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.


  1. Interesting post; all the bike magazine articles I've read have raved about it - it's nice to get another perspective on it. Thanks for an informative and enjoyable read.

    1. Thanks. As I said: I expected the GS to blow my $12k (including suspension modifications) Tiger 800 out of the water. And as that plain didn't happen I was disappointed. It's still a very enjoyable bike and I'm really looking forward to a test ride where I have a few hours, more twisty roads, and definitely more time to verify and play with all the various settings.

  2. Oh no, and you were so much looking forward to this. I could already see you riding home on one of those. However, after having had the Triple motor, will you ever look back?

    Interesting, I wonder if a few more miles and some custom features would make it better for you...

    1. I'm certain a longer ride on the bike would have eliminated some of the concerns because, as often said, a GS is acquired taste. You have to get used to the different behavior and handling, especially when coming from a bike that has different concepts like standard fork vs. Telelever, chain vs. shaft, ...

      At some point I want to test ride a GS with the dynamic suspension and see whether that gives a better feel, because I think a lot of my concerns came from either bad or not properly set up suspension.

      Regarding the triple: yes, it's hard to compare to that one, but the engine wasn't my may concern, it was handling, suspension, and drive train.

      We'll have to see.