20 Years of CMG: The launch of the R1150 GS

I first met Editor ‘Arris on the launch of the  BMW R1150 GS in Calgary and Banff in the summer of 1999. It was memorable because it was a terrific event, with booze, bikes and babes — well, booze and bikes anyway — and a few crashes and tickets and all that other good stuff. It was the first press junket I ever attended, and it was one of the better ones. We were all presented with BMW riding suits that were priced at $2,600 each, and that created a scandal in itself and almost got me fired from the Toronto Star, but that’s a different story.

‘Arris wrote up the event in a stream-of-consciousness gonzo style worthy of Dr. Hunter S. himself. I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading when I saw the article, but it’s a fabulous read in which CMG’s founder was totally on his game. His lead paragraph is one of the finest ever written.

There was an actual review of the motorcycle the following week, but who cares about that? This one was all about the junket.

The original photos by Rob Harris exist only as thumbnails and they’re included in the text for you to squint at. The larger photos are courtesy of Larry Tate. -Ed.

The R1150 GS was a great bike back in the day. Hell – it still is.

Christmas comes but once a year. So do birthdays, but you can sod ’em both when it comes to a BMW press launch. It’s like Christmas, Birthday and the annual vacation all at once, except that it’s not freezing, sad or money-consuming. It’s a lot of fun, comes with all expenses paid and you get to ride a bike to boot.

R1150GS with Canadian Rockies.

This year the chosen location was the Canadian Rockies and the new bike under scrutiny was their revamped on/off road offering, the R1150GS.

The flight outta Toronto started badly when I ended up sat next to a rather worried looking eight year old girl, separated from mom and whining brother by an aisle and one row. My best comedic grins and crunched faces prompted that “are you going to kill me mister?” look, and threat of induced crying for the rest of the four-hour flight. Almost as if by BMW magic, mom convinced a 23-year old female Olympic athlete to swap seats with ashen child just before take off. Unfortunately she was a speed skater and not a gymnast, but thankfully she was also bright and patient enough to give great conversation for the length of the flight. Really. Did you know for example that the Dutch have the best speed skate manufacturers? No, really, they do and it was interesting.

R1100GS of Pierre Thiaudeau.

After landing, and a short limo ride to the Sheraton Suites Calgary Hotel we convened for drinks and dinner and some speeches from the BMW guys about their latest and greatest. They’d also brought in a special guest by the name of Pierre Thiaudeau. An ex-cop who’d taken six months to go from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. Why? I don’t know why, but I assume BMW paid for him to be there because he chose to do all this on, yes you guessed it, a GS. Pierre filled us in with the highlights of his trip while the hotel staff filled our glasses high until our heads got light and we would trip.


I’d recognize that bald head anywhere, even after all these years. The Sun’s Scot Magnish takes a breather with Editor ‘Arris.

Before long I was back in my hotel room, stuffed, a bit drunk and trying to fit into my complimentary BMW Savanna suit (product test to follow soon). Now I know I’m a bit of a fat bastard, but the trousers were taking the piss. After five minutes of sucking in, I gave up and fell asleep.

Canada’s best 3 Gonzo journalists dressed in BMW Savanna suits with the three GS colour options L to R: Scot Magnish, Larry Tate, Editor ‘arris.

An ungodly 7:30 am breakfast (don’t they understand that I’m self-employed?) was followed by an impressive line-up of brand new GSs and a bit of (ahem) trouser swapping with Larry Tate and BMW employees. Suitably dressed, Canada’s finest motorcycle journalists hit the streets of Calgary … followed by Scot Magnish (Rider Source), Larry Tate (Inside Motorcycles), and myself (self employed bum type).

As we hit the Trans Canada and the mountains of the Rockies loomed up around us, I realized that this is the life that I was meant to live. Well, at least once a year anyway.

The traffic and slight curves of the Trans-Canada eventually gave way to Hwy 93 (shortly after Banff). This is a glorious, fast-sweeping highway, with extra passing lanes for uphills and some gorgeous views, especially around the pass at Radium Springs.

The camera sees the mountains. Scot Magnish sees the camera.

From there it was a short hike to our lunch stop in Invermere where we gorged ourselves once more like journalists at a junket … yes… just like that. However, the best was yet to come as we continued past the asphalt road at Panarama and onto the dirt track which was to lead us to the end of the valley and half-way up a mountain.

Dropping behind the rest of the group, Scot and myself decided to really ‘test’ the GSs with a bit of river riding and associated getting-stuck-in-the-soft-banks routine. The trick here was to actually balance the revs and clutch, so that the GS was still making slow forward progress yet with increasing revs, so as to spin the rear wheel with a satisfying plume of sand throwing up behind. Very trick … until it stops, digs itself in, and you either fall over or collapse a lung trying to get its more-than-500-lbs mass out of the hole you just made. Oh, and the dry clutch makes a bit of a smell under these conditions as well.

The R1150 GS in its natural territory – off road in some not too challenging terrain, not too far from the hotel bar.
Cycle Canada racks up the wrecks.

But enough foolishness for one day. The day was getting on, riders were already making their way back to the resort and we had some more dirt track to do.

As we ventured forth, Norm (one of the BMW guys) stopped coming the other way to inform us that Cycle Canada’s John Cooper had dumped his GS and broken his shoulder as part of the deal. Ouch! A lesson to be learned that the GS has a chunk of torque, a slab of weight and a greater emphasis to road than dirt.

This lesson was duly ignored as we sped joyously up the side of the mountain, only stopping when forced to by a semi washed-out road with a big drop-off. Dual-purpose single territory maybe, but not GS, especially if you don’t have to. As it turned out, there were quite a few other drop offs that day, but on GSs and all in the dirt rather than asphalt. Mr. Coopers was by far the worst and the bike showed it. The only other notable damage to a bike was the loss of a front brake due to a loosened banjo bolt, incurred during the associated dumping.

This is asking a tad much from the GS – wash out stops mountain fun.

A spirited ride back as the sun edged off the skyline, terminated at the Ski Trip Lodge for a shower, drinks, food, drinks, drinks, drinks and a nightcap ….. or two. Oh, and the now traditional toast with Scot of “life doesn’t get much better than this” (even if it just did over last year’s BMW junket).

The following day and BMW were really taking the piss with a 6:30 am breakfast (really, what’s the point in being self-employed?). The reward was a chilly but awe-inspiring ride back along route 93 on to Lake Louise for lunch. Since the road was near deserted and the chance of a cop being able to pull one rider in a red Savanna suit out from a group of 15 other riders (also all in red Savanna suits) being small to nil, it only seemed sensible to cruise at 165 km/h. Actually, the day before, one journalist got pulled doing something in the region of 190. The Park Ranger (yes, they can issue tickets), gave him a written warning with the recommendations that he seek mental help for such stupidity! I’ll take some ‘happy’ time over a ban anytime. Lucky bastard.

Somewhere in the Rockies near Banff, with Jumbo Mountain in the background. Gotta love that scenery.
Morning clouds hover over the valley below.

At enthusiastic speeds the GS really impressed me. Put it in 6th (or E for Economy if you’re German) and the thing will cruise at a steady 165 km/h, registering a mere 5,000 rpm on the revometer scale. Hey, isn’t this what a twin-cylindered machine is all about – plodding along on a lurvely steep curve of torque? However, remember E is an overdrive gear, so it was still necessary to drop it down a cog to get pass the gaggles of Winnebagos that were contaminating the highway. Also, even at high speed the relatively upright seating position is very comfortable, and that screen (small as it is) does an excellent job at keeping the blast off.

Lunch loomed lustily at Lake Louise. A packed affair. Sandwiches and soft drinks for all. Feast my comrades. Feast, and we shall ride some more! Err, not sure where I’m going with this …. Anyway, with the thought of a comparatively dull stretch of the Trans-Canada imminent, a group of us decided to take a rather frolicsome ride along what can best be described as an undulating road, just down from Lake Louise, to Moraine Lake .. or something like that. It used to grace the back of the 20- dollar bill, now superseded by a common loonie, but still with the royal one up front. Uh oh, there goes my knighthood (maybe I’ll sue Jean Chretien after Conrad’s finished with him of course … uh oh, and there goes my publishing deal!).

Lake Louise sans Japanese tourists.

Again, this is ideal territory for the GS. The long travel suspension and torquey motor making an average riders cautious jaunt into a twisty roller coaster dream. But alas, time was against us, so after a quick gawp, we headed to the TransCan for a rather laborious ride back to Calgary and Blackfoot Motorsports for cheese, biscuits and a return limo ride to the airport.

All in all it was a most enjoyable couple of days. My thanks to BMW Canada and especially Norm, Dave, Tobias and Julie who all made sure that we were treated in the style that we all hope we will one day become accustomed to.

Not broken down, not crashed or in trouble – just pausing for the beautiful view.


  1. Great story. I’ve finally getting into the dualsport scene after all these years with an 01 KLR650. Let the fun begin. Maybe a GS down the road if my shoulders can handle it , ouch.

  2. Great article and it really show’s Rob’s enthusiasm and penchant for not taking himself seriously. I wasn’t on that launch but attended many others with Rob over the years and he still kept that, “I can’t believe I get to do this” attitude.

  3. That was one of the most enjoyable new bike launches I was ever on … and as Rob said early on, BMW does them best.

    Oddly, I ran across Pete Thibideau, the ex-cop Rob mentions, in Death Valley this past March. I was wearing that same jacket (yes, it’s still in perfect shape after all this time), he recognized it, and came over to chat. Small world.

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