One of the worst aspects of modern life is the unceasing pressure to review things after purchase. Approximately 30 seconds after buying something substantial, you are bombarded with requests to review it. That's fine for a raspberry and sour cream waffle, but reviewing major hardware after 20 minutes of ownership seems a little premature.
21 months and 14,000 kilometres, however, that seems long enough to form a clear and pretty accurate opinion of a motorcycle. So here is what I think after so much time and so many kilometres on the BMW R1250GS Adventure I bought at the end of 2021.
Cut to the chase: do I like it? Absolutely love it, it's an amazing machine that does everything I want it to. Any regrets? None. I would buy the same bike again in a heartbeat, in the same circumstances. Will I be yearning for an R1300GS when they finally come out later in the year? Absolutely not. The only thing I am even vaguely interested in is adaptive cruise control, the ability to let the system manage your speed in traffic. But the lack of it is far from being enough for me to want to swap. I will be keeping this bike for the next decade or so. I suspect it will be my last petrol motorcycle.
The 14,000km I have put on the bike are a little different to what normal users might do. Nearly all of my riding has either been long distance stuff or shorter leisure rides. The nature of my job means that my commute consists either of a quick stroll from my bedroom to the room we use as an office, or a short ride from my accommodation to a race track. I have ridden in heavy city traffic, but more for sport than because I had to be somewhere.
What kind of riding have I done? Apart from pootling around the area where I live, with leisure trips through the Achterhoek and up through Friesland, Groningen, and Germany, I have had two trips to the Sachsenring near Chemnitz, two trips to Assen, two trips to Silverstone, staying at my mother's house near Stevenage, and a long, multi-day trip to Austria, travelling mostly via main roads rather than motorways, with a generous sprinkling of country roads thrown in for good measure.
If you want to know why I chose a BMW R1250GS Adventure over the other options, I would point you to the post I wrote shortly after I bought the bike. The question I want to answer here is has it lived up to my expectations and is there anything I regret?
Let's start with the engine. Because the riding I do is mostly smaller roads, my main concern is torque. Something the R1250GSA has in buckets. Open the throttle at pretty much any speed and in pretty much any gear and the bike pulls like Chris Hemsworth at a hen night. Where the oil-cooled 1200 felt it had to first gather its skirts around it before it took off, the 1250 just goes. Big, fat dollops of torque are on tap whenever you need to call on it.
This is no doubt down to the shiftcam. Torque is on tap at 50km/h in fifth, but I have on occasion needed to quickly gain speed on German Autobahns. Whack the throttle at 160km/h and the bike still surges forward. And it is stable all the while.
Another benefit of the shiftcam is that I haven’t experienced any surging on part throttle. On my 2009 model R1200GS, holding the throttle around 3,000 RPM would see the bike hesitate, accelerate slightly, back off again. The 1250 engine feels pretty happy everywhere. You notice the difference in acceleration when two up, but given that my wife prefers a gentle pace when touring, this doesn’t affect my riding. But what I can say is you barely notice the additional weight of luggage.
Could the 1250 use another 25 horsepower to match the KTM 1290 Super Adventure, or 35 horsepower to keep up with the Ducati Multistrada? Not as far as I am concerned. The place I live and the roads I mostly ride mean 134 HP is plenty. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
The R1250GSA has a bunch of riding modes, of which only four can be active at the same time, for some inexplicable reason. Presumably to avoid cycling through all seven modes - ECO, RAIN, ROAD, DYNAMIC, DYNAMIC PRO, ENDURO, ENDURO PRO - when switching.
DYNAMIC PRO and ENDURO PRO are programmable. You can set custom levels of anti-wheelie, ABS, traction control to suit your own style. As I am no Matteo Flamigni, I have stuck with RAIN, ROAD, DYNAMIC, and ENDURO, as that basically covers my riding needs.
RAIN has a profound effect on the engine. Throttle response feels a lot like the 2009 R1200GS I traded in when I bought this bike. DYNAMIC is the engine in its natural state, and is extremely enjoyable. Fast, responsive, quite aggressive. ROAD feels like a tame version of DYNAMIC, the version you would take home to meet mother. Differences are small, however.
I will not weigh in on ENDURO. I am too slow and too scared to be able to say anything meaningful about it.
The riding modes do not appear to have a profound effect on fuel consumption, though the conditions in which you use them certainly do. The R1250 engine is incredibly frugal if you keep it under 100km/h. Pootling around country roads will see mileage of well under 5l/100km. Motorway use - between 100-120 km/h - will give you 5.2l/100km.
Fuel consumption rises rapidly with speed, however. Cruising at 130km/h will take you into 5.6-5.8l/100km. Carrying speed on German Autobahns and the bike starts to get thirsty. Cruise at 150km/h and you hit 6l/100km.
Get above that, and the bike starts to positively drink fuel. The only positive is that the horrendous wind noise at that speed is drowned out by the sound of the whirlpool which forms in the tank.
Average fuel consumption over the 13,000 km I have had the bike is 5.29l/100km, or 18.9 km/l. Best consumption was 4.56l/100km / 21.9 km/l, and the worst was 6.44l/100km, or 15.5 km/l. Average consumption for my old GS was 5.79l/100km, or 17.3 km/l.
The 1250 uses significantly less fuel than the old bike. But to earn back the price difference, I will have to do 4,000,000 km on the new machine.
So the engine is lovely. The same cannot be said for the gearbox. What you think of the gearbox depends very much on what you were riding before. Coming from a 2009 R1200GS, it is a solid improvement. Compared to the R1150GS I had, it is like another world. But anyone who has ridden something other than a BMW will recognise that the 1250's gearbox is most charitably described as "perfectly functional".
The gearbox is less a hot knife through butter and more a cold spoon through porridge. Gear changes are (mostly) accurate, but they require a positive action and committed attitude. You better have made up your mind you want to change up or down, or your indecision will be met by a loud grinding noise and the box getting stuck in a false neutral.
The gearbox is improved by the addition of the quickshifter, but the quickshifter also demands a positive approach. Hard on the gas, and it works flawlessly. Same for downshifts: shut the throttle with plenty of revs and you can shift effortlessly down through the box.
That limits the practical application of the quickshifter. Bimbling around town, you will need the clutch, for both up- and downshifts. Same is true when taking leisurely trips down country lanes. But on motorways and in spirited riding, the quickshifter is a boon.
The quickshifter is just one of the range of electronic rider aids which adorn the BMW. If memory serves, it is part of the Dynamic pack, which I believe also included the Dynamic ESA electronic suspension and riding modes. BMW offer a huge range of options on their bikes, but they tend to roll them up into ‘packs’, which is reasonable enough in most cases - the options tend to be grouped by function - but you can easily find yourself having to choose an option you don’t really want, or skipping an option because it’s the only one you want in a larger pack.
But who am I kidding? Most BMW riders automatically add the full set. I skipped the sports option which included an Akrapovic exhaust, and I didn’t choose the heated seat. In part because I don’t ride enough in winter to justify the cost, but mostly because the heated seat is only available in black, and because I was going to swap the Ice Grey bodywork for red panels, I wanted the red and black seat.
Back to the electronics. Dynamic ESA works much better than the old version I had on the 1200. The system has three preload settings - Min, Max, and Auto - and three damping settings, Road, Dynamic, and Enduro. For the preload, I spend pretty much all my time in Auto, which is the auto-levelling setting, attempting to keep the bike level depending on the load.
The nice thing about this is you don’t have to worry about changing the preload when you carry luggage or a pillion, or both. The bike sorts itself out based on 6-axis IMU located under the pillion seat.
Being an idiot, I have only recently discovered the joys of the Minimum setting, which sets the preload to its lowest setting (the clue is in the name). This drops the rear what feels like about 4cm, which means I go from holding the bike on the balls of my feet (I have a lowered GSA, which is basically the standard GS suspension height) to being able to easily flat-foot the bike. This makes paddling it about a doddle, especially useful when getting on the ferry, for example, a tip I found on a forum.
I have not yet played with the Maximum setting, though people on forums say it puts the bike on its nose more, and makes it steer a little sharper. Something to try the next time I find some fast and winding roads.
Overall, the bike feels a little undersprung. This is a common ailment, bikes being fitted with springs to suit a 70kg rider wearing 10kg of kit. I suspect the average GS rider is at least 20kg heavier than that, and that is before you start adding luggage, pillions, and accessories. That is something a suspension specialist can address though.
The damping is pretty good. I spend most of my time in Dynamic mode, which is firm enough to keep the bike planted and under control in pretty much any conditions. When you select Rain or Road riding modes, the damping automatically switches to Road, which is a much more pliant affair. I find the bike tends to wallow a bit too much for my liking, but my wife much prefers the plushness of the ride which Road offers.
How does the bike handle? Like all BMW boxers, the weight disappears as soon as you get above 5km/h. It feels precise and agile, though it is much better if you are confident. Point the bike where you want it to go and it responds immediately, though you have to know where you are going. If you are hesitant, or just generally not feeling it on a particular day, the R1250GSA suddenly feels a lot heavier. It never feels ponderous, but if you are not feeling confident it starts to feel like the bike could easily get away from you.
The trick is to boss the bike. Approach it with a positive attitude, and it do everything you want and more. Worry too much, and it is intimidating, and hard work. This is equally true when pushing the bike about. Keep it upright, and the balance of the bike makes it a doddle to move around. Fear the bike’s 260+ kg, and it becomes a lot harder.
If you do drop the bike (ask me how I know) you discover it is what is technically known as “fucking heavy”. So heavy I managed to tear a calf muscle while trying to pick it up after toppling over. The saving grace is that a) the GSA has crashbars which protect the bike from damage, and b) the boxer layout means it doesn’t fall over quite as far as a parallel twin, for example. Unless you topple over the wrong way on a slope, in which case you are fucked.
Once riding, things get considerably easier. Above 5km/h the boxer twin’s low centre of mass makes it a joy to ride. It feels planted, and will go where you point it. The Telelever means you can brake as hard and as deep as you want, and trail the brakes deep into the corner. It exudes confidence.
Which can be deceptive. Shortly after I got the bike, in December, I went for a ride on a cold, dry day. I steered confidently into a roundabout, and the front washed out, dumping me on the ground (and setting off BMW’s SOS feature, a woman’s voice suddenly enquiring if I needed assistance. The privacy consequences of this don’t bear thinking about. But that is a subject for another article, which would take in the BMW Connected app as well.
I put that crash, in which only my ego and the crash bars were scratched, down to the Michelin Anakee Adventure tyres, fitted as standard to the bike. On warm dry tarmac, these are amazing. On sand tracks and loose gravel, they are superb and confidence inspiring, at least at the speeds at which I am wobbling about. In the wet, they are OK, lacking feedback, and in cold conditions, they are terrible. No feedback or feeling, and no sense of what is going on at the road/rubber interface, I will be replacing the tyres with a set of Dunlop Mutants.
Getting back to electronic rider aids, cruise control is very useful, most especially once I discovered that it works down to 30km/h. I could have realised that had I consulted the voluminous and comprehensive manual, but I had a vague recollection from a forum post that it didn’t work below 80km/h. If I had gone with research instead of vibes, I would have got there sooner.
That low limit for the cruise control makes it exceptionally useful for avoiding fines. Stick the cruise control at 34km/h, and you sit comfortably at between 29 and 30 km/h around town. The same applies to the 50km/h and 80km/h zones.
That is all well and good if there is no traffic about. The erratic nature of other road users means that cruise control is only really useful if there are no other vehicles about. (Remember kids, car drivers are all trying to kill you, whether intentionally or not.) Around town, where speed differentials are smaller, cruise control is more usable than on busy motorways, where everybody is trying to go at their own pace. The only electronic feature I long for is adaptive cruise control, so I could just set the thing and cruise, and concentrate on not getting killed.
One oddity of the cruise control is the speed at which it will accelerate. Come out of a 50km/h and switch it back on set to 80km/h, and it takes off like a scalded cat. A little smoother acceleration would be welcome in such cases.
I also wonder about the speed flipper switch. It looks quite fragile, but so far, after 14,000km of abuse, it is still in perfect condition. The frailty appears to be entirely in my own mind.
The remaining controls are great. I still miss the idiosyncratic BMW flipper switch indicators, but the traditional Japanese push button setup is fine. The buttons are mostly where you expect them and easy to get to. Some people have complained that the WonderWheel (formally, the multifunction controller) can get in the way on the left handlebar, but apparently I have the right shape thumbs.
Rider mode button on the right handlebar is fine, but the button for the heated grips is quite a long way away. The heated grips have two settings: hot, and molten titanium. I have never used the second setting, but perhaps if it was -15C out and I was wearing under gloves, winter gloves, and rain mittens I might consider it. I fear I would still be risking second degree burns on the palms of my hands, however. [Insert wanking joke here, because I am too lazy to.]
The brakes are phenomenal. Power and feel are superb. Rear brake gives good control, and the front will pull you up very quickly. When you do, the weight of the bike means it will push the front hard and get quite squirrelly, but it never feels out of control. As previously said, telelever allows you to brake very deep into the corner, and trail brake comfortably all the way to the apex.
ABS never feels intrusive (I regularly practice braking so hard it intervenes), and feels smooth. The linked brakes - the front brake also activates the rear - work seamlessly. You have a lot of weight, so using the rear to stop the bike is a good thing.
Less good is the seat. There is a theory in the more cynical corners of the motorcycling internet that seats are designed to feel comfortable for the 45 minutes of a test ride, which makes them too soft over the longer term. With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised with the GSA’s seat. It felt firm and comfortable for longer distances.
Though it started out well, a year of use has made it less than perfect. (Or perhaps it is my arse that has changed over time, but that is not a verifiable hypothesis unfortunately.) The seat is fine for 90 minutes, then it starts to get a little uncomfortable. The problem is mainly softness. Seating position is fine, but support for the bum runs out quickly.
Long days on the bike are still possible. But stopping every 90 minutes to 2 hours is the only way you will survive this. Fortunately, the 30 litre tank gives you the flexibility to arrange your riding around your arse comfort, rather than the search for petrol.
The plan is to replace the seat at some point in the future, probably with a Borbro item. But vanity means I must choose a seat that goes with the colour scheme. So no rush there.
And so to the screen. It is truly a mystery why BMW are incapable of designing a screen which isn’t comically bad. The original GSA screen was so awful that I asked the dealer where I bought the bike - the excellent Simako-BDM in Apeldoorn, NL - to swap it for a standard GS item. That is shorter and narrow, and a little better, but still poor. The air is directed either towards the bottom of my helmet in the lowest position, or the top of the visor in the highest position, meaning my head was always getting buffeted about.
I added an MRA X-creen Sport spoiler to the standard GS screen, in an attempt to remove some of the buffeting, and that made a big difference. I was still getting a lot of air on my shoulders, though, so I bought a secondhand MRA Touring TM screen. That is wider and gives a lot more protection, despite being close to the same size as the standard GS screen.
The search for a better screen continues. I have bought another MRA Touring screen, this time the version with the attached spoiler. Let’s see how that works out.
Why are the screens on BMW’s GS models so awful? Perhaps it is an adventure bike thing. You are a long way away from the screen, the wide handlebars keeping you relatively far back. There is a big, gaping hole surrounding the forks, through which, by the way, the front Michelin manages to make a horrendous racket. And the screen is not wide enough to provide any real protection.
I still find it frustrating and heartbreaking that Givi do not do an AirFlow screen for the liquid cooled GS range, as they did for the air cooled bikes. The AF330 screen I had on my 2009 bike. It was hideous, but it was the best screen I have ever had on a motorcycle.
The other screen - the TFT dash - is very good. It is well laid out and easy to read, even with bright sunlight on it. I can only remember one occasion, late afternoon, blue sky, sun shining directly over my shoulder onto the dash, where the info on the dash was washed out by sunlight. But that is rare enough not to matter.
The screens are well laid out and fairly intuitive to use. The only problems I have had is with Bluetooth connectivity. Occasionally, the connection has dropped, either from the phone or from my headset. A new phone and a reset of the Cardo Freecom 4 headset has cleared up all of the problems I was having. But given the large number of videos on YouTube about BMW Connectivity issues, I have put this down to luck, rather than anything else.
The one thing I do like about Bluetooth connectivity is the BMW Connected app. As it connects automatically when I switch on the bike, it records all of my rides. Given that I have to keep track of all the kilometres I do for the taxman, this is exceptionally useful. It will also tell you speed, braking and acceleration forces, lean angle, and more.
You can also use it for navigation purposes. The navigation part of the Connected app is based on TomTom’s technology, and will calculate a direct or a route with varying degrees of windingness (if that is a word). Once you have programmed your route, the turn instructions display on the dash.This is great for relatively simple rides, or for if you are not fussed about seeing where you are on a moving map.
Of course the privacy implications of the app are horrendous. BMW has data on all of my movements. I should be deeply worried about that, but this is a typical case of exchanging convenience for privacy, and I am keeping my head firmly encased in the sand.
The most useful thing about the dash is that it allows you to keep track of information that is important to you. You can access pretty much everything about the bike through the Menu button, but the top line of the dash will give you a customisable list of information to flick through with the WonderWheel, including fuel range, fuel level, tyre pressure, average speed, odometer, and more. I find the fuel range reading useful, and it is pretty accurate, though I haven’t ridden the bike to empty to double check. That is the benefit of a 30-litre tank.
The most annoying thing about the dash are the warning messages. Not because warning messages are bad, but because they are on such a hair trigger. The electronics system of the bike is very sensitive to battery voltage, which is why I keep it topped up once at least once a week. Let the battery voltage get too low, and you get to see a greatest hits selection of error messages: ABS Fault! Engine Fault! ESA Fault!
Despite the fact the messages are meant to strike fear into the heart of the rider (they invariably beg you to make your way to the nearest BMW dealer immediately), they are generally meaningless. Run the engine until it is warm, switch it off and restart it, and the messages automatically disappear. Your battery voltage was at a more normal level, so the ECU is not thrown into an existential crisis.
I suppose I ought to be annoyed by this, but as a former software engineer, it is more amusing than irritating. I too have ignored particular cases because I viewed them as too unlikely to happen to do anything about them, only to be punched in the face by reality.
What is annoying is the key fob. The ring which detects the radio signal from the key fob appears to have been encased in lead. Put a new battery in the fob, and within 6 months, the dash is giving you the low key fob battery warning, and sometimes refusing to switch on if you happen to have the key fob in the wrong pocket. When button cell batteries become a significant part of the operating budget for your motorcycle, something is horribly wrong.
Still, it’s a great anti-theft device. Nobody is going to be able to switch the bike once you take more than two steps away from the bike. Fortunately, the alarm suffers no such problems, responding to the buttons on the key fob quickly and from a distance no matter how often the dash has been showing you the low key battery warning.
The physical key attached to the key fob is only used for attaching and locking the BMW luggage, and the navigation cradle. But it is also quite fragile. Try to force it to turn getting luggage on or off, or open or closed, and it can break. At least, that is what my dealer tells me, so I treat it with care.
Which brings me onto the luggage. The metal BMW cases look great, though I probably would have preferred a glossy to a mat black finish. You quickly discover the downside to black luggage in the summer, the interior getting quite hot. The fit and finish, however, is fairly mediocre, the seals aligning rather poorly. And since I tipped over outside a hotel in Germany, the left-hand case has been pushed slightly out of true. The locking mechanisms are awkward and don’t function as smoothly as they ought to. They are sensitive to grit, but I get the impression this has more to do with poor alignment of parts.
On the upside, the inner bags that come with the cases are absolutely top quality. Thick rubberised plastic, completely waterproof, and seal exceptionally well. They come with handles and sturdy carrying straps, and I use them off the bike as well. They are eye-wateringly expensive, but you get your money’s worth.
The only downside is the clips which are there to allow you to attach them to the bike using straps tend to foul the edge of the cases when you try to close them. This means that closing them requires a certain amount of fiddling, but it’s not a huge issue.
Finish of the whole bike is a little bit of a mixed bag. In large part, it is excellent: the gaps between panels are straight and symmetrical, and parts align properly everywhere. But there are one or two places where it is well below par. Paint and protection on engine cases and panels is very good, but as my bike lives outside, the fasteners are starting to look a little aged.
The aluminium bolts are looking very dull, and there is rust appearing on the inside of the hole which runs through the rear wheel axle. That is the only place so far, however, apart from the feet of the centre stand, but as they are constantly being scraped against the ground, that is entirely understandable.
So, to the million dollar question. (Well, not a million dollars, but rather about €30,000 if bought new in The Netherlands). If I had to go through the same decision making process, would I make the same choice? Would I buy another BMW R1250GS Adventure, or would I look around at another bike, a KTM 1290 or a Triumph 1200? Do I regret not waiting for the R1300GS to be launched in September?
The answer is I would make exactly the same choice all over again. I genuinely love this motorcycle, and intend to keep it for at least a decade. It does everything I want - it is my only form of transport, apart from bicycle and train, so it has to do everything - and it does so effortlessly. It brings me joy and mental peace while riding it, and a smile to my face when I look at it. It is comfortable for my wife as a pillion, and comfortable and fun for me.
If I had to make a change, I would probably not have taken the BMW luggage. Instead, I probably would have plumped for a set of Bumot Evo Defender cases. Those look better made than the BMW branded luggage. But the difference is not great enough for me to spend the money if I don't need to.
Does this mean you should buy a BMW R1250GSA? Certainly not. You should buy a bike that suits your needs and makes you want to ride it every time you see it. For me, that was an R1250GSA. For you, it might be completely different.
Is it worth the money I paid for it? There were a few factors which helped get me a discount on the bike, including the time of year I was buying. So in my case, the bike is excellent value for money. If I had paid full whack, I might have felt slightly more like I was paying a premium for the brand alone, but even then, the joy of riding the bike would quickly dispel any doubts.
BMW ask an awful lot of money for their R1250GSA. But you really do get an amazing motorcycle in return.