May 11, 2021

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BMW R 1250 GS review: The king of the road retains its crown and throne – Geoff Hill


I don’t know about you, but it’s a struggle to keep my brain alert during the Coronacrisis – possibly because I’m busy treating it to several glasses of wine every evening.

Purely to keep the economy going, you understand.

Anyway, in case you’re feeling the same mental sluggishness, here’s a free quiz to keep you alert.

Ask a BMW GS owner what they’ll replace it with when they finally trade it in, and the answer is:

a)    Shares in a nightclub in the Orkney Islands.

b)    A rabbit.

c)    Another GS.

The answer is, of course, c) – unless you really like rabbits.

And it’s easy to see why – the GS has been the bestselling new bike in the UK and Europe over 500cc since 2004, unseated only for a fleeting month last year in the UK by the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650.

First - The GS has been leader of the adventure bike pack since 2004
First – The GS has been leader of the adventure bike pack since 2004

In the UK in 2020, for example, the R 1250 GS Adventure was top with 1,374 registrations, and the standard R 1250 GS second with 1,303.

Owners love them, and the moment you climb on board, you can see the reason – I rode one of the last air-cooled 1200 models around the world in 2014 for my book In Clancy’s Boots, and every time I’ve ridden the later 1200s and the 1250, I’m reminded just how well they do everything.

Winners - the R1250 GS and GS Adventure have been the UK's top selling big bikes since 2004
Winners – the R1250 GS and GS Adventure have been the UK’s top selling big bikes since 2004

They make you feel like a Master of the Universe, that’s what – capable of crossing entire continents in a single bound in speed and comfort, especially today, with the temperature hovering just about freezing, I was cosseted in a little bubble of contentment behind the big screen, my pinkies toasted by the excellent heated grips and even my nether regions kept warm by the optional heated seat on the top-of-the-range Rally TE model I was riding.

Just a word of warning – the seat is so hot at the highest setting that you’re in danger of your buns bursting into flames, in which case you could possibly sue BMW for arson.

The giant TFT screen is light years away from BMW’s analogue instruments of old, which were a thrilling blend of black and grey guaranteed to send you to sleep with boredom if you looked at them for longer than three seconds.

Cheers - BMW's tacho is clearly designed to look like a pint of beer at idle
Cheers – BMW’s tacho is clearly designed to look like a pint of beer at idle

This one, though, is perfect, showing you at a glance speed, revs, gear, fuel, temperature, time and which mode you’re in – Road, Eco, Dynamic Pro and Enduro, the latter for off-road use, although I suspect like most Range Rover drivers, the majority of GS riders’ idea of off-road is parking on the pavement while they nip into Sainsbury’s.

Simple - The one-touch button for the riding modes, plus an SOS sensor which alerts emergency services if you crash
Simple – The one-touch button for the riding modes, plus an SOS sensor which alerts emergency services if you crash

And quite right too – for off-road adventures, give me something light and nimble like the Royal Enfield Himalayan.

I rode one from Delhi to Leh in the Himalayas a few years ago, and it tootled happily through mud, snow, ice, gravel, rivers, rocks and roads which should have been sued under the Trade Descriptions Act.

Also light years away on this latest version of the GS are cunning headlights which turn and tilt to light your way into corners even at extreme angles of dangle.

BMW introduced a simpler non-lean version on the K1600GT in 2011, and of course the Citroën DS stunned the motoring world with a similar system in 1955.

Rare - A shot of one of the few GS riders who goes off-road
Rare – A shot of one of the few GS riders who goes off-road

The 123bhp engine on the 1200 GS was gutsy enough for anyone, but BMW felt it was being outclassed by the 158bhp of the Ducati Multistrada and KTM 1290 S, and even the 139bhp Triumph Tiger 1200.

Hence the 134 horses available on the 1250 GS, and its engine, with wider bore, longer stroke and variable valve timing, not only has more grunt, but delivers it from just below 3,000rpm all the way to the redline at 9,000rpm in an endless, creamy swell of torque which is not only more effortless than the older engine, but smoother and a bit quieter as well.

Browse more than 19,000 new and used bikes for sale at Autotrader.co.uk/bikes

On sweeping A-roads, you can just leave it in fifth or sixth, and even on demanding twisties just bomb around in third.

As for handling, with a bike weighing 249kg, it’s a tribute to the chassis and suspension that it’s as stable as the Swiss government at walking pace, and out on the road it only takes a featherlight touch on the bars to send it gliding into bends then powering out again and luxuriating in that bottomless well of torque.

Wheelie - The controls for the four and a half billion information and settings options
Wheelie – The controls for the four and a half billion information and settings options

The electronically adjustable suspension is plush enough to laugh off the roughest of surfaces, and BMW’s trademark Telever front end means no diving under heavy braking, unlike some adventure bikes whose long-travel suspension makes them genuflect like a nun meeting the Pope.

The quickshifter is firm but as effective going down the gears as up, although to be honest, I found using the clutch a bit smoother. It is important to keep these old traditional skills alive, after all.

One thing I’m glad BMW haven’t changed is the fact that at idle, the tacho display looks exactly like a pint of beer. Deliberately, obviously.

Buzz - One of the colour schemes available is BMW's Bumble Bee from previous models
Buzz – One of the colour schemes available is BMW’s Bumble Bee from previous models

And if you can’t quite persuade your bank manager of your overwhelming necessity to get a new one, Auto Trader has very clean 2019 models with 11,000 miles on the clock from £12,990.

So while the gorgeous R18 is still my favourite BMW of all time, I know which one I’d pick for global adventures.

*Bike supplied by BMW Motorrad Belfast charleshurstgroup.co.uk/bmw

Browse more than 19,000 new and used bikes for sale at Autotrader.co.uk/bikes