All-rounders: Winner stays on

Published: 03:23PM May 4th, 2012

Nine manufacturers have spent 18 years trying to topple BMW’s GS. Steve Rose ponders why.

All-rounders: Winner stays on

BMW’s 1994 R1100GS was a weird looking thing with a beak (that pushed air to an oil cooler under the headlight). The new GS had Telelever wishbone front suspension, fuel injection, shaft drive, tubeless radials on spoked wheels, optional ABS and brilliant luggage. Everyone who rode one loved it. A big trail bike that didn’t flounder on soft suspension, didn’t squirm round corners and was as comfy two-up, touring Europe as it was confident attacking B-road hairpins.

Hinckley’s original Tiger had actually arrived a year before the R1100GS and was tall, heavy – like an Africa twin on steroids. The Tiger got a revamp in 1999 and by 2002 everyone was at it. Honda, Aprilia, Suzuki and Triumph again, with a revamped, more road-focused 955cc Tiger. All good bikes but only the Tiger came close on sales charts.

BMW has always been different. When others made parallel twins, BMW did Boxers, when others put four cylinders across the frame, BMW laid them down in a line.

BMW was first to adopt fuel injection, first to fit ABS, first to make alternative suspension acceptable and first to understand that a heavyweight trail bike had to be more than just a super-sized smaller one.

Every single GS rival has been better than the BMW on paper. More power, less weight (until now), stiffer chassis, more adjustable suspension. But they’ve all failed because they’ve all assumed that better is, er, better. Honda or Triumph would never build a bike like this because on paper it’s just plain wrong. But by the law of averages, when you build your bikes to be different, as BMW has always done, at some point you’ll hit the spot. It’s easy to forget that apart from the equally brilliant RT models none of the modern BMW twins sell in any kind of numbers.

But the GS and RT work for two reasons. Firstly, they are the best handling touring bikes you can buy because the Telelever front suspension gives comfort and control. But secondly and most importantly, they have soul. Nothing else on earth feels like a BMW Boxer. And in the same way that pie and mash might not be the poshest meal, in the same way that a valve-driven Marshall guitar amp might not be as technically advanced as the latest digital humdingers, in the same way that the barmaid in your local boozer might not be as surgically perfect as those Hollywood pin-ups, the things we want most aren’t always the ones with the highest spec.

It doesn’t matter how high tech the opposition gets because the GS tickles our biking funny bones and BMW knows, that once you’re hooked all it needs to do is keep improving the existing formula and when trade in time comes, you’ll be back to your welcoming BMW dealer to swap for the latest model. The R1150GS was significantly better than the 1100. The 1200 was lighter and more powerful than the 1150 and the much-rumoured water-cooled R1200 replacement will still be a GS at heart.

The Honda, Ducati and Triumph are all better bikes. I know this because the numbers don‘t lie. But, right now, the GS is the one that I want.

Responses to “All-rounders: Winner stays on”

Current Issue: May 2016

Issue May 2016

Tours, bike tests, adventures and expert know-how

KTM 1290 Super Duke GT – the tourer that will change everything

Smaller, lighter, better - Suzuki's SV650 is back and more fun than ever

New: Yamaha MT-09, Honda CBR500R and CB500F

Triumph T120 and Thruxton R - a true classic and the ultimate retro sportsbike

24 pages of travel and adventure

Mini BMW GS confirmed

Harley-Davidons in Dubai

The facts on helmet safety

Buy a used VMAX

Honda VFR1200X

Hailwood Rep Ducati

Honda NC750X

KTM 1050 Adventure


Yamaha XSR700


Buy this issue now

• Next issue on sale: May 13, 2016

Issue 668

Issue 668
May 2016

For the love of the ride

Subscribe and get this issue

Buy it now facebook Sample on-line Service Guide

Other Feature Articles

Pictures sell stories, “evidence” and visions?

Pictures sell stories, “evidence” and visions?

Images of biking create impressions that can be good, bad or ugly, but Doc M wonders if bikers need to ...

Read More »

The best of British

The best of British

What are the best 50 classic British motorcycles ever made? Time for an extensive list from a real British bike ...

Read More »

View all...


Related magazines:

Motor Cycle Monthly Newspaper Classic Motorcycle Mechanics magazine Scootering magazine


Use our handy tool to find your nearest stockist!
Find your nearest Stockist

Read on-line as a digital issue:

Available on the Android Marketplace

Available on Pocket Mags

Advertising Deadline:

Trade Advertising Deadlines:
June 2016: April 21, 2016
July 2016: May 19, 2016
For more information contact our Advertising representative

Book advertising here

Next Issue Out:

May 13, 2016