2019 BMW R 1250 GS First Ride - GS Galore
So the baby G310 GS wasn’t there on the ride day, but all the other ADVs from BMW Motorrad were. We sampled the range out west.
Essentially the ride day out of Waimauku to the west of Auckland was to get acquainted with the new R 1250 GS, the enlarged flat twin now with variable valve timing and lift on the intake tract, and therefore competing on a more level playing field with Ducati’s Multistrada 1260. But it was also an opportunity to ride the other twins, the new F 750 GS to see how it compared with the F 850 GS we reviewed last month.
It was the first bike we rode, the 750 so probably best to discuss that first. We were ready to be underwhelmed but dang it all, it’s really hard on road to separate the pair. Okay, so the F 750 GS is merely a detuned version of the F 850 GS - it gets milder cams, and a different intake and ECU - but riding this one so soon after testing the F 850, we found it hard to differentiate them for go power, at least by the seat of the pants.
And when you peruse the engine numbers it becomes more obvious why. While the F 750 is down on power by 13kW there’s a smaller difference in torque output (83 vs 92Nm, the former at lower revs) so during normal everyday riding they feel much the same.
At 100km/h the tacho needle points at 3800rpm for both, and each pulls convincingly in top gear from about 85km/h. It’s only up at the top end where the extra zip is felt, and even then you’re hard pressed to detect a marked difference. Both of them seem to spin to about 9500rpm but with this engine you only even need to go for gold if there’s not much room to pass. Even then a single downshift is all that’s needed.
This new engine is a smooth operator. Mirrors on both the F GS BMWs we rode do a supreme job of showing exactly what’s following. Which, most of the time, will be nothing whatsoever. Both the 750 and 850 are towy middleweights and the new engine really is a leap forward on the original. With a change to the use of conventional counter-rotating balancer shafts, these mills are virtually vibe-free in operation.
Ride quality is much the same, liquid and plush, even in Dynamic ride mode. They both have electronic rear suspension, and in the firmest mode you not only get the best control, being rock solid in the bends, but on the straights the ride is only ever accommodating. Push to Road mode for urban work but at speed there’s a bit more waft and untoward motion at the rear.
The more I ride the F series the more I’m convinced that the quick shifter works better down the box using the clutch. But up the box a brief easing of throttle pressure ensures the smoothest of shifts, no clutch needed.
We had a crack on the Rally F 850, which is a bit more off-road oriented than the GS, with crash bars, riding lights, different suspension, bigger tank and a rather clever moveable screen. You just push the lever this way or that to raise or lower it. We preferred it set at its lowest where it was least noisy. Most folk will probably opt for the GS which also looks a bit better; the Rally is rather beefy. All of them have good brakes, entirely up to the task, with Brembo non-radial calipers. Kiwi bikes also get all the available riding modes, plus the overseas ‘extras’, like comfort key, quickshifter, TC, TFT display, LED lights, heated grips, cruise control, etc, as standard.
Now here’s perhaps the oddest thing about the F 750 and the F 850; the former is selling better. Maybe folk have cottoned on to the fact that performance is much the same, so why not save $2k ($23,990). Generally most Kiwis seem to default to the bigger displacement number but not in this case. Well, good on those people because there’s so little between them you may as well save the difference.
Of Shiftcam and Shaft Drive
For model year 2019, BMW has introduced a new 1250 four-valve boxer twin engine which features variable valve timing and lift on the intake side, dubbed “Shiftcam”. The new engine goes into the R 1250 GS and RT models initially but will eventually power the entire R family.
The expanded capacity from 1170 to 1254cc derives from a bigger bore (+1.5mm) and longer stroke (+3mm). Naturally, the VVT mechanism produces a wider spread of torque and better low- and high-speed running. Down low in the rev range, there’s a lower lift, shorter duration valve opening profile, while above about 6000rpm the cam shifts over physically to a different set of lobes that promote a high-lift, long-duration profile for greater power.
Peak power of 100kW arrives at 7750rpm and while that may not seem so much, it’s the huge torque, 143Nm of it, arriving at 6500rpm that proves so user friendly on road. That’s a lift of 14 per cent over the R 1200 GS, and a power increase of nine per cent. Evidently there’s a four per cent fall in fuel use and emissions.
It’s the torque of this engine that so impresses, as it also did with the R 1200 GS. That big slug of twist accompanies revs you use 90 per cent of the time. Where the F 750 and 850 will grudgingly pull away from a low of about 2000rpm, they’re really happier above 3000; the engines seem to come alive then so you’re best off keeping the revs above that point. Not with the 1250 though; it will pull willingly and smoothly from 2000rpm and even from as low as 1500rpm without having a hissy fit. Despite being a heavier bike the fuel use indicator suggested no difference from the middleweights. In fact one of them, the 850, was in the mid5s where the 1250 seemed stuck on 5.0L/100km. Not that riders will care overly with a 20L tank; that’s 400km on the trot, no worries. You’d likely need a break by then anyway.
While it has been some years since we last rode an R 1200 GS, I don’t believe it hauled ass quite like this. The new engine is a proper grunt machine; slot it into top and forget about downshifting. This may as well have a direct drive transmission (correction: direct shaft-drive transmission). The top end is impressive too, but it’s not quite as gobsmacking as the muscular midrange. This hauls up hills in top with improbably low revs showing.
We especially admired two other aspects, among a host of others. There’s something about the handling of bikes with flat-twin power plants. They seem to fall into corners with a grace that few others can match. So it is with the 1250 GS. It isn’t light at nearly 270kg fully fueled yet once moving this feels much more like the middleweights we’d just gotten off, only easier to get turned. Not that the Fs are hard either, but you can kind of understand why the R 1200 GS has become the big bore benchmark ADV; it engenders cornering confidence and feels like it’s got your back. The brakes, no longer Brembos, are radials by US firm Hayes, and are simply superb in their power and precision.
The R 1250 GS is loaded to the gunwales with gear, getting all that the F 850 GS has and more, including hill start control and dynamic and corner braking control. There’s also wiring for a Garman nav screen ($1500), and sports suspension adds $500. Both this and the blue, white and red HP variant cost $34,990. The GS A with the bigger 30L tank, spotlights, crash bars and pannier racks goes for $36,990.
New 1250 GS competes head to head with Ducati’s Multistrada 1260S while both are a bit more expensive than KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure which doesn’t feature VVT. All three are top of the range ADVs and their level of sophistication shows just how important this sector has become. The R 1250 GS has caught up and with shaft drive standard again vies for title of the ultimate globe trotter.