Took possession of a 2001 BMW R1150GS this past Tuesday. If anyone remembers my previous thoughts on the line of “air head” BMWs my main points still apply, though there are a few differences to some of my opinions.
1st off, previously I’ve mentioned how poor I felt the transmissions felt to the rider. To me, this is inexcusable given the amount of money BMW charges for one of these machines. I’ve ridden Harley Davidsons with better feel and feedback from the transmission. That mostly still applies, but the GS in question has 43K miles on it.
I was told by the BMW reps on the test rides I did that they get better as they get broken in. Point taken. After 43K miles, the transmission still feels vague. By that I mean, you can’t really feel if it went into a given gear.
Good thing then that there is a gear indicator in a tiny LCD window on the dash. A glance down when you are unsure whether a gear was selected will tell you what gear you are in. The down side is, at speed, you have to take your eyes off the road to see what gear has been selected.
The BMWs I test rode were really new, and the transmissions were not only vague feeling but the gear I selected would frequently not engage, or if it did engage, it would get spit back out and either end up in a false neutral, or back in the previous gear. These characteristics did not endear the brand to me. At all.
Fast forward to earlier this month. A coworker, a guy I’d worked with previously purchased this bike from a mutual friend and coworker at our previous shop. He asked me if I knew anyone who would ride it for him. I was like “Uhhh, me!!” We laughed about it, but then he said, “seriously, you’ll ride it for me?”
I wasn’t sure this was happening. I told him I would and he told me to drop by the shop and pick up the keys. A week or two later, I was sure he’d changed his mind, until I asked him for the keys. He told me to meet him at the shop where we used to work and I could collect the bike and the keys in one shot.
So it was, I met him this past Tuesday and received the keys. I asked him if he had any special instructions or anything concerning the bike. He told me, ride it when you want, where you want as long as you want. I had to clarify. I asked if he was cool with me taking a weekend trip up Hwy 1 or a 4 day trip to Monterey. He said, “whatever man, just ride it. Take care of it and ride it.” COOL.
My first impression was, Jeezus, it really takes serious effort to take this thing off the side stand. There is no, swing a leg over and lift it off. No way. No how.
I’ve developed a technique where I swing my right leg over, but keep my left foot firmly planted. Using that foot for leverage, I power the bars straight and push upright in one motion. As I do this, I slide over the seat. Seems to work well. My riding buddies have tried other methods. None worked for them with this bike.
Once rolling, the heft sort of disappears. Sort of. Coming to a stop requires some planning beyond the normal blip the throttle, bang the down shift, release the clutch lever, and brake at the same time. I have to use the momentum and brakes to slide my butt up to the tank when braking. Then as I reach peak braking, and the bike slows to a near stop, I slide over a bit and get my left foot flat on the ground. I can tip toe both feet, but on a bike this heavy, I don’t like the thought of falling over.
Underway, handling is quite good for such a heavy bike. Turn in is eased by the wide bar, and the big GS can be snapped over into a turn quite quickly. Once over, it has a great deal more ground clearance than one would think. I haven’t scrubbed the ancient Metzeler Tourance tires to the very edge yet, but after a day just riding around town, I’m already nearly there.
The thing does have some handling quirks. On the throttle you can feel the pinion gear climbing the ring gear. The rear of the bike lifts up oddly and points the front to the left. This happens at any rapid take off from a standing start. Underway, I did not get this feeling at all with aggressive throttle roll ons.
Another quirk is the turn signals. The switch for left turn signal is on the left bar. The switch for the right signal is on the right bar. The cancel switch is also on the right bar, above and inboard of the signal switch. The switches only require a light touch to activate them.
Good and bad there. Good because it requires little effort to activate. Bad because it is easy to accidentally activate them. The cancel switch is oddly located and takes a great deal of getting used to. After a whole day of riding around and just playing with the bike, I still have to look to find the cancel switch. It’s getting easier but I still have to look from time to time.
Beyond that, the brakes are almost invisible. They work well, but not like my Ducati or Aprilia. They don’t suck either. So the best analogy is, they work, but they don’t make you think to yourself “wow, this thing stops like crazy” ABS doesn’t seem intrusive either. A 4 finger emergency stop didn’t seem dramatic in the least. The bike simply stopped where and when it was expected to.
The gearing is pretty tall. This requires a lot of clutch slip on launch but once rolling you can lug down in 1st to sub 5 MPH speeds without issue. Roll on the throttle and it just picks up speed from there. No fuss, no screech, nothing. On the freeway, 80 MPH correlates to a mere 3500 RPM in 6th. Both my Ducati and my Aprilia are at around 5K at the same speed. The big Beamer just feels like it’s loafing along.
Really, that’s about all there is to tell. The seat needs to be adjusted to the lower setting. I plan on doing that tomorrow. Also, the wind screen is not my friend. It buffets the top of my helmet to the point it moves my head around at higher speeds. I need to change the oil and filter, which I’ll also do tomorrow. Hopefully, I’ll get all that done in the morning and go for a ride after. I hope so. I need a ride. More on the reason for that in my Ducati thread.