Backtrack Tuesdays: 2002 BMW R1150 GS Adventure
Un-adorned of touring gear, one might think the lines of the new 1150 Adventure resemble some form of wasp-like cyborg from a Sci-fi thriller. Trimmed down and armored up, the 1150 Adventure's features are intended to make it more of an off road warrior than its kin, the GS1150 R. While more capable of smoothing miles, its handling may not be as effortless as one might expect.
I was first impressed with the machine's size when picking it up at BMW, in urban Orange County, California. Though statistically not much bigger than the GS 1150 R, it is noticeably more of an armful. Almost immediately from departing test fleet premises, the bulk of the machine became noticeable. Upon the boulevards and surface streets of Ontario, over the first dozen miles, I realized I was handling a creature of considerable, yet stable, immensity.
Smooth to roll on, the legendary GS power slipped me through a moderate congestion of daily downtown traffic. The Adventure was stable and eased me over the broken surface streets, toward the interstate. Within minutes, I had reached the interstate and was on the way out of Ontario. After a few dozen miles I started to feel more at home on the Adventure. I began weaving my way through the slower paced traffic and I noticed the bikes tendency to favor running straight line. Later, in more open conditions, during direction changes the stabilly planted gyros would carve with precision and predictability, although not with altogether effortlessness.
It was a warm clear day, perfect for running the couple of hundred miles through mountain two lane and interstate, back to magazine headquarters. As I climbed up through the Angeles National Forest, easing into elevations above 5,000 feet, I began pacing my ride with the ebb and flow of up-grade mountain traffic. The sweetness of the gearing spread began to reveal itself. Gears one, five, and six have been lowered from the GS 1150 R's, making throttle response around town and on the highway quicker.
For a few days I was to become familiar with the Adventure, before heading out on the 3,000 mile test tour through five states. During one of these days, I took a ride up a local, rather typical tight canyon. Safe speed limits were posted at many of the turns, often between 15 and 30 mph. The canyon was strewn with drop offs to one side and rock walls to the other. During one straight run, leading into a tight comer, I ventured up to approximately 50 mph. I entered the corner with minimal slowing. It was only the blink of an eye to complete, and in the blink of an eye there stood a full size female deer. On the dirt, on the left shoulder of the road, the deer and I made instant mutual eye contact. Early braking came simultaneously. She began running parallel to me, about 35 yards ahead, picking up miles per hour as I lost them. The instant her path began to angle toward mine I squeezed more tightly on the Adventures brakes. Then, suddenly she cut hard right. Creating a collision course, and instantly coming at 90 degrees to my line. I applied serious brake, both front and back. I heard the rear tire skid more than I felt good about. The deer was about 25 feet directly ahead me when it crossed my line. We had missed. I had quickly decelerated to about 3 miles per hour from about 48 miles per hour, and the maneuver was rock solid. I then stopped completely, ultimately to watch the view of the deer as it elevated itself up the adjacent, nearly vertical hillside. I was considerably glad to be on a machine which was ABS equipped. Though the considerable rear tire screetch had called my attention, the bike had braked in a perfectly straight line and I felt tracking for nearly every second of it. Fortunately, the remaining early test days would hold no similar surprises.
Soon, it came time to depart on the five state tour through California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. As I began my first stretch across the Mojave desert I was comforted at the thought of piloting this machine into the anticipated conditions which might await me. Through the first hundred something miles of desert I was getting a feel for the cockpit. I adjusted the bars slightly as well as the seat to better suit me. The ideal riding position remained elusive however. My preferred, directly upright ride position, was slightly unattainable. Leg room additionally seemed a bit tight. Yet, the new wider and taller wind screen from the standard GS line offered greater wind protection. Unlike typical GS three position adjustability, this screen was solidly affixed.
Similar to a full size auto, I discovered the total distance of the Mojave( 420+ miles) could be achieved with only one fuel stop! The Adventures tank is rated at 7.9 to 8 gallons, some 2.5 gallons more than the GS1150 R. While I would come to appreciate the niceness in range, unfortunately, and almost simultaneously, I became aware that this would mean more effort would be required when manuevering the bike overall. I found mileage on the Adventure ranged, according to condition, between 33.1 mpg and 50 mpg+. Our test machine seemed to prefer premium fuels. When using less than 91 octane fuel, minor intermittent ring ping was noticed.
Midway on the Mojave, in Baker California, I had re-fueled. Next stop was the Utah border if I wished. It was hot. I had asked the BMW to perform across the first 220 mile stretch of desert. Now I expected it to carry me across a second 220 mile stretch of desert with equal abandon. With an open style moto helmet, ear plugs, and typical off road style goggles I embarked on the desert interstate, eastbound. I was impressed with the bikes smoothness of shifting. All gears could be acquired with precise clicks of the shift lever. Excess throw was non-existent. As I glided up to speed with the flow of traffic, I merged with soothing, smooth acceleration.
The sound of wind slipping around me and whir of the motor were virtually absent. I actually checked twice to make sure they were there. I began gliding across the desert. Through vast still valleys, and over the desert summits at rates that I'm sure would shock the early settlers if they ever knew. There's nothing quite like the solid stance, finely tuned suspension, and smooth roll on torque of this, and the other GS machines. Before long I was parting traffic in downtown Las Vegas. The hotel casino skyline eased slowly by.
It was 140 miles from Baker, roughly one half hour east of Las Vegas, before I decided to take a break I dismounted the Adventure and stretched my legs. Though the full size seat on the bike is about as soft as one can imagine, I found my backside needing a break I walked around and stared at the bike, sizing it up. The exhaust tubes crackled as they cooled. I noticed the short distance of the footpegs in relation to the seat height, and realized it might be better if it were greater. Having an average inseam for a guy 5' 11 ", I reasoned the peg positioning may be tight for riders above 6 feet tall.
Once again I bridled the Adventure. The starter turned the opposing air/oil cooled 1130 cc, 85 hp opposing twin with its usual dedication. I was off again. The afternoon sun began falling in the sky and I made short work of the rest of the Mojave. It was evening when I crossed the Utah border. For the next three days I would travel on both hard and soft packed dirt roads, and two lane highway in Southern Utah. My next destination was the annual Canyonlands Motor Classic rally held in Moab, Utah.
The route to Moab was filled with various straights, long uphill and downhill grades, and miles of climbing through twists into higher elevations. These seemed to be the the kind of conditions the bike preferred. Throughout miles of uphill grades the Adventure would carve, pull, and accelerate, with seamless torque. When called upon to pass slower uphill traffic, the machine would do so reliably and easily. I never experienced a stall or hesitation at any speed or altitude. The machine held the pavement with predictable stability. Pavement handling became compromised during one condition however. On hot desert highways laden with tar snakes, occasionally minor slipping occurred. This happened during turning and while braking. Apparently a combination of the bikes weight and tire tread pattern didn't mix well with the slick nature of the 100 degree tar ribbons. This condition would elicit my only unhappiness with the Continental Twinduro knobbed tires, equipped on the Adventure.
Dirt road riding with the Adventure proved two-fold.
Straight dirt roads of nearly any nature were handled well by the Adventure. Through twisting dirt roads the bike preferred soils between two to five inches. In situations where soft soil or gravel was less than two inches, where hard pack typically lay beneath, the bike would tend to slide around considerably. Although equipped with ABS, the bikes weight, weight height, and instant torque all seemed to play roles in the bikes seeming readiness to break traction. I found myself pre planning for curves well in advance in consideration for the bikes weight. Additionally, due to the weights height placement, I was unable to lean the bike comfortably to the degree I really wished on these type surfaces. In all, this meant the Adventure preferred slower speeds in these conditions.
While trekking upon washboard surfaces the Adventure broke traction on a few occasions. This was usually during uphill climbs. During acceleration, or when running in an improper gear, the bikes rear tire would alternately grab, then break-free on washboard surface. Considerable torque and the direct-drive nature of the shaft-drive system were apparent factors with this apparent spin-grab-spin situation. While surprised at first, I later learned to adjust and to minimize this occurance.
Soft loose soils, such as sand deeper than six inches, spells WORK for the Adventure. Additionally, though one may finesse the Adventure through relatively rugged offroad territory, I would speculate this type of riding to be the exception rather than the rule. Due to the Adventure 1150's weight, a formidable support crew would be recommended to anyone thinking they'd like to take this bike very far into non-roaded conditions. I followed the long straight desert two-lane, which led into Moab. It was hot and windy. Light traffic was traveling at high rates in each direction and the Adventure was leaning to the right to counter the steady easterly desert wind. Now I would stay in Moab for a few days, and run forays out into surrounding areas. Here I took time to restock travel supplies. It was during this period when more of the Adventures in town characteristics became known. Sometimes its weight and height combined to make human powered re-positioning awkward. Also, I discovered on several occasions I must deliberately, virtually pre-plan foot planting. When touching down on an angled surface, or sometimes upon the slick cement of a gas station, I would sometimes have to reposition a foot at the last second. If the foot to be planted met gravel, or an awkward incline, I would have to readjust to insure the solid planting of the heavy machine.
Another item I discovered, was to be careful during down-hill parking. With the Adventure it is important to ensure all potential forward roll is eliminated before extending the side stand and allowing the bike to rest on it. After shutting down the motor, while engaged in first, then letting out the clutch, I found enough forward roll sometimes reamained to permit the bike to potentially roll off of the side stand. Gradually, I came to prefer parking on up-slopes altogether. The Adventure was outfitted with BMW molded plastic rear panniers and tank bag. The BMW molded plastic side cases must be the most friendly I've come across. Not only are they light, waterproof and dustproof, but they detach, lock, and mount quickly. They do not conflict with most other load arrangements and they are easy to load when packing in a typical grocery store parking lot. Due to their shape, size and internal elastic strapping it is easy to quickly secure various sized packaged items within them.
One morning, I departed on a ride loop which would pass through Teluride, Colorado. I was accompanied by ride friends Chad and Fred on their GS 1150 R's. For the first few hours we found ourselves tracking highly scenic two lane. There were vast stretches of desert juniper and farmland. Intermittent summer showers brought forth the scents of desert and farmland. Our route wound up and the through the rolling hills of the San Miguel BLM area and into the lncompahgre National Forest which surrounds Teluride. All three BMWs were running steadily, at healthy clips. The machines seemed to escort us into the higher elevations effortlessly.
In Teluride we stopped briefly and enjoyed lunch before continuing South. Our path would now become high altitude mountain two-lane. First we would side-hill, working our way upward with a mountain to our left. Then, we would climb up another side-hill with a mountain on our right. I noticed myself recognizing the weight of the Adventure. Moreover, I noticed how that weight seemed to be placed up high. I was exerting more effort during steering maneuvers than I wished. I wondered how lesser or lower weight might allow for more fun through twists. Soon it was late afternoon, and we found ourselves picking our way back across the desert, to Moab. It was the second 350 mile loop I had taken during the stay in Moab. The Adventure and I had become good friends. Now it was time to aim the Adventure westward once more, and onto the 900 mile route home.
The route back to California would cover two 450 mile segments, over two days. On the first day I traveled over Utah's San Rafael Range and into the Southwest corner of Utah. Thunderstorms were scattered over most of this route, and I managed to meet two of these storms with gusto. Here, the weight of the Adventure became a plus. The machine negotiated high winds and rain admirably. It seemed to handle the conditions better than most of the autos along the route. The bike would lean into the heavy side winds, but it never seemed to shift in the lane, or change direction, due to them.
On the second day I would complete the final 450 miles back into California. During the long ride across the Mojave I reflected further on the machines cockpit arrangement. The GS 1150 Adventure cockpit conforms to what many are now calling a Sport Tourer, or Sport Adventure style cockpit. In this case the operator is required to drive with the torso angled slightly forward. Literally, this is a compromise from being positioned either fully upright or fully forward. Though handlebar and seat height positions on the Adventure are available, I felt an ideal riding position to be slightly elusive. While the relative seat to peg distance could have been greater, ultimately I felt torso positioning to be key in why seating perfection remained elusive.
Upon arrival in California I realized the Adventure had performed mechanically without flaw. I had covered 3,200 trouble free miles with the machine and this now provided a sense of confidence. Though, at times the Adventure would require deliberate effort to maneuver, its ability to cover hundreds of miles effortlessly, with a smooth solid stance, was assuring. Its gearing, luggage features, range, and dependability all combine to make the machine highly desirable, not only as an adventure tourer, but as a bike that could likely be counted on for years.
Coming from the venerable line of BMW GS machines, the Adventure will undoubtedly present to its owner thousands of trouble free miles. A number of features have been added to the Adventure which set it apart from its relative the GS 1150 R. Though many of these features enhance the machines ability to cover long rugged miles, some of them inherently present drawbacks as well.
While shaving several pounds from the typical GS 1150 Rs' weight, the Adventure increases its fuel capacity by 2.5 gallons. Though this adds the desireability of greater range, it also has the negative effect of adding weight high up on the machine.
As a related consideration, the Adventure's ground clearance is increased by 2 inches from that of the GS 1150 R. Therefore, its weight is placed up higher. When adding this weight to the weight of a full fuel tank, a top heaviness becomes apparent. Ultimately, this results in increased effort required to maneuver the bike throughout. Predominantly, this weight is felt at slow speeds and during physical maneuvering, and less while under power. Additionally, the top heavy feel gives one a sense that there is less allowable 'lean angle' while on dirt roads. There is a feeling that the bike may slide out with its weight being placed this high up.
While most components on the Adventure appear engineered for longevity, dependability, and solid performance, the cockpit proportions might be viewed as a drawback. Styled as a Sport Adventurer, the cockpit seems to require the rider to operate the bike with the torso angled slightly forward. Even with seating and handlebar adjustments available, I found an ideal riding position to be elusive. A somewhat marginal distance, some 20 inches between the top of the seat and top of the pegs, may be responsible for this condition.
In all the Adventure appears a highly desireable, well engineered machine. It is clearly capable of delivering as a Tourer, world tourer, or adventure machine. While the high placement of its weight may be a drawback in the outback, this weight contrastingly helps its footing when forging through gail-like conditions. When outfitted with touring gear, the machine will easily carry its passenger(s) for hundreds of unhindered miles in a day. If you're looking for a long range machine, especially one that would make short work of mountainous regions, the Adventure would most definitely be a machine to consider.
Originally published October 2002.