Victorian High Country, to countless dirt trails that criss-cross Tasmania, I have seen so much of Australia astride a GS.
It has definitely been a privilege to have had so many amazing experience with the models since then and to have enjoyed the constant ongoing developments of those systems. To feel those improvements advance through each generation.
The latest 40th anniversary GS models have introduced yet more fine tuning and improvements to the electronic systems that underline the technological tour de force that is GS.
For most of my life motorcycling has been for me a predominantly solo pursuit. I’ve always enjoyed the isolation of just being with my own thoughts and treading my own path with very little planning and most definitely no scheduling to ruin the spontaneity of the experience. Hell I even set out on a 15-day 16,000 kilometre solo lap of Australia with no real itinerary or plan, I have always preferred to just roll with it, schedules and agendas are largely not for me.
That said, there is no doubt that the three Safari events each year add a hefty dose of appeal to being a GS customer. Whether you choose the road oriented TS Safari, the dual-sport experience of the GS Safari or want to test yourself in the more hard-core GS Safari Enduro I think unless you sign up for some of these events you really are missing out on a big part of the GS experience.
At Safaris Someone else does all the planning, and that planning is meticulous, you just follow a marked route and enjoy the ride with the knowledge that there are back-up support services on hand if things were to go wrong. Sure, some of the spontaneity is missing, but the camaraderie amongst the participants quickly builds and I’ve yet to encounter any sooks that spoil the party and you meet some very interesting people along the way.
Friendships are made that are only ever rekindled at the next Safari, and the one after that, Safari friends so to speak. This is another facet of the GS experience that many brands have sought to replicate, but haven’t quite managed to pull off in the same way. GS Safari events are generally limited to 200 or less participants and often sell out within an hour of places being released.
This year’s GS Safari heads to Far North Queensland for five days of adventure riding in the tropics between Townsville and Cairns from May 23-28.
The more off-road oriented GS Safari Enduro (August 22-28), meanwhile, heads to the Central West Queensland town of Longreach, also home of the Qantas Museum, to begin a six-day, 2,500km-plus adventure into the Australian Outback, finishing in Toowoomba.
If you are yet to throw a leg over one yourself I suggest you go and see what GS is all about and take one for an extended test ride. There is no doubt the big adventure models can be quite daunting at first, but it doesn’t take long before the confidence comes and you start to really enjoy the experience. BMW can also help you on that score with yet another facet of the GS ownership experience by way of their comprehensive BMW Rider Training programs where riders of all skill levels can learn how to better control their motorcycle and really learn what it is capable of. BMW also run their popular GS Experience program which is a perfect introduction to, funnily enough, the GS experience… As good as the latest 850 is, I would urge you to get on a boxer as it is not only the standard-bearer of the range, but also the pinnacle of BMW Motorrad.
2021 GS Experience Dates
Clearly, I am a fan, and if I could only have one bike in the garage I do really think that an R 1250 GS would be a prime contender. They really do combine an amazing level of street performance with sumptuous levels of comfort and genuine off-road ability in a balance that none of the competition has yet quite managed to match. Some of the competition are a bit better off-road, some offer a bit more performance on road, but the GS, I believe, straddles both ends of the spectrum in the right balance, for me. The recent move to a three-year warranty is also certainly not to be sneezed at, as with anything this complicated that adds some extra peace of mind into the bargain for sure.
I introduced two good riding friends that in years past I strafed the Victorian High Country with on sportsbikes to the GS. They are both handy steerers and were quickly won over by the poise exhibited by this somewhat ungainly design that through years of painstaking development has been polished to perform so brilliantly. I put them on GS test bikes that I had on loan from BMW and it didn’t take long for them to be converted and both ended up buying an R 1200 GS of their own. Thus test riding one can prove an expensive exercise, but it is the only way to see why the likes of myself have been banging on about these bikes for the last decade or more is to get a taste yourself.
40 years in the GS has never been better and as it is a core tenet of BMW’s heritage the model will always be the primary weapon in the BMW armoury. Will the 50th anniversary models still be burning unleaded or will battery technology have progressed to a point whereby an electrically charged GS could be a viable adventure-touring mount? Come 2030 I guess we will find out but for now we can revel in the unique character that the BMW boxer has brought to motorcycling which in its latest guise eqautes to 1254 cc of engine generating an effortless 143 Nm of shove with a special kind of charisma that despite all the technology is still so unmistakably BMW from the first press of the starter button. Can’t see how they will replicate that with an electric one though……
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