DT Garage: Riding a BMW R 1250 GS through the depths of winter
It’s not often I’m scared of trying a new bike.
But the BMW R 1250 GS filled me with terror – not because it’s a fire-breathing monster or anything, but simply because of what it could do to my biking life.
The GS is the biggest selling large-capacity bike in Europe and it feels like it’s the default bike in the UK for anyone who isn’t after a sporty naked or a full-on sportsbike.
And that’s why I was a bit scared of trying a GS. Would I immediately want to swap my Ducati 1198 sportsbike for this supposed do-everything, go-anywhere adventure bike? And can it really be as good as everyone seems to think? I have the big Beemer for a few months to find out.
The suspension is the big deal
You can adjust the suspension to a soft road mode or stiffer dynamic mode, regardless of the riding mode you're in
I picked the GS up from BMW’s Farnborough HQ on a bright December morning before riding into work at DT towers in Chiswick. I’d ripped around the M25 and down the M3 on my 1198, rejoicing in the booming Italian v-twin soundtrack cracking out of my carbon-wrapped Termignoni exhausts. It had been a few weeks since I last took the Ducati for a spin and, as usual, I was surprised by how fast it is for a 10-year-old bike, and how savagely it delivers its power. It’s not even that firm, and the properly set-up Ohlins suspension gives a relatively cushy ride for a sportsbike.
Then I parked up and climbed on my new steed: the R 1250 GS. And it was like straddling a very tall blancmange. I picked it up off the sidestand and was astounded by how soft the suspension felt under my weight – I could rock the bike back and forth like a particularly smooth rocking horse. You know when an American comes to a halt in their sedan in a 90s TV series and the car rocks back and forth for 10 seconds before settling? The GS feels that spongey at a standstill.
This set alarm bells ringing – surely a bike this soft will be an absolute pig to get around a corner at any speed?
As I trundled back out to the motorway, I quickly realised I needn’t have worried. Thanks to the GS’s fancy telelever suspension setup, the softness of the suspension doesn’t really affect the handling. The GS’s front forks are thin spindly things – but they’re only used for steering. The actual job of keeping the front wheel in contact with the road is done by a traditional sprung shock under the headstock of the bike.
I tackled the M3 to M25 slip road with my usual ambitious entry speed, expecting to wobble all over the place. But nope, the trick suspension setup meant that although I couldn’t feel a lot of what the front tyre was doing, the bike tracked beautifully – and it always feels as if it can’t be deflected from its course.
I’ve been riding the GS for the past month as much as I can – in everything from 0C darkness to balmy 10C afternoons. And it just gives you a huge amount of confidence to get stuck into corners regardless of the surface conditions. It’s slightly unnerving how quickly the suspension setup goads you into riding.
It’ll save your bum
This is the standard, non-adventure version of the GS – it has two seat heights you can choose from. I'm 6'3" and am fine with the higher one
So the R1250 GS goes around corners well. But the second you spot a bump in the road and stand up on the pegs in preparation for the pounding you’re about to receive, you realise the GS’s true magic. It’s unbelievably comfortable. You just never feel the bumps you’d otherwise don armoured underwear for on other bikes.
Which makes long journeys infinitely less exhausting than most other bikes. But factor in the spot-on riding position, super-comfy seat and the cosseting weather protection and you start to realise just why the GS is such a popular bike: it takes nearly all the discomfort out of motorcycling.
I’ve been using it to commute as often as possible, and it’s made me look forward to my 6.30am alarm to go to work.
Keyless go and the keyless fuel cap work well – once you've worked out you need to have the ignition fully off before the fuel cap will open
The GS also adds approximately 8 degrees Celsius of warmth to whatever kit you’re wearing, thanks to excellent wind protection – and the highest level of the heated grips’s two settings is actually too hot when the air temperature is above 5C.
So far then, the GS is proving the perfect winter machine. In a couple of weeks I’ll hopefully have found time to take it out for more of a workout than partial laps of the M25 – and I’ll report back on whether it can hack it as a fun bike as well as an incredibly competent one. So far, however, I’m annoyingly close to replacing the 1198 with it. Damn.