The BMW R1250GS. On paper, and according to sales figures, the ultimate do-it-all motorcycle. So loyal is its following that most of the people reading these words will simply be looking to validate their existing purchase decision. Others will be hoping that I give another one of my controversially scathing reviews, justifying their own decision to be different. But who knows, maybe – like me – you haven’t yet made up your mind and are looking for an objective opinion. Let’s give it a go, shall we?
Straight away, we encounter a problem. The first two sales staff I speak to at my local BMW Motorrad dealership support the story that a motorcycle this popular usually sells itself. They both seem puzzled by my basic questions about the machine, pointing me to a showroom example and instead simply talking about how many other people have already bought one. The idea that I should need convincing to buy their product is apparently entirely alien, and their sales patter quickly runs out of steam. It’s constantly up to me to restart the conversation by asking questions about engine size, horsepower, and features like heated grips and seats.
Time and again the discussion keeps coming back to availability and lead times, as though my purchase is already a foregone conclusion. In the end, I give up and am handed off to a third staffer to arrange my own test ride. Careful, BMW; you would not be the first motorcycle brand that fell to hubris. But if despite worldwide supply chain constraints they’re still able to sell every unit they can build then perhaps their confidence is justified.
Let’s look at the facts. Aside from the occasional recent upset from Royal Enfield, BMW’s GS line dominates the sales charts year after year. The regular and big-tank Adventure model together are the biggest-selling motorcycles over 125cc in the UK, despite also being some of the most expensive. Owners are loyal, with surveys regularly showing that very few people would switch to another brand once they’ve joined the BMW club.
On paper, an R1250GS should be almost all things to almost all people. Big engine, plenty of performance, good tank range, comfortable seat, wind protection, heated grips, seat, luggage, pillion capacity, shaft drive, tyre pressure sensors, adaptive LED headlights, adjustable windshield, sophisticated automatic suspension, big brakes, cruise control, and probably the best dashboard in the business. It’s fast enough for people who want to go fast, practical enough for people who want to commute all year round, and the comfort and luggage capacity would satisfy the most ardent touring enthusiast. It’s supposedly capable enough off-road and I’ve even seen them scraping pegs at track days. The BMW GS is all things to all riders – assuming they can afford it.
The £18,500 I’m quoted is for a Touring Edition (TE) model, which basically means it has most of the bells and whistles that make a modern GS the bike you’ve read all those glowing reviews about. You can, in theory, factory-order a more basic model for around £14,000, but you’ll be getting a much more basic motorcycle. Worse, BMW won’t let you pick and mix options anymore – if you want heated grips you’ve got to get the entire Comfort Pack for £720. Want cruise control? That’ll be £885 for the complete Touring Pack. Without a doubt, you’ll end up paying for a lot of stuff you don’t need. Oh, and none of this includes panniers or a top box – basic stuff in this segment, which could easily push your total bill up to over £20,000.
But hey, maybe it’s worth it, even at that price. Riding away on a modern GS it’s hard not to be impressed; everything just…works. The handling is superlative, the telelever front suspension design giving you instant confidence to throw the big BMW into corners right away. Realise you’re going in too hot and the same clever suspension geometry ensures that you can drag the front brake through the bend without upsetting the chassis or running wide. Scrubbing off serious speed is equally easy, the braking performance entirely limited by your ability to brace yourself against the handlebars.
Getting to silly speeds is also effortless. 136bhp doesn’t sound like much in a world of 220bhp road-legal superbikes, but as the hot-rodder’s maxim goes, there’s no replacement for displacement. Combined with BMW’s clever ShiftCam system, this 249kg motorcycle can really hustle, the 1,254cc boxer remaining surprisingly smooth even when worked relatively hard. There isn’t the instant low-down shove you might expect, nor does the powerplant reward explorers who go hunting for upper limits of the rev range. But as road-focused power plants go, I’m not sure I’ve experienced better. It even sounds satisfyingly mechanical, and is honestly a lot of fun to use.
BMW have done a lot of work to improve both the throttle response and the quickshifter since I last reviewed one in 2018. Neither are perfect, with the off-idle response a little fluffy (a classic symptom of modern fuel injection systems squeezing through the latest emissions regulations) and the quickshifter is still a little notchy, though nowhere near as bad as it once was. Similarly, the latest ESA semi-automatic suspension does a pretty good job of balancing feel and comfort in both of its Dr Jekyll (Comfort) and Mr Hyde (Dynamic) riding modes.
That being said, for me at least neither was perfect, with the bike never seeming to quite settle even on longer, smoother roads. It’s a classic symptom of too-stiff springs holding a lighter-than-intended rider too high in the suspension’s stroke. Comfort is too soft and wallowy, Dynamic too jittery, and there’s zero adjustment possible beyond these two electronic mode switches. In a mechanical system you might be able to dial some of this out, but in my case I suspect softer springs would also be required. This mismatch also means that it’s very easy to spin up the rear wheel even in the dry, with the traction control having to step in and compensate for an easily-overwhelmed rear shock over broken tarmac.
The seat suffers from the same problem; at 75kg and around 180cm in my riding gear I’m no featherweight, but I always felt like I was surfing on top of the foam rather than sinking into it as designed. The bars were a bit far away and a bit wide for my shorter arms and narrower shoulders, and the levers were a stretch even at maximum adjustment. These issues won’t affect everyone, of course, and are fixable with aftermarket parts. But it’s difficult to go into a £20,000 purchase knowing that you’ll need to spend thousands more making the bike actually fit your size, weight, and shape.
The tech is mostly great, and the bike is littered with clever touches, like the tyre valves built into the spokes for easy access. The dashboard is easy to read on the go, though even as an I.T. professional I still get lost in the menus. The keyless ignition deserves special mention, enabling you to start and stop the bike, lock the steering, and even open the fuel filler cap without having to fish around in your pocket for the key. Fuel economy isn’t too bad, with over 200 miles easily achievable in sensible riding, and the 30-litre tank of the bigger Adventure version boost that to well over 300.
The rider’s seat can be adjusted for height without tools, the windshield adjustable with one hand while riding, the cruise control is easy to use and works well, and the preload on the rear shock automatically adjusts to set the bike at the correct height, regardless of how much weight you’ve added through luggage or passenger. The headlight even adjusts its beam as you ride around corners to maintain maximum visibility; it’s all genuinely very impressive.
In fact, the only other irritation I encountered in my time with the BMW R1250GS TE was that the sidestand is mounted unnaturally far forward, hidden from both view and my own boot by the left cylinder head. Hunting around to kick it out when trying to park the bike was surprisingly difficult, though I’m not sure how BMW could actually solve this. And, let’s face it, very few bikes are going to fit everyone, so at this point I’m somewhat resigned to having to budget £2,000-3,000 extra on top of every new bike I purchase to fix suspension and ergonomic issues.
But when the bike itself – with the luggage I’d want – is more than £20,000, that’s just…too much. For that price, I do expect BMW to fit the right seat, suspension, handlebars, and levers for someone of my size and weight. I could live with it as-is, I suppose, and I’m sure many do – after all, one size doesn’t actually fit anybody. But for that kind of cash I feel like I shouldn’t have to, and the cost of the add-on packs makes the GS feel bad value for money in my eyes. As I said earlier, BMW apparently has no trouble selling every single one they make even at this price. But as inflation bites and the older, well-heeled bikers propping up record sales figures age out of motorcycling, I wonder how many people – like me – will decide that it’s a little too rich for their blood.
The BMW R1250GS could be the best motorcycle in the world, but not, I’m afraid, at any price.
First published in Slipstream January 2023
See Nick’s other reviews here: Boy Meets Bike | Independent motorcycle news, reviews, and analysis