Ben Holbrook visits the Guildford BMW dealership to test ride an F800 GS, only to be talked into spending a couple of hours with a brand new R1200 GS Rallye. Here are his (honest) thoughts on this heavy-hitting adventurer.
I was dead set on the F800 GS. I’d been eyeing it up for months – years, even. It struck me as the perfect all-round bike, not too big, not too small. Capable, but affordable. I was ready to buy, actually, at least I was until I met David.
Windswept but excited to be in the presence of so many adventure bikes, I couldn’t help feel a little different from the other guys that were browsing the showroom. For a start, I still have a full head of hair and my 5’10 stonker of a girlfriend certainly attracted some attention. But David was a gent and made us feel welcome, asking if we were “looking for anything in particular?” “Yes!”, I said confidently, “We’re interested in the F800 GS”. He didn’t jump on my enthusiasm quite as I’d imagined. He could have passed me a pen and I would’ve signed for it then and there. But, instead, he sat us at his desk and offered us a coffee before asking us one of those questions only boring people really ask: “What kind of riding are you looking to do?” Come on, surely you can work that one out, I thought. “We want something that we can tour on. Something comfortable for the two of us. Something we can load up with travel stuff.” He had us, and the up sell began.
“Have you considered the R 1200 Gs? I think it’s a better suited bike for the kind of riding you want to do.” Of course I’d considered it, but it’s always struck me as too big and heavy to be any fun – what if you drop it? I’ve seen Longway down/round, just like everyone else. “Have you ever ridden one? You’d be surprised how light they are – they’re so well balanced” I’m sure they are, but you pay a small fortune for it, even if you buy a used one. “Look, before you make any decisions I’d really like you to take the 1200 out for a few hours, to see what you think.” It was a Saturday, and I was being offered brand new R1200 GS Rallye to test ride around the English countryside – I was hardly going to argue with the man. Five minutes later the three of us were standing out in the sun whilst David took me through the various options available to me: various riding modes that softened/stiffened the suspension for different surfaces, ABS, and buttons that let you flick through the “computer” to see things like fuel consumption, journey time/mileage, and a few other things that I missed because I was confused by the strange indicator switches. He even showed me how to raise and lower the seat, which, if I’m honest, seemed a bit dramatic. Just let me at her!
2.5 Hours on a R1200 GS Rallye – Was it Enough?
The bike didn’t feel as big as it looked, or as heavy, or cumbersome. I revved gently – as you do on unfamiliar bikes – and pulled off slowly into the road. The boxer engine sounded quite rough compared to my in-line 4 Honda, and my first feeling was that of utter disappointment. It just didn’t have much range in first gear. There was plenty of torque, but it didn’t accelerate how I imagined. I had assumed that a bike with 1200cc would rip my arms off, but it was fairly tame. I took a few laps around the industrial estate; Vines of Guildford (BMW dealership) is located on the infamous Slyfield Industrial Estate, which, by night, is better known as a (illegal) race track. There’s only one way in and one way out – one guy blocks the entrance and the rest of the boy racers are free to slide around the sharp corners and sprint down the short stretches in between – which is pretty much what I did on the BMW.
By lap two I was already getting ahead of myself; the bike gave me so much confidence that I felt like I’d been riding it all my life. Pot holes, cracks, bumps, up and down curbs; it took it all with such ease, and I liked it. My girlfriend, Sylvie, jumped on the back and we roared off in search of some faster roads to test it at high speeds (and I wanted to take it off road). We were soon flitting in and out of traffic, where a brand new Porsche 911 was in front. Of course, I challenged myself to keep up. It soon became obvious where all its power was and, even with the two of us the bike, I still felt the front end lifting as I accelerated aggressively in second and third gear – it was noisy but exhilarating. The handling was great and the wide bars made me feel like I was in charge. People stopped at junctions to let us out, guys in cars would rubber-neck as we rode passed and I was constantly reminded that we were on a bike that many could only dream of owning.
As I fiddled with the buttons on the bars I noticed that we were low on fuel, so I pulled over at a petrol station. We took pictures and I stood in silence, staring at the bike. All of a sudden I found it incredibly good looking, in a way I’d never considered before. I imagined us riding through deserts, up mountains, darting off road to chase herds of wilderbeast – everything and anything seemed possible.
We headed back to the garage, half lost, half hoping we were lost and stumbled across the old biscuit tin village of Shere, nestled idyllically among tree-canopied lanes. The dirt and stones that littered our path didn’t bother the bike one bit, and I purposely braked hard and fast, only to find that the ABS brakes really did work.
On the way back I realised that this was the bike for me, for us. It’s comfortable in ways the 800 could never be and more capable than anything else in its class. They come with full luggage as standard, and literally cry out for you to grab hold of it and fulfill your wildest fantasies. I must admit, if it was just me I was buying for then the 800 would suffice, but for anyone serious about long distance, two-up riding, it has to be the 1200. Forget the price difference, the higher running costs and insurance fees, if you can afford it, or even if you can’t, you really need one of these in your life.