Did the arrival of the 2004 R1200GS Hexhead divide opinion much the same as the new WC has for quite a few GS owners ? I bought a 12GS in 2005 and didn't know at the time just how divisive the release of the 2004 12GS was and I wonder what the reactions of the old 1150 crowd at the time were considering that even today there still seems to be quite a void between owners of the 1150 and 1200 models ?
I took the new GS out for a spin as the sun was out, the roads dry and I made an effort to organize a demo ride. Unluckily, I was limited to only two hours as the bike was needed for NW200 duties later that day, but never the less, I headed off with great expectation and hope that this new model would reignite my fire for the brand, just like the 12GS did back in '04 when I first rode one.
Now, there's no doubting that this isn't anything but an acomplished motorcycle. The new engine seems smoother and obviously, the extra power that it now comes with is very noticable. But it lacks the character of the old air/oil cooled donkey and appears to me to actually be rather bland. Wind the throttle back and it certainly shoots forward with gusto, but there doesn't seem to be any drama going on. OK, it's not turbine smooth like a Jap Four, especially with noticable vibes coming through while cruising at 80ish mph, but that boxer feel just isn't there anymore to the same degree. What I did feel that I didn't like was how clunky the gearbox has become on the new model. My old '05 12GS had a really nice 'box and it snuck into first gear like a Ninja assassin sneaking behind your back to stick his Samuri sword into you. And the amount of missed gears I found was annoying as it seems that BMW have employed crab footed development riders to design the footpeg/gearlever ergos. I suppose many would say that you need to get it set up for the individual, but I've never had this problem on any other manufacturers demo bikes I've ridden.
I also take it that with time spent on the bike, the info panel within the clocks would become second nature, but initally I found it wasn't as intuitive as its main competitor, the KTM 1190. And what's with the tiny numbers on the speedo about ? C'mon Herr BMW, we're all getting older with failing eyesight and because the bike is so much quicker than the last model, keeping an eye on what speed you're doing is made harder by making the figures difficult to read at a glance. Maybe it's a ploy to cater for younger riders and to get all the old farts off the GS series.
I was able to have just enough time to take the bike down my favourite roads and was impressed with how the bike handled. Yes, this is still a very capable bike and experiancing the lack of dive from the front forks combined with the very strong brakes reminded me just how good a GS is at floating over road imperfections giving the rider the confidence to hustle on in an unseemly manner. It still doesn't give the ultimate feedback of, dare I say again, the KTM 1190 ? But it is an undeniably good package and I have no doubt that the different suspension modes work very well as I do think BMW are the leaders in this field. The riding position was the usual wide bar upright stance and swinging the bike side to side through the corners was so easy.
In summary, I think that the new WC will appeal to many riders that haven't considered the brand before. Yes, loads of GS fanatics will think that criticisms will be akin to heresy and those that don't agree with the expected platitudes should be burnt at the stake. But when you set yourself up as the top dog, you have to expect others to take a pop at you, especially when the latest and greatest doesn't have the same appeal to many people in the ever improving adventure bike market.
Maybe for me, and unlike the many new owners, it's a slow burner. However, I think back to how I felt when first riding the 2004 Hexhead and how that bike seemed so full of character. As I hinted earlier in my report, this bike has lost something for me and I don't think that a longer ride will significantly change my mind and that there's now a more impressive machine out there in an nice orange colour. And that machine did give me the fizz that the GS has lost in an even more explosive package.