By Rob Harris
photos by Larry Tate (good) and Rob Harris (blurry)
After the onslaught we received on CMG over our, ehem, complimentary suits, courtesy of BMW at their R1150GS model launch this summer, you'd think we wouldn't want to touch the GS again with a barge pole. Well, one thing we've learnt is that an all expenses paid product launch is a tad removed from reality and so to be able to draw some real life conclusions a real life test is in order. Also, we wanted to see what the GS was like in comparison to some of it's competition. What better a comparison than the new Tiger from Triumph? If you've missed the two run up articles that outline both the Tiger and R1150GS, then you might want to click here for the Tiger review and here for the R1150GS review.
Of course, having two bikes to ride requires two riders, so CMG contributor Larry Tate took on the task, also offering his farm (near Belleville, Ontario) as the launching point for the trip. He'd already picked up the Beemer from their headquarters in Whitby, leaving me with the Tiger and a long boring ride east on the infamous 401.
Arriving at Larry's rather cold and a tad bored of the 401, we wittered away the rest of the evening with food and scotch, before we hit the sack.
The next day we hit the road, with our destination being Perth, Ontario. There's some great winding roads around here but be careful of car divers stopped around blind corners, chatting with some locals. Talking of which this is advantage number one to the GS. ABS is an optional extra and BMW have got a great system. It is a tad expensive at an additional $1780, but I don't think I would have had much trouble coming to a stop before that car on the Beemer. Unfortunately I was on the Triumph, but thankfully there was nothing coming the other way so we were able to swoop around the offending object instead.
After lunch we swapped bikes and I was able to quickly reacquaint myself with the GS again. Initial impressions were also in the GS's favour. Although the seat heights are the same for both bikes (840 mm - 860 mm), the GS just feels more planted. You tend to sit in the GS as opposed to on top of the Tiger. Also, the GS has a much lower Centre of Gravity and feels so much more stable in all areas, especially in the dirt. The bars are wider also, which allow for easier slow speed turning, something especially useful in dirt situations. Overall I got comfortable with the GS very quickly, whereas the Tiger never quite let me feel at home.
Heading along a stretch of straight and quiet road we did a couple of roll on tests in top (6th) gears and then again in 5th. Top gear saw the Tiger pull ahead of the GS, whereas 5th gave the advantage back to the torquier GS. This showing the GS's usage of a large overdrive gear for top, as opposed to the Tiger which uses 6th as a progressive step from 5th. I think both companies chose well here, the over drive of the GS allowing for lazy thumping of the twin on the highway, whereas the Tigers triple motor liked to be revved.
We arrived in Perth early and decided to avoid the strip just out of town in favour of something all the more posh and more to our level of finesse than some cheapo motel with colour TV's and mini bars. We were left with the choice of one, that being the Perth Manor on Drummond Street West. Originally built in 1878 the manor was converted into a Bed and Breakfast in 1989 with no TV's or mini bars. Still, it had a 'closet' for $45 and came with breakfast included. It also meant that Larry and myself could walk grandly down the large staircase, sip tea in the Conservatory and get drunk within 5 minutes of the front door because these digs were in the centre of town, baby.
The next day was just amazing. This was the middle of October and the forecast high for the day was the mid twenties Celsius!
Breakfast was served in the dinning room at 8:30. Scruffy and unshaven, I looked a tad out of place in our grandiose surroundings. But not to matter, the old dears across the room didn't seem to mind, as Larry and myself sipped at our Cafe Au Laits, kept our elbows off the table and thought thoughts of Queen and Empire.
Breakie consumed, we left Perth and headed north on highway 511, turning off past Hopetown for the village of Flower Station, where we could test the bikes on some gravel roads and also check out some of the country side in the area.
It's on the dirt that the differences between the two bikes really became apparent. Both bikes perform very well on the asphalt. Similar performance, handling and general usability. The GS only really distinguishing itself at slower speeds where the C of G becomes a big factor. Well, in the dirt it's actually all important, and so I never felt close to dropping the GS, even in loose gravel. Granted, it's not a dirt bike and it does have to be ridden in the muck with some respect, but it's definitely capable. Gravel roads are well within it's scope and so they should be. On the other hand, the Tiger does not like the dirt and I doubt that its engineering brief even included dirt riding past the 'make it at least look like it could' aspect. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh, it would be better than an R1, but not as much as you'd expect.
Little things are what count here. For example the Beemers Telelever front end is designed to give full suspension travel, but not to dive when the brakes (and ABS at that) are applied. The last thing you want is to have to hit the brakes in loose gravel around a corner, when you know that the front end's going to make a massive dive and then probably lock up the front wheel to boot. It would have been nice to be able to just switch off the Beemers ABS at the rear though, because locking up the back not only allows for some rear wheel steering, it's also fun and impresses the gurls no end - not that there were many to be seen that day .....
While we're on the subject of dirt riding, the GS has the built in protection that you'd expect of an Adventure Tourer. Readers of the recent Tiger test ride will no doubt be aware of the limited engine protection offered, with exposed oil cooler, rad hose, pipes and engine sump. Well, the Beemer does it right with a clutter free underside, well protected by a sturdy bash plate. Granted, the likelihood of getting either of these bikes onto terrain likely to use such defences is limited, but I'd be much happier taking the Beemer down a desolate unknown track than the Triumph, handling characteristics aside.
But enough of the comparisons, because it was just out of Flower Station that we found one of the best trails that I've ever been on. Part of the Calabogie & District Trail System, the trail ran along an old disused rail track which provided for an excellent surface for even the Tiger. Cutting through the fiery red autumnal leafage and across desolate lakes, it was as if Mr. Triumph and Mr. BMW had gone out there the day before and made it themselves, just to show us how glorious off-asphalt riding can be. Gorgeous! Actually, I think if anything can justify buying an on/off road bike then this is it.
After about half an hour of just mind blowing trail we rejoined asphalt just south of Calabogie where Larry made the unfortunate decision to stop for lunch at a local sports bar. The meal actually turned out to be quite a bargain because it came back and back all afternoon - five lunches for the price of one, although the revisits were slightly more acidic each time. Nonetheless, the day was to get even better as we hit highway 508 which turned into a snarly, twisty but beautifully smooth piece of road just around the Black Donald Lake area. I would have yelled out for joy if I wasn't so busy chewing on lunch revisit number three.
From here, we meandered back to Larry's farm, having one more memorable incident when a local chapter of an outlaw biker gang came around the corner on our side of the road. The lead rider missed Larry by inches, as did several other followers, the real oddity being getting a friendly wave from the majority, as they blasted past us for their inevitable rendezvous with a large truck.
An evening with our good friends the Scotches rounded off a most excellent test ride, and indeed quite an eye opener as to how different two bikes in the same market can be.
Maybe a significant factor to consider here is the pricing of the two bikes. The Tiger comes in at a considerable $3,200 less than the GS, and that's before you add the ABS. On paper, however they don't look that different. Similar power and torque figures, weight, styling and even the same seat height. But in real life, the differences quickly become very apparent. The GS excels on the asphalt and on gravel. It inspires confidence, is designed well and is just plain fun to ride. The Tiger on the other hand is a very capable bike on the asphalt but is just not designed, or indeed happy, on anything more challenging than relatively smooth, hard packed dirt.
So does $3200 justify the difference? Personally I'd wait a little longer and go for the GS, unless the only jungle you plan to visit is of the urban variety, and then the Tiger's certainly worth considering.
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