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Common Tread

An ode to (not a review of) the BMW R 1200 GS

Apr 14, 2017

Many bikes have been parked in my driveway over the years and my wife has come to assume different things depending on what they are. Any five-year-old bike left in front of the shop door must be a customer bike needing work. Anything old (or in pieces) probably is a personal acquisition. Anything very new is likely a press bike. Any new BMW R 1200 GS is presumed to be a gift for her.

Mrs. Lem has been bugging me literally for years to buy a big GS. Before I continue, I feel compelled to include a word or two about my wife. She’s a baffling mix of bike knowledge and lack thereof. She doesn’t lay claim to know a damn thing about bikes. Despite having owned several, she couldn’t tell you more about any of them other than “One of them was a Ducati.” This same woman can also walk into our garage and identify all the Shovelheads. Figure that out.

At some point, in an effort to trick her, I brought the RevZilla F 800 GS shop mule home and took wifey for a little ride.

“Look, babe, a BMW GS, just like you want!” She got off the bike and said it was OK, but said there was something different about it and she didn’t think it was the same as the BMW she thinks she likes. Clever girl.

In the middle of February, I took that same F 800 to BMW of North America, right outside of New York City. I was swapping it for a 2016 R 1200 GS. I like the F 800 quite a bit; if I have to ride an adventure bike, I want the one that’s as close to a dirt bike as I can get. I left at about 9 a.m. from Lemmy Mountain and it was 29 degrees. This was not ideal riding, but when your office is a saddle, life ain’t bad. It beats real work.

Highway Lemmy
Shaft-drive bike, chain-drive wallet. I wonder if AltRider makes some sort of guard for that. RevZilla photo.

I froze on the way there, met our kindly BMW rep, and made the swap. My new mount, the R 1200 GS, was friggin’ loaded: it had the Comfort package (handguards and heated grips, among other things), Touring package (electronic suspension adjustment, navigation, keyless, panniers, cruise), Shift Assistant Pro (clutchless up and downshifts), and LED headlights. Stack the deck, BMW. Make me comfortable. Leave me no choice but to gush. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat myself. I’m not a journalist. I’m a selfish writer who seeks to entertain first myself and then my audience.

It was at this point that music began playing. (The BMW does not have a stereo. The music was me whistling softly inside my lid.) Like Spurgeon often does, I am going to reference the song here. (Unlike Spurg, I’m quoting a song I don’t really like.) I put a leg over that machine and started cooing. “I fooled around and fell... in loooooove!” This shit was dangerous. That whole song is a metaphor for Elvin Bishop’s test run on a /7.

I cranked up the heated handgrips and began my tour through Bergen County in Joisey and Rockland County up in New York, an absolutely gorgeous part of our country. It was settled before the 18th century, and is now occupied by super-rich people. Mine was not the only BMW roundel, by a long shot, but it was the only one with two wheels and a longhair piloting it.

Heated grips are a game-changer. I could actually smell my sausage fingers cooking away. I adjusted the windscreen up high, and life was really looking up. Even my very discriminating, uh, ass, was happy, because BMW’s electronic suspension floored me again. I reviewed the BMW S 1000 XR and the Yamaha FJR1300 a while back. The S 1000 XR made me a noticeably better rider; the bike felt nearly telepathic. The FJR? I mean, it was nice not having to break out wrenches to adjust things, but I didn’t reach the same level of infatuation that I did on the BMW system. It was exactly as I remembered it: pure joy.

Since I was being paid to wander, I stopped in for a visit to see Mike Palazzo, proprietor of 47 Industries fabrication shop and stereotypical New Jersey wise guy. If my notes are correct, he called the BMW “a fuckin’ spaceship,” and then also correctly noted that I seemed to be happy despite the sub-freezing temperature. I shot the bull with him for quite a while, specifically killing some time because I really wanted to put the LED headlight to use. #seriousworkguy

2016 BMW R 1200 GS. Photo by Lemmy.

It worked like a charm. The LED turned the world into an overexposed photo, but no one in oncoming lanes seemed to act as though I was blinding them. (Welcome to Common Tread’s new Biased Reporting, where everything else is bullshit and what I think is always right.) Shift Assist Pro worked like a champ, allowing me to flog the shifter up and down the gears. I beat this bike like it owed me money, and it seemed unfazed. I was still on the superslab and had no actual reason to do this, but it seemed magical that I could just flail away like a cat in a swimming pool and the bike was honey-smooth at every gearchange. 

Who uses a $23,339 motorcycle as a hooligan machine? A guy who likes to party, that's who. RevZilla photo.

I hit a stretch of evening commute traffic, and spent the time trying out BMW’s DTC (wheelie control). It works perfectly. Hammer the throttle, loft the wheel 10 inches, and then the BMW will set you politely — but firmly — back on the ground, letting you know you’re being an asshole. An asshole with great credit and a penchant for items that work really well, but an asshole nonetheless. Mrs. Lemmy would like this, because she always has to tell me I’m an asshole the old-fashioned analog way. I turned the wheelie control off, too. If I had one of these bikes, it would be christened “The Flying Pancake.”

Our bike had cast wheels and pretty street-oriented tires. I’m fine with that. A) I already have a dirtbike, and B) I love coffee and actually own a Klim Badlands jacket, which must be kismet. Mrs. Lemmy also loves when I bring her Starbucks, so the street tires were a marital aid, as far as I am concerned.

Even tough guys take a break from gas station tar for the occasional Princess Coffee™. RevZilla photo.

I’ve seen plenty of these GSs in action far off the pavement, and they go places I’d never expect to see them. If I had a GS, I would actually really like to do something that might sound strange: I would love to load up my wife and do some light logging/haul roads. Mrs Lemmy has become petrified of riding a dirt bike herself in her old age, but somehow the idea of her idiot husband piloting a half-ton of machine, idiot, and fairly bright lady strikes her as “safe.” This, coupled with all the thoughtful coffee purchases on my part, would lead to fun tent stuff after the day’s activities, barring any major mishaps on my part.

My trip ended, and my wife soon arrived to yet another alien motorcycle in front of the shop door. She was very excited, but seemed unable (unwilling?) to grasp the idea that the bike was not actually ours, but rather, a press loaner that I was just fetching for Spurgeon. To mollify her, I offered to take her for a ride.

“Does it have heated seats?” If she had a tail, it would have been wagging. She bailed when she found we did not have Ze Warmenassen package, too.

“I’ll ride it when it’s warm,” she decided. I explained we would not have it then. I believe my wife just assumed that meant we’d simply buy one when the weather warmed up a bit.

If it’s not clear, I didn’t spend nearly enough time on this bike to review it fully. I did put more than enough mileage on it to fall madly in love with the GS, though. This bike is the girl next door. Comfortable. Capable. Comes off as totally rational. You can do dirty stuff more easily than you think. I am married to a wonderful woman and own half a dozen bikes or so right now. Why am I mentally assembling a mix tape?

This bike is heavy for many. Tall. Ungodly expensive. (That’s the main reason I don’t have three of them by now. I have no problem spending the equivalent of a year’s worth of tuition at a private college on some old rust bucket heap, but the idea of splitting that same amount over 48 payments to buy a new GS repels me. Perhaps it’s the shame of acknowledging my bad decision on four dozen separate occasions, rather than just one.)

None of its shortcomings matter to me. Often, I have to write something negative about a bike for a trifling item I personally would be perfectly willing to live with, but the rest of the world would not. Similarly, I have to accept things about motorcycles that are “right” for the intended audience, but make me mad/sad/hurty in the butt parts. Since this isn’t a review, I can unencumber myself from that responsibility. This bike made me very happy. For those of you who disagree, you may all go to hell, and I will ride to Texas.

Money and coffee
#bmwtoolkit. RevZilla photo.

This motorcycle also drives home a point I sometimes make that is obvious but oft-forgotten: Really expensive motorcycles are usually really good. At the top end of the market, motorcycles cannot have fatal flaws, or they also will not have buyers. It’s easier to review an expensive bike; the rider can be pickier and the competition is also usually excellent. The GS, with its huge price tag, is a motorcycling reminder that great bikes cost so much because they’re worth it.

There's only one question this bike leaves unanswered for me. What, pray tell, did Elvin Bishop do next?