Why a GS Adventure Over a GS in 2023?
February 02, 2023 · Original photos
Back in the summer of 2013, I came home from a ride that featured unexpected offroad riding and extreme mountain twisties. Unfortunately, I was on an heavy, slow, lumbering touring bike. I was dreaming of a more nimble, off-road friendly bike during much of this ride, and set my sights on the newly-redesigned BMW R1200GS. BMW’s GS is the gold standard of Adventure bikes, which are road- and off-road-friendly. In fact, GS stands for “Gelände/StraBe,” which translates literally to “terrain/road.”
I took my own advice and waited for BMW to work out the kinks in their first model year of the redesign, and factory ordered a 2014 R1200GS. Even though BMW builds an Adventure version of the GS, nicknamed the GSA, I went with the base-level because the Adventure version had not yet been redesigned. BMW put enormous effort into a brand new engine, suspension, and bodywork with the 1200GS and it was glorious:
A brand new design in a 1200GS versus the “old generation” 1200GSA was a no-brainer. Plus, the GS held some advantages over the GSA:
- It’s was smaller bike back then. That made it lighter and a bit more nimble on the road.
- It looks sleeker, more like a performance bike.
- The lighter weight and narrower body panels make it easier to maneuver in the garage and driveway.
Even after BMW upgraded the Adventure with the 1200cc engine, it was still only a partial update. Older bodywork remained, and the engine began to diverge from the base GS in a variety of ways.
So the Berlin factory built me a beautiful new 2014 black R1200GS. It’s no understatement to say that it was the most capable, confidence-inspiring, well-built motorcycle that I have ever owned. Trips on that bike stretched from hundreds into thousands of miles. I rode it over more mountain ranges that I can remember. I found myself riding through herds of bison, across roads being washed out by floods, racking of over 700 miles in a day, and more.
During a 2016 ride around Europe, I rented a GSA just to compare and validate my decision. It felt a bit heavier and not quite as nimble. While a fun ride, I was happy with my choice back home. The fact that I kept the GS six years is a testament to how well it fit me and suited my riding needs. In 2020, I traded it in for a very different style of bike: a BMW 1250RT. It featured a even newer drivetrain platform, purer focus on road performance, and better wind protection. The RT is parf of BMW’s touring line-up of bikes, instead of adventure. It has been a wonderful bike, my second RT in fact, but I dind’t ride it nearly as much as before. I chaulked some of that up to COVID, but the truth was that I didn’t rush to hop on it and take off with quite the lust that I did the GS.
When I brought the RT in for its first major service, the latest-model GSs and GSAs were there in the showroom, staring me down.
These were the R1250 platform, a significant engine upgrade from the R1200. More importantly, BMW revised both the GS and the GSA in lock-step, doing a bodywork and electroncis update on the GSA at the same time that they updated the drivetrain. The R1250 generation saw identical frames and drivetrains between both GS and GSA. I test rode both and was very surprised with what I found: The increased power and better balance of the R1250 drivetrain negated the perceived performance difference. Yes, there is about 42 extra pounds of weight on the GSA, but with identical performance, the perks start to really matter:
- Huge 7.9-gallon fuel tank on the GSA, versus 5.3 on the GS
- Better wind protection, which matters a lot up here in the Pacific Northwest during chilly riding weather
- Full crach protection, with upper and lower protection bars. Unlike in 2013-14, these are now atop molded body panels that suck in the profile a bit
- Better suspension travel
- Preconfigured with pannier mounts for higher-end luggage
Many moto journalists have covered the relative benefits of either bike, from LoneRider to The Missenden Flyer to Big Rock Moto.
Both the GS and GSA were amazing rides, but this test riding had an even more profound impact at the time: I had to trade the RT in and get back to the GS platform. I really missed it, and the 2023 R1250GSA was the new target bike.
There was one more consideration that could impact a purchase like this: rumors of an entirely new GS platform next year. Spy shots and videos of an R1300GS prototype have been appearing frequently. It looks like a complete platform redesign at the level of the 2013 update. That has pros and cons: certainlly the engine will be more powerful (around 150 horsepower) and the electronics will change. The fairing styling will get updated, and personal taste will dictate whether it’s better or not. Were I to wait, I’d wait an extra year again for the kinks to be worked out. Instead, I decided to purchase one of what is likely to be the last model year of this 2013 - 2024 generation of 1200 and 1250 GS motorcycles. They are proven, reflect nearly a decade of gradual improvements, and I think they’re absolutley beautiful.
Supply chain problems made it hard to find a full-optioned model, so once again I worked with the great folks at BMW Motorcycles of Seattle to place an order from the factory in Germany. My “Triple Black” GSA was built on December 14, arrived in at port in New York on January 11, and should be unloaded from a rail car here in Seattle any day now. I’ll share unboxing footage just as soon as it touches down in Seattle.