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ADV BikesBMW R1200GS – To Adventure or Not? That is the Question

BMW R1200GS – To Adventure or Not? That is the Question

 Deciding between the R1200GS vs. R1200GSA for a cross-continent journey.

Published on 08.15.2016
BMW R1200GS vs. R1200GSA

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…

R1200GSA loaded up for a long journey.
With its long-travel suspension and super-sized fuel tank, the R1200GSA is ideally suited for long journeys in remote regions.

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.

bmw r1200gs vs r1200gsa bmw badge

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.

bmw r1200gs vs r1200gsa fuel
Sometimes the range of the standard BMW R1200GS is just not enough, especially if you are heavy on the throttle or riding through sandy terrain.

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.

bmw r1200gs vs r1200gsa riding in Baja Mexico
I came to appreciate the nimbleness and quick steering of the standard R1200GS riding across the Continental Divide and Baja, Mexico.

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.

bmw r1200gs vs r1200gsa blocking the wind
The big tank on R1200GS Adventure is excellent at keeping the wind off your legs – perfect for cold weather riding but not so much if you live in a warmer climate.

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?

Decision Time

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.

bmw r1200gs vs r1200gsa
Is the R1200GS Adventure the better bike? It wasn’t for me, but you’ll have to analyze the differences for yourself and decide.

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.

Photos by Alfonse Palaima

 

Alfonse Palaima ProfileAbout the Author: When not in Los Angeles hiding from society, Alfonse Palaima is far, far away from home, collecting passport stamps and slicing through traffic on two wheels with a smile on his face. Slowly rounding the world one country at at time, riding countless miles, on countless motorcycles, covering 6 of the 7 continents so far. While he is a rider like you and I, he has also been a moto journalist in the field since 2003.

Author: Alfonse Palaima

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30 thoughts on “BMW R1200GS – To Adventure or Not? That is the Question

  1. Here we go again. More BMW crap. Ya know, there are adventure bikes out there besides BMW. Vastly better and more reliable ones too.

    My answer to the question posed by this article is NEITHER. At 5’8 with a 29″ inseam, BOTH bikes are too big for me, and for most people my size. I would never take this bike on a trip like that unless it was 100% asphalt, and I wouldn’t take it anywhere there wasn’t access to BMW dealerships for the inevitable issues with the electrical system, the shaft drive system, etc.

    One thing rarely addressed by this type of article is the risk of being robbed/mugged/etc. Bikes like this will scream “Money” and you’re a target. So pick a bike that doesn’t look fancy. That’s already scratched up. That’s older. Don’t stand out and make yourself a target.

    I could go on and on but that’s the general gist of it.

      • LOL I think that comment is highly subject to opinion. I HAD a 1200GSA and after one whole year of ownership I sold it as fast as I could. What a pig. I’ll give it this, it was excellent on the road and that frontend helped that fact. But on anything rougher than a packed dirt road that front-end quickly became a nightmare with horrible “feel”, regardless of the tires I slapped on it. The weight was ridiculous and even the Ohlin’s I slapped on it weren’t up to the job to suspended the over-weight behemoth. So maybe if your idea of adventure riding is sticking to hard packed roads and asphalt, the GS is the best adventure bike on the market?

    • This is great write up and actually consistent with my research. I also find the GS more agile and nimble then the GSA. Both are great bikes and I tested the competitions and narrow the decision to the GS.
      There are many other good adventure bikes out there, all have some feature that superior to the BMW but in overall I think this is the bike to go with if you want Adventure / touring motorcycle.
      Yes, it does not answer all riders (in my opinion you should be around 5’11” at least). Yes, it does not have the most HP (I think it got great torque). Yes, it is not the most nice looking motorcycle out three but it is in my opinion the inspiration and the superior to all other.

    • i just rode the new mexico TAT Shadow of the Rockies on my tiger 800 XC and two buddies had GS1150s and they went everywhere i did. The newer GS will be even better. i have decided the GS1200 is my next bike AND the ultimate bike for do it all rides.

    • But here you are Rob reading this “Crap”, why I wonder?. Sure any of us could go and run a KLR650 from here to “wherever”, but we could also shit in a bucket instead of a porcelain toilet but we choose not to for obvious reasons….. Have a nice day.

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  3. If you Think in off road you have to Think in a 600cc like susuki Dr or Klr or a tenere. If your idea is a 1200 the better decision price vs reability confort quality is super tenere, you only Think in gas brake pads oil and tires, its the best choice

  4. I’ve ridden or owned almost every adventure bike out there. There is nothing better than my GSA. It handles all the dirt I’ve thrown at it and it eats up the highway miles like a real tourer. It does it all.

  5. Second to none.
    I have driven my R1200GS through all countries in north, central and south America, now I’m crossing Africa, gone through many very tough terrains and never had a problem, tough and very reliable machine.
    Will not drive any other motorcycle.

  6. Great article Alfonse! I too went with the GS rather than the GSA for the same reasons you mention, but I also wanted to try to improve on the GSA in certains respects; my intent is to keep everything heavy as low on the bike as possible, so your idea of mounting a couple RotoPax fuel cells would be perfect. I believe I can improve on several of the stock items that come standard on the GSA; the crash bars and skidplate are from AltRider, etc… for about the same (okay, more) money I’d have paid for a fully loaded GSA.
    What I have noticed about my GS is that your choice of tires will make a huge difference in how the bike handles off-road. The front end of the bike gives me far more feedback with a set of TKC80s mounted than with other knobbies I’ve tried. My MV Augusta F4 seems to be happiest on Dunlops and Pirellis, and doesn’t like Michelins for some reason, so go figure.
    There are certainly a lot of really good adventure motorcycles out now, so finding the right bike has never been easier, or in some ways, more difficult. I’m just trying to make my GS all mine, which is part of the fun!

    • Thanks Mark! 🙂 I trust you’re having fun making the bike your own… I know I am. 🙂

      BTW. You touched on something that most people don’t realize. Manufacturer design bikes these to work specifically with one brand of tire… perhaps even just one model, the one they come stock with. Just because you CAN squeeze a full knobbie tire between the fenders doesn’t mean its not going to ruin the balance and performance. Each tire is constructed differently, weights different and is balanced differently which can make the performance and handling work different. i.e. more spinning meat on the outer edges puts more strain on the fork legs in a turn… or add more unsprung mass which then might tax the suspension and settings.
      In the end, research is key and don’t expect every tire to handle the same. 🙂

  7. Very nice article my thoughts exactly. I started on the R1200GS and after riding it for a year the same reason everyone buy the Adventure version caught up with me (looks and what more it offers) then I switched to the Adventure. first few months everything seemed fine as I was still high on the bigger tank and unnecessary additions. As time passed the huge size and extra weight started to annoy me on and off road. and I have done some gnarly off roading on this thing including sand, rocky steep up and down hills. now after almost 50,000km most of the times I wish I had kept my standard GS. even on a long on-road trip after a few days picking up the bike from the side stand seems like a lot of work.It’s a great bike but you can’t deny the heft! I know now many of the GSA lovers will not agree with me but I always liked light and nimble bikes over the bigger ones. That’s the reason I think the standard GS is a better bike for many people and the some of the extra’s on the Adventure are completely unnecessary ans they are just there to sell bikes. For example with the boxer engine you never need crash guards higher than cylinder head itself (I have dropped the bike a million times so I know) that is the only part hitting ground on 99% of the crashes. bigger tank also is irrelevant for most people. What’s wrong with stopping for gas and have a cold drink time to time?

    • Thanks Omid! 🙂 Very well said… stopping for water is just as important as being able to ride 3-400 miles uninterrupted…. maybe more so! 🙂

  8. Reading through this reminded me so much of what I went through getting my new bike, did I want a BMW, yes and the 1200 GS/GSA looked like the right bike for me, went to the dealer and the salesman said your a little short in the legs would you like to try a different Bike? Beings as I’m hard headed the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind, did my test rides on both of the 1200’s and completely hated them, way to heavy and just to far a reach off road. So I tried the 800GS and the GSA and even though it’s not as much horsepower it had many other things going for it, like chain drive I could fix myself and get new chain anywhere, try that on the 1200. Long story short after a trip to the artic ocean and back with lots of off road I think I love this bike even more and it didn’t hurt coming across the 2 1200’s with leaking final drives from the rocks.

    • Thanks for the comments Gene… SO you went with the 800 eh? Seems odd since the saddle is higher than the GS…. but I also understand it. The 800 is lighter and narrower… and surely easier to handle. Glad you’re happy! 🙂

      • For me it wasn’t so much the height but the girth of the heavy thing, and with the fuel tank down under the seat on the 800 it made the bike much more stable and made it feel much lighter than it really is, especially when I have to pick it up, the low seat helps a lot also but I kept the stock suspension height, I really like a machine with a lot of power but did I need it with the riding I was doing and the answer was no since I’m older and not a racer.

      • Does the GS have a 21″ front? Since you handn’t mentioned mods I’m guessing that’s another riders bike? Went back to a GS myself, understand all the + and – but as all, my preference.

        Thanks for any specifics on the GS.

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