BMW R1150GS Adventurer

Words: Rob Harris   Photos: Rob Harris/Richard Seck

The last time we had the standard GS we found it a bit lacking in the mud (in ditch to right).

Photo: Richard Seck

It could be argued that BMW invented the big bore dual sport with the introduction of their R80GS in 1981. Actually, I believe it’s fact but I’m sure there’s someone out there that can site a “1903 Imperial 1200 cc Indian killer”, so I’m covering my bases. Anyway, since ’81 it’s grown in capacity to the current 1130cc, gained the reputation as ‘the bike to have’ for the serious motorcycle world explorer and in turn became BMW’s top seller in the year 2000.

There’s no doubting that the 1150GS is one of the sweetest models that BMW offer. Capable of touring the highways all day long, yet also very competent should you decide to take a short cut down some gravel roads. However, in standard trim it would seem that it’s not dirt aggressive enough for the serious globetrotter type.

According to BMW research, the typical 1150GS rider is a tall, 44 years old, hung like a horse, wealthy male. Okay, the horse bit is a bit of editorial liberty, but I bet he at least has big feet. Anyway, from this crowd we can further pinpoint that globetrotting variant who, not content with his standard GS, would slap on a set of aftermarket aluminum bags, bigger gas tank, engine crash bars and knobbier tires. Whether the bike would ever actually get past the city limits is questionable, but at least it would be something that wouldn’t look out of place careening down a gravel road in Tierra Del Fuego.

It’s a big fella!

Like all big corporations, BMW spotted this trend and thought “why don’t we do that?”. And that’s exactly what they’ve done with the new Adventurer.

The first obvious difference with the Adventurer is the effect that the longer travel suspension has on seat height. At 900mm, it’s the tallest production bike available, as well as the heaviest (249 Kg) to claim anything close to off-roadability. What this boils down to is, if you’re under six feet tall, you’re going to have problems getting your feet flat on the ground. Thanks to the enormous 30 litre tank (standard GS is 22 litres) and tall suspension, a lot of that weight is carried high up. Stop to take in a view at the side of the road, and any camber drop-off will see you in the ditch – getting intimate with 249 Kg of metal.

Of course, by now you should know that I fit this bike perfectly, because I’m 6’4″ tall. Okay, I’m not exactly a perfect BMW profile specimen, as I’m not 44 yet, don’t have a truck load of dough … but I do wear a size 14 boot! God-given gifts aside, it makes me wonder whether by making the Adventurer, BMW have taken an already niche bike and niched it beyond the land of Niche and into niche heaven.

However, thankfully the elements that made the standard GS such a charmer have been carried through. It still gobbles up the highway miles with ease, yet can surprisingly give a sport bike a run for its money through the twisties.

For the first 100 Km or so, I did find the handling rather unnerving with a tendency for the big fella to drop into corners (the bike that is). Since there were also 30 litres of gas in there, I wasn’t sure whether this was because the high weight or the knobbly tires. However, as the day progressed and we took a stop to refill the tank, that dropping-in effect seemed to fade away. Other journalists found the same thing, so I’m inclined to believe that it was a tire scrubbing-in phenomena rather than anything else.

If you do manage to dump your new $18,500.00 bike, you’ll be please that there’s as set of engine crash bars wrapped around those exposed cylinders of the 85 hp boxer twin. Speaking of which, the motor does have slightly lower gearing in first and sixth to give it more grunt when attempting to shoot it down a dirt track, or … errr, accelerate harder in top?? Or maybe it’s to help haul all that extra globetrotting luggage when you’re blasting through the Sahara at 200Km/h?

The Adventurer and some of the roads we took it on.

And that brings me nicely to the optional aluminum sidebags and topbox. Since they also require a separate mounting system, for the side bags you’re looking at $2038.00 ($1300 + $738 for the mounts) and $873.00 ($585.00 + $288.00 for the mounts) for the topbox. However, they look like a nice piece of work and the mounting racks fold up if you’re riding sans bags.

Unfortunately, I never got to ride a version with the bags attached, but I heard they did significantly add to the sail-like qualities of the bike, and I can imagine once they’re loaded up the whole thing would become even more tippy. However, if you just want the standard system bags they do still fit right on, and a chunk cheaper too at $1100.00.

Since I took a standard 1150GS down some gnarly trails in Quebec a couple of years ago with great success (until we found mud – see picture at top of article), I was interested to see just how the Adventurer would behave and if it could cope better thanks to the knobbier tires, longer suspension and subsequent higher ground clearance.

Not one to do these kinds of things alone, I teamed up with Mr. Richardson from the Toronto Star and took one of the many trails that tangented off from the main canyon roads. It proved to be quite a suitable testing ground with the occasional drop off into a dry stream bed, large rocks, loose gravel and deep ruts.

Although it was hard work hauling it through this stuff, the tires made a big difference, especially in soft sand, where you could get some bite as opposed to an arse-end slide that demands more speed to keep upright (scary combination). I didn’t have any clearance issues either, although I’m not sure if the stuff we were doing would have caused the lower sitting Standard any problems either.

Editor ‘arris almost dumps it mid corner when the front wheel digs into the soft sand. Shin makes contact with crash bar.

Photo: Mark Richardson

My only injury came thanks to a whack in my right shin from the crash bar just behind the right cylinder. The opposed twin boxer motor is actually slightly offset, with the right cylinder being closer to the rider than the left by about an inch. Add to that losing another inch to the crash bar, and the inevitable feet down through rough terrain will lead to the inevitable whack on the right shin. I think I could do without the crash bars.

After about twenty minutes of sliding around corners and jumping out of ditches, we were quite exhausted and so, pulled up under a tree where a circle of stones commemorated the remains of an old campfire. We thought it would make a good photo – the two of us around the fire with our Adventurers parked behind us. Unfortunately, the ground was more spent shotgun cases than sand, reminding us that we were indeed off the beaten path in the middle of California and maybe it would be a good idea to just get out of shooting range and back onto civilised asphalt.

In a bid to make up some time and catch up with the rest of the group, we opened up the bikes along the straight and very windy section of the Saint Andreas fault (which was thankfully rumble free that day). The taller screen does a decent job at wind protection, although I seem to remember the Standard one doing a good job, too. However, I did notice that it’s a lot noisier than the other one, with no apparent angle adjustment either.

Mr Richardson and Mr. Harris look like idjits!

I was also a tad disappointed by the new one-piece seat. Fair enough, it means you can slide up and down it to adjust your position, but my arse remembered being much happier on the two-piece jobbie (good memory, my arse). Again, the two piece is available as a no-charge option, or as a retro fit if you change your mind later on (your arse will thank you). There’s also an optional lower seat kit, which will bring the seat height down to a more feasible 860mm.

Other standard equipment includes heated grips, hand guards, sintered pads & braided lines (along with the EVO brakes), anodised wheels & fork tubes and a larger rear luggage rack. Oh, and they’ve also included a low octane fuel plug, which alters the injection mapping (via a relay under the seat) should you find yourself in deepest, darkest Newfoundland. Finally, if you want to spend more money, there’s always the Antilock Braking System for $1800.00, or how about a fancy headlight grill for $290.00? Not enough? Okay, then a set of grilled driving lights should clean you out for only $1017.00.

So have BMW made a more usable bike in their R1150GS Adventurer ? Well if you’re over 6′ tall, in the peak of physical fitness (to be able to haul the weight), then it’ll probably be well suited for your worldly adventures. Personally, I’d be inclined to buy the standard model, spring for the bigger tank, bash plate, knobbies and aluminum box system. After all, my arse would thank me, and believe me – the arse knows.


Bike allocation to journalists at the Four Seasons Hotel:
Didier: “I tell you, I want the tall heavy one”
Colin: “Uh?”
Norm (BMW): “No, no, no, we only have tall heavy ones. You’ll have to take a tall heavy one.
Julie (BMW): ” Hmmhhh, it appears we only have tall heavy ones”.
Editor ‘arris: “(muttering) Demand a tall heavy one”.
Bertrand: “I want THIS tall heavy one”.
Mark: “Dumdeedumdeedumdeedum … he he, I bagged myself a tall heavy one”

Photo: BMW person

BMW launches have a knack of being lavish. They insist on having the best, plan out the route for you to the nearest tenth of a mile and then feed you like you’ve just been released from a Bosnian refugee camp. Of course, I’d be quite content to stay in the Bates Motel, ride the 401 and eat gravel, but they just don’t give you the option (bastards).

This year saw two nights in the ultra swanky Beverly Hills Mondrian hotel, which sandwiched a night at the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara, after the first day’s ride on the F650CS. Although I uncharacteristically spent any free time in my hotel room writing up notes, the S.B. Four Seasons proved to be more of a village than hotel. I actually got lost trying to get from my room to the BMW GS presentation.

It’s also the first trip I’ve done where I came away with more money than I left with. So intent to cover everything, they actually gave us all $5.00 to stop and get a coffee on the morning of the Adventurer ride, as they had been unable to schedule an organised stop. The subsequent truck-stop coffee and donut set me back $1.98, leaving me $3.02 up – American!

I wonder if this will be my normal lifestyle by the time I reach 44?

Oh, this year’s freebies? Well no riding suit you’ll be pleased to know, but we did get to keep the CS back pack/ rear luggage bag – which we’ve put up for grabs in the latest CMG Riders’ Club competition. Are we in the clear now – although technically I guess we should offer up the US$3.02 as well?






R1150GS Adventurer




1130 cc

Engine type

Twin cylinder, air/oil cooled


Fuel Injection

Final drive

Six speed, shaft drive

Tires, front

110/80 R19

Tires, rear

150/70 R17

Brakes, front

Dual discs with four-piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single disc with two-piston caliper

Seat height

900 mm (35.4″)


XXX mm (XXX”)

Dry weight

249 Kg (claimed)

Canadian colours

White Aluminum


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