The GS series has been around since 1980 and gone from being a street-sleeper motorcycle, capable of almost anything, to being one of the most common two-wheel sights on UK roads and with good reason.
It can be argued that both the popularity of the adventure bike in general and the BMW GS range itself can be ‘blamed’ on Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s two-wheeled exploits some years back…
Both ‘Long Way Round’ and ‘Long Way Down’ TV shows resulted in big sales for the BWM 1150 GS/Adventure and the later 1200 model and other manufacturers have been keen to follow suit. In recent years the likes of Yamaha and Honda have brought back their much-loved Super Tenere and Africa Twin models, while Triumph produces a range of Tigers and KTM and others plough their own furrow in the adventure bike world…
The GS or Gelände/Straße (off-road/road) range was born in 1980 with the first R80GS model since then it’s got bigger and more capable with the bike becoming a favoured machine for use on round-the-world antics or back-lane blasting.
Back in 1993 the modern incarnation of the GS came along with the 1100GS. Here was a bike that despite its stalky off-road suspension, pterodactyl looks and unfashionable horizontally opposed twin motor, could really hustle on B-roads. This, allied with BMW’s undeniably awesome record of reliability and build quality of the time made it a firm favourite with journalists and owners alike.
The hugely successful 1100GS was replaced – from 1999 on – with the 1150GS: in came a distinctly lop-sided headlight look, but big improvements came across the board. The motor had more go, being around five bhp up on the old one, while suspension and chassis were breathed on and improved. An Adventure version was also released at the end of 2001, with taller suspension, more comfort and a wide-range of extras with the global traveller in mind as well as being able to handle lower-quality fuel. Then in 2004 came the latest in the series – the R1200GS. Many argue this is more of a road-biased machine than the previous versions, but the machine was a drastic improvement over the older machine as a road bike, as weight was 12% down and power 15% up on the 1150…
Out on the road, they can be quirky bikes to ride, thanks to the Telever front-end which gives little in the way of fork dive and can make the front feel a little ‘vague’ until you get used to it. Brakes on the later models are the very powerful EVO system, which multiplies the pressure from the lever and has servo assistance.
As a used buy they tend to be picked up by your typical BMW owner: fiercely loyal and willing to spend big bucks to keep their bikes in tip-top shape, making them a pretty good second-hand buy, even if there are a few things to look out for.
Brakes: Some owners have reported these not working as advertised and some prospective owners have even tried to buy early bikes without EVO or try and take the EVO system off. Thing is, if you try starting the bike with the brakes on (like while you’re on a slope) it can fool the system into not arming correctly as the system needs to ‘see’ a half revolution of a wheel to arm. If it doesn’t see that, you then pull away with no brakes. Apparently, this was sorted on later machines. Be warned that should the EVO go AWOL you’ve only got 25% of the normal braking power available to you.
Engine: The earlier 1100GS with just five gears is favoured by some owners thanks to the flexibility of the gear-ratios and engine. It makes plenty of tourque for low-down go. The later 1150GS with its sixth gear is more of an overdrive for better economy. Remember that the 1150GS Adventure is down-geared compared to the standard model and so is pokier lower-down with a fair-bit less top speed.
The later 1200 really benefits over the older model, producing a solid 15-real-world-rear-wheel bhp more than the 1150 and pushing along much less lard. Plenty of torque means roll-ons and overtakes are a doddle. Peak power is a lowly 7000rpm. Remember, the longtitudanal crank of all GS models means the bike rocks to one side when revved…
Issues? Well, a few ‘seeping rocker covers’ have been reported on the Boxer twins, many owners say that the motor can often drink oil (1200s) and gearbox seals have gone on the odd 1100GS model.
Chassis: sturdy and strong – some dedicated travellers feel the 1150 is the better off-roader, and is more capable to be repaired ‘in the field’ than the 1200. Either way, many say that should you want to go off into the dirt, beef-up the sub-frame on the 1150 models…
Paralever: a single-sided arm consisting of a shaft-drive for ease of use… some owners have reported seals going on this vital bit of kit, covering the rear in oil, but reported cases are few and far between.
BMW R1100GS (1993-1999)
Colours: red, yellow, black, silver, red/silver, yellow/silver
Price new: £8440 (1999)
Price now: £2000-£5000
Comments: The R1100 GS had an-1085cc flat-twin Boxer motor pushing out 80bhp. Residual values are still strong.
BMW R850GS (1999-2000)
Colours: yellow, silver, black, red
Price new: £6950
Price now: £2000
Comments: Short-lived move to transfer the popularity of the 1100GS into a smaller machine: 70bhp or 33bhp learner spec. Rare.
BMW R1150GS (1999-2003)
Colours: Blue/silver, silver, blue, black, yellow, red/silver, yellow/silver
Price new: £8140
Price now: £2000-£5500
Comments: Six-speed 1130cc air-cooled Boxer-twin: 85bhp.
BMW R1150GS Adventure (2002-on)
Price new: £8195 (2003)
Price now: £3000-£4500
Colours: Silver, yellow, black
Comments: Same engine and power output as standard machine but shorter gearing and can handle lower-quality fuels. It also comes with longer travel suspension, EVO brakes for the first time, optional ABS, more comfy seat and a host of optional extras including a 30-litre fuel tank, ally top box and panniers, fog lamps and cylinder-head protectors. It also came with twin-spark ignition from December 2002 on.
BMW R1200GS (2004-on)
Price new: £9275 (2004)
Price now: £3500+
Colours: Blue, silver, red, yellow, burgundy
Comments: 30 kilos weight loss, 1170cc motor – 100bhp.