I purchased my 2013 BMW R1200GS-LC on November 1, 2013, with roughly 12,000 miles on it. The previous owner had it less than six months, during which he took it on a trip from Los Angeles to Alaska and back. This is one of the first liquid-cooled boxers that was delivered to the USA, so I hope this review can give you some insight if you’re looking to buy one (or already own one and are curious what to expect after 36,000 miles).
Ergonomics / Riding Position
This motorcycle is extremely comfortable. Despite the intimidating stance and size, it’s really quite manageable, even if you have never been on an adventure bike. Both the rider seat and pillion are adjustable; the seat height can change from 33.5″ to 34.3″. The pillion seat can be moved forward or backward, resting firmly against you or giving you more room to move around. I’m 5′ 10″ and I ride with the seat in the high position, which makes me feel very comfortable on the bike.
When I got the bike, the bars were set in the stock position, which is very low. I assume this is how the factory thinks the average rider will like them set up: easy to reach and comfortable. After spending more time on the bike, I got some handlebar risers and tilted the bars up a lot higher, making it more comfortable while standing on the pegs. The stock pegs on the standard 1200 GS model are basically street pegs. They have a very small footprint and a rubber piece in them to absorb vibration. I quickly ditched these and got some bigger ones, which makes standing up easier and confidence-inspiring while off-road.
My wife, who rides as my passenger, finds the seat comfortable for a 4+ hour ride. She enjoys having a top case behind her for a backrest on longer rides, though this is not essential for in-town trips. There are passenger handrails on each side of the seat that she holds on to and finds this riding position the most comfortable.
Tires & Wheels
The R1200GS base model comes standard with alloy cast wheels, but you can upgrade to wire-spoked wheels. Fortunately, the person who owned this before me got the bike outfitted with almost all of the premium options (including the wheel upgrade). In purchasing the bike, wire-spoked wheels were important to me because they are better for off-road. The spokes feed to the outside of the rim so you can work on them without taking the tire off.
The stock tires in 2013 for the R1200GS were the Metzeler Tourance NEXT. I used these for about 500 miles and then swapped them for Metzeler Karoo 3s. The Tourance NEXT felt great on tarmac, but once I got on the dirt, they were very squirrelly. They’re really more of a 95% road, 5% off-road tire. The Karoo 3 seemed like a nice compromise. They have good-sized knobs but still converge to give the tire a nice profile. After going through one front and two rears of this kind, I switched both to the Continental TKC 80. This tire can be seen on almost every kind of bike, so it must be doing something right. The front TKC 80 felt much better in the dirt. It tracked more accurately than the Karoo 3 front and didn’t feel any different on the road. The rear tread did melt away quickly, though. I finally found my ideal setup, which I’m still running today: TKC 80 on the front and Metzeler Karoo 3 on the rear. The Karoo gets better life on the rear and the TKC up front gives me more confidence in the dirt.
My GS came equipped with ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) and semi-active suspension, as seen on the HP4. I’ll start with the ESA: this feature is convenient and just plain cool. While stationary, with the push of a button, I can switch between settings for one rider, rider + luggage, or two riders. I can also adjust between soft, normal and hard. When my wife rides with me, it takes just a few seconds to switch to the two-rider position and to “soft” (her favorite setting). I normally ride with it set to “one rider + luggage” and “normal”. If I’m riding in the canyons I turn it up to “hard”. This is one of my favorite features and so easy to change for whatever scenario I’m riding in.
As for the semi-active suspension, does it work? I assume it does, but realistically, I don’t know if it’s doing anything. There are little arms on the front and back shock that constantly read how the suspension is moving, and supposedly the computer is adjusting the suspension on the fly. Being a fan of technology and German engineering, I think it’s cool, but don’t know how much it’s really helping me.
The riding modes are another useful feature and something I use often. My R1200GS has all the modes (the base model does not include all modes), which are: Rain, Road, Dynamic, Enduro and Enduro Pro. When I first got the bike I was in Road mode most of the time. After getting comfortable, I moved into Dynamic for everyday riding. This mode has a quick throttle response which lets the front wheel lift off the ground just for a second, before the computer kicks in and lets you know you need to stop having so much fun.
Enduro mode is designed for light dirt riding with street tires. I used this a few times and didn’t care for it much. After putting the different tires on, I started using Enduro Pro while in the dirt. This mode requires a chip to be plugged in underneath the seat to access it. It allows for a more aggressive throttle response, removing ABS from the rear brake and keeping just enough ABS on the front to keep you from losing the front end. Traction control in this mode lets you spin the rear wheel a bit.
A unique feature of the different modes is that they affect not only the throttle response, but also ABS settings, traction control and ESA. For example, when you enter Enduro Pro, it automatically sets your ESA to Hard and changes the ABS as mentioned above. To change modes while riding, I’ve found that all I have to do is push the mode button until I get to the one I want, then pull the clutch in one time and let it out. It then switches fully into that mode. The beauty of this feature is that it allows me to go from tarmac to dirt without stopping and having to fiddle with ABS or mode settings.
It’s worth mentioning some other interesting technology and engineering on this bike.
- The headlight is a full LED headlight with daytime running feature. It looks futuristic and does a great job illuminating the road at night.
- Heated grips are a staple of BMW motorcycles and make cold mornings easier to manage.
- The computer provides great real-time data: average fuel consumption, engine temperature, outside temperature, average speed and pressure for both front and rear tires.
- One of the tools that I utilize the most are the wireless tire pressure sensors. They are accurate within a few pounds of pressure, and it’s nice to be able to glance down and see if I should add some air.
- The outside temperature is a really helpful feature. Back in October while on a ride up to Glacier Point in Yosemite, it dipped down into the mid 20s early in the morning. A small snowflake icon appeared on the dash and warned me of possible ice.
- The windshield has a knob that twists to raise and lower depending on the riding situation. On the freeway, I’ll put it up in the high position to get the wind over my head, but around town I’ll drop it down to get some extra airflow in my helmet.
I absolutely love riding this bike. It goes long distances with ease, then transforms into a sporty canyon-carving machine, but also devours dirt while off-road. The longest I’ve done so far in one day on this bike is 750 miles. The stock seat is fine, but I have to stand up or get off and stretch every 100 miles or so. I had a firmer aftermarket seat for awhile; it was nice, but I ended up selling it because I didn’t think it justified the price.
With knobby tires and the Enduro Pro mode, I feel very confident off-road. As of 2014, the R1200GS comes stock with a steering damper. Mine does not have one, but I don’t feel the need for it. I read that riders complained about stability or wobbling and shaking of the bars at high speed, but I haven’t noticed it on my bike. The newer versions also have a heavier flywheel due to the 13′ stalling easily in off-road scenarios. The engine on my GS is zippy and a lot of fun. It’s easy to get the front wheel to lift off the ground and the bike has a lot of torque. Passing cars on the freeway is easy no matter what gear I’m in.
Since owning this bike I’ve had only two minor warranty fixes, all completed by several great BMW Motorrad dealers.
- Rear Disc Brake Caliper
- Last March while riding to Arizona from Los Angeles, I noticed that my rear brake lost all stopping power. I went to Victory BMW in Chandler, AZ to have my pads replaced. While the tech worked to remove the pads, he found that some pieces were fused together. I’m not certain, but I believe the pads had become fused to the caliper. The guys there knew I was traveling, so they were kind enough to take a rear caliper from a 2014 GSA on their showroom floor and put it on my bike so I could be on my way. What excellent service!
- Windshield Pivot Pins
- On two occasions, the c-clips that hold the pins in on my adjustable windshield rattled off, causing the pins to fall out and the windshield to flop forward. The windshield didn’t completely fall off, so I put zip ties to hold it for the time being. New Century BMW Motorcycles in Alhambra, CA kindly ordered and replaced these parts both times it happened. I’m currently on the 3rd set and they are working just fine, but we’ll see if they rattle off again.
When I got my bike, the 12k service had just been completed. Since then, I’ve been through four more services. New Century BMW Motorcycles took care of the 18k and 24k. The 18k was cheap, under $200. 24k service came in just over $300, which included a valve check. My most recent two services since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area have been a bit higher. My 32k service was closer to $400 and my 36k will run upwards of $750. These are costs to keep in mind if you’re going to ride a lot and don’t plan to do all of the scheduled maintenance yourself.
I’ve ridden this bike almost every day for a year and four months, putting nearly 23,000 miles on it. This bike is so versatile and fun that I got rid of my car and use this for everything. It travels, adventures, commutes, splits lanes and even gets groceries. I once strapped a giant piñata to the back to deliver to a party. If you’re looking for a bike that can do it all and keep a smile on your face, the R1200GS could be the one for you.
Words & Photos by Nick Johnson | Rider: Michael van Vliet