Monday, November 29, 2010

Motorcycle Review: 2011 BMW R1200GSA

 -Engine: BMW's venerable 1,170cc oilhead boxer twin is considered to be one of the most bulletproof and reliable engines in motorcycling. It's also one of the most powerful twin cylinder engines currently on the market, putting out 110bhp and 88 ft/lb of torque. Powerful as it may be, I did find this bike to be considerably less smooth than a Vstrom 1000 or the F800GS. This may be due to the size or the configuration in the frame. In either case, there's enough power to very easily lift the front wheel in snap second gear shifts, and she'll hum along nicely at 4000rpm on the highway all day long. Observed fuel economy was 35.1mpg according to the onboard computer. Acceleration was fairly good, though one must be gentle with the throttle as the aforementioned wheelie can result.

-Chassis/Handling: In a previous review, I noted that I ride a Kawasaki Concours, which is right in the middle of the sport-touring spectrum. The R1200GSA can best be described in a class all its own. The ride is fairly supple and compliant, but it wallows in turns when the Electronic Suspension Adjustment is set to Comfort or Normal. In Sport mode, it stiffens up somewhat, but the big bike still feels for want of a better term like a two-wheeled pickup truck. I felt confident leaning this bike over at fairly high speeds, but the oem Metzler Tourance rubber as installed did make the bike feel a tad squiggly on entry/exit ramps and over tar snakes.

This is not necessarily bad, however, as the intended purpose for this bike is aimed more toward off road excursions. As it is delivered, I would not recommend this bike for long-distance highway travel without first having the suspension and tyres adjusted or changed for said use. Overall, I was impressed with the ride quality, and I do think that once one becomes accustomed to its handling limits, this could be a very fun bike in the twisties, as well as off road.

-Comfort: I'm 5'10" tall with a 30" inseam. Sitting on the bike, I can just rest the balls of my feet on the ground on even pavement. For anyone my height or shorter, a low seat option may be necessary. Overall, comfort levels were good: the seat is firm without being harsh; the footpegs are located at a comfortable angle, and the windshield did an excellent job of keeping buffeting at bay below 70mph. Above that speed, however, I could feel and hear buffeting at the top of my helmet.  The aforementioned vibration at speed would make this bike less than comfortable on long highway jaunts, but this may also have been brought on by the dual sport tyres that come installed from the factory.

One other item of note here: the bar width was, for me at least, spot on. Just the right rake and the standard heated grips made the ride in 45˚ weather very comfortable.

-Ergonomics: Controls are well labelled, but I did not like the separate right and left indicator switches, nor did I enjoy the embarrassment of constantly hitting the horn button when trying to signal a left-hand turn. It may well be that the control pods needed adjustment, but this was a short demo ride, so perhaps my issue with this could be rectified with some adjustment.

-Utility: I was surprised to see that there are no bins or cubbies anywhere on this bike. If you need to carry things such as an ezpass or extra helmet shields, I'd highly recommend ordering side cases or a top box, as well as a magnetic tank bag for added convenience. Overall, I was not impressed with the total lack of storage space on this bike, considering it's intention to be a go-anywhere, do-anything machine. At this price point, at least one locking glovebox that is accessible while seated on the bike should be standard.

It should be noted, however, that there is a plethora of luggage available for this bike. Everything from Hepco&Becker side cases to Givi topboxes, with a half a dozen different rack systems, including the stock BMW rack. All of these options do, however, come at fairly high cost.

-Range: Claimed fuel consumption according to BMW's website is 43.3mpg city, 51.1 mpg highway. In my test, I could not get the mpg meter on the trip computer to go much past 40mpg in mixed riding. With an 8.7 gallon tank, this translates to roughly 350 miles per tank. Excellent by all measures, as I am rather heavy handed on the throttle. Were one to baby this bike, I could easily see getting close to 400 or more miles per tank.

-Price: As tested price was $20,495 for the R1200GSA with premium package, which includes Heated Grips, ABS, Saddle Bag Mounts, Onboard Computer, Enduro ESA and Fog Lights. To be honest here, I genuinely believe that this bike is way overpriced for the final product. At $6149, the Kawasaki KLR650 is less than a third the price, is lighter, has a greater availability of parts, gets better gas mileage, and is more oriented toward true dual-sport riding.

By all means, the R1200GSA has been heralded as the crowning achievement of dual-sport motorcycles. I cannot, however, see why. Any and all damage incurred by dropping this incredibly heavy bike during an offroad excursion will be incredibly expensive to repair. Servicing is the same as any other BMW motorcycle, which will also add to total cost of ownership.

If you want to go to the ends of the earth and have unlimited funds to do it, then this is the bike for you. There is a plethora of aftermarket parts to make it suit the rider perfectly. That being said, if you're like the majority of us for whom funds are limited, look elsewhere, as this bike is way too expensive and near total overkill for day-to-day and even weekend riding.

Overall Rating:  3.2/5

Overall, I was not impressed with the BMW R1200GSA. I had expected this to be the pinnacle of motorcycling. Sadly, I was wrong. For the price, I expected considerably greater levels of comfort and power, more utility and lower servicing costs. This may be the perfect bike for some people, but given the choice, I'd recommend either the Kawasaki KLR-650 or a BMW F650GS, both of which are considerably less expensive motorcycles with a greater availability of parts, easier servicing and lower cost of ownership. They'll all get you from Alaska to Argentina, but the R1200GSA will cost a small fortune to do it.

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