For those with a true yearning for adventure travel, nothing beats a touring motorcycle. Unlike the cocooned isolation experienced by those in a 4-wheeled vehicle, motorcycles immerse you in the environment – smells, sounds, climatic conditions and noise are all immediate and accessible. In addition, motorbikes are a fuel and space-efficient means of commuting or travel. They add a huge fun factor to getting from point A to B.
I’ve owned about 30 motorcycles. Of all the models available today (new or used) , none beats the BMW R1150GS or its “butch” sibling, the R1150GS Adventure, for sheer versatility, capability and reliability on and off the road. The GS handles well enough in the city to be a commuter bike, yet it is capable of surviving off-road on unpaved tracks when the goal is to do some exploring. It handles as well as many sport bikes when canyon carving or dialing it up in the twisties. And, it has a shaft drive (no chain), which means it’s essentially a “zero maintenance” bike. I suppose the only category it doesn’t fill is the Harley/cruiser one. I’ve never understood that crowd anyway….
At over 86 inches in length, with an operational weight of 590 pounds plus, this BMW bike seems heavy and unwieldy to the uninitiated. But, the length and unique suspension make for a controlled and supple ride, whether you’re super-slabbing it, or pounding along a dry river bed. The weight powers you through the rough stuff, and a torquey engine with plenty of grunt through the entire power-band makes the bike feel lighter and more nimble than specs alone would indicate. Superb ergonomics make snaking though city traffic a breeze, while keeping you comfortable and upright in the saddle.
In the last two years alone, I’ve toured over 50,000 miles in over 22 countries, countries as diverse as mainland Mexico, Turkey, the Balkans, China, and Namibia. Properly outfitted, the big GS (“Gelande” and “Strasse”, loosely translated German for “off-road” and “street”) has carried me, all my gear, and at times, my riding partner, over everything from dry autobahns to rain covered loose-traction surfaces of frightening disrepair. The bikes are reliable, rugged, and designed to sustain minimal damage.
Parts availability world-wise is surprisingly good. BMW has en extensive dealer network, and, their car and motorcycle parts systems/warehouses intersect. If you have a part number, you can order through any BMW car dealership. Outside of the US, many BMW care dealers also sell and service the bikes. But, mostly, you don’t need to worry – rarely does anything break!
Technology and features abound, consider: a 1150cc engine keeps center-of-gravity lower than any other engine configuration. Has electric starter. Full electronic fuel-injection. Catalytic converter for
super-clean emissions. Heated handgrips to keep those fingers nice and toasty in frigid conditions. Dry-cell/gel battery, no maintenance. Electrical accessory outlet for heated jacket, tire pump, or
GPS navigation system. A unique, patented driveshaft and rear suspension, which eliminates hobby-horsing. Rear tire removal is a no-brianer.
In the particular category of a multi-continent capable world-class adventure/touring machine, this motorcycle is in a class of it’s own. Harley makes nothing like it. Neither do Honda, Yamaha or Kawasaki. Nothing out of Italy. A small Austrian company called KTM has just introduced a large displacement V-twin motorcycle (also called the Adventure, oddly enough!) in an attempt to unseat BMW. However, it’s a totally new, unproven design, and their dealer network, outside of Europe and the US, is very limited. BMW has owned this category for over a quarter century.
Many dual-purpose products fail to meet the mark. However the BMW GS series of motorcycles are the proof-of-concept for a multi-function — road/off-road — vehicle that just plain works. The next time you see a motorcycle driving along the Haul Road in Alaska, or through the otherworldly red dunes of the Namib desert, take a close look, chances are, it’ll be a BMW GS motorcycle. No one does the swiss army knife of two wheels better!
– Mike M. Paull
BMW R1150GS and R1150GS Adventure
New $14,500 to $15,200.00
Used $8,000 up
(The R1150GS ceased production in 2005, but there are other motorcycles in the BMW GS family.)