Test Ride: BMW HP2

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Words: Rob Harris Photos: Richard Seck Copy Edit: Courtney Hay
Words: Rob Harris Photos: Richard Seck

JUGG-ULAR

Slender with big jugs!

“From the back, well, she’s so slender, and yet there’s those two huge jugs sticking out …” I wasn’t sure whether Mr. Seck was enamoured or somewhat dismayed by what he was looking at. But I had to agree: from the rear, BMW’s HP2 Enduro shows just how minimalist a Boxer can be and just how much a tall, svelte and big-jugged bike can make you want to leap on board and go for a ride.

A day later we were on our first date. It wasn’t going quite as planned and I found myself sweating and panting profusely, but getting nowhere fast. I guess it wasn’t the most romantic location – an old gravel pit somewhere east of Sudbury in northern Ontario – but the chance to get to know her under the auspices of the Scot Harden Rally school was too good to turn down.

Being an off-road school, the skills course was held in a pit of loose sand and gravel – not my most favoured surface. Every time I thought it prudent to let off the throttle a tad, that sand and gravel sucked in the enormous HP2. “Oh dear,” (gasp) “why do I do this to myself?” (gasp again).

Actually, I know full well why I do this: because it’s fun (most of the time)! But fun is a matter of getting the right ride for the terrain and although BMW claims the HP2 as their first full-on Enduro, there’s no escaping that it’s still a huge bike.

Our first date was a bit of an awkward one.

The bike obviously wasn’t happy with an out of shape and lightly-skilled editor, cautiously trying to navigate through the deep gravel either. However, if you’ve ever had the chance to ride one of BMW’s big GSs in the dirt then you may be familiar with the need to stop being a big girl’s blouse and just giv’er! It’s the same deal with the HP2 – throw caution to the wind and ride it like you stole it.

This realization finally hit me on day two when we left the gravel pit behind and hit the rocky trails. It’s here where we bonded sufficiently for me to keep on the throttle and trust that she wasn’t about to chew me up and spit me off for my ineptitude. Before long we were barrelling over rocks and across the sandy bits with the HP2 doing nothing other than beautifully.

By the day’s end I was flying, and the gravel road back to base allowed me get the rear spinning and the HP2 floating in the way that makes dual-sporting so addictive. The only thing left to do was send out the wedding invitations.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Try and ride it like you stole it Mr. ‘Arris!

It’s on asphalt that you really notice the HP2’s radical shift toward dirt. Where the GS gently cups the rider’s buttocks, reassures you that it’s all going to be okay and whisks you away with the comforting air of a parent, the HP2 feels a little more teenager like.

Where the slender design of the tank and frame aids the stand-up and ride style of dirt riding, on the road it feels a little unsubstantial and plank like (despite flossy-the-sheepskin’s best efforts to comfort me). With scant wind protection and a bolt upright position, you’re also well in the wind, which limits cruising speeds to below 120 km/h before neck cramping sets it.

But to say the HP2 doesn’t work because it’s not happy on the highway is a bit like saying a V-Strom is crap because it can’t handle the gnarly trails. Besides, if you want to have fun on the road, then you have to try it around town …

A stilt-like view of the world, gobs of torque, wide, quick steering bars and a “I just rode into town after a year in the bush” kinda of look is sure to put a smile on any dual-sporter’s face. It doesn’t hurt that it gathers a bit of a crowd when parked either.


SO WHAT MAKES AN HP2 AN HP2?

1200GS motor is pretty much unaltered save for removal of the balancer shaft.

So just what has BMW done to the 1200GS in order to be able to call it an HP2?

Well, just about everything. In fact only the motor and the onboard network are shared between the two and even then they opted to whip out the balancer shaft to give it a few extra ponies and a few less kilos (24 to be precise). Oh, and bigger bearings were slapped onto the gearbox’s output shaft, though the ratios remain unaltered.

If you like Boxer motors and/or twin characteristics, then you’ll really like this bike. There’s a huge amount of torque on tap (BMW claims a maximum of 85 ft-lbs at 5,500 rpm – although the torque curve is pretty flat across the range) and along with the low centre of gravity, makes roosting around gravel corners easy – even for me!

A smooth box means that it’s easy to go clutchless if you suddenly find yourself sans momentum with a sandy hill to climb; and a light clutch means that if you were actually thinking ahead, you could do it all properly without much effort.

Dwarf’s view.

It’s also a very tall bike, with a gargantuan 920 mm seat height, making it only just within foot flat standing for my 6’4” self! Although I found this – along with the significant ground clearance that comes with it – just about right, a significant inseam height is necessary to properly manhandle this beast.

The HP2 design brief is to minimalize and that’s achieved through the exposed steel tubed fame, lack of bodywork (and what there is of it is made out of mottled plastic to hide any scratches) and a more standard USD front-end with a massive 270 mm of travel.

Yes, the USD forks have replaced the BMW patented Telelever … which isn’t really missed.

AN ASS ON AIR

Rear shock is a big bag of air.

Almost as if miffed by their need to have a communal-garden front end, BMW has gone funky with the rear shock, which ignores the usual steel spring and oil damper combo and uses just air. And why not? Air makes a perfect suspension medium with both spring and damping qualities – so long as you can keep it all in there and it doesn’t get too hot.

The unit also has a valve for adding or subtracting air and so raising or lowering the rear-end for different ride heights. BMW even adds a little glass spirit level with bubble so that the perfect set up with rider on board can be attained by simply adjusting air volume.

However, I found that by adding air to set the bubble for my weight gave a bit of a harsh ride, even though the BMW literature implies that ride height pressure and effective shock preload should be independent. Also be aware that letting air out and dropping the rear reduces the shocks ability to resist rough terrain as there’s less pressure in there to resist loading.

Damping adjustment is done by a hand-wheel on the side of the shock, which can be turned to open up an internal bypass valve for soft, or kept closed for a firmer ride. Trouble is there’s no markings for which way is hard and which way is soft, so it was by trial and error that I decided soft was best.

Caption not required, nor offered.

Overall, I really liked the suspension. There is some dive from the super long USD forks during braking, but otherwise I found the units responsive to all the terrain I could throw it at – perfect for what the bike is designed for.

WHEELS, TIRES AND BRAKES

Other changes include a stretched swingarm (presumably to enable the rear end to be jacked up) and a more dirt-friendly 21-inch front wheel that replaces the GS’s 17-incher.

The wheels are still cross-spoked, allowing tubeless tires; the HP2 comes with Metzeler Karoo Ts which are slightly harder than standard Karoos in order to withstand high speed road use a little better and reduce the amount of flex in corners (which can be pretty unnerving the first time you experience it).

Two pads = two heights.

The brakes get stripped down from the GS, with a single 305 mm disc up front. Gone are servo-assist and ABS and they are not missed, with the front and rear brakes proving to be just about right for the bike with plenty of feedback.

Interestingly, BMW opted to use a steel braided hose for the front and plain old rubber for the rear, citing that they felt the front needed to be sharp and the rear a little softer. The brakes worked really well so I’ll go with that explanation.

Another interesting brake feature is that the rear pedal has two foot pads – the top one of which can be folded up and away to effectively lower the lever to the foot. I ended up sticking with the lower option as otherwise I found I’d be locking up the rear a bit too easily.


 

SIGNS OF ABUSE

Although I was impressed overall with its ability to withstand the extra rigours of dirt riding, the HP2 did not come away unscathed. There was nothing life-threatening and by using mottled (unpainted) plastic in all the areas that tend to get scratched or gouged, the HP2 does an outstanding job of not showing its battle scars.

Having said that, the frame around the footpegs, although covered with a clear plastic, saw a chunk of the paint rubbed off by boots. Though just aesthetics, it would be nice to see some frame guards there.

There’s a very neat aluminium bash plate placed between the two exhaust pipes that did a great job of protecting the engine but left the pipes exposed. The end result was that there were some additional dents in the pipes that weren’t there when I picked it up ….

Fun times.

On the plus side, the wheel rims did an amazing job of keeping their shape, despite a pounding through the rocky terrain of the Sudbury area. Ad under these circumstances it’s pretty easy to pretzel a wheel!


AT THE END OF THE DAY

I really, really became very fond of the HP2. I’ve always had a soft spot for big dualies and where the 1200GS tends to fall short in the more aggressive world of dirt riding, the HP2 goes that extra mile. Although it’s an inevitable shift in the usability spectrum – giving ground to the regular GS in its ability to chew up the asphalt-miles with ease – it’s a welcome move for the more dirt purist.

It’s also not made for grand adventure touring, with no real luggage options (apart from a tank bag), lack of day-long comfort and a small gas tank (13 litres), which severely limits its range. Hey, there aren’t even any passenger pegs, not that you’d be able to hold someone on the back of that seat for too long anyway.

This puts the HP2 in a bit of an odd category. BMW claims it to be an enduro bike, going so far as to actually enter it in a series of enduro events, and with some success.

But for the average dualist, handing over a smidgen over $24k for a bike with such a tight focus and one that can be out-ridden by bikes for less than half the cash, begs the question of just who is this bike for?

Well, it’s either a second bike, or made for someone who just wants to use it for urban use (the $24k includes a set of 17” motard rims) with the ability to take it into the woods at the weekend for a good blast. Both types need to have some extra cash too, but they do exist and by making the HP2 a limited production machine, I’d hazard a guess that BMW thinks so too.

SPECIFICATIONS

Bike

HP2

MSRP

$24,250.00

Displacement

1130 cc

Engine type

Horizontally opposed sohc twin, air/oil cooled

Carburetion

Electronic fuel injection

Avg. Fuel Cons

18.56 Km/L (5.39 L/100 Km)

Avg. Range

241 Km (Cap = 13 L)

Final drive

Six speed, shaft drive

Tires, front

90/90 S 21

Tires, rear

140/80 S 17

Brakes, front

Single 305 mm discs with two-piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 265 mm disc with two-piston caliper

Seat height

920 mm (36.2″)

Wheelbase

1610 mm (63.4″)

Dry weight

175 Kg (386 lbs) (claimed)

Colours

Blue and grey

Warranty

36 months (unlimited mileage)
Includes roadside assistance.

 

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