Costa spends a day in the Sierra National Forest and surroundings down in California to see how BMW’s new GSs fare. Mountains in May can still get quite wintry apparently …
BMW chose a town called Fish Camp in central California for last week’s North American press launch of the 2010 R1200GS and R1200GS Adventure models.
The idea was that we’d experience some great riding on an equal mix of winding paved roads and serpentine dirt roads, all within the backdrop of the natural splendour that is Yosemite National Park.
And the ride was splendid, for the most part …
THE DAY STARTS WITH ADVENTURE
The first hint that things weren’t going to go as planned came when the digital thermometer on the R1200 GS Adventure displayed a mere 37 degrees Fahrenheit, just above freezing. And the forecast called for rain!
With such trying conditions, I was glad to begin the day on the Adventure, as its taller, wider windscreen and additional wind deflectors provided better weather protection than the standard GS.
However, its 890 mm (35 in.) seat height combined with the bike’s wide midsection to make the Adventure one of the few machines I’ve ridden recently on which I couldn’t get both feet on the ground — and I’m talking by several inches.
If you’ve ridden a standard R1200GS, you already know it’s a big bike. In comparison, the Adventure, with its 33-litre fuel tank (13 L more than the GS), its protective crash bars and its vertiginous seat height is absolutely colossal.
It has a claimed wet weight of 256 kg/564 lb which I had to lean slightly to one side to (barely) get the toes of one of my feet to touch terra firma. And we were to begin the day on dirt …
My American R1200GS Adventure test bike was equipped with ABS, and the Canadian equivalent of BMW’s optional Equipment Package 2 ($1,900), which includes a chromed exhaust, luggage mounts, trip computer, fog lights and electronic suspension adjustment (ESA).
For me, the true value in this package is the ESA, which changes suspension preload and rebound settings to match riding conditions via a button located on the left-hand switch pod.
In anticipation of the early-morning dirt sections, I turned the Adventure’s ABS off and set the ESA in off-road mode for moderate bumps — identified by a small mountain icon in the dash — and the damping to the softest of three settings.
When we hit the dirt road it was strewn with rainwater ruts, some rocks, the occasional tree root and the usual obstacles one would expect on a GS-type off-road excursion.
The overall conditions of the dirt sections were smoother than the rim-hammering trails I’d ridden in last year’s GS Challenge, and managing the behemoth Adventure proved less challenging than I’d expected.
In fact, once I got accustomed to riding the Adventure accordingly, its softly set suspension made negotiating the winding dirt roads quite fun.
However, use this machine to charge into corners and ricochet off berms and you’ll see the front end plough towards the outside of a turn. A more reserved approach will get you where you’re going, and steering the bike with the throttle instead of the front wheel pays dividends in control — and fun.
ADDING MORE PUNCH
New this year is a revised Boxer engine, based on the twin-cam, radial-valve twin that was first seen in the HP2 Sport. Unlike the HP2 Sport’s single-plug heads, the GS engine uses twin sparkplugs.
The 1,170 cc engine produces 110 hp and 88 lb-ft of torque — that’s five horsepower and three pound-feet more than last year’s models (producing more torque than its predecessor throughout almost the entire rev range, but especially below 5,500 rpm), which doesn’t sound that big a change, until you see the torque curve.
There’s also another useful 500 rpm added to the redline, with the electronic fun-zapper now kicking in at 8,500 rpm.
During the pre-ride technical presentation we were told that the new engine felt quite different than the old one, but alas I didn’t get a chance to try one of a few 2009 models that were brought for comparison, so I can’t say.
I can say that power was not lacking. Power delivery was sharp off the line and strong acceleration and a linear powerband did well to hide the Adventure’s added 28 kg over the GS.
The bike pulled top gear smoothly from about 2,000 rpm (this year it gets a lower first gear than the GS) and didn’t lose its breath as the tachometer needle swung towards redline. Also, throttle modulation was without flaw, which made the rear-wheel steering I mentioned earlier so much easier.
The engine even sounds more powerful, and it wasn’t just an impression; an electronically controlled butterfly valve, visible just aft of the left-hand footpeg, is incorporated to provide a deeper and very satisfying exhaust drone.
NO SIESTA IN THE SIERRAS
So far, the ride was going quite nicely, and I almost began regretting putting on so many layers in the morning. The digital temperature was now reading 54 degrees Fahrenheit (12C), and I was busting a sweat manhandling the big Adventure through the woods of the Sierra National Forest.
Leaving the forest, we got our first taste of pavement with a smooth, winding road that was riddled with switchbacks. I must say the big Adventure handled itself commendably, especially since it was rolling on Metzeler MCE Karoo knobbies.
Granted, the tires slowed steering response, grip was limited and feedback was vague on pavement, but the trade-off was very good off-road response, as well as surprisingly good grip on wet pavement.
All was starting to look pretty good until we stopped for lunch at Coulterville, at about the halfway point in our journey, when the skies opened and the temperature began to plummet.
After lunch the rain continued but it was time to switch machines, so I hopped onto a standard GS (also shod with Karoos for the launch). The standard feels much lower and much lighter (28 kg lighter to be precise — wet weight) than the Adventure though unfortunately for these conditions, it also comes with a smaller windscreen.
Before long we were on a rain-soaked dirt road heading west towards Yosemite. This bike didn’t benefit from ESA, and its ride was firmer than the Adventure’s, but this road was smoother than the morning’s, and the lighter GS just railed along.
The road, which followed cliffsides for much of its length, must have been spectacular … had it not been for the low-lying cloud cover that blanketed everything in a white haze.
But then my main focus was on the GS’s digital thermometer, which gradually dropped as we gained elevation. From 47 degrees F in Coulterville, it slipped to the low 40s, then to the high 30s.
At 36 degrees F the display began flashing and a snowflake icon appeared in the dash. Was this the bike warning me that we were approaching the freezing point or was it actually telling me that it was about to snow?
Just then I saw the first snowflakes mixed in with the steady rain. Then there were more snowflakes than raindrops, and then there was no more rain, just snow.
The digital dash on my bike was now reading 31 degrees F.
END OF THE ROAD
Slush began accumulating on the road, yet the remarkable thing was that while people in cars were pulling over to put chains over their tires, we soldiered on with relatively good traction. Where the cars floated on top of the slush, our narrow, knobby tires cut right through it, getting grip on the wet asphalt beneath.
I maintained a death grip on the handlebar, not for fear of losing control (in fact, a light grip is what you need in reduced traction), but instead to transfer as much heat from the heated grips to my hands as possible. Did I mention visibility was next to nil? It was like navigating while looking through a tissue.
Our luck ran out about one hour from our base of Tenaya Lodge, when we were stopped in our tracks by a park ranger. The road ahead was closed due to a stuck bus and a car that had slid off the road.
Despite our pleas to let us squeeze by — if we stayed too long, we’d be snowbound — he absolutely refused, and suggested we backtrack and take a detour that would extend our increasingly precarious ride by another hour and a half.
We had no choice and turned around. At a nearby lodge we saw several other BMW press bikes parked (some of the journalists were quicker to find a solution than others) and happily parked our machines for the day.
Drinks by the fire and a warm tour bus back to our base camp capped what turned out to be an adventurous ride.
Although it was uncomfortably cold and wet, I never felt outside my riding comfort zone; my confidence never waned while riding the R1200GS ($17,650) or the R1200GS Adventure ($20,300), as these bikes seemed to thrive when conditions soured, providing confidence-inspiring feedback, surefooted control and decent weather protection (no one I spoke to complained of cold feet, no doubt due to those horizontal jugs).
The ideal GS for me would be the standard model, with the Adventure’s windscreen, and the optional Equipment Package 2, which includes the marvellous ESA. It’s lower, lighter, and its smaller, 20-litre fuel tank will still get you between gas stops almost anywhere in North America.
If you feel uncomfortable on the loose, slippery stuff, you can opt for BMW’s Safety Package, which adds Automatic Stability Control (ASC), semi-integral ABS and a tire pressure monitor for $1,900.
Finally, a thank you to Clary Sports for providing the Ixon riding jacket and pants with their highly effective winter liners. I don’t usually plug products in a story, but this stuff kept me going until we couldn’t go any more. BMW also gets a nod for making heated handgrips standard equipment; I turned them on before leaving the lodge parking lot in the morning and they remained on all day.
Our hosts were worried that we pansy journalists would complain about the cold, wet conditions, but despite the appalling weather, as far as testing an adventure-touring bike goes, the setting could not have been more appropriate.
|Bike||R1200GS (Standard)||R1200GSA (Adventure)|
|Displacement||1,170 cc||1,170 cc|
|Engine type||2-cylinder flat twin, 8 valve, air/oil cooled||2-cylinder flat twin, 8 valve, air/oil cooled|
(crank – claimed)
|110 bhp at 7,750 rpm||110 bhp at 7,750 rpm|
|88 ft-lb at 6,000 rpm||88 ft-lb at 6,000 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||20 litres||33 litres|
|Carburetion||Electronic fuel injection||Electronic fuel injection|
|Final drive||Six speed, shaft drive||Six speed, shaft drive|
|Tires, front||110/80 R 19||110/80 R 19|
|Tires, rear||150/70 R 17||150/70 R 17|
|Brakes, front||Two 305 mm disks||Two 305 mm disks|
|Brakes, rear||Single 265 mm disk||Single 265 mm disk|
|Seat height||850/870 mm||890/910 mm|
|Wheelbase||1,506 mm||1,512 mm|
|228 kg (504 lbs)||256 kg (564 lbs)|
|Colours||White, red, black metallic, grey metallic||Yellow metallic, grey metallic|
|Warranty||36 months, unlimited kilometres||36 months, unlimited kilometres|