There are few bikes in the world that have as many people interested in what's new than this new BMW R 1250 GS. It's the most important model in the entire BMW motorcycle line-up and since 1980 BMW have sold more than 700,000 of these boxer-engined adventure bikes. It's still the majority market share holder in most biking countries the world over.
But what's new for 2018? I think if you were waiting for a revolutionary change you might be disappointed, this is more an evolutionary change with the engine being at the centre. Yes, all the bikes now come with the new TFT dash but the shape has not changed at all, only the colour options, but it's the heart of the bike that has been changed the most and, truthfully, it's a big change. There have been so many attacks from various manufacturers in this adventure section of the market, and many have come with huge HP increases, so it's time for BMW to up their game. And up it they most certainly have. Three years ago BMW introduced the Exclusive and Rallye models but those was rather a technical update, with self-levelling suspension being the main focus. But this time BMW have brought in variable valve timing but it's not variable valve timing as you might think. This is something completely new and it's the first time, ever, that this is being used in the way it is. Enter shift cam technology.
Let me try to explain how it works so that you can understand just how clever it is. Simple principle, everybody needs two things from an engine; lots of low down torque and high horsepower. Think about this bike specifically; it is designed to do lots of slow idling, stand up manoeuvres on technical terrain as well as high speed riding on the highway. So, in essence, the engineers would like to give you two completely different engines for this one bike. My one criticism of these engines in the past, specifically Honda with their VTEC system and Ducati with the oil driven variable cam, is that all of them somehow come in with a bang and both of those systems have not been high on my list of engine marvels, although they do work. Well, BMW has a revolutionary, new, patented system and I'm sure now, after experiencing it first hand, that many engines the world over will follow suit pretty soon.
So what is shift cam technology? Well it works with a solenoid activating a pin and within one engine revolution (think of the speed that this is happening at - say 6,000rpm), it moves the intake only cam sideways and it changes the cam lift and duration as it has a completely new cam lobe to run on. But it does not always happen at the same revs, it's based on clever algorithms determined by how you have been riding, what amount of throttle you have, how fast you are going and what you are demanding out of the engine at that specific time. It also does not come in with a bang. Also, because it has a completely different cam lobe to run on, on the slow speed cam, the two intake valves open at different times to help with the swirl in the chamber which helps with smoothing out low down engine vibrations and noise. It is actually quite phenomenal. I tried at various revs, engine loads and different gears, rolling on slowly and then abruptly, but I could not place my finger on exactly when this cam shift happened, but what I did feel were the masses of engine torque. Yes, I'm used to the thin air around JHB so this bike should already feel 17% faster for me but, with an added 9% of hp combined with 14% of torque, you have a completely new GS to contend with. Obviously as the revs come down on a closed throttle, and again within one revolution, the solenoid pops out and brings the intake cam to its correct position for optimum torque. Yes the engine size has been increased from 1170cc to 1254cc but that’s only 7%, so the 9 and 14 percentage increase does come from this new technology. Another benefit of this 4% reduced fuel consumption is that idling is at 100rpm less which lowers emissions. This engine is basically in line with Euro 5 emissions already and passes Euro 4 easily.
Something worth mentioning is that quick-shift up and down is now standard and, although I love the system in a performance situation, with hard acceleration and braking, I still love the clutch for up and down, but you now have either option available to you all the time.
The new GS also now comes with two riding modes as standard; the Automatic Stability Control ASC and HST Hill start control - the ASC ensures a high level of riding safety due to the best possible traction. The set-off assistant Hill Start Control is likewise a standard feature in both models, enabling convenient set-off on slopes. It automatically kicks in on 5% slopes and can be actuated by pressing the brake. If you do not like it you can opt for it not to come on but I found it very handy.
Likewise all bikes now come standard with a plug under the seat which then further enhances the riding modes to Dynamic Pro and Enduro Pro. What is nice is that you can go into the settings and tailor-make the Enduro Pro mode to exactly how you like to ride the bike in an off-road setting, and every time you go back to that it will be as you set it. You can set how you like the engine power to come in, level of traction control and braking options with back wheel lock up and front ABS on or everything off. The bike now comes standard with the Dynamic Brake Control and this senses a panic brake and, should the throttle be slightly open, it will cut the power and distribute more braking to the rear wheel to keep the bike stable and straight. I tested the system and was very impressed.
Staying with the safety features, the bike now comes with an SOS button, and should the bike fall over, the dash will start flashing SOS. You then have 20 seconds to flip up the switch and push the button which states that you are ok. If not, someone will phone you and speak to you asking if you are ok. Likewise, if you come across an accident, you can push the button and help will be sent to your location all via a SIM card which is installed in the bike. Also, depending on the g-forces of the crash, emergency help will be sent immediately.
The 6.5 inch TFT screen now comes as standard on all models with the equipment feature connectivity as standard. In conjunction with the standard BMW Motorrad Multi-Controller, this means the rider can access vehicle and connectivity functions particularly swiftly and conveniently. Some functions can only be carried out whilst at standstill but sat nav from your phone, with arrows on the screen, phone calls and other information is readily available. You can still get the holder for your sat nav for more details of your routing for off road riding.
So all in all what's it like to ride? I just loved the look of the new HP version which has the gold rims and white and red bodywork. Also the Akrapovic pipe looked and sounded stunning but it's truthfully in the engine where the gem lies. For off-road and road riding, the added flexibility of the new engine makes it feel remarkably different to the old bike and the self-levelling suspension, in which you can choose two settings (Standard and Dynamic) make this such a Swiss Army knife bike. It has multiple personalities at the switch of a button and the safety levels have increased remarkably. Hats off to BMW, they have nailed it perfectly because this 1250 is worthy of the bike it’s replacing.