Scoop Review: BMW R 1250 GS in Portugal
Story: Mat Durrans
Pics: BMW Press
As the track veers down into the very bottom of this narrow valley once again the hard-pack surface becomes more rocky, eventually morphing into stones worn smooth by the river. A river that isn’t here during the hot summer months in Portugal and whose dry bed now forms my route for this test ride of BMW’s new for 2019, R 1250 GS.
When not packed tight against the side of larger boulders these oversize pebbles are loose and for someone of my embarrassingly limited off-road skills they constitute a serious, borderline terrifying obstacle.
I know what needs to be done, but it still takes all my willpower to remain standing on the footpegs, not drop down to first gear and counter-intuitively apply more throttle. The front wheel bounces and wriggles worryingly and everything seems destined for a crash, but as usual the GS just shrugs off the challenge, ignores my barely muffled whimpering and chugs through the riverbed in search of the next obstacle.
The GS has always been good at this sort of thing, but it’s undoubtedly better than ever now. On the faster gravel sections it is equally at home, and when an unexpected sandy corner approaches late in the day and my world appears to be coming to a rapid end it tracks confidently through this most dreaded of hurdles and keeps me upright and what’s left of my battered pride mercifully intact.
I’m on the HP version for this part of the day’s ride, but the standard model of the R 1250 GS that I rode along the morning’s road route brings all the same tools to the task and would deal with the challenges in exactly the same way.
The existing R 1200 GS is South Africa’s best-selling big bike and it’s BMW’s most successful model across the globe. That means this 1250 is a vitally important update both for us as potential customers and for it as a manufacturer. It must get this update right, and it has.
The increased competence during slow-speed off-road manoeuvres and a noticeably zestier performance on-road are due not to any chassis tweaks but to a significant development within the boxer engine. Of course the swelling of displacement from 1170cc to 1254cc helps generate bigger power and torque numbers that now stand at 100Kw (up 9%) and 143Nm (up 14%), but it is the new BMW ShiftCam design that is rightfully stealing all the headlines.
This system of alternate cams for low engine speeds and loads and then for higher rpm introduces variable valve timing to the boxer engine for the first time. Combine this with asynchronous opening of the two inlet valves of each cylinder at low rpm and you have an engine that almost has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde element to its character.
The idea is to get the best of both worlds which in this case means a torque-laden beast at low rpm – more now than any other adventure bike – matched by increased horsepower levels at high rpm. Maybe no room for Mr. Hyde in this situation then, rather more of a Dr. Jekyll and even nicer Dr. Jekyll scenario.
The switch between each side of this character happens seamlessly, you simply cannot feel the moment the swap between the cams happens. Other than a slightly more mellifluous note to the exhaust it feels much as it always did, bar the significant hike in lower rpm performance and an increased smoothness within the same rev range.
Supporting this headline development are two very useful electronic upgrades that aid safety and convenience. Dynamic Brake Control (DBC) helps out when piling on the brakes in an emergency by ensuring that no accidental throttle application is allowed to interfere with the serious job of slowing down.
Hill Start Control Pro (HSC Pro) builds on the existing Hill Start Control by automatically activating the parking brake shortly after the bike has come to a standstill and the front or rear brake has been engaged and there’s a slope of 5% gradient or more involved. Sounds a little complicated, but works so well you never notice you’re receiving this welcome bit of help.
The full colour TFT screen will now be standard on all GS models and is a quality piece of kit that allows you to easily control the bike’s many electronic options through a series of clear menus. During an intensely sunny Portugal summer day and while covered with a thick layer of dust it was still clearly legible.
The GS hasn’t been on the end of any improvements to chassis, suspension or even aesthetics, which may disappoint some. I’d like to have seen some tasteful styling cue that would alert my fellow bikers that I was on the newest member of the GS family, but then I am a bit shallow like that. As for chassis and suspension mods, that old truism about unbroken bits not needing fixing really does apply here.
This new generation of the GS may be hiding its new tricks up its all-too familiar sleeves, but that doesn’t make them any less impressive. The engine, always the bike’s characterful strong point, is now significantly improved, and that can only be a good thing for BMW and for us.
The R 1250 GS will be available in South Africa during the first quarter of 2019.