Bike Review: BMW R1200 GSA

R1200 GSA Feature image

The wait is finally over. The new Adventure is here…

For this test we return to Spain, and the same roads as we rode the V-Strom in last issue. With freshly surfaced tarmac, the decent winter weather, and the easy access from all corners of Europe, it seems to be the go-to place for manufacturers launching bikes this time of year. On this BMW launch – held over the course of a day and a half – we would be riding three bikes; this new R1200 GS Adventure, the RT on page 38, and the NineT on page 40

In all fairness, it’s not a lot of time with either of the bikes – not to assess them properly in any case – and ideally, we would have spent that entire time on the new GSA in order to get a better feel for it, as that was obviously the bike we were most interested in. But on a motorcycle launch, you do as you’re told, and that meant rotating through all three bikes, something that actually proved quite useful in the end… 

Some buyers of the GS and this GSA will use the bike predominantly for touring, and if that’s the case, then how does it compare to an out and out touring bike, in the form of the RT? Equally, for those who only take their bikes out on a fine Sunday afternoon to cruise (and pose) around the local roads, then maybe the lighter, cheaper, arguably more stylish NineT could be the better bike for you. After all, do you really need a bike with a thirty-litre tank, metal panniers and the expectation of adventure, if you’re never actually going to go on one? Or, is the GSA such a competent all-round machine, that regardless of where or when you’re going to ride, it’s the only bike you’re ever likely to need? We headed to Spain with the hope of finding out… 

The test 

Effectively, what we’re testing here is a bigger tank, a taller screen, and a bit of extra ground clearance (20mm). The rest is already available on the massively talented standard model. When Alun rode that bike back at the beginning of 2013 he hailed it as the only bike you’d ever need. Equally, when I rode it offroad at the Simon Pavey riding school I couldn’t help but be astounded that with the right tyres the GS 1200 is a supremely talented bike, one that doesn’t feel heavy or intimidating off-road, that with the right amount of training you could get it to do things you never thought you, or it, would be capable of. The basics for this new Adventure then are already there. 

The fuel tank is perhaps the biggest change, with thirty litres available over the standard bike’s twenty. It’s worth noting that of the 22-kilo weight gain over the standard model, almost ten kilos of that is accounted for by the extra fuel, as BMW weighs its bike with the tank nine-tenths full, meaning that the bike itself is only around 12-kilos heavier than a regular GS. 

It is also 27mm (an inch) wider, though in the flesh you’d say it was more than that. From the front, the Adventure certainly looks imposing and very distinctive. Trivial as it sounds, but it’s the colour schemes that, on the surface at least, really set the Adventure apart from the standard GS, especially the Olive Matt as seen in these pictures. 

It was interesting to talk with the Adventure’s Chief Engineer, Florian Schmid about how BMW employs a team of ‘colour ladies’, tasked with coming up with new colour schemes for the bike and what a crucial part they play in a bike’s success. 

Is the GSA all things to all men

BMW originally anticipated most pre-orders would be for Alpine White, with the Olive Matt and the third colour – Racing Blue metallic – less popular. In fact, well over sixty percent of pre-orders have been for this distinctive khaki colour with an orange fleck of writing, a similar colour to what Triumph was planning on using for the Explorer XC, only to bottle it at the last minute, despite the popularity of it on the press launch. Shame.

Ninety percent of pre-orders for the new GSA have also been for the top-spec TE model, which includes all the riding modes (road, rain, plus Dynamic, Enduro and Enduro Pro), electronically adjustable suspension, cruise control, as well as tyre pressure sensors, LED headlight, onboard computer etc. 

That was the model we were riding here, with the £15,350 list price of the TE bolstered by the £735 panniers, and £610 for the integrated Sat Nav, giving a grand total for the bike tested here of £16,695. The price of a standard Adventure, without all the bells and whistles, is £12,600, though it seems that very few bikes, if any, have been ordered like that, possibly because of the resale value at the end. 

As to how it rides, let’s start with the engine, which is powerful, smooth and incredibly tractable, even from as low down as 3,000rpm. It’s a brilliant engine, and with the Adventure’s increased flywheel mass you can just feel an added composure at the bottom of the rev range, where you need it most when pulling out of carparks and doing u-turns; those sorts of things. On a dirt trail, or through mud, it gives that final polish to the experience. 

The gearbox is also as slick as ever, the clutch light, and the overall riding experience – even in those early moments of the first ride – one that invites you into the ride. Open the throttle and the bike really flies. Performance over the previous generation Adventure is obviously much improved, this using the same 125bhp water-cooled engine as the standard GS, meaning it’s up 15bhp on the old Adventure. 

Dynamically, the Adventure is little changed from the standard GS. The rake is one-degree steeper, just to help with the stability, whilst a steering damper comes as standard, as it now does on the regular GS model. Officially it’s to counter the 6mph gain of top speed over the old Adventure and deal with potential wobbles when the bike is fully laden and the front wheel light. 

As mentioned, this test bike came fully kitted out, meaning that as well as the standard variables of Road and Rain – which alter the throttle response and traction control depending on which mode you’re in (rain softens the throttle response and heightens the sensitivity of the traction control) – the test bike also came with the added options of Dynamic, Enduro and Enduro Pro. 

the bike feels balanced and agile

Dynamic sharpens the throttle even further than Road, whilst Enduro and Enduro Pro are for when using the bike off-road, softening the throttle response and allowing a certain degree of slip at the back wheel by feathering back on the traction control. 

This test bike also sported the electronic suspension adjustment, which works in unison to tailor the suspension to the various conditions. So in Rain mode, the suspension is softened for added suppleness and forgiveness. For those who’ve not ridden a bike with the ESA suspension, it might sound a bit of a gimmick, but it does make a huge difference. It had rained the night prior to the test ride, meaning the roads were wet in the morning. Setting the bike into Rain mode really took the edge off things, adding to your confidence, and then, when the road has dried, the option to flick it in to Road, or Dynamic, and enjoy the bike’s capabilities with firmer suspension and a more responsive throttle. 

I actually found it most relaxing to just leave it in Rain mode. To me, Dynamic sets the bike up too firmly for what it’s intended for. You’re on a tall ‘adventure’ bike, and yet it’s trying to behave like a sports bike, and it makes for an odd mix. The happy medium of course is the regular Road setting. 

Most of the test ride was conducted on tarmac; the same twisting roads as were ridden for the V-Strom launch last issue. In fact, those Suzukis were still out there being trialled by the various European dealers tasked with selling them. It was interesting to make a comparison between the two bikes on the same stretch of road. That V-Strom really felt light and flickable, nimble even. This Adventure felt a fair bit weightier, and the mass between your legs certainly more pronounced than on the V-Strom. 

But the Adventure is surprising. It has an endless amount of grip, and rather than saying it handles well for a bike weighing 260kg, it just handles well, full stop. The engine also offers plenty of grunt along the straights, certainly a lot more than that V-Strom had to offer, and before you know it you couldn’t care less what bike you’re on because you’re having a good time, with it only when you step off the bike at the end do you think, ‘wow, that goes well for a such a big bike.’ 

In terms of off-road riding, we did very little, just enough to get a few staged photographs. The reality these days is that there is just too much risk involved, especially with journalist Kevin Ash’s death on the launch of the standard GS last year. For legal reasons, and for safety reasons, even adventure bikes aren’t properly tested in off-road conditions on a press launch like this, which is why something like the Simon Pavey school is a great way for us to get a proper feel for how a bike genuinely performs off-road. 

What I did learn during my brief time upon the pegs is that the extra weight and girth of the Adventure, over the standard GS, does create a different perception of ability – real or imagined. I think if I was going to go on any serious off-road adventure then I would prefer the standard model GS, simply because it’s more manageable, lithe and nimble. Not that this Adventure can’t do it, it just feels more suitable to road riding, than off-road riding, though at the end of the day, it’s more about the tyres and the technique than it is anything else. 

GSA comes with Enduro mode

There was just one moment on the test which made me stop and consider the way in which this adventure bike market is going (with its push for added weight, speed and power), and that was accelerating hard up to around 160kmh on the motorway section (admittedly above the limit), and with a such a strong wind at the time, and the empty panniers, and that frontal area, which, with all that scaffolding can’t cut the most aerodynamic of shapes, the bike just didn’t feel as composed as I would have liked it, especially compared to the impressively planted RT on the next page. 

To me, this wasn’t a problem with this bike per se, but perhaps with what we’re increasingly asking, and expecting, this adventure sector of the motorcycle industry to do; to cruise at high-speed on motorways, to perform well on the winding mountain roads, and then to go off-road and possibly around the world as well. Can one bike really be all things to every man? I’m starting to wonder if it can. 

I say that because you do wonder where it will go from here. The bikes surely can’t get any bigger or heavier (or more powerful). They either have to stay the same or get lighter. It was interesting to talk to Florian – the bike’s designer about this over dinner – and hear how for future GS models they’re looking at adopting the technology being used in the latest BMW i3 and i8 electric cars, which use lightweight materials to bring total weight down and efficiency up. 

You could argue that they might have to – all bike manufacturers might have to – because if you look at the curve of who’s buying adventure bikes (and bikes in general), especially ones as expensive as these, then it’s generally people a little older (and there doesn’t seem to be the numbers coming through to replace them), who in the next few years might want something lighter and more manageable, and the 800 Adventure doesn’t really tick that box because it arguably takes more effort than the 1200, in terms of height at least. 

In a way, Suzuki might be onto something with the V-Strom. It has adventure bike looks, but in a slimmer, more lightweight package. It remains to be seen as to whether it’ll take off or not as that bike is only just hitting the showroom, but you could argue that the message is perfect, even if the bike’s not. 

In the meantime, for the current market at least, it’s hard to find much fault with this new GS Adventure. It really is a great bike. And in this new colour scheme, and with the new styling, certainly gives the owner of the old Adventure something to ponder over in terms of whether to upgrade or not. 

Our Gear Tester Paul Jennison has owned an old shape Adventure for four years and comments; ‘I like the look of the new one, and with the new liquid-cooled engine I could only see it being an improvement on what is already a great bike. I wish I had the cash to buy one. But I would want it in white!’ 

GSA R1200

Quick Spec:

Model: BMW R1200 GSA
Price: £16,695 (as tested)
MPG: 55mpg (est)
Range: 350 miles (est)
Power: 125bhp @ 7750rpm
Torque: 92ftlb @ 6500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed
Seat Height: 890mm
Wheels: 19″ front, 17″ rear
Colours: Olive matt, Racing Blue and Alpine White

ABR Verdict

How versatile is the GSA? 

This is the bike’s real appeal. In moderation, it can do everything you throw at it; ‘scratch’, motorways, off-road, commute, camp, tour. Possibly the only bike you’d ever need. 

As a commuter? 

Take those panniers off and you’ve got a handy commuter, especially with the added smoothness of the heavier flywheel giving even better low down performance. Some riders also see the bike’s size and ‘presence’ as keeping them safe in traffic. 

As a weekend tourer? 

Yep, especially with the big tank giving you even more range, and the bike’s ability in the corners meaning you wouldn’t have to stick to the motorways. 

As an off-roader? 

Fit the right tyres (maybe some TKCs or Karoos) and even a novice could do some gentle lanes, mud and gravel. More experienced riders will certainly get a lot out of it. 

As a continental road cruiser? 

Much like using it as a weekend tourer, the GSA would be a great bike for taking into Europe. Composed, comfortable and able to carry plenty of kit, plus a pillion. 

As an RTW overlander? 

You could argue this one all day long, the reality is most riders won’t take their GSA around the world. They could if they wanted, but there are more suitable bikes, even the 800 GS, which is a little more serviceable out on the road. 

As a pillion carrier? 

Yep, easily done.

Kit Review

RST Adventure2 two-piece suit
We’ve spent a bit more time in the suit this issue, wearing it for this BMW test, as well as on the CCM ride on page 70, where the weather between Cumbria and Wales was much colder and wetter than it was out in Spain. In the heavy rain on the motorway, the suit didn’t let anything through. On the way back north, in temperatures of two degrees and just with a t-shirt underneath (no thermals) the jacket and trousers were warm. Just a bit of a chill. But all in all the suit is proving wearable, comfortable and decent for winter riding.

RST AdventureBoot
The CCM ride also gave chance to wear the latest RST boots, retailing for just under one hundred pounds. In the worst of the weather they did let some water in, but in the dry cold, with a thick pair of thermo socks on, they were warm enough, and comfortable enough. It’s just a shame they let the water in.

This month we’ve been switching between the Arai Tour X4 Mission and the X-Lite 551. The X-lite is pictured in this set of images, whilst the Arai can be seen on the Honda NC750X test on page 80. The Arai retails for £499.99, whilst the X-Lite costs £319.95 from MotoGear ( The X-Lite is composite fibre, with top, front and chin guard air intakes. It features Pinlock anti-fog as standard and is as standard ready to accept a N-Com® X-Series BX4 PLUS communication system. The Arai was a similar spec, both helmets in large. Of the two, the Arai gave the most snug fit, with X-Lite sizing just a touch larger than Aria’s, or so it seemed. Visibility is better on the Arai, whilst both helmets remained mist-free with the Pinclock in place. Aesthetically, the new X-Lite colours are classy and the finish is good, but given the choice -for comfort at least – I’d wear the Arai, though the X-Lite is a great helmet at a great price.