BMW's 1200GS gets (very) serious!
It’s now a quarter of a century since BMW released the R 80 G/S and in so doing created a new class of motorcycle – the large capacity off-roader. An ideal off-road tourer with great manners on a dirt road ithas not really had much more sporting pretence than that. Yes, it did win the Paris-Dakar Rally at different times but only through superhuman riders and massive machine development. Though the showroom machine has evolved through massive engine redesigns and a capacity increase to 1200cc, no-one in their right mind would seriously contemplate going into a harsh off-road environment on a BMW GS model for fun until now. The new BMW HP2 is a genuine large capacity, lightweight boxer-engined high performance off-road machine. How lightweight? VERY - try 175 kg dry!!!!
The new HP designation will be akin to the “M badge on BMW four-wheeled machinery, signifying focussed, high performance variants of the BMW Motorrad range. It’s all part of a major push within BMW to develop a wider following amongst younger sportier riders, illustrated by recent new machinery such as the K1200R and K1200R.
The development of the GS range began in the late 1970s with BMW’s support of various teams in off-road events such as the famous International Six Day Trial (subsequently ISDE) though off-road sports activities of this kind had been a tradition extending all the way back to the 1930s with BMW.
The final impetus came when BMWs won the unlimited class of the German Off-road Cham-pionship in 1979, with a group of enthusiasts inside BMW’s Motorcycle Division pushing upper management to develop a series machine for homologation based on the experience gained with competition models. Tests with the first prototypes were an immediate success convincing BMW Motorrad to begin the series development process.
The world’s two-cylinder large enduro entered a market in 1980, which up to that time had consisted exclusively of single-cylinder models. Displacing 800 cc and featuring both a driveshaft and a single swinging arm, the R 80 G/S was a sensation and opened up a brand-new, previously untapped market segment – the segment of large capacity, all-round touring enduros.
The R 80 G/S quickly became the ideal motorcycle for the committed globe-trotter, with enthusiasts the world over appreciating the performance reserves, the long-distance comfort and the surpris-ing off-road qualities of this touring enduro machine.
BMW off-road machines participated from the start in the long-distance Paris-Dakar Rally and French desert specialist Hubert Auriol won the motorcycle category in 1981, repeating his success in 1983. Former World Motocross Cham-pion Gaston Rahier from Belgium also brought home the title in 1984 and 1985.
Launched in 1988, the R 100 GS raised the outstanding qualities of BMW’s off-roader to an even higher standard. Indeed, this was the largest enduro in the world at its time. And with worldwide sales amounting to 69,000 units, the R 80/R 100 GS was also a huge success in the market.
A completely new machine based on the brand-new 1085cc four-valve engine was introduced in 1994, upping available horsepower from the R100GS’s 60 horses to 80 horsepower.
The R 1150 GS was introduced into the market in autumn 1999 and the capacity was upped to 1170cc in 2004 with the upgrading to the 1200 GS and its 98 bhp motor – almost exactly double the power of the original R 80 G/S model (50 bhp). Since 1980 BMW Motorrad has sold approximately 170,000 units of the GS Boxer to customers the world over.
But the “GS” designation, which stands for “Gelände/Straße” or Off-road/Road has always been a perfect description of the machine’s orientation.
The machines offer a wide range of qualities and practical values and they are the ideal compromise for adventure touring. Riding the R 1200 GS in moderate terrain is easy and safe, and the experienced motorcyclist is also able to traverse tough off-road condi-tions.
On the road, the GS has always been a sweet handling machine on winding country roads and mountain passes. And with its effective windshield, the R 1200 GS enables the rider to cover even long stretches on the motorway without undue pressure.
But the HP2 offers way more and looks like the real deal off-road unrestricted riding pleasure off the beaten track. Until we’ve ridden it, we’ll stand shy of BMW’s claim the machine is “perfect as the basic machine for amateur enduro motorsport.”
But it may not be complete copywriter over-caffeination – in producing the HP2, BMW has used every trick available to reduce the wight from the portly 225 kilogram wet weight of the 1200 to an astonishing 196.5 kilograms for the HP2. Dry weight, in turn, is a mere 175 kilos – truly remarkable and although it’s not going to be easy hauling it over a log or pushing it the last 20 metres up a muddy hill, it won’t be downright impossible.
This brand-new model from BMW Motorcycles was developed by a small but highly dedicated team of specialists, engineers and mechanics fully committed to the Boxer and also dedicated in their private lives to off-road motorsport, working beyond the usual processes of series development under the simple and straightforward motto that "only an enthusiastic professional can offer another enthusiastic professional what he really wants".
In technical terms the BMW HP2 is based on the R 1200 GS, but tailored in every respect to the needs and preferences of the serious off-road rider. Gone is the telelever, replaced by upside down forks. The rear suspension is an even great departure from the norm, being claimed by BMW as a world first based on BMW’s experiences in marathon rallies such as the Dakar. It is an all-new lightweight air/spring/damper system on the rear wheel weighing just 2.3 kilograms and offering a number of advantages over existing metal-spring, oil-damped units.
The air spring strut comes with three sequential air chambers, connected to one another by ducts. An aluminium cylinder forms the two upper chambers, separated from one another by a piston. Longitudinal movement of the separating piston compresses air within the cylinder, the air thus acting as a kind of spring. At the same time a defined volume of air flows into the other chamber via plate valves - or slot throttles - and, through their throttling effect, dampens sudden wheel travel.
The lower air chamber is formed by a gas-tight rolling gaiter made of rubber tissue, giving the damper freedom of movement and seals the spring strut to the outside, avoiding the need for a piston rod seal, which would merely increase friction within the system. The resistance built up by the rubber gaiter when rolling over a specially shaped cone supplements the progressive effect of the system.
Outside, the spring strut is fully sealed and air-tight. Any leakage which might occur can be compensated by topping up the air through a valve. External variation of internal pressure also permits simple adjustment of seat height by adding or discharging air as required, although spring travel is reduced with the seat set to a lower position, making this setting more appropriate for moderate riding conditions.
Adjusting the system to different load conditions is a very simple operation requiring only a small change in air pressure. A small inspection balance on the rear frame allows the rider to read the normal setting of the motorcycle.
To adjust the system while travelling, the R 1200 GS HP2 comes fitted with a high-pressure pump complete with a pressure gauge – which is also suitable for pumping up the tyres after having reduced tyre pressures when riding in rough terrain.
A unique feature of the air/spring damper system is the option to vary the damping effect as a function of frequency, achieved by adapting the inner flow system with the slot throttles to suit rider preferences.
A major benefit of this unique system is a significant improvement in rear-wheel traction on undulating surfaces. The range of damping effect is factory-configured in the frequency bands of the swinging arm system operating on bumpy surfaces, enabling the wheel to follow uneven surfaces and maintain optimum ground contact.
This means even better traction when accelerating flat-out, as well as extra safety in applying the brakes, for even greater riding pleasure.
Whenever the suspension system threatens to bottom out completely, as is often the case on long and protracted sections of corrugations, on surface “waves” and under high loads, the natural adjustment of the air spring rates, together with frequency-specific damping, mitigates against excessive compression to prevent the motorcycle from using up all available suspension travel.
The basic set-up of the dampers may also be adjusted by a hand wheel opening up a bypass in the damper. This allows adjustment in two stages between a more comfort-oriented roadgoing set-up and a firmer setting for rough terrain.
A further, significant advantage of the system also lies in the complete resistance of the spring strut to dirt and contamination from outside, thanks to the fully enclosed surface. This rules out even the slightest wear on the seals and guide units even in the finest desert sand.
Much of the redesign can be traced to BMW’s participation in recent Dakar Rallies and other major desert events with its R900R machines.
If you’re a GS enthusiast, you’ll no doubt be looking at this machine and wanting one – better move quickly – there will be a limited supply and demand will almost certainly greatly exceed supply by several factors. Accordingly, the price tag which has yet to be specified beyond “more than the existing 1200 model”, will probably become a lot more before the HP2 becomes available in Q3 this year.
Given its heritage, this will be a motorcycle worth riding in fast off-road terrain. Not many will get the opportunity.