BMW R1200GS (2013 – 2018) | Buyers guide

Jon Urry
By Jon Urry
Experienced road tester, bike hoarder and all-round top bloke.

 

In a nutshell

In 2013 BMW took the radical (for them) step of adding water-cooling to their all-conquering R1200GS model. The first boxer in the firm’s 90-year history to carry a liquid jacket, thanks to its new motor, redesigned chassis and highly advanced electronics package, the ground-up new R1200GS set the adventure bike benchmark even higher. The best got even better and once again, the competition were left trailing in the GS’s mighty wake. If you want an adventure bike, few do it as well as the R1200GS and it is a true master class in motorcycle design. Just very common…

 

Used guide: BMW R1200GS (2013 – 2018)

 

The tech

Engine:

Technically, as BMW like to point out, the GS isn’t water-cooled, it is partially water-cooled. Where the old boxer motor was 22% oil-cooled and 78% air-cooled, the new GS is 35% water-cooled and 65% air-cooled using a technique called ‘precision cooling.’ So what does that mean? Effectively, BMW targeted only the areas of the motor that are exposed to extreme thermal stress (the cylinder heads and parts of the cylinders) with their water-cooling and left the rest of the motor air-cooled. By targeting small areas, they only needed a small amount of liquid and therefore small radiators that are easy to tuck out of harm’s way, a necessity on a bike with off-road capability such as the GS. So that’s that part cleared up…

Despite retaining the same 1170cc capacity as the air-cooled model, as well as its 101mm x 73mm bore and stroke, the rest of the boxer engine is all-new. Featuring vertical through-flow intake channels (the older models’ were horizontal) for improved combustion (power was boosted to a claimed 125bhp with 92ft.lb of torque) the boxer also boasted a redesigned crank to reduce drag, new counter balance shaft to reduce vibrations, vertically-split cases, wet clutch (another first, it was previously dry) with a slipper function, redesigned gearbox and lot, lots more including the first ride-by-wire throttle on a GS.

 

Used guide: BMW R1200GS (2013 – 2018)

 

Chassis:

With an eye on agility, the GS’s steel bridge frame was completely revised in 2013. Retaining the EVO Paralever front end, the new GS’s frame is a continual bridge design with a bolt-on subframe (the previous model’s frame was constructed of an upper frame and a separate rear frame with the swingarm mount), making maintenance easier and reducing its overall weight.

While retaining the GS’s cardan shaft drive system, BMW swapped its position around to the left-hand side of the bike to allow riders to push the bike without coming into contact with the hot exhaust (riders generally push from the left-hand side)! The whole drive system was also totally redesigned with new gears and more direct action through reduced clearances while the swingarm itself is 52.4mm longer. BMW also increased the GS steering head angle slightly but retained the same 1507mm wheelbase as before.

 

Used guide: BMW R1200GS (2013 – 2018)

 

Suspension:

In a GS-first (it appeared on the HP4 a year earlier) the R1200GS gained semi-active suspension as an optional extra in 2013. Entitled Dynamic ESA, the system monitors the vertical movement of the front and rear wheels through spring travel sensors as well as a host of other inputs (throttle, ABS, speed, etc) and then automatically alters the bike’s damping to suit. With the option of five riding modes – Rain, Road, Dynamic, Enduro and Enduro Pro – each mode gives different ESA damping characteristics, although a plug-in dongle is required to access Enduro Pro.

 

Used guide: BMW R1200GS (2013 – 2018)

 

Brakes and wheels:

In order to give the GS a more road-orientated ride, BMW increased the width of its tyres/wheels to 120/70 at the front and 170/60 at the rear in 2013, the first time these dimensions had been used on an adventure bike. This gave the GS a larger tyre contact patch of 3-inchs at the front (up from 2.5-inchs) and 4.5-inchs on the rear (up from 4-inches). Lightweight 10-spoke cast alloy wheels were also incorporated and the brakes upgraded to Brembo monoblock four-piston calipers with ABS as standard.

 

Used guide: BMW R1200GS (2013 – 2018)

 

Electrics

Hold onto your hats because here comes a plethora of acronyms… Thanks to its new ride-by-wire throttle, the 2013 GS came with more electronic assists that you can shake a digital stick at. You have either as standard or the option of ABS, ASC (traction control) with five riding modes, Dynamic ESA, LED lights (the first on a road bike), cruise control, tyre pressure sensors (RDC), an immobilisor, alarm, heated grips, DRL and probably more beside. It’s fair to say customers weren’t left wanting for anything…

 

Used guide: BMW R1200GS (2013 – 2018)

 

Riding position:

Thanks to a slimmer tank, the updated GS feels less cumbersome than the model it replaced. The seat height is 20mm lower than before (850/870mm), helping those of a shorter leg, and you even get a manually adjustable screen. It’s typically adventure bike comfortable and a good place to spend time.

 

Pillions:

The GS is a decent pillion bike with a comfortable seat and good access to grab rails. Add in a top box and you won’t find many pillions complaining.

 

Used guide: BMW R1200GS (2013 – 2018)

 

What’s it like to ride? 

Then:

Like it or not, we are a nation of GS lovers and with 180,000 R1200GS’ sold over the last nine years, worldwide. That’s excluding the similar, but bigger Adventure.
Love them or hate them, the GS is here to stay.

The good news is that despite a new engine, which BMW are describing as air and oil cooled, a new chassis, semi-active suspension, new styling which takes the beak look to a whole new aggressive air, electronically adjustable semi-active suspension, and in fact, new everything, it still feels like a GS.

It’s just faster, sharper, lighter, looks more crafted and stops better than any GS before it. It is the best BMW GS yet made and incredible what it’s capable of. It covers ground quickly, it’s comfortable, fast enough to get you in trouble, yet more than capable enough to extend the limits of what you thought a GS would be capable of.

Strangely, as a man who’s run four GS’s over the past ten years, it took me more than the usual thirty miles to get used to it. The handling felt a little alien, it felt too quick steering compared to the old bike at first. But after fifty miles that all went and I really started to get to grips with it, and what a bike it is.

The motor feels like a GS motor but it’s got more everywhere. There’s more top-end power, making 125bhp at 7700rpm, but it hasn’t sacrificed much of the old air-cooled bike’s torque. Hit 70mph in top gear and it’s right on song at 4000rpm with enough to overtake without changing down, something you had to do on the old bike to make proper progress.

At lower speeds there’s still that warble from the boxer twin lump, and a slight  bit of sideways wobble when you blip the throttle from the torque reaction, but most of it has been dialled out.

In town the GS has never been easier to ride. The old dry clutch, which ate itself faster than a starved Labrador with its face in a bag of doughnuts, has been swapped for an anti-hop wet clutch. It’s smooth, combined with a gearbox that’s still not Suzuki slick, it’s a massive step on, but it’s way better than the previous generation.

It’s also  an incredibly quick-steering adventure bike, and the handling is all the better for it. You can tour gently and it sings through bends, using low revs to make the most of the flat-twin burble, or you can hustle.

In full hustle mode I occasionally turned the settings to Dyna for increased throttle response, and hard suspension for a bit firmer feel. But in truth it never really needed it, although you can feel the settings making a difference.

In Road mode, the traction control works perfectly, saving me from more than one slide. It’s intrusive under very hard power in the first two gears, flashing its orange lights at you and numbing the power, but it’s basically stopping you from wheelieing, and that can only be a good thing.

In the wet I used Rain mode, but to be honest, if you’re a decent rider you don’t really need it. It makes all the safety devices cut in much earlier and can be dialled in with the push of a button, just whip the clutch in and it activates. The tyres may look like they don't shift much water, but they feel great on this bike in the rain.

In short, it’s a GS – just considerably better in every way!

BikeSocial Review, 2013

 

Used guide: BMW R1200GS (2013 – 2018)

 

Now:

You simply can’t go wrong when it comes to buying a used GS. There is a reason this machine is so popular and as dull as it may sound – you honestly can’t ask for any more when you ride one. This is every bike you could ever want all rolled into one.

While the competition has attempted to either go more off-road (KTM) or more touring (Honda, Triumph) or just cheaper (Suzuki) no one has managed to capture the pure essence that makes the GS such a success. And in truth they probably never will. This is a unique bike that is so ruthlessly efficient you simply can’t fault it. Yes, it’s very common, but there is a reason for this and that’s because it is so bloody good… If you think you like the idea of owning a GS, the reality isn’t a letdown. A superb bike that has earned its reputation through just being brilliant at everything and despite the fact it has been updated for 2019, in truth the competition were still trailing way behind it anyway.

 

Check for:

You don’t hear of many major issues with the GS, however that isn’t to say they are fault-free, it is just a case of dealers sorting the problems out with minimal hassle. For this reason it is always best to buy a bike with a full service history from an authorised BMW dealer, just to be on the safe side.

With this box ticked you need to check the items that wear with age as getting parts replaced can be expensive. Inspect all the bearings (especially in the front end) and also the shaft drive for any grumbles or leaks. Be very wary of ESA-equipped bikes as you can’t rebuild the suspension units, which means a costly new unit if their seals or damping has gone, and watch out for flaking paint on the engine as this is a common issue. Corrosion starts to set in where the two engine cases meet and quickly spreads under the paint, causing it to drop off. A few owners have experienced switchgear failures, leaking water pumps and cracks in the screen around where it mounts, but these are relatively rare occurrences and should have been sorted by now.

The GS has had a few recalls (sidestand switch, front suspension tubes’ fixings) so ensure these have been completed, but other than these basics you are basically buying on price and specification.

 

Used guide: BMW R1200GS (2013 – 2018)

 

Updates:

There have been a few updates to the R1200GS (a steering damper arrived in 2014) and also a partial update, which is a bit odd. In 2016 a stop-gap model (often called the 2016.5) was released that used an updated 2017-spec engine in the 2016 bike’s frame, however the major update was to the 2017 model. The 2017 R1200GS features a Euro4-compliant boxer motor with altered cats and a new judder damper on the output shaft with the selector drum actuator and transmission shafts also revised for smoother gear changes. The ESA was also updated with a self-leveling function, which automatically sets the suspension’s height according to the bike’s load status where on the 2016 bike you have to manually set it. Cosmetically, there are also alterations to the clocks, radiator covers and screen on the MY17 bike. The R1200GS was discontinued in 2019, replaced by the new R1250GS with its updated boxer motor featuring variable valve timing and a larger capacity. The R1200GS Adventure was released in 2014 and follows the standard Adventure pattern of more off-road targeted suspension and a bigger 30-litre tank.

 

Prices:

The GS may be a common motorcycle, but its popularity and BMW’s strong residual values mean that their used prices remain high. There are a few bargain basement bikes out there, but often the reasons for a low price tag are cosmetic damage, high mileage or a lack of factory-fit options and these bikes are best avoided. Armed with around £8000 you can secure an early GS in good condition, which is a lot of money but also a lot of bike. If you want luggage then you will probably need to factor in another £500 and very low mileage bike with a good spec-list sells for in the £9000 area. If you want the updated 2017 model you need to be looking at spending over £11,000 with the fully-loaded TE models costing upwards of £12,000. Owning a GS isn’t cheap!

 

Specs:

Engine

1170cc, 8v, DOHC boxer twin

Power

125bhp @ 7700rpm

Torque

92ft.lb @ 6500rpm

Weight

238kg

Seat height

850/870mm

Tank size

20-litres

 

Servicing intervals:

Minor: 6000-mile/yearly – expect to pay in the region of £250

Major: 12,000-mile/ two-years – expect to pay in the region of £400

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