BMW     R1200GS

by Jeff Dean

Last updated March 27, 2017

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The linformation below was written in 2005 and is now out of date.
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Above: a new “ocean blue metallic” 2005 R1200GS equipped with the R1200GS's new saddlebags, cylinder protection bars, and R1200GS tank bag (left, in Tucson) and with an R1150GS tank bag and Cee Bailey leather saddle (right, in Madison). For more information on tank bags, click here: tank bags—a PDF file. The photo on the right shows PIAA 510 driving lights installed. The black saddles and side panels are distinct from the gray versions sold on European R1200GSs.

I have been riding BMW and other motorcycles for about 40 years. Over the years I have owned and ridden over 50 different BMW motorcycles. Without a doubt, the R1200GS is the most delightful motorcycle I have ever ridden. Why? It's the combination of power (torque), light weight, handling, suspension, brakes, and off-road capability. Together they make a motocycle that is fun and exciting to ride.

Photo above: Here I am riding the R1200GS on a rocky Arizona back trail near Gardner Canyon north of Sonoita. The GS is in its element here, but for me, at my off-road skill level, it really isn't suited for trails much worse than this one. (Photo by Jim Strang.)

In 2004, the R1200GS was named Bike of the Year by Motorcyclist magazine and Open Class Street Bike of the Year by Cycle World magazine, and was presented the Gold Award by the Industrial Design Society of America. In June 2005, Rider magazine named the R1200GS “Motorcycle of the Year.” In September 2005, Motorcyclist magazine named the R1200GS the “Best Adventure Bike of 2005” and named the R1200RT the “Best Touring Bike.”

My early impressions? This is the neatest motorcycle engine I have ever experienced, subsequently equalled by the R1200RT. Very smooth (counter balance shaft and calibrated counter weight, counter balance shaft drive gears, crankshaft, and integrally counter-weighted flywheel), torquey (85 lbs./ft), and powerful (100 HP). The transmission (all helical cut gears) shifts like a sharp knife through warm butter. The bike is much lighter than the R1150GS that I traded in for it. With its light weight and more powerful engine this motorcycle is a blast to ride. The power assisted ABS brakes, of course, are fantastic and they are only partially integrated on this bike so the rear brake pedal operates only the rear brake. The only change I would wish for would be an electrically adjustable windshield, something like the one found on the R1150RT. I really love that feature.

New owners of the R12GS, take heed: Your speedometer may be quite accurate! It may not offer the ± 5 MPH “speed cushion” at highway speeds you are used to on BMW motorcycle models since 1969. The speedo on my R12GS reads 70 MPH at a true 69.5 MPH, as checked by a GPS unit. Other owners report similar results.

Here are some of the key changes from the 2004 R1150GS to the 2005 R1200GS. Horsepower is up 18% from 85 to 100 HP. Torque is up 20% from 71 to 85 foot-pounds. Weight is down from 536 to 496 pounds. Displacement is up from 1140 to 1170cc. Alas, alternator output is down 14% from 700 watts to 600 and fuel capacity is down 10% from 5.8 to 5.2 gallons. Later R1150GSs had power assisted brakes, like the 1200GS, but the early ones did not. The R1200GS comes with stainless steel brake lines.

BMW has introduced the second in the so-called “hex-head” series of boxer engined motorcycles after the R1200GS. It's the R1200RT, which is designed to replace the legendary middle-weight sport-tourer, the R1150RT.

Here is the R1200GS web page of BMW Motorrad USA.  And here are complete R1200GS specifications presented by Iron Horse Motorcycles, Tucson, Arizona.

Photos above: The bags on the left are shown in their standard position. All R1200GS bags can be extended by means of a lever mechanism inside them to the size of the bags on the right.

Cee Bailey offers both headlight guards (above left) and windshields (above right — at +6" this is C.B.'s tallest) for the R1200GS. C.B.'s Steve Chlavin continues to move quickly to supply products for new models, and his products are among the very best.

Photo above: Here is Cee Bailey's leather saddle for the R1200GS — it is a huge improvement over the stock saddle! Before I got this saddle, I could barely ride the R1200GS for 100 miles; now that limitation is gone.

Photos above: The BMW protection bar for the R1200GS is shown on the left. The RCU Designs “GS1200” accessory shelf is shown on the right. The latter is very sturdy and can hold accessories like thermometers, radar detectors, GPS units, satellite radios, etc.  I acquired mine from Iron Horse Motorcycles in Tucson.

Photos above: PIAA Super White 510 driving lights, PIAA Sports Horns, and the Cee Bailey headlight protector for the R1200GS is shown on the left. The RCU Designs R1200GS light bar holding PIAA 510 driving lights is shown on the right. I wired the lights directly to the battery, and ran the relay wire to the accessory socket. I mounted the PIAA switch inside the left hand protector where I can reach it with my forefinger and where it is in the shade, so the switch's tiny LED is visible.

The stock horn on the R1200GS is feeble and monotone—like that on an MSF training bike
(why, BMW, put such an anemic horn on the GS when those on the RT work so well?). After experiencing several lane incursions wherein my sounding the stock horn produced no response by auto drivers moving into the lane I was occupying, I decided a major horn improvement was in order. I purchased a pair of PIAA Sports Horns (see photos above) and, from Radio Shack, an inexpensive auto relay (part no. 275-226). Notice the rain deflectors on the PIAA horns. I decided to use a relay so as not to cause any potential problems with the GS's electronics by wiring the horns directly to the stock horn wires. I removed the stock horn and mounted the relay on the bolt that had held the stock horn. I obtained stainless metric bolts and washers from Ace hardware to replace those that came with the PIAA 510 lights, which were too short to allow me to install the horns above the lights on the RCU light bar. I hooked them up according to the directions on the back of Radio Shack's blister pack and they worked!  Together, these horns are seriously loud.

I have also installed on my R1200GS blackTouratech handlebar risers (photo below, left) that elevate the handlebars. They bring the bars up one inch to a more suitable location for me.

I made an alternative tank bag for the R1200GS by converting an R1150GS tank bag to fit the R1200GS (see photo below, right). The earlier tank bag is smaller and has stiff sides, which allow a BMW electrification to fit easily. (The GPS behind the tank bag is attached to the handlebars, not the bag.)

Some lesser known facts for owners: Electronically, this is a very complex motorcycle. You can't just add lights on a whim. If I add PIAA or other driving lights, I would have to wire them with their own separate switch directly to its new AGM battery. I cannot wire through the ignition. I assume the aftermarket will come up with something someday.

BMW recommends a special charger ($115 from BMW) for the R1200GS because of sophisticated electronics, albeit one source tells me that you can clip any gel battery charger directly to the battery to charge it. However, there appears to be some dispute as to whether this is true, so this is not gospel and all the facts are not yet known. I attach a Battery Tender BMW-gel battery charger directly to the battery and it works fine. The battery charges fully and switches automatically to the “float” phase with no apparent damage to the R1200GS's electronic “brain.” I installed a “hot” BMW socket below the “keyed” stock socket (see photo above, left) and wired it with an in-line fuse directly to the battery to bypass the electrical system. Now I can use the standard BMW plug in charging the battery. I always make sure that the bike's electrical system is shut down fully before connecting the charger.

Gizmo Mill offers an array of 24 LEDs that plugs into the R1200GS's tail/brake light socket to replace the stock bulb. It offers a very bright taillight substitute, and when the brakes are activated the LEDs flash very brightly. The photos above show the taillight as it would be seen on the left, and on the right the red plastic housing is removed to expose the LED board.

Kisan is working on a beta version of its “pathBlazer” headlight modulator to be available shortly. To see if it is available or to find the part number for any motorcycle Click Here for a PDF file. This bike and the R1200RT could drive aftermarket electronics folks nuts!

The R1200GS has a new and unique oil filter and filter wrench! Your “old” wrench and filters for the R1150GS or R1150RT and similar models will not work. Do not ask what a new style oil filter wrench from BMW costs—and no, it's not gold plated. You can acquire a filter wrench from Jesse, who is best known for his tough saddlebags, for “only” $40—much less than the cost of the BMW original.