24 March 2013

2013 R1200GS "Wasserboxer" - Initial Impressions


The 2013 BMW R1200GS ("watercooled" boxer) arrived at our local dealership (San Jose BMW) and yesterday was the day for test rides - an email was sent out to customers to stop by and ride it. And that I did. I actually wanted to go there for the social aspect and to take another look at the new GS, not really planning on riding it as I didn't have much time.

But when I got there, Chris asked whether I'd like to ride it and as nobody was in line at that time I decided to go for it and give it a spin. The immediate feel was that the seat is now firmer than on the old one and narrower in the front while the ergonomics fit really well, handlebar spot on where I expect it to be, foot pegs a little high (or seat a little low), but the seat was in the lower of the two settings (according to Chris it doesn't make that much of a difference any more, not like the old one), screen was dialed down low.

First blip of the throttle surprised me - super light action of the throttle, engine spins up very fast. I was a bit surprised by the light throttle action, but got used to it within a few hundred meters. No big problem so far. But, what I noticed when leaving the parking lot and in the first turns: that thing felt dog slow when turning in. Wow, the old GS didn't feel like this, the Tiger doesn't feel like this, I immediately disliked it. The whole front felt weird to me. No feedback (I'm used to that part of the Telelever), but also that slow turn in - hmmm, not a good start into the test ride.

I did some side streets in San Jose, then got on the highway (280 and 17) to try out wind protection and high speed handling. Wind was super loud so I leaned forward while riding and turned the windshield adjuster until the shield was all the way up - much, much better then. In that settings windprotection and comfort were really good for standard equipment. Very little noise, nearly no buffeting at the helmet, good protection for upper body and legs. On the way back I noticed some heat on my left leg, just above the boot (Sidi Adventure GoreTex, so a very high boot) and around the knee. Probably air coming out of the left side water cooler being blown there. I was wearing the Sidi boots, jeans + knee protectors, so hard to say  how it would feel with riding pants. Might be not so nice with very light weight pants or mesh pants. But don't read too much into this, I didn't have enough time on the bike to tell whether that was any real concern.

But again I noticed that the steering felt really heavy, especially when speed went up a notch, around 70mph it felt like it wouldn't want to change course at all. Some might say that this is "stability" while I noticed it very negatively.

Now on the highway the new engine really shines. It vibrates quite a bit but it wasn't annoying, and okay, I'm coming from a Triumph triple, so pretty much everything feels not as as smooth. The engine still feels agricultural in its behavior. A little grumpy at low revs, some engine/transmission/drivetrain lash, but spinning easy and good to ride at mid revs. And very, very powerful. There is absolutely no comparison to my Tiger, this bike feels like it has twice the power + torque, not 30% more. It's a very fast bike, quick acceleration and power everywhere. This is nice for the hooligan in me, but utterly useless in 90% of my normal riding. BMW definitely got a step closer to the Multistrada with that.

Getting off the highway and on to some twisty mountain roads again the steering came up first. It felt like I was taking corners way wide because I couldn't get that thing to lean over. Not a nice feeling. I got a little used to it further into the ride and my lines became better, but man, what a difference to the old bike and to my Tiger. I very, very much prefer how my Tiger handles, and if I recall this correctly the old one was more comparable to the Tiger than to the new GS. The bike I rode had standard suspension, not the new dynamic ESA, and it had the Metzeler Tourance Next tires. I'm not certain wether tire pressure or suspension setup was correct, so that might also be something to look into.

What I also noticed when riding the mountain roads was that the gear box was clunky compared to the Tiger 800. If my memory doesn't let me down here it felt about as clunky as the 2010 GS I owned, just in a different way, shifting came with quite a bit of noise and resistence, drive train lash didn't help here either. It was the first time in 13 years (last time on a R65) that I felt a shaft drive as a negative. It felt loose, clunky, throttle on/off transitions where harsh and accompanied with a noticeable clack when the final drive caught again. Right now I'm used to a properly set up chain, the differences were obvious and not very good. But I think that might just be a matter of getting used to the different feeling again.

I turned around halfway up Bear Creek Road and rode back. Ah, the much missed tight turning radius again. That beast feels like you can turn in on a dime. The general turning radius is super small for a bike that size, not like the oil-tanker like radius of the Tiger. Back down, I already noticed that I got used to the handling a bit more, cornering lines were much better, but still not feeling like I think they should. Back on the highway, the engine took over again, very impressive what they have done with the new boxer.

Some testing of the brakes also revealed that they are absolutely superb. Incredibly well defined, very powerful, and of course, thanks to the Telelever, virtually no dive.

As mentioned, this was a standard model that didn't have the new dynamic ESA. Suspension spring rate felt soft, damping felt harsh, rebound seemed kind of okay, but there was a little bounce tendency. I never really liked the BMW setup for damping on the GS, but will defer to the time when I can test ride a bike equipped with the new Sachs dynamic suspension.

Overall, I got off the bike and wasn't that impressed. I was happy to get on my nicely tuned Tiger again, feeling the smooth engine, the easy shifting, the great wind protection, and the well tuned in suspension.

Still, I'm looking forward to a longer test ride on a bike equipment with active suspension and maybe broken in and beyond the first oil change and setup. That'll tell me more.

And one more thing to keep in mind: given the hype around this new bike, I just expected it to blow me away. And it didn't. That was maybe the biggest letdown.

16 March 2013

Gearing up for the Summer Tour

After some thinking and head scratching on what luggage to get for the F650GS for our planned summer tour (California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona) we decided on Jesse Luggage.

The main reason was that they provide adequate space without getting too wide, plus they are top loaders which comes in handy when stuffing in camping equipment and other assorted bits and pieces. The other nice thing is that we got them keyed all the same, Jesse keyed the F650GS cases for the same key as my Tiger cases - very handy.

Our Trusty Steeds

The cases on the F650GS are an overall width of 96cm, not really narrow, but not too bad either for a volume of over 80L. The Tiger has probably about 95L usable volume and is (after installation of a smaller exhaust) at 94cm width (96.5cm with the OEM exhaust).

~ 240L Luggage Volume – Way too much to use all

We installed the cases today, it's a well thought out rack system attaching to the OEM luggage mounting points, got them adjusted straight and nice. Looks good on the bike.

F650GS in Full Touring Trim

Another good thing is that the Micatech luggage liners I had for my old R1200GS cases fit fairly nicely in the bottom wide part of the new cases, so we'll probably get some liners for the upper part to get our stuff easier into a hotel/motel room or into the tent. Saves us a bit.

Didn't get too wide ...

I really like the Charcoal color Andrea selected for her cases and wish now I had gotten the same. But the black ones on the Tiger look good as well.

The test ride today took us – as so often – up CA9 over Skyline Blvd to the view point just on "the other side" of Skyline. From there we backtracked to Skyline and rode north to Alice's Restaurant, had some coffee and great apple pie and took Page Mill Road towards home. We were super careful there, saw lots and lots of deer on the meadows on the side of the road, no wonder I had that accident there ...

03 March 2013

Four Good Reasons for a Blog Post

I admit I was lazy in the last few weeks. I should have written a bit here and there about a bad experience with the local Triumph dealer where I had my Tiger repaired, but I think that might be for another time. It is repaired now after three times going back to the shop to tell them about bad work, forgotten work, cutting corners.

But, getting back to the four reasons to write a blog post today:

1) Tiger is back on the road again

As mentioned above, it took a few tries in the shop to get the Tiger right. A few times I brought it home, checked it out and brought it back to the shop. A very frustrating experience and I still have to write an open letter to Triumph about this. I will also post this here.

What it comes down to is the renewed fact for me that even if I love a bike on a test ride I will first of all make sure I have a local shop I trust to do service and repairs. Especially warranty work is a problem in that regard as that is only provided by the manufacturer licensed shops. And in short: the Triumph service here in the South Bay isn't worth a penny. I was very close to selling the Tiger out of sheer frustration and getting a Beemer again - at least for that I have a local shop (BMW San Jose) that I have a little confidence in. Decided to leave that for a different time though - when the new R1200GS has matured a little and the first niggles are sorted out by BMW.

But, now on to much nicer topics.

2) First time I rode Page Mill Road after the accident in December

For me, one of the most important steps in getting back on the bike was to ride the same road again where I had the accident. It's one of my favorite roads in the whole area, it's the road I use to ride up to Alice's Restaurant, it's the road we mostly use to get into the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Yesterday I rode that route again and I felt okay. Careful, with lots of anticipation and slower and more careful than I usually ride – but I did it just fine and I feel better now. I also feel better about riding the Tiger again, now that I have that "test" done.

3) Andrea rode the Tiger the first time

When we were up at Skyline Blvd (CA35), I pulled over to the side and we switched bikes. I had offered Andrea a test ride on the Tiger for quite a while now and at one point snagged a low seat on ADVRider.com and now the time had come.

So we switched, I rode the trusty F650GS for a while and Andrea was following me on the Tiger 800. That was weird - seeing the completely different shape in the mirrors, at least when there was something to see in the mirrors when they weren't shaking due to the single cylinder vibration of the GS. The familiar but still unfamiliar look of the dual headlights, the wider stance, the different shape, and hearing the triple whine over the intercom and not underneath me was weird.

Andrea on the Tiger

Andrea managed great. We said that if she wanted we could switch again after about 10 miles on a view point along the way, but we passed that one, and passed more and more places and in response to my question whether she wanted to switch back again, I only heard "Switch? Why? I'm feeling just fine ...".

I guess the experience of riding the Tiger was very pleasurable, no need to switch gears all the time, just sometimes to modulate the sound level a little bit, the silky smooth, nearly vibration free feel of the engine, the otherwise very similar handling of the bike – it looked like Andrea was feeling all right. And she was. 50 miles and lots of nice curvy roads later we arrived at Road Rider in San Jose where we wanted to look for a new, slightly more protective (gauntlet style) pair of summer gloves for Andrea and I finally got my Tiger back.

80 mile loop - Andrea rode 50 of these miles on the Tiger

4) Andrea got a pair of really nice new gloves

And here's now the fourth reason for this post, a nice new pair of gloves:

Held Evo Thrux Glove

It's a very nice feeling and looking glove. High gauntlet with a protective pad on the side, kangaroo skin palm, padded super fabric inlays in slide areas,  hard knuckle protection, more padding on top of the fingers and still great ventilation. A nice new glove for her and some added protection as a bonus.

I have a set of Held Air & Dry on order from Held USA directly, they aren't available at this time but should come back in in March. Hopefully they arrive soon – they are the replacement gloves for my BMW Summer Gloves that I damaged in my accident. Things are coming together again.