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ADV BikesWhy I Got Rid of My BMW GS and Bought a Scrambler Instead

Why I Got Rid of My BMW GS and Bought a Scrambler Instead

Are new adventure bikes missing a connection between man and machine?

Published on 11.10.2015

Many of you may translate the title of this article as “My Quick Fall into Insanity”. So let me be clear about where this article is headed. My goal here is not to make a case for why the Triumph Scrambler is better than any BMW GS, nor is it to presume that my choice in motorcycle is the best choice for other riders. Rather, my goal is to give you my experience and habits of riding over the years, and to explain the pros and cons of the choice I made.

First, let me say that I have been a long-time BMW GS owner and I’ve also ridden all types of adventure and dual sport motorcycles, new and old: KTM, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Aprilia, and others – everything from single-cylinder thumpers, to the “big bikes.” My first GS was the R1100GS. I later moved down to an F650GS, and then stepped back up to the R1150GS. This third GS took me to more areas around the North American continent than I can count, and it performed flawlessly throughout its 200,000-mile lifespan.

In late 2013, I came to terms with the fact that it was time to get a new motorcycle. As is probably the case with many loyal BMW owners, my immediate course of action was to go see my local BMW dealer. In the showroom was a beautiful, tan BMW F800GS Adventure, loaded with all the goodies. I wiped the drool off my chin, and within a few minutes was striking a deal with my salesperson.

2013 BMW F800GS Adventure
The F800GS Adventure offers BMW’s advanced electronics technology in a middle-weight adventure bike platform.


A couple of days later I returned to the dealer to pick up my new toy, full of excitement and dreaming about the new (and old) places to which it would take me. After what seemed like a long introduction of the bike and instructions on how to use it (all I wanted to do was ride), I was on the road and enjoying a nice ride through the hills of western Pennsylvania.

The Connection Between Man and Motorcycle

Was the F800GS Adventure awesome? Yes, it was! It had wonderful suspension. It was very comfortable. It even smelled good (don’t ask me how I know that). I felt like I was entering a new era of motorcycling, which was true. But the era in which I was entering was one that would quickly give me pause and trepidation concerning the prospect of adventure travel.

I don’t claim to be an accomplished world traveler. It’s a sliding scale, anyway. But I ride anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 miles a year, which will usually involve one or more overland trips. So I have traveled to some very remote places on the North American continent, from the Utah desert to the Trans-Labrador Highway. While in those places, I have occasionally needed to do some repair work. This was never an issue for me because the GSs of yesterday, though advanced for their time, were fairly mechanical and easy to repair on the road. At the very least, I could get the bike running and limp it to the nearest dealership.

However, this new bike was different. It had electronic suspension, ride modes, ABS, traction control, and, well, a lot of other electronic stuff. And although these features were exciting to me for the first hour of my inaugural ride, I quickly became concerned about how all this electronic stuff could be fixed, should any of it malfunction while in the middle of nowhere. Sure, I had BMW’s 24-Hour Roadside Assistance. But, I ride for the connection between man and machine; that harmony and understanding that you achieve with your old friend. And the “working” on the motorcycle, for me, is a big part of the process. Additionally, some of the places I travel would make Roadside Assistance nearly impossible. I didn’t understand this new bike, and quite frankly, it scared me.

BMW F800 GS on the side of the road.
The electronics on the F800GS Adventure, while amazing, can be a cause for concern should a problem occur in the middle of nowhere.

And where was that BMW feel? It wasn’t there! Don’t misunderstand me. The motorcycle felt wonderful. But it didn’t feel like my older GSs. The gauges, switches, controls, and even the engine had kind of an “any bike” feel, albeit a really good “any bike” feel. All of the unique Beemer character seemed to be missing though. It was replaced with incredible comfort, a thoroughly protective windscreen, and an engine that ran as smooth as any car. And for the first time in my riding career, I felt that my motorcycle was smarter than I was.

After riding the F800GS Adventure for about six months, I could feel my travels turning more into mere logistical planning, rather than an adventure experience. Everything was easier, which I liked. But it was almost too easy. Where was the uncertainty? Where were the challenges? Need to take a rutted out dirt road? No problem. Need to cross a creek? No problem. Mud? Sand? Bad weather? No problem. I felt myself longing for those “problems” my old GSs provided me. And I started to miss that connection between man and machine I had taken for granted, and even criticized over the years.

BMW F800GSA on highway
While the BMW F800GS Adventure was nearly flawless in every aspect, it felt like it was missing some of the unique character of the old GSs.

So what is a man, apparently fearing all things new and different to do? Here’s an idea! Why not move to the other end of spectrum? Why have electronic adjustable suspension when you can adjust it with tools? Why have the liability of a fuel pump failing when you can have a dead reliable mechanical carburetor? Why have heated grips when you can just wear heavier gloves? I’m not saying that this reasoning is correct. But I found these questions going through my mind as I felt that connection with my machine disappearing.

Around that time I was speaking to a friend of mine in Colorado about this dilemma I was having. It was then that he told me about a 2006 Triumph Scrambler he had and was planning to sell. I had never considered a Scrambler to be a “legitimate” adventure bike but it had all of those primitive characteristics I so wanted back in my life. After a short conversation about price, I booked a flight from Pittsburgh to Denver to pick up the bike. My plan was to ride the bike back from Denver and test it out on various types of terrain.

First Ride: Back to Basics

The delight I felt after heading down the first lonely desert road was immediate. The Scrambler was comfortable. It was quick. It was agile. And the sound it made was soul stirring! Throttle response was smooth and the gearing was as close to perfect as you could get. It handled just about everything I threw at it. When times got tough, the Scrambler’s smaller chassis allowed me to just put my feet down and work through the situation.

Triumph Scrambler riding down a lonely road
The Scrambler had that primitive feel and that touch of yesterday that I longed for.

The Scrambler also had that primitive feel, that touch of yesterday that I was longing for, both aesthetically and mechanically. I felt like I was “getting back to basics,” rekindling the feeling of harmony with the bike.

Triumph Scrambler gauges
No fuel or temperature gauges on the Scrambler. Just the basics.

But in all that, the Scrambler gave me that connection I had missed; that confidence that, should anything go wrong, we could come to an agreement and head on down the road. No ABS. No fuel pump. Just a simple “bag of bolts” configuration that our fathers enjoyed. To me, this was motorcycling. This was adventure.

Triumph Scrambler Adventure Bike
To prepare the Triumph Scrambler for adventure, I added dual sport tires, skid plate, fly screen and soft luggage.

Now I want to reiterate. I am not suggesting that the Triumph Scrambler is the answer for everybody. And it is important to note that, although I regained that primitive connection I wanted, I lost a few things in the process. Since you already know what I gained, let me cover a few of those things that I lost.

Shortcomings of the Scrambler

Payload: Few bikes can carry a heavy load like a GS. Even the smaller, single cylinder thumpers are great at hauling gear and there is a plethora of luggage options available for most GS models. Though the Scrambler has plenty of capability concerning payload, options concerning how you carry that payload are limited. Top racks are available, but side pannier options are scarce. This is mainly due to the Scrambler’s exhaust system running down the right side of the bike, making pannier racks difficult to use. So I found myself running one soft saddlebag on the left side of the Scrambler and placing the rest of my gear on the top rack and seat. Because of this, I needed to reassess the amount and size of the gear I usually cart along with me, and also get creative when my wife would come along.

Triumph scrambler dual exhaust pipes
The Scrambler’s high exhaust pipes limit luggage options, but provide excellent ground clearance.

Fuel Range: This is another area in which the BMW GS excels, and where, in my opinion, the Scrambler is sorely lacking. As many of you know, adventure travel sometimes requires long distances of riding between fuel stops. With normal riding, one can expect to get about 140 miles before needing to turn that petcock to reserve on the Scrambler. For the type of riding I do, this is not enough. So along with my gear, I often find myself stuffing extra fuel canisters wherever I can find space.

Weight: BMW spends a lot of time making sure their GSs are as light as possible for their size. Where BMW uses composite materials on the GS, Triumph uses good old-fashioned steel on the Scrambler. Much of this is meant to keep that classic aesthetic the Scrambler provides. But it also makes the Scrambler heavier than it needs to be for its size. That said, the Scrambler, is more narrow and lower to the ground. So for me, it is surprisingly easy to manage the weight off-road, even in soft sand.

2006 Triumph Scrambler off-road handling
The Triumph Scrambler, though smaller in size, weighs about the same as the BMW F800GS Adventure.

Handling: The BMW GS model line is designed for optimal handling on various types of terrain, regardless of girth. And BMW has done a tremendous job with this design concept. Although Triumph has done this with their Tiger model lineup, it doesn’t seem to me that they were overly concerned about off-road handling when it came to the Scrambler. Don’t get me wrong. The Scrambler handles very well on the gravel and on the dirt. But it certainly does not handle as well as a GS. Although for the type of touring I do, the Scrambler is good enough to handle any situation in which I decide to place it.

BMW F800GS Adventure vs. Triumph Scrambler
Comparing the classic suspension of the Scrambler to a modern BMW GS’s is not really a fair comparison. But sometimes having a few limitations can make the journey all the more adventurous!

Sometimes When You Give Something Up You Gain

To me, one thing the Scrambler doesn’t give up is comfort. The short reach of the Scrambler is refreshing. And the seating position gives me a strong feeling of control over the bike, though some taller riders might find it confining. But most importantly to me, what I have gained, or in this case, regained, is my romance with the motorcycle, and the immersive experience of the places it takes me. I regained that feeling of being part of a long history of travelers who took adversity as a matter of course, and lived life like they wouldn’t live it twice. And for that, I am forever thankful to my new, and eventually old friend.

Photos by Jim Vota and Kristen Vota

Author: Jim Vota

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94 thoughts on “Why I Got Rid of My BMW GS and Bought a Scrambler Instead

  1. For a moment, I thought you got the better, Italian made scrambler. That thing is a solid 100lbs lighter than a triumph scrambler, and makes nearly the same horsepower. If I had to choose an overland motorcycle, it would be the Ducati, over most other choices.

    • Sarath. I agree. The Ducati makes a nice bike. It was not out when I made this decision, however, and fuel injection was something I wanted to stay away from. I went with an older Triumph for that reason. I wanted to get primitive. No fuel pump. Not that this is good idea for all. But getting back to the basics was my motivation.

      • To be fair, I have an F800GS too, the non-adventure model. Fuel injection and the sensors have never been my worry. The main problems i have had with it are the traditional variety: alternator, timing chain, blown head light bulbs etc… Modern fuel injection is ultra reliable, and parts (fuel pump, injector etc…) are available in every nook of the world. Walter Colbatch has a good article about it:

        I understand your nostalgia factor, and this is the reason why I keep a DRZ400 around, but I beg to differ about the reliability factor. I don’t like the fact that the electronics, the sensors and fueling are a black box to me, but in the last 45k miles, it has been a very reliable black box.

        • Excellent point! And I certainly am not questioning the reliability of those components. My GS went quite a while without issues. My only concern was what you do when they do fail. This is just an example of getting back to basics. Moving from pumps and circuits to gravity and cables. 🙂

    • Both of these are great bikes. My personal goal was to remove much of the electronics (abs, fuel injection, ESA, etc.). I love the BMW thumpers though!

      • The BMW 650 Thumper is a better scrambler than the Triumph or the Ducati. Eliminating the “electronics” is over used logic, particularly give the weakness of the Triumph ignition coils.

    • Haven’t been on the Ducati yet. But I here good things from owners. The smaller chassis can be advantageous in many situations. Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  2. I have always find BMW bikes over engineering nonsense, they make luxury engineering… The sort that artificially creates problems to solve it later with a bunch of complicated solutions

    Is as simple as why do you need a electronic traction control? Why not just make a engine you can control? Basic common sense, but ohh wait common sense don’t sell luxury items.. Or bikes

    • Very good point. I have to say, though, that BMW does do a good job with their engineering. The longevity of their motorcycles is amazing. Do they occasionally make a solution in search of a problem? Yes (Servo Brakes for one). But they are good bikes. The decision I made was more of an emotional one. I wanted to get back to yesterday. I wanted to be more connected to the land…and my bike. It’s not that one bike is better than the other. Rather, a more primitive feel suited me better.

  3. This is why I prefer my Suzuki DR650 over anything else. It’s simple. It’s old-school. It’s easily fixable, assuming anything actually ever went wrong with it. If I drop it, no big deal. It’s not intended to be pretty. It just works, and works well. No fancy electronics. No shaft drives to worry about (BMW shaft drives are notorious for failures).

    • Good comment! At least for right now, I chose that “simpler” is better. I’ve lost a fuel pump on the road, as well as a final drive. In fairness, the bike had 150,000 miles on it when that happened (and it was an abusive 150,000). But I was somewhat helpless when it did. Now I just throw a set of sprockets and a chain in my luggage, and away I go. Thanks for commenting, RobG! And as always, ride on and ride safe!

  4. It is true that it will be some time before we can say how reliable BMW’s new electronic systems and drivetrains are; their record is far above average, generally defining industry benchmarks and extraordinary brand loyalty. So, I took the chance on a 2015 R1200GSA. LOVE!!! It takes a little while to explore the range of possibilities. Everything works very well and has been trouble free for the first 12kmiles. I also ride a 2000 R1150GS and have a ’79 R100T, which is the last year for points – talk about basic. Each bike has its merits and I love them all. If I had to choose one it would be the R1200GSA – no contest.

    • Yes sir! The 1200GSA is quite an elegant bike! I am sure it will give you years of excitement! BMW has engineered that bike very well in my humble opinion. Enjoy the many miles it will surely give you!

    • I have to say that the technology seems to be fairly reliable. It’s not necessarily the reliability that caused me to move to a more mechanical bike. It was that I felt the feel of the road and weather going away as a bought newer and newer motorcycles. This is an “in my humble opinion” thing. I used to complain about the old R1100GS I had, but I found myself missing the mechanical nature of it once it was gone. Great comment! Thanks for contributing! 🙂

  5. EXACTLY! I am lucky enough to own four motorcycles, one of the four is a 2015 BMW R1200GS. Unfortunately, for some of the same reasons pointed out in the article, I ride my new BMW GS the least. I have more fun riding my WR250R and KLR650 for adventure riding. They are basic, straight forward to operate/work-on, and will go more places. For spirited riding, touring, and comfort, my Tiger Explorer is smoother, has much better wind protection, and is far less complicated. My brother has a 2008 BMW1200GS. I like it better than the new GS…basic, easy to maintain/work-on, just enough power off-road and on….fun to ride….more connected… and fewer problems than my new GS. Any one want to buy a very nice, fully loaded, very low mileage, 2015 R1200GS?

  6. I agree with you assessment. Many of these electronic wonders a perfect machines, durable, economical, reliable, adaptive to conditions…….great for those who do not have a lot of experience riding, and just want the ease of everything. However, this does come with a price. At what point does a motorcycle just become a 2 wheeled automobile? I could just buy a cruiser(nothing wrong with that), and let the size of the machine overcome the discomforts. However, i am losing what makes motorcycling fun…….being out-of-doors, in nature, or around town…..being outside. I want great hiking shoes, but I also want to feel the ground beneath my feet.

    Once again, nothing against the modern machines…I’d have one myself if I had the space for it. But I really love my trusty KLR 650….simple, rugged, and has a wonderful growl to it. And I know I’m outside when I’m on it.

    • I can only speak to my experience on this. The Scrambler is more than road worthy. I have been all over with it, from trails to interstates. The gearing is wonderful on it. So, yes, it most definitely can be taken on any road. The engine and transmission are more than sufficient. The difference between a GS and the Scrambler is the wind protection. The Scrambler is a classic chassis, so you get a bit more wind. But it is based on the Bonneville, which is a great road bike. Thanks for the question!

  7. I whole heartedly agree with you. I had a wonderful 2006 VStrom 1000. Great bike, but when it was time to replace it, I decided to go with a Moto Guzzi V7 Stone. Total 180. But I love it, basic, standard motorcycle.

    • Thanks for the input! Like I said before, riding style and choice of bike is personal. And for some, the classic feel is very appealing. Thanks, again!

  8. Great article on the differences on bikes and heart and soul of a motorcycle. Whenever I work on my 2014 R1200GSAW I am amazed on how many zip ties are used. The plastic parts are plentiful. The bike is truly an amazing engineering marvel but truly soulless. I also own a 1991 R100GS totally old school and just has a sense of zen. I was complaining to a fellow owner of an R100 about the poor brakes 1 disc up front and drum in the rear. You just ride the R100 differently and think about your ridding habits more. I like both bikes a lot they are very different in ridding attitude. My 2 cents.

  9. I did the same thing. I went from a Tiger 1050 to a Tiger 800 XC to a Scrambler. The Tiger XC was almost too good. It felt boring to me and I felt disconnected from the bike. The Scram just makes me smile. I bought a 2006 Scram and then sold it to my son (it is in the garage) and I bought a 2014 Scram. I can take the Scram anywhere and I just go slower and notice the scenery a lot more.

    • I am having a similar experience. This article was difficult for me because I still truly love the Beemers. And I salivate over the Triumph Tigers and Explorers every time I see them. My Beemers were great to me, so I want to be sure that I am not insinuating that they are not as good as the Scrambler. They are different. Comparing them, feature by feature, doesn’t work. Both can do almost whatever you might want. The personal question is. Do you want technology, or not?

    • Ciao!
      Io sono un felice possessore di uno scrambler 2006 identico al tuo Jim!
      Non lo cambierei con niente al mondo….
      Con piacere immenso nel guidare mi porta sempre ovunque….
      Ciao Lucio

  10. I understand exactly what your saying. I had a 2012 Triumph Tiger 800xc it was an awesome bike in every way but one and that all the computer stuff you mentioned. Its all good until your miles deep in the mountains and something goes haywire. I switched to a 2012 KLR 650 and have never regretted the change. I am confident that I have the skills and tools onboard to deal with most situations that one may encounter in the back country and will be able to get back. The other huge difference is simply the cost of ownership.

  11. This article caught my attention because I too am down-sizing and simplifying. Current ride is a Moto Guzzi Stelvio. I love the power, sound, and ease of maintenance. But it is too big for me to take off-pavement solo. So I am looking at a Moto Guzzi V7-II Stone, set up for touring; It will do the dirt roads I want to take, and will be excellent on the highway. It has sufficient power, and the sound and ease of maintenance that the Stelvio has.

    • Funny. I was just talking to a guy with one of these on my way to work. He was very happy with his and it looked like a pretty versatile bike. Would be interested to hear your feelings on it down the road.

    • I had a DR in my garage for a while years back. They are great dual sport bikes. Enjoyed every minute on that thing. The R1200GS is a much different animal. May boil down to riding style and what kind of feel a person is looking for. Great comment! Thanks for contributing!

    • Hahahaha! Agreed. Took one across the US years back and it was great. Noting worked on it by the end of the 12,000 mile journey. But wow, was it fun! 🙂

  12. I test rode both the 1200GSA and the 800GSA last year and after an honest discussion with the head mechanic, I came to the conclusion that I would never buy either bike. Not that they aren’t great bikes, but there’s just too much electronics on them. If I wanted to play with a computer, I’d stay home. Fuel injection is pretty much standard these days and have been fairly reliable, but I highly doubt any bike would with all the electronics on the BMW’s would ever survive all that water, rain, moisture, mud and crud for long.

  13. Great article! My thoughts exactly, though when faced with the same dilemma, i came up with a slightly different solution: i actually got a 2003 BMW R1150 GS with low milleage.
    Maybe BMW will take the hint and turn their RnineT or a R1200 into a scrambler model…

  14. I like to say this is consumerism. Maybe I should not but this is one way to label such dilemma. But that’s OK, surely!
    Here’s an example:
    A guy I met at a motorcycle dealership in the parking lot is all giddy about his new Indian Chief. He’s all smiles in the parking lot outside of his Yamaha-Victory-Indian Motorcycle dealership. He can’t stop grinning. He small talks a little and bolsters about how that he really loves the new Indian Chief as compared to a touring Harley-Davidson. So off he goes. Well, good for him I thought. And good for you too!
    I’ve had different brand motorcycles. I will take the back roads sometimes and get on the interstates. I will do both as I am a long distance rider. There’s a location I remembered seeing the other day. This is a two lane highway in another state nearby. At that point I became aware of how much longer it took me to get there as compared to another bike I owned previously. This road was a turning point, a cut off in the direction I was heading. I like it so I use that highway. I often take that route. So I remembered the comparison between those two bikes and of how long it took me to get there. This was between the cruiser I now have and the sports tourer I once owned. I also started thinking about the average daily miles accumulated between these two bikes. The results told me everything I needed to know. I know what kind of rider I am. I like to imagine I’m on the back roads that have no painted lines. You know the rural back roads where you see cows and fences. Sometimes the asphalt on these roads are in poor conditions. How will the bike handle. I need a motorcycle for all terrains 90% being asphalt. Yes, I know some motorcycles need zero gravel or is it the rider or just me.

    • Excellent points here. I can say this. The ergonomics of a bike are very personal, I have learned. For me, the riding position of the Scrambler is the best. I don’t experience much of the aches and pains I would sometimes get from the GS models. But that just pertains to my body type (height, weight, reach, inseam, etc).

      I always found the GS’s to be very agile on all types of terrain….until I got on the Scrambler. I have taken it on all types of terrain and never had a problem. I never felt that, if I were on a GS, it would be easier. And I can cover many more miles before experiencing any pains. But again, that riding position works for me. For me, the shorter chassis is advantageous. I have a friend that feels differently, however. He is much taller than me and feels a bit cramped on the Scrambler. So it will be individual.

      Sure, handling different types of terrain is part bike and part rider. I’ve spent a lot of time on the dirt, so I actually prefer the Scramblers agility. The way I ride suits the Scrambler well.

      Again, thanks so much for your comments. I hope I answered your questions sufficiently.

    • Thanks dougf! I hope you find a good ADV solution that works for you. There’s nothing like having a trail of dust behind you as you go THROUGH the world, not around it.

    • If you’re looking for an inexpensive option to just get your feet wet, look for something like a DR650 or KLR650. They aren’t fancy, there’s no advanced technology, and you can pick one up used for barely more than what my old man just paid for his 25,000 mile service on his BMW. They’re also wicked good as commuters because of their gas mileage and highway manners. Just my two cents as a DR650 rider.

  15. Great article, and I personally agree that way too much technology nowadays is crammed into a motorized frame slung between two wheels 🙂
    If picking a bike is a case of “horses for courses”, I’d wouldn’t be on anything else than my crusty old KLR. Recent experience of nursing two GSs and their riders in the mountains way beyond civilization was a timely reminder of the truism that if you can’t pick up your bike unassisted, you shouldn’t be on it.

  16. You can talk a lot about horsepower, torque, ergonomics, and brand recognition, but at the end of the day, your bike should make you feel something. It should move your soul as well as your body. I remember watching someone’s video and they said that the ultimate test of if you got the right bike is if you consistently catch yourself looking over your shoulder after you park it just to get another glance. For all the logical reasons that make a bike the “right” bike or the “best” bike, there’s a very primitive level where you just have to love a bike. Also, it helps that Triumph Scramblers are drop dead gorgeous.

    • Yes, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A good balance between function and form is what will make you take a second look at your bike as you walk away from it. Good comment!

  17. My thoughts exactly. Having ridden all sizes/types of bikes i now have settled on the ultimate (for me) do anything / easy to fix machine. A 1996 Honda CG125. I understand EVERYTHING on this bike. Works for me.

  18. I to live and ride in western pa. 2006 bmwgsa 125000 miles 2012 klr650 with 42000 miles and i love them both.this past spring a bought a 2014 truimph scrambler and after some farkles to make it fit my 6ft4 over weight body i love it. I put about 6000 miles on it this year on both back roads and interstate and it really does make me smile every time i ride it. I always say that if i could only have 1 bike it would be my klr but that thinking might change to my scrambler.

    • Sometimes its like comparing apples to oranges (or a Ford Focus to a Ferrari). Different bikes are great for different things. I will say that what surprised me about the Scrambler was how versatile it was on various terrains. I would have never thought this without riding it. So I learned a lesson to never have preconceived notions about any bike until I’ve been in its saddle.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • Planning some rides, but I am in the northeast. So we are getting ready to freeze over. But keep in touch and I’ll try to keep you updated. 🙂

  19. I have a wethead GS, but this year I bought a DR650 for a 6000 mile South America trek. I totally get what you’re saying. The DR was all I needed. I still enjoy my GS, but it is almost “too good”. Almost.

    • Good point, especially with the way you will be traveling. It will be crucial for you to deal with problems on the road. Good luck to you!

  20. Good article, I have always had the same thoughts regarding the new bikes in the adventure motorcycle genre- too many complex electronics, ABS, riding modes etc. I have a 2000 sportster sport that Ive scramblerized over the past 10,000 miles. Love the visceral connection with the bike and the understanding of the mechanical simplicity of it. My main gripe is something that might have in common with your scrambler which is vibration through the handlebars at interstate speeds especially above 75 mph. Ive read up that moto guzzi stelvio is like a modern machine without electronic gizmos but heavy-ish. Id like to test ride one.

  21. Actually I did opposite: had a Bonneville T100 and replaced it with Triumph Tiger 800 xrx. Why Triumph? I like the brand. Why such an (electronic) upgrade? Just felt exposed on the roads without all that. Do I miss Bonnie? You bet I do 🙂

    • Very good point. Admittedly, some of the newer technology can keep you bit more safe while on the road. One can be little more exposed without it. And the Tiger is great solution for that need! Thanks for the comment!

    • Thanks for kind words, justinope! The spirit of motorcycling is something we should never be willing to lose. Ride safe out there!!

  22. My thoughts also especially the newer ” drive themselves bike options “. Takes away all the fun of ” driving the bike “rather than it taking you

    • I am sure that all this technology has a place. But are we creating solutions in search of a problem? Or are we exchanging one problem for another? “Different” and “better” should not be seen as synonymous, and all this technology may teach us that lesson. Thanks so much for contributing!!

  23. Hi Jim,
    For the same reasons, old 80 G/S are good too!
    Please, who supplied your fly screen? Might just be enough to protect without loosing the pleasure or riding.

    • Douglas.

      The fly screen is a Triumph add-on, design specifically for the Scrambler. There is another one made by Dart as well. Both look and function about the same. I like it. Don’t know what bike you have, but there are some companies that make universal fly screens. I had one made by National Cycle a while back.

  24. Not so sure about all of the pro and con…love my 1150GS, now on the 350,000 km range. 1 fuel pump, 1 clutch, not drive shaft problems; dropped it hard 5 times, still ran even with a big hole in the cylinder head cover – just had to add more good stuff. Also ride a 650GS Dakar – parked for 6 month in Asia…push start and off she went (this time with me on board). I think we are all seeking….

    • Ingo! Certainly, BMW makes their components to be reliable. There is not question about that. And my R1150GS went quite a long way without an issue. I had two failures on my Beemer: the final drive and a fuel pump. Not bad for a 12 year span. Those failures, however, stopped the bike in its tracks. There was no negotiating with the bike. It was stopped. And this is where I wanted to focus in the article. Where one GS rider gets 200,000 miles out of a final drive, another may only get 60,000. An owner may never replace a fuel pump, while another will replace it twice. It’s all different and based on rider maintenance and types of travel.

      The GS’s, both small and large, are tanks. I wonder, however, as we add more technology to these bikes, what that will mean for the adventure travelers traveling in remote corners of the world.

      Thanks so much for contributing here!

  25. If I like the bike, the Scrambler as a replacement for your adventure bike might eb an option for short riders ready to give up lots of comfort.
    I am 184 and I tried the Ducati Scrambler last week. It should be about the same size as the Triumph. I can say that I just don t see myslef riding for hours and hours with my legs almost touching my elbows. I exagerate of course but the position was quickly uncomfortable.
    The standing position was even worst, as I had to seriously lean forward to get a grip on the handle. And finally, saying goodbye to heated grips, on/off ABS, ASC, plus the comfort of the seat and of the suspensions of a real adventure bike is a big no for long trips that will take you anywhere.
    The Scramblers are great looking and I believe would be fun to ride for the Weekends. But for more serious adventure, long trips by any weather, and tall riders, I dont think this is the bike for us.

    • Adrien. It is true that the “Scrambler-like” motorcycles are a bit smaller and lower than the “adventure” motorcycle. I pondered whether to talk about that in the article. Taller riders will definitely find these kinds of bikes to be a bit small. The Triumph Scrambler, however, is larger than the Ducati. The Ducati is actually a small chassis for me, and I am 180 cm. That said, even the Triumph may not be suitable for some people in its stock form. Every body is different.

      Thanks so much for the comment! Rider safe out there!

  26. Pingback: Form versus Function, a Scrambler against an Adventure Bike | Moto Adventurer

  27. Couldn’t agree with you more Jim. For the same reasons I sold my GS 650 (twin) to buy a brand new but very old tech DR 650. Done 45,000 km of pure adventure bliss in two short years on the DR, that I affectionately call “Batobas” (ie back-to-basics….)

  28. Here, here. Motorcycling is about the experience. Adventure riding doubles that. (PS: I also have a sports car; stick shift, no ABS, no traction control, no GPS. It has FI, but it came with it back in ’74. “I don’t need ABS. I just pump the brakes 90 times a second…”)

  29. Great stuff Jim. May I ask what exact model Wolfman saddlebag you used on this trip and how you mounted it to your bike. Looking at going on a bit of a longer trip myself and can’t really find the perfect saddlebag for my 2015 Scrambler. BTW also sold a F800gsa for the Triumph and I am so much happier and actually smile everytime I lay eyes on my bike.

    • Thanks so much!! I use the Wolfman Luggage Rocky Mountain Saddlebags. They are HUGE and carry all the stuff I need. Also, I like them because they don’t have to be full to keep their shape. They are as water resistant as anything with stitches can be. If your looking for something truly waterproof, then the Wolfman Expedition saddlebags might be a good choice. Not as large as the Rocky Mountain saddlebags. But close.

      I have a rack that I got on eBay for a Bonneville, and I only used the left side rack. Let me know if you have any other questions. And I’m glad to hear that the Scrambler is working out for you. They are quite bikes and quite a but of fun.

  30. Awesome info. I like the classic look, I used to have the Harley Davidson Crossbones and sold it a few years back. No I am looking to buy a Triumph. Glad you provided this info. Thanks

  31. One of the best articles I’ve read on the relationship between Man and Machine. Reminds me of a book from the seventies “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Two different guys with different approaches to their bikes. Buying a bike is a far more personal experience than buying most other things as your life is in it’s hands. I like the Beemers, especially the new scrambler; a melding of the old to the new. I might buy one to go with my Honda CRF250. Both very different bikes for different situations, but as long as they stir the soul, who cares?

    • Thanks so much! The human experience of riding should be forgotten. There are many technical discussions that can be had surrounding adventure travel. But the personal experience of man and machine is the fundamental “thing” that binds us all to what we do…and why we do it. Ride on and ride safe out there!!

  32. Hey Jim, thank you for your article. I am also happy owner of Triumph Scrambler, absolutely sharing your approach. May I just ask about your luggage panier? Is this some standard product or homemade? I wish I can use some sidebag…


    • Glad you asked. The bag you see in the article is made by Wolfman Luggage ( Specifically, I have the Rocky Mountain Saddlebag. They are sold in pairs, and I use them on other bikes I have. But when on the Scrambler, I only use one. They are great bags; strong, water resistant. I have a side rack on the Scrambler that I got on eBay. They too, were sold in pairs, but I only use one, since the exhaust on the right is in the way. The racks were made for a Bonneville, but they go right on the Scrambler. There are other solutions like this out there, depending on the material you are looking for. Some are ballistic nylon, like the bag you see in this article. Some are vinyl. And some are waxed cotton. Just depends on the durability, weather resistance, and look you desire.

  33. What a breath of fresh air (pun intended) this article is… thank you Jim!
    I once heard an old lady said: “Nothing that makes sense ever goes out of fashion.”
    I am sure that is why retro bikes are becoming more popular.
    At the age of 62, I rode almost everything from a 1968 50cc two stroke Suzuki to a 2012 R1200GS… and the best fun I had was on my first 50cc as a 16 year old schoolboy! (the Royal Enfield 500 Statesman not far behind)
    I came upon this article because I am also looking for a retro bike and the one I am looking for cannot be found… a 1980 BMW R80G/S… I owned three of these bikes and most bikers were very patronizing when seeing these bikes in the early 80’s… to a point that I thought there must be something wrong with my preference in motorcycles. Today I can hardly afford one of these models IF there is one to be found in a good condition. Never seen anything so comfortable, tough, reliable and all-rounder since. It seems the closest I can get is this Bonneville Scrambler!?
    Keep on smiling “Old Friend”

  34. I’m not sure how or why I just stumbled upon this article. I sold an 2014 R1200 GSA about 6 months ago. I normally put between 10-20K miles on a bike a year. I barely had 12K miles on that bike in 3 years. I never felt connected to it. I replaced it with an old KLR650, and most recently an XR1200 Sportster. Machines that I can relate to. Machines that I understand. Both for less than 1/3 the cost of the BMW.

    I can totally relate to this article. I think something that you might have brushed on but not really highlighted is the way that many of us came up. The machines in this day and age are much more reliable. If they break, we can always get on our cell and call whichever towing company we have. Many folks are still under the factory warranty and BMW or Harley just show up and take your broken machine back to the dealer where they will fix it under warranty and give it back to you when done.

    It wasn’t always that way. We did not have cell phones. We did not have free towing, in fact many tow services would not touch motorcycles. When you broke down, it was in your best interest to have a tool roll and to know how to use it. We carried spare spark plugs, points, oil, etc. If you were lucky you could find a pay phone and call a buddy with a truck to pick you up. But the major point was that we were mostly self reliant. There was a certain pride that came from that. In those days, being a motorcyclist required being a certain type of independent personality.

    The size and horsepower contest has also gotten our of control. To be honest, some of my boldest adventures were astride a 1991 250cc Honda Nighthawk that I explored the Mojave desert with. It was my first ever new motorcycle. It was so light and agile that it never crossed my mind that I should not take it somewhere. I got stuck in the mud after the rains in a dry lake bed, attempted hill climbs that were beyond my ability, rode 200 miles through the desert night to Las Vegas on a whim. Meanwhile it served as a flawless commuter and second vehicle for a young military family with no disposable income.

    My BMW’s had a canbus electrical system, 3 different riding modes, 4 different suspension modes, and numerous other settings all at the push of the button. They were no doubt the most competent, fastest, safest, and best handling motorcycles that I have ever ridden. The main problem was that I had to rely on someone else to fix them. I could not reset the maintenance light on the screen after even after I performed my own maintenance with care and attention to detail that the dealer could never duplicate.

    • I have had an R1200GSLC for the past 4 years. Not used for commuting as I’m retired.
      When my 02 R1150GS was written off (cosmetic damage only), as I’d removed the faulty ABS unit (when it failed, all braking capability disappears), I didn’t chose to retain ownership as I figured I really needed a bike that actually had ABS at the very least.
      Being without two wheels (don’t own a car either) I looked hard and long at all the options out there. I will admit that I’d been bitten by the BMW bug back in the ‘70’s. when I owned an R60/2 (a brilliant motorcycle that was streets ahead of comparable bikes back then) for 7 years so I was comfortable with the brand. It took me around Australia however cast iron cylinders caused to pistons to melt in the extreme heat and long distances at the speed limit so I knew it had limitations in the Australian context.
      Marriage, no motorcycle while children were growing up meant I didn’t get back to motorcycling till my daughter was old enough to drive herself. I then needed wheels and was permitted to get back onto two wheels.
      Good BMW’s were out of my financial reach at the time so, after being keen on Honda ST1100’s, I found a 10 year old Revere that was basically the ST’s little brother. It had shaft drive, was a v twin (great sound) and was water cooled. These attributes I considered essential to be a satisfactory motorcycle. And I could afford it…
      So 6 years on the Revere, 6 years with a new Deauville (couldn’t find anything else that quite fitted my criteria), 4 years with a ten year old R1150GS with 9km on the clock (by then I had the BMW bug again and this was affordable – probably would have kept it a lot longer but for it being written off) and finally, with my wife’s blessing, a new ‘17 GS.
      I’d looked at all the alternatives at the time and really didn’t want chain drive (I’ve been spoilt over the years). I preferred twin cylinder motors having tried all manner of multis over the years and, not being satisfied with annoying vibrations that seemed to emanate from every four I tried (even the ST1100), resolved that I’d need to stay with twins.
      The experience with the water cooled Honda twins wasn’t good with both bikes suffering from overheating when in the city on especially hot days. The R1150 showed its weakness on hot days too and I was required to park the bike outside the enclosed garage till it stopped stinking of evaporated fuel (obviously running very hot compared to cars and the previous Honda bikes) so some form of liquid cooling was going to be needed on any future motorcycle purchase.
      I’d also been treated for cancer (continuing) which left me with weakened bones so anything that would assist me remaining upright was essential.
      The ‘17 model did have fluid cooling which had been shown to easily endure the Queensland heat. It also had a revised transmission arrangement (which I thought was an obvious upgrade to address a deficiency) and telelever suspension design (no other bike has this simple design that eliminates most fork suspension problems – diving under braking, stiction of fork tubes, shudder due to fork flex, regular maintenance to replace fork seals etc) made the decision to buy a new R1200GS the obvious conclusion.
      Stepping back to a used GS just meant you missed out on the electronic aids that came with the fully farkled version but you still shelled out significant funds as they seemed to hold their value.
      A lengthy reasoning process ensued, that addressed my need for comfort, safety, future satisfaction, and (of all things that are important) the ability to easily service the bike when necessary. Previously mentioned – the need for a good tool kit. I agree and I’ve cobbled together a collection of necessary tools and consumables (stays on the bike in the hard lockable pannier) to tackle just about anything that likely to happen on a lengthy tour (what the GS is especially good at, in the Australian situation, where many roads are too rough for road oriented bikes).
      I derive a great deal of pleasure being able to service the bike myself. It helps to share the diagnostic tool (gs911) with a friend as it completes the service requirement.
      Every other breed of bike I’ve owned became a pain when it came to simply checking things like valve clearances. This bike is mainly serviced by simply replacing fluids and is a pleasure rather than a bother when service is due (more likely to do a good job if you have a good disposition each time).
      So straightforward to look after and this did play a part in my willingness to part with $30k.

  35. Pingback: Is a Dirt-Worthy Triumph Scrambler 1200 Right Around The Corner? - ADV Pulse

  36. I know I’m late to the party, but this was a very interesting read. Found it while I was contemplating another adventure type bike. I was active with this type of riding for several years, putting over 100,000 miles on two KLR650s and a few big adv bikes, even went as far as building a adv sportster and riding it up to Inuvik and over to dead horse, Ak. It’s been about 7 years since I’ve been on an adv bike. Recently some riding friends have started talking off pavement riding, one has already bought a African Twin. So I’ve been catching up on what’s available only to find so much new tec on these bikes, even active computer controlled suspension. This article has really help me recenter on the basics. It’s easy for me to get caught up on everything available and all the latest, greatest offerings, only to be left wanting after the new wears off. I really need a bike that speaks to me or I lose interest after a bit. I enjoy the basic maintenance of a bike and the assurance of being able to repair it in the field. Even if the new stuff never breaks, it leaves me with somewhat of a disconnect to the machine. I’m glad you found the scrambler, that brings you back to the connection of the bike. Thanks for an article that makes me stop and think about what is really important to me in a bike.

  37. Pingback: The Indian ADV scene & they just grabbed you by the...But, its a BMW!

  38. Hey dear, thanks for your story, I appreciated it!! But now you make me confused, need a little advice =) I am going to buy my first bike.. I am 180cm, 85kg,so which bike could be better for me? f800gs or triumph scrambler? thanks Nico

  39. Years later, and this article is still relevant. I suspect it always will be. I’m commenting for a couple reasons. First, to congratulate the author for hitting exactly the right, brand-free tone on a timeless motorcycle aethetic question, and second to chime in (of course).

    Perhaps an older rider than those in this group might mourn the passing of his ability to manually advance and retard the ignition timing as he rides his early machine. Especially, perhaps, after accidentally submarine-ing his machine into a deep creek on a remote ride. Pull the plug(s), pump out any water, empty the oil bath and carb(s), dry the points with a Zippo, pray, etc–and you may find yourself merrily burning dinosaurs again.. Hahaha.

    I agree that the selection and farkle-ization of a machine is deeply personal. A choice that is based on physique, geography, and emotion. If there is Zen in the aesthetic choice, for me it is found in the sublime beauty of a machine design driven by function rather than by other artistic considerations. I would define “function”, as used in, ‘machine functionality’ to mean an aesthetic design achieved by creating a machine which blends operator and machine into a chosen environment in the most profoundly simple and effective way possible.

    So, while I can appreciate the art of extreme forms and themes found in choppers, rat bikes, and other customs, it is the bare-bones simplicity of the KLR, the DR, the old CBR, the ancient Sportster, the Honda Ruckus, the Italian scooter, cutting edge racers, etc which have made me drool at different stages of my life. Similarly, I love home built scramblers and vintage racer tributes made around old Eliminator and other motors. Heck, I love antique tractors too! At 50–after years of dual sport riding–my body is finally starting to prompt a greater interest in road touring bikes and cruisers. Lol!

    I agree with your Luddite approach to trail riding in every way but one. The carb. The carb must go! It absolutely boggles my mind that it has taken manufacturers so long to switch over to simple, pressurized EFI systems for our off road machines. Bless you, Yamaha and BMW, for injecting gas into your small bikes. Long overdue. Cleaning carbs over-and-over again is ridiculous. Especially when dealing with an easily boogered-up customized KLR carb subjected to rural gas stations. Or, when you are cleaning the carb in the DR you love to catch air (and fall) on (under) for the one hundredth time. Carbs? Bleh!

    Lovely article. Thank you. Please publish an update?

  40. Well, excellent article and it feels like up to date! I also own a BMW, a street K1200R Sport.
    60k km and never failed. I didn’t do of road to nowhere trips but I did many 10k trips in countries and roads that was challenging. And never failed!

    BUT I always riding it thinking what if. I manage to never go to a dealer so I know pretty much everything about this bike. How to repair it anywhere. Although I never had to do any reparation on the road or during my trips.

    YET I keep thinking what if…
    I have no answer. Probably engineers are engineering in a way that man is loosing this connection with the machine. This connection that can make you feel that there is a simplicity that brings you back to the basics. To a kind of comfort zone. Cause the truth is that there is much more simplicity on an EFI system than Carburetors. So it is what makes our primitive brain feel comfortable giving the delusion that “I can manage it”. And it could be a truth or not. It is about the feeling.

    So, coming to me, I love riding my BMW – I’m also planing to buy a 1250 GS.
    But for now I’m building a scrambler for the very much on spot reasons of this article!

    Thank you for publishing it and wishing happy and safe km.. 🙂

  41. My riding experience ended abruptly because my Triumph didn’t have the technology that would’ve prevented me from destroying my ride because some cager was being impatient.
    At the end of the day technology saves lives. Personally I think when the fat lady sings, its what you’re going to want.


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