Long Termer: BMW R1200GS III, dirt prep

Photos by Zac Kurylyk (ZK) and Rob Harris (RH)

We found ourselves in the enviable position of having a choice of 1200GS long termers this year – the standard version or the Adventure version. Tempting as it was to go for a 1200 ready to get dirty in Adventure form, the downside is that you have very little to do to it, as it’s already fully kitted out. So the base version it was, complete with cast wheels and no real bash protection.

BMW offered up a sprinkling of accessories to try but were unable to provide samples of their protective bashbars and plates. It was time to call Twisted Throttle Canada and see what they have –  this is what we managed to wrangle from them …


SW Motech Bashplate – $343.35 (life is simply too short to fit this yourself)

Bashpalte-fitted
Nice piece of kit. (ZK)

What good is a bike in the trails without a bashplate underslung to protect those oh-so-expensive crankcase from being thwacked and holed by errant rocks? A good bashplate is a must for any self-respecting adventurer, and the SW motech version is extensive and well made, especially when compared to the original “artist’s impression” of a bashplate.

Fitting the rear mount for the bashplate was a challenge.
Fitting the rear mount for the bashplate was a challenge to say the least. (ZK)

Once you remove the standard small and flimsy unit, simply put on the tougher mounting brackets and affix the new larger and sturdier bashplate. Or at least that’s the impression the instructions give you.

Trouble is, the rearmost mount is bolted onto a frame cross-member and is … how do I say this politely, … rather challenging to access. It requires the hands of an octopus and patience of a dead mouse as the upper bracket uses a non captive nut, all tucked away in an area that would be spacious only to an ant. And a small one at that.

Shortly after the above pic of the nut sitting wonky on the bracket was taken,  it fell off, bounced off my feet and promptly rolled to the place where odd socks go to die. And when I finally did get it all bolted up I found that I’d put the bracket on backwards – the pic on the instructions apparently being a rear, not a front view.

It all reminded me of a scene in the classic World War II film, Ice Cold in Alex where a group of desperate British soldiers try and get a truck over a sand dune only using its cranking handle and brute force (see poor quality video of just that above). After much huffing, puffing and sweaty toplessness, they get it to within a few feet from the top when the lovely, but slightly dim,  Sylvia Simms lets go of the cranking handle for a moment and it predictably goes careening off back down to the bottom.

bashplates
SW Motech bashplate offers far more protection than the standard item. (RH)

Someone at SW Motech obviously saw this film and has brilliantly managed to make that scene into a 1200GS mounting bracket, to be replayed in garages all over the world for the next few years.

“Al … most … there … “. Clunk. “Oh dear God”. “Aarghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

Of course, in reality if you own a 1200GS it’s unlikely that you’ll be doing your own wrenching, but when you show up to pick it up from your local BMW dealership after installation, please tip the mechanic well, they will not be very happy at you.


SW Motech upper crash guards – $188.37 (about 1 hour to fit, with help)

upper-bash_rob
Front mounting is a tricky operation. (ZK)

After the bashplate fiasco, I was hoping that the upper crash bars would be an easier experience. We’d fitted the lower (engine) bars just before the big road tour to the Adirondacks as they’re good for road and dirt, but the upper crash bars are extra insurance for the dirt where there is a good chance that things will not just go sideways, but upside down too, possibly ending up with some crushed radiators.

upper-bash_rob2
Goddamn washers! Editor ‘Arris starts to lose it with the upper crash bars. (ZK)

Unfortunately, they are a bit big, heavy and, yes you guessed it, hard to mount. In fact I even had to pull News Editor Zac out of the CMG office to help get them aligned and fixed.

You see, you need to get two long spacers bolted into very small holes at the top which is more than fiddly. Also, you need to have the SW Motech engine guards already fitted but there’s an inaccessible washer that falls out every time you try to mount them both to the frame (thus a Zac and a pair of long pliers are required).

Needless to say I was not overly impressed with this palava, add to that the extra weight and somewhat questionable added protection, and it left me wondering whether these are a good option or not. Still, they do seem to be on permanent discount, so the price is good, and if you like fiddling with annoying things and hanging out with Zac, then they’re just the ticket.


SW Motech gear lever – $222.96 (about 30 mins to fit)

BMW Longtermer update shifter 2
Trick gear changer is easy to mount and offers fore and aft adjustment as well as a folding tip. (ZK)

The main reason for getting this part is to have the foldable bit of the shifter – the original does not and so is a little vulnerable to bending or breaking if you glance it against something solid in the trails. It’s a lovely, if not slightly over-engineered, piece of kit (the foldable bit can also be adjusted fore and aft for different sized feet) and comes in lots of parts, so some assembly required!

Shifter
That’s a lot of bits for a shifter. (ZK)

Trouble is it also costs over $200, which is a rather expensive solution if all you want is a foldable shifter, but then you have a BMW R1200GS, so money shouldn’t be an issue should it?

In use it’s great to know that I won’t likely be stranded in the woods due to a broken shifter and the adjustable throw allows you to get it just right for any size boot. However, it seemed to be quite a lot stiffer in use than the original shifter too. Though I need to investigate further (replace with original to see if fault at shifter or elsewhere) before drawing conclusions.


SW Motech footrest kit – $197.74 (about 20 mins to fit)

BMW Longtermer update footpeg
Two choices for where to put the bolt enable the user to lower the peg height. (ZK)

Why doesn’t the GS come with these as standard??? The standard pegs are very narrow and not at all suitable for venturing off-road as they lack any serrations for grip. SW Motech pegs also have rubber inserts for highway use and can be set lower by 15 mm in height too, which gives more legroom and effectively ‘raises’ the bars when stand up riding.

They are wonderful on road with or without the rubber pads fitted and even better for off-road, thanks to wide contact patch (2 inches and 3 inches) and serrations to get through my very muddy boots. At last, an easy to fit and effective piece of SW Motech kit. 🙂


SW Motech sidestand pad – $73.02 (about 10 mins to fit)

About as simple as it comes. Effective too. (RH)

Very easy to fit using three bolts and the GS can now hold itself up in the soft stuff (including parking lot asphalt on a hot day). But wait, there’s more!

No there isn’t. That’s it.


R&G radiator guards – $176.39 (about 20 minutes to fit)

BMW Longtermer update rad guard 2
R&G radiator guards stop stones from smashing your rad. (ZK)

Simple and effective, these guards are slotted stainless steel plates that hook in front of the two GS radiators and bolt in at the top to secure in place. The slots allow cooling air to still get through, but protect the fragile rads from rocks being thrown up .

Although you’d likely be okay without them — as it would take a stroke of bad luck to have a rock puncture a rad — but it could happen and it would be enough to leave you stranded too. Not a lot of money for the peace of mind and easy to fit to boot.


Gripster tank grips -$90.95  (about 10 mins to fit)

gripsters
Slippery plastic tank cover does not aid with standing navigation. The rubber pads (right) are a cheap and easy solution that also add to the utilitarian look. (RH)

What a neat idea! An issue I had with the GS on my first forray into dirt was the slippery tank. Picking your way through technical rocky sections means that you stand up and ‘clench’ the bike with your knees to help guide it through and a slippery tank makes this tricky.

The Gripster tank pads are a simple and highly effective solution. They are easy and quick to fit, the GS plastic requiring a quick clean with rubbing alcohol and the Gripster pads affixed by peeling off the backs to reveal a super sticky side – the only tricky bit is to align them properly.

The pads are like glue to your knees, making standing control unequivocally better and adding a cool utilitarian look to your GS to boot. All it needs now is some mud on it!


Heidenau K60 Scout tires – $507.70/pair (120/70-19 front: $213.90170/60-17 rear: $293.80)

Heidenau_tire
Heidenau Scout solid block centre tread offers longer life but less grip – especially off-road. (ZK)

I mentioned this in an earlier update, the new GS comes with a wider 170 section rear wheel rim (up from 150). Now this may not seem like a big deal but even though the bike is in its second year of production, knobby tires for this size have only just become available in Canada. Desperate to get the GS into the dirt before the end of its tenure, as soon as Eric Russell at Twisted Throttle Canada said he had a pair of Heidenau Scouts for the GS in stock, I got a pair sent out.

Now, the Heidenau K60 Scouts muster a lot of opinion amoungst adventure riders. Hard rubber and a rear with a solid strip down the middle on the larger section tires translate into reasonable life on and off road, but you sacrifice grip, especially off-road.

Alas, beggars cannot be choosers, so Heidenaus it was. All I needed now was to get them spooned onto a pair of wire wheels …


BMW wire wheels – $500 if added at time of order (fitted at dealership)

BMW Longtermer update front wheel
Why wouldn’t you go for spoked wheels on a GS? (ZK)

Fitted at dealership? What’s that mean then? Simple, because the wire wheels arrived bare (no discs and tires), we figured it would be best to ride the GS to Atlantic Motoplex (our local BMW dealer out here in the Maritimes) and get them to throw on the tires as we didn’t have the right equipment to do them ourselves. If they were doing that, then why not swap the wheels and discs while they were about it? Why not indeed, job done.

BMW Longtermer update rear wheel
Cross spoke wheels look cool and allow for tubeless tires to boot. (ZK)

The only downside was that the new wheels came sans pressure sensors, so there was an annoying low pressure light as a permanent fixture on the dash. I’m not going to cover how they worked in the trails as we’re writing about all that in next week’s update, but the unique cross lacing pattern, jutting rims and aggressive tires definitely look the part on a GS.

I understand that most GS owners may never ride the bike off asphalt, thus the cast wheels as standard, but I implore all BMW GS buyers to spend the extra $500 at time of purchase and get the wire wheels. Otherwise it’s a massive $1760 each afterwards. Who knows, next week’s article in the dirt may even convince you to actually take the beast off-road?


BMW headlight screen – $155.98 (2 hours to be utterly defeated)

BMW Longtermer update light protector
“Why does that not align? All the bits in place, check, aligned, check … sod it, check.” Editor ‘Arris admits defeat with the BMW accessory headlight shield. (ZK)

I thought this was a great looking screen protector when I glanced over the BMW parts catalog, until I tried to fit it. First off it comes without any instructions, which would be fine if it was an obvious bolt/stick on item, but it uses a couple of mounts at the bottom which are not an obvious fit at all.

BMW Longtermer update light protector 3
Mounting the screen with the supplied brackets was near impossible to mount. Well, for us, we figured it was actually impossible and gave up. (ZK)

In the end we had to find an image online to work out assembly, though it still wasn’t clear. The screen also use the same mount points as the SW Motech upper crash bars, which meant that these needed to be removed too, and not just once – the screen mounts never seemed to line up!

in the end, we spent 2 hours fiddling, and eventually cutting the screen for extra clearance, before finally admitting defeat. There’s only so much time you can spend on something before you have to give up and for the BMW screen that was 2 hours.


BMW Vario topbox and sidecases – Topbox – $516.42, Sidecases – $1441.68 with all the parts and locks (about 10 mins to fit)

Vario topbox is handy for the important things in life. (RH)

Okay, not dirt prep stuff, but we had some issues, so they missed the road prep article earlier in the summer.

You wouldn’t think these bits would involve any drama, you unpack, slip into place and hey presto, luggage. Such was the case of the topbox but the side luggage was shipped later and after a few long minutes of trying to work out why the mounts didn’t align and why the exhaust cutaway was on the wrong side, we realized that the R1200GS emblazoned on the side referred to the previous air-cooled version.

Vario-cases
Sidecases work really well, though aluminum is just for style. (BMW)

Someone at BMW shipping had sent the wrong model bags. I could hear the sound of bullets ricocheting off brick shortly after I called to tell them. The new bags arriving shortly after and were fitted in quick fashion.

BTW, if you’re not familiar with BMW’s Vario bags, they’re quite nifty, incorporating a bar inside that can be flipped 180 degrees to expand the size and capacity of the bags. On the side bags this translates to a capacity at the right of 30-39 litres, and 20-29 litres at the left, with 25–35 litres in the top box, depending if in extended mode or not.

That way you can keep them slim for general use, but they can become obese in a flash, all without the need to work at a Tim Hortons first. Work great too, a neat and well recommended option for luggage.


GALLERY

Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.

12 thoughts on “Long Termer: BMW R1200GS III, dirt prep”

  1. While the Vario bags are well made and work pretty Skookum they have one drawback if you do any kind of off road riding.The dust and dirt eventually gets into the expanding mechanism seizing it up in short order. Once or twice a year you’re going to have to disassemble the whole bag to clean and lubricate the guts of the system. About 2-3 hrs and 4-5 beer length job.

  2. So you’ve spent about $1200 on protection pieces, at what point is it better to purchase none and if something happens replace the broken what ever? I understand that some things can strand you and it’s nice hearing what works and doesn’t but I think for most people a set of engine bars is enough and off you go.

    1. Hahahahahaha, you’ve obviously never had to buy a BMW replacement part!

      The crash stuff we put on the GS was what we thought to be pretty minimal for anyone who has one and is thinking of taking it off road. With hindsight, I would question the upper set of crashbars as they were very fiddly and heavy and it would have to be a pretty good crash for them to come into play (as in al lot of other bits would be damaged as well).

  3. Oh, forgot to mention; love this series of articles about the GS, I’m biased because I have the exact same bike, but keep ’em comin! Great work!!!!

  4. Regarding the SW-Motech lower crash bars, I chose those as well and I am disappointed. They look great, but don’t work. My 2014 GS rolled off the kickstand on my slightly sloped driveway and fell over. “No problem” I thought, “I just installed lower crash bars!” Boy was I wrong. The front left bracket bent upon impact, and allowed the head cover to contact the concrete leaving a large scar on the head. Not what I was expecting, and if they bent and allowed damage from simply falling over, can you imagine what would happen in even a low speed crash? No thanks. Next time no Motech for me.

    1. Thanks Jason. Fortunately we don’t get to crash test the gear in real life that often, so any first hand experience from readers is really appreciated. Anyone else tried out any of the aforementioned gear and would like to comment?

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