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words - Mark Fattore
photos - Lou Martin
BMW has put a new head on old shoulders for even more muscular power. The bar has risen again.

Does anyone remember the locust plague which hit the southern states of Australia about six weeks ago? It will always be with me, as I rode through the guts of it on a BMW R 1200 RT heading to my son's school camp in the north-west corner of Victoria at Wyperfeld National Park.

Clearly I was being punished, as the rest of the mum and dad helpers had driven their cars and 4WDs to the camp, loaded to the hilt with food, firewood, tents, special 'coffee' for around the campfire, etc. But me? I had simply loaded the RT's 64lt panniers with my essentials and hit the highway from Melbourne, clearly eschewing any responsibility in the freight stakes.

But it wasn't long before the locust front appeared, complete with the rancid smell of searing beast on Boxer engine. And it didn't let up for about 300km, from every direction. It was relentless, and the only saving grace was the electronically controlled windshield on the RT. I moved it to the top setting, so at least there was layer of torso protection from the assault. Poor bloody farmers - as if the torrid drought hasn't been enough.

Eventually, I reached my destination - to the sight of five dads chiselling locusts out of their car radiators with screwdrivers.

Even allowing for the unexpected locust incursion it was an exceptionally enjoyable ride to Wyperfeld, especially when I had the chance to wind out the RT in a few of the less populated (both civilian and police) back roads. And I was relatively fresh, considering the four hours of rough treatment I had received. And I hadn't left a trail of busted or broken bike en route, which was the most important thing.

One of my first test bikes as a journalist, way back in 1996 when I actually used to pay professionals to cut my hair, was an R 1100 RT, and even then it was a touring bike of the highest order with a punchy engine, impeccable road manners, plenty of luxuries, frugal on the juice, and a dynamic build quality. And I remember the resident playboy and A-grade road racer at Australian Motorcycle News, Martin Port, taking it up to (err, passing and pulling away from...) a brace of sports bikes on a major comparo - where it was just tagging along as an extra. I was awestruck by its versatility.

There have been a few RTs since then, and we are now onto the second generation of the 1170cc-engined R 1200.

The updated flat-twin mill is essentially a new head on old shoulders, with a DOHC set-up replacing the old single cam unit. There is a precedent for the DOHC engine, as it's already been plying its trade on the exotic HP2 Sport scalpel, which the Bikesales Network tested in January this year.

But it's not just the RT that is enjoying the DOHC engine, as the R 1200 GS and R 1200 GS Adventure grand touring enduros have also benefitted from the updated hardware. The Bikesales Network rode all three of them during a recent press launch, before we managed to annex the RT for the aforementioned locust-plagued jaunt.

Obviously, the biggest news on all three bikes is the engine, with its two chain-driven camshafts. The valves are operated by light rocker arms, and the air/fuel mixture is ignited by two spark plugs, as opposed to one on the HP Sport.

All three run on premium unleaded, but may also be run on 91 RON using data sourced free of charge from the factory. They wouldn't be adventure bikes without it, especially in a large country like Australia.

The DOHC engine now revs out to 8500rpm, 500 more than before, and BMW claims 120Nm (up five) at 6000rpm, and power is unchanged at 110hp (81kW), now produced slightly higher at 7750rpm.

Obviously, BMW could have also gone down the path of a capacity increase to produce similar performance results, but I'm tipping that will come next time when there is a major overhaul of the GS and/or Boxer range.

The one thing that remains on the DOHC engine is that wonderful deep and raspy note, which is achieved via an electronically controlled exhaust flap.

For $30,900 ($30,000 for the low suspension option), standard features on the RT include a traction package (tyre pressure control and automatic stability control), non-switchable ABS, heated grips, a heated seat (not on the low suspension option), a power socket, cruise control, chrome exhaust and audio system. The marque's second generation electronic suspension adjustment (ESA) is available as an option, but it was fitted to the launch bikes.

Meanwhile, the GS and GS Adventure are $21,925 and $26,950 respectively, and standard specification for the all-rounders includes heated grips, hand protection, an onboard computer, white LED indicators, pannier fastenings, a centrestand, and chrome exhaust. The Adventure also gets fog lights, off-road tyres and spoked wheels.

Available options include a traction package (ABS, ASC, TPC), Enduro ESA, switchable ABS, lower suspension, and spoked wheels for the GS.

Contact your local BMW dealer for prices on all the options, as well as the vast array of accessories on offer for all the bikes.

There's really no point in delving too much into the other bits and pieces on the Boxers, as not a lot has changed - in fact the status quo remains for the most part.

This was a magnificent press launch. I'd heard plenty about the GS launches over the years, but I wasn't in the right place at the right time to indulge.

But now my 'time' had come, and 296km later (the majority spent on dirt roads) on day one we had made the journey from BMW's Melbourne headquarters to Jamieson in Victoria's high country on a batch of up-optioned GS (for example, cross-spoke wheels) and Adventures.

The next day was a road trip back to Melbourne on the RT and GSs, with the Adventures trucked back to base.

The Boxer engine has always been about providing a broad range of useable grunt and drive in a seamless manner, and BMW has just taken that philosophy and moved it to the next level.

It's not a quantum performance leap by any stretch of the imagination, although the extra 500rpm up top provides some nice bite and a beefier mid-range is always a nice 'problem' to have.

Both GSs just devour dirt roads standing on their head, no matter how choppy or variable the road is. It really is adventure riding par excellence.

Of course, the Enduro ESA on the GSs only adds to the resourcefulness. The system offers both on-road and off-road modes, with the latter hydraulically adding suspension travel for when the terrain gets really rough.

Damping can be changed on the fly, while the bike has to be stationary to change preload settings - which is the also the case for switching the ABS on and off (the RT doesn't have switchable ABS).

I began the off-road part of the GS ride with ABS on, and once it kicks in (the lock and release periods are manageable) there's still a reasonable level of feel and modulation. It's sensitive and finely tuned - crude it isn't.

So the lesson is don't completely disregard ABS as soon as you make a beeline for loose gravel, especially of you're riding at a relaxed pace. It doesn't require a massive leap of faith, and you'll be surprised how effective and confidence-inspiring it is, rather than the common misconception of a mismatch.

That said, I also rode with the ABS off, which also happened to coincide with a period where the lead rider decided to push the envelope a little more (thanks Miles). And I just had to try and keep up.

Sure, there were a few scares when the front end momentarily lost traction under heavy braking, but for the most part I was able to keep the big GS tracking before waiting for the next wave of smooth and controllable grunt to kick in.

On that score, let's briefly touch on the optional traction control package on the GS and Adventure, or ASC as Beemer calls it. In addition to the standard on/off settings, there's also a middle-of-the-road setting on the two bikes which allows some limited power sliding before the system activates. It really adds another level of functionality, and it's reassuring to know there is a safety net to reign in the occasional bouts of over-exuberance.  Try the "S" setting standing up, as it's pure bliss.

This year represents 30 years of GS lineage, which began way back in 1980 with the bold decision to produce the R 80 G/S. The G/S referred to the "Gelände/Straße" (off-road/road) crossover skill set which saw BMW, in its own words, "swim against the tide" in an era where purpose-built machines were becoming the norm.

And breaking the mould clearly struck a chord, otherwise we wouldn't be sitting here 30 years later, and with competition coming thick and fast with the likes of the Yamaha Super Tenere, Ducati Multistrada (which hopefully we'll ride by August), the Moto Guzzi NTX (ditto), and rumoured new harder-edged Adventure-like models from Honda and Triumph.

And what of the RT? Well, as much as I enjoy the towering turbine-like engine on the K 1300 GT, the RT still gets my vote in the BMW touring line-up. There's plenty of comfort and style, but the strapping engine is just too hard to ignore.

Contact your local BMW dealer for a test ride on the latest Boxers.

To comment on this article click here Published : Thursday, 17 June 2010
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