As iconic motorcycles go, BMW’s GS is truly deserving of the word. The model turns 40 this year but any plans for an around-the-world, Ewan McGregor-inspired celebration are on hold for a while at least.
Adventure bikes such as the BMW are the SUV of motorcycles, offering armchair-like comfort during road riding and supreme ability in the dirt. The genre is often scoffed at by some bikers for their ‘middle-aged’ image, but the fact is that the GS remains the best-selling 500cc and over bike in Britain.
Launched in 1980, the BMW has ridden a rugged road to become the benchmark dual-sport machine – the ultimate all-rounder that proved unstoppable on McGregor’s global-trotting ‘Long Way’ TV series alongside Charley Boorman.
The original R 80 G/S was arguably the first, big-engined dual-sport bike. Designed by German engineer and rally star, Rudiger Gutsche, the multi-talented BMW quickly gained a cult following.
Sales soared after Frenchman Hubert Auriol rode a G/S to victory in the Paris-Dakar Rally the following year, the start of a period of dominance for BMW in the gruelling off-road endurance race.
The GS has since morphed into a range of road and track motorbikes, with smaller-engined versions and a huge catalogue of must-have accessories that can be eye-wateringly expensive.
Perhaps the most sought-after model is the range-topping Adventure, launched in 2002, it packs a larger, 30-litre fuel tank, trademark aluminium panniers as an option, plus genuine go-anywhere ability.
Priced at £18,170, the latest R 1250 GS Adventure costs as much as a decent hatchback car and won’t keep you dry when it rains. However, for many riders the BMW is the Holy Grail of bikes and the ultimate year-round ride.
It’s also huge, really huge. Yet straddle the saddle and it feels perfectly manageable. Not only that, the GS has a height adjustable seat to match the rider and the front screen is adjustable to deflect airflow.
Just like a car, the current GS offers a range of different riding modes, automatic stability control and even a hill start function. ABS brakes and traction control are standard – the 2020 is a machine determined to keep you onboard whatever happens.
A rack of LED headlights warns dozy car drivers of your approach, although the Adventure is so large it’s difficult to miss. Keyless, push button start and an LCD screen that can be linked to the sat nav on your phone are standard - although a stand-alone navigation system is available.
Riding the GS 1250 is a revelation. The suspension automatically adjusts to the load – crucial if you have those three aluminium panniers fully packed – and that adjustable front screen takes the buffeting wind away from a rider’s helmet.
And with the latest 1250cc Boxer engine as standard, there’s plenty of punch for overtaking, or just cruising all day at motorway speeds. My motorcycling skills aren’t quite ready for off-road feedback but if it was enough for Charley and Ewan on their adventures, that’s good enough for me.
The best adventure bikes
Harley-Davidson Pan America 1,250cc
The iconic American brand takes on the might of BMW with the company’s first leap into the adventure bike sector. The Pan America looks sensational and is likely to have more power and over-taking torque than the class-leading GS Adventure. It also ‘borrows’ the metal pannier concept so familiar on the BMW but is expected to cost more at around £23,000. Now due on sale in the autumn..
Royal Enfield Himalayan 410cc
Just the name should be enough to send a shiver down your spine. Rugged, raw and agile, the Himalayan is the perfect bike for plodding around the British countryside, or tackling an epic adventure on roads untouched by tarmac. It may be a little ponderous for long-haul motorways but at £4,199 it’s an absolute bargain. And if you like retro, it has a manual choke and a slow thump-thump beat from the 410cc engine.
Triumph Tiger 1,200cc
The long-serving Tiger is now lighter, more powerful and better equipped than ever before. Priced from £12,200 to £17,100, this rugged-looking adventure bike has a huge core following. Supremely comfortable, the Tiger is a big machine but very easy to control. Quality is second to none and the luggage systems available swallow up gear.
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