BMW R1200GS – To Adventure or Not? That is the Question
Deciding between the R1200GS vs. R1200GSA for a cross-continent journey.
The BMW R1200GS has become synonymous with world travel and adventure, having proven itself as a trail-dominating machine with nearly every magazine comparison test thrown at it. But “Adventure” comes in many forms, on many roads, paved or otherwise and in many countries. For some, a scooter will do, but larger, feature-laden models are what seem to drive sales, and BMW delivers both with the R1200GS.
But they make two versions of the same bike, the standard R1200GS and its bigger brother, the R1200GS Adventure. With the premium package installed, both bikes are equipped with every imaginable option, so what really separates the two?
To The Ends Of The World
Enter my own “need” for a new motorcycle, and an expedition across continents, through foreign lands both deserted and forested, over high mountain passes and maybe even below sea level… We’re calling it Expedition 65, and for two months this fall I’ll be riding from Cartagena, Colombia, to the “end of the world” in Argentina, at Ushuaia, a 10,000-mile one-way journey from the top to the bottom of an entire continent.
I’m interested in a machine that’s both comfortable and capable in the dirt, and I’ve narrowed down the field to either the BMW R1200GS or R1200GS Adventure. During my research, I kept hearing the same thing when I suggested I wanted an R1200GS, “get the Adventure model, it’s better.” How so? The Adventure has that range-extending fuel cell, more ground clearance, more suspension travel and more rider comfort features than the standard model — seemingly purpose-built for me and my journey…
So, case closed right? Get the Adventure. But it weighs more and costs more too, doesn’t it? Let’s take a closer look.
R1200GS vs. R1200GSA Line By Line
The motor, chassis and power are exactly the same between the two models of course, so what’s the difference between them?
Studying the catalog spec by spec, line item by line item, we find nearly identical columns of data until we get to the geometry of the two machines. There we find the GSA is roughly one inch taller, one inch wider and one inch longer than its little brother, with one degree difference in the steering head angle, and a gain of 0.8 inches (20 mm) in suspension travel front and rear. The ground clearance is also raised 0.8 inches over than the standard model, to 8.5 inches (21.6 cm). The GSA also has an additional 18 pounds (8 kg) of carrying capacity.
Further down the sheet we see a saddle that has also climbed, 1.5 inches (40 mm) towards the sky, offering more room for comfort for the taller rider. It’s also adjustable and can easily be dropped back down to the standard GS ranges if you need it.
But then there’s a 48-pound (22 kg) wet weight difference between the two bikes (525 pounds vs. 573 pounds). That weight of course comes in part from the additional 2.6 gallons (10 l) of fuel (45% more!) and the physically-larger tank, standard crash protection and a few other random bits included on the Adventure. If you plan on going off-road, then you’ll most likely add many of the items that come on the GSA (hand guards, crash bars, etc.) to the standard R1200GS, causing the weight difference to be even less. Every ounce counts but to have that extended fuel range and a more dirt-focused suspension… Ok, so I’m beginning to see the “better” bike in there.
Analyzing the Fuel Range
The standard GS has a range of around 220 miles during mixed riding, while the Adventure will take you well over 300 miles before needing to refuel. Sure, the Adventure model carries a lot of fuel (7.9 gallons) and it’s nice to have the additional range but that extra weight can be felt on the trail, especially when you need to pick up the bike.
In the case of my upcoming South American tour, where the gaps between stations will be farther and less predictable, It’s probably a good idea to carry extra fuel (at any weight). Foreigners (like my group of misfits) looking for fuel in Bolivia tend to run into more obstacles than helping hands, thanks to government regulations requiring triple the costs for outsiders and paperwork that pump station operators do not want to fill out. Chalk up another plus for the Adventure model!
Furthermore, if you ride with friends that too-often forget to top off before departing, or you are regularly exploring new areas where the mileage from point A to point B can be unpredictable, it’s nice to have some fuel to spare.
Putting in Saddle Time
So which one goes to South America? Well, its not that easy. Numbers are one thing, but feelings are another. Weight, power and delivery are just some of the parameters involved in the test, but it’s the ergonomics, and the heartbeat, that truly meld the rider and machine together.
After more than 1,200 miles of testing the R1200GS Adventure in every possible scenario I would choose for myself—highway to byway— and then some (for our upcoming KTM 1290 Super Adventure vs. BMW R1200GS Adventure comparo), I got a chance to better understand the merits and faults of the GSA. And after 12 days in the saddle and nearly 3,000 miles of dirt road travel on a previous ride up the Continental Divide, along with another 7 days in Baja, I got to really know the standard GS as well.
During my time on the Adventure, I’d come to feel overwhelmed by the size of the machine, especially off road. With the larger tank always in my sightline, and sometimes in my way, it was hard to forget. The standard BMW R1200GS has noticeably quicker steering and feels more nimble. I also found it to be better in the dirt, despite the additional suspension travel and ground clearance of the GSA.
Even my testing-mate, ex-Baja racer and editor Rob Dabney, noted how much more “sporty” the standard GS felt in the twisties —as well as the trail— when compared to the Adventure model, adding “It doesn’t wallow as much and is easier to pick a line.” There’s simply less bike to manage.
Heat management is another issue. And perhaps my opinion would be different if I didn’t live in Southern California, but I found this to be one of my larger issues with the Adventure. While the manually-adjustable windscreen, and fairing-mounted winglets did a much better job of keeping wind blasts off my chest, when it came to dealing with hot weather, there was very little relief to be found in the lower hemisphere of the bike. From the waist up, I was a happy camper, but with the additional tank structure and body armor, there wasn’t any airflow left to wick away the engine heat.
Now, if I lived above 50 degrees latitude (or below it in the Southern hemisphere), or above altitudes over 5,000 feet, where the weather is less likely to hit triple digits, I’d say this was a plus. However, I live where it regularly hits 100+ temps and inside my riding boots, perforated or not, my feet are baking on the GSA. Does anyone make an aftermarket wing that would sweep some air in behind the cylinder heads?
Given the opportunity to ride an uninterrupted 300-mile stretch of highway on the R1200GS Adventure, I had lots of time to wonder if it was the bike for me. It’s definitely a better bike than the standard edition if you are a long-distance rider that regularly travels in remote areas. But which bike would I ride to the end of the world?
Considering the additional cost of the GSA ($2,000 MSRP), the increased weight, the scale of the bike versus the scale of my body, and what simply feels right, I would have to say I’d buy the standard R1200GS. Then I’d take the “extra money” and mount on a pair of RotoPax fuel cells for the rare times I ride beyond the edge of civilization. And for the rest of the time, I’d remove the RotoPax tanks and have a lighter, less-bulky, more-maneuverable bike. A win win win for me.
The definition of “better” however, is in the eyes of the credit card holder. Everyone kept saying “get the Adventure, it’s better.” but I came away with a different opinion. When deciding which model is better for you, you’ll need to analyze what fits your needs best.
After testing both bikes extensively, I can say either model, straight off the showroom floor, can tackle the world and take all your gear with you, including the kitchen sink. If long-distance, off-road travel is your ‘thing’, the Adventure is a more capable machine and ready to take you even farther from the smallest village and back again, in class-leading comfort and with an encyclopedia of technological wonders. But if you are more interested in performance, off-road and on, the standard R1200GS is the better choice.