Reviews

OWNER’S REVIEW: BMW R1200GS vs S1000XR

Jock switched from a hypernaked V4 Tuono to the supposedly more humble BMW R1200GS and his world-view changed. Then he realised he was missing something. So he bought an S1000XR and, once again, it’s a game-changer for him.

The BMW R1200GS is the secret weapon in the twisties, fooling many a friend or stranger who thought they’d have its measure. For over 200 miles on one tankful, you can ride in any mode you want. And I don’t mean the ones on the handlebars, I mean the ones in your head. Yes, it’s a brave and capable rider that drags a knee on a GS on the road, but the bike is more than capable of doing it.

Putting aside genital measurements, the GS will take a rider and stroke their skillset, fooling them, those around them, small dogs and those kids that do the wheelie gestures as you ride past, into thinking it’s a big chunky monkey adventure bike that needs riding like a good percentage of them get ridden. I think we know what I mean (whisper……….textile laden old duffers………).

Equally the bike will hoist a minger, rage it’s way thundering around your favourite roads with only the turn in at speed being, in my mind, a bit of an issue. The wide bars do help you turn easier than its quirky moody static looks would have you believe though. From walking pace to ‘edge of the tyre’ pace, the bike needs a little care, not wild abandon. This is not a 125 or an S1000RR after all.

I’ve led superbikes on progressive paced rides without issue. I’ve bimbled around with learners without issue. I’ve slow ridden on diesel soaked forecourts without issue.

I’ve commuted with only the most minor of mirror bashing (not mine). And I’ve toured with the smuggest of grins, hidden smile knowing this was the right bike for the journey. That’s just how flexible the worlds (arguably) most rounded bike is.

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The heated grips warmed your hands, the screen and fairing did a great job of protecting you from the elements, the luggage did luggage things, the seat did comfy things, the pegs happily scraping when the mood arose.

On the motorways, I’d rest the legs on the engine bars, cruise control on and let the 200 plus range tick off as I listened to punk rock via MP3 from the integrated satnav. I could put my Chain Monkey away too and let the shaft drive take over.

But, and there is always a ‘but’ when you talk of a bike in the past tense, the more I got to know the bike the more the 244kg farkle free wet weight and my riding style started to come into conflict with each other. If you’re hurtling from big speed to low speed, into a tight corner, for instance, you have to plan and manage the weight on turn in, that is a big bike to put on its ear regardless of how good the brakes, chassis and rubber is.

The 19inch front isn’t always your friend, and while the bike may not have been conceived with ‘ragging’ in the design brief, the bike is pretty capable if you are. Trying to get out of corners with your litre bike riding mates was always a bit of a losing battle. 115 real rear wheel bhp is pretty decent for an engine that started its life in the 1920’s, but I started to think I wanted a little more drive and a bit less weight to manhandle around. I certainly didn’t want to lose the comfort, the gizmos, the luggage potential, the quality of finish (remember my GS was mint, never one problem) so I started to look around at what gave a bit more of the same.

R1200GS vs S1000XR
Jock’s S1000XR, sparkly clean, as usual

When I’d tested the 2015 GS I also tested the 2015 S1000XR and immediately dismissed it after having numb hands and feet 30 minutes into the ride. It was a shame, but then again I was new to the adventure/adventure sports category, so I didn’t lose any sleep over it.

Fast forward two years and 18000 GS miles, and in the hunt for a bit more bhp I revisited the XR in the shape of a 2017 SE model. With the 2017 model, BMW has addressed the ‘some do, some don’t’ vibe issue with vibration reducing handlebars.

After a full day on the demo XR I had no numb hands, feet or bum. Of course, with it being an inline 4 in places through the rev range there’s a bit of tingling in the bars, but no more than I’d expect from any other punchy litre bike.

I’d also been riding a Fireblade over the summer, so the power hike over the GS wasn’t anything too scary, the main body of the test ride being in rain mode because 30 minutes in, the heavens opened. But I enjoyed the chance to see just how something this tall bike, with 165bhp, managed soaked UK roads. The answer was very, very well actually.

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I spent the day thinking the bike felt very familiar, very ‘GS’ with its similar layout over the bar width, handlebar clusters, and seating position. You can feel the heritage and understand why the bike is placed in the Adventure bike section of the Motorrad UK website. So much is taken from the GS, with plenty taken from the S1000RR & R models of course.

Into and out of corners the bike showed it was very much head and shoulders above the GS regarding ease of turn, mid-corner balance and drive. There isn’t the engine braking of the boxer twin.

The brakes don’t feel any better on the XR which is testament to both bikes as the Brembos are really very good on these machines. Even with all the design clearly stolen, borrowed, influenced by the GS, the overall balance of the XR is definitely more sports than adventure.

With the XR feeling so familiar it became an easy decision for me to make. Alan at Vines BMW once again laid out a fantastic deal for a 2017 XR which made it the overriding influence in the decision to trade the GS for the XR.

Coming from 18000 miles on a GS to an XR the change isn’t in the sitting on them at standstill; the heritage certainly makes the bikes feel almost the same. With the bikes on their centre stands they feel very similar, the view forward-looking similar enough, though there a few differences of course.

The ‘dated’ clocks on the XR are much cleaner than the cluttered GS whose clocks gives mph and km/h in such cramped detail you tend to check your speed via the well-placed satnav, of which the integrated design and location is shared by both bikes. I expect it won’t be long before both bikes will sport TFT screens as standard. The screen is smaller and less adjustable on the XR, though for my 5’10” in the raised position it does a decent job of clearing my visor, though does create some wind noise as it directs airflow around my visor and the side of the helmet. The GS is very good as standard and the adjustable screen allowing you to place it at any height you want between fully up or down.

There are some other differences in tank design and in the seats with the GS seat height and its angle being adjustable, its shape flat giving you space to shuffle around. The XR’s seat is sculptured, non-adjustable and pretty much a one spot fits all, though you can get optional higher or lower seats. The results of this are the XR splays your legs out a touch wider, but also has the side effect that the XR is taller with the standard 840mm seat height compared to the GS’s 850mm seat height.

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The standover on the XR is greater on account of the seat design, which means for me, at 5’10” and roughly a 31inch inside leg, I’m flat on one foot, balls of both feet with the XR, flat feet on the GS. That is something to consider with bikes this tall. I opted for the 820mm optional seat which helps ever so slightly.

However once on the go, the differences are so very different. My neighbour, who used to be into bikes before family life took another biker out of the game, asked me how I’d describe the difference in the bikes to the lay person who only saw two tall, wide bikes. My reply is one I’ve not managed to better so far, good or bad.

I said the GS is like your nan coming round on her mobility scooter. She’s getting on a bit but the extras make such a difference and helps her get around with the minimum of fuss. The XR is like having the 28th of June 1997 Mike Tyson come round in a suit. You know he looks smart in an odd sort of way, but fuck me he’s going to slap you about and bite your ear off if you try have a go.

The XR has a smaller tank range than the GS. It perhaps gives away 10-15mpg on average with 42mpg. I get a steady 170 out of the XR, where the GS was a steady 200 plus easily. Gearing and overall bhp is most likely the reason for this. The GS has a lot less power and you really do feel the difference on the go.

The low down torque of the GS is matched by the very smooth drive the XR provides. The gearing on the XR is very road focused meaning 3rd, 4th, 5th are almost redundant. Honestly, without the gearshift indicator 99% of the time I’d have no idea exactly what gear I’m in, if just based on blind feel. The bike drives from any revs, any gear, with almost similar, linear drive, but this is not just a bit more drive than the GS, this is a LOT more drive. Getting out of corners isn’t chasing litre bikes, it’s hoping the electronics can cope with the desire for the 165bhp to lift the front skywards, further encouraged by some mighty grunt up the top of the rev range.

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One observation of the XR’s power is that the XR is a significant step up in performance from a GS, if not a superbike. And in performance I mean bhp and drive, rather than road handling. I guess what I’m trying to say is from superbike to XR you won’t notice the bhp of the XR so much, from GS to XR you really would. It becomes less about getting a bike with a bit more drive than the GS and more about ‘do you really want a superbike that’s a bit like a GS?’

On twisty, bumpy roads the GS is a dream, but everywhere else on the tarmac the XR has its number and gets that 165bhp down easily. Think of the XR as an upright S1000RR, rather than a punchy GS. In the leap between 125 crank bhp and 165 crank bhp I’m left thinking does the GS need more bhp, yes, or could the XR survive with less bhp, maybe.

To help you out the XR has Wet, Road, Dynamic and Dynamic Pro fuel/interference modes which broadly speaking range from ‘chill dude, I’ve got this’ to ‘make sure you have health insurance cos you’re on your own bud’.

There are Road and Dynamic electronic suspension settings which do a good job of being different enough to be worth switching from one to the other if the road is either bumpy or smooth. But they really can’t hide the stiffer frame and damping settings of the XR. The GS floats, wallows even occasionally, but doesn’t smack you about, whereas on bumpy roads the XR is always keeping you on your toes because it feels more superbike than adventure bike if the going is less than track smooth. As a consequence of the stiffer set up the XR feels more like a superbike as a degree of harshness always filters through on the bumps, this being compensated by the sublime poise it has for such a big bike on smooth tarmac.

Getting into and out of a corner is easier on the XR, though I find you need to ride this more like a litre sports bike, than say a supersport 600, or god forbid, an adventure bike. Even with a lighter wet weight than the GS it’s still not supersport light at around 228kgs wet (farkle free), and that weight still needs balancing when mid-corner. You’re still sitting on a tall bike with relatively long suspension remember and bumps can still knock you off line mid corner in the same way they can on a stiffly set up superbike. Never enough to get all squeaky bum about it, just enough to remind you that you’re on a brilliant but stiff, 165bhp, adventure sports bike. Point and squirt is the most fun and safe way I’ve found to ride this mad dog. The electronics are ever less intrusive as you go up through the modes but in truth even with a stiffer than GS set up, the bike is so well balanced for the road you find that at road speeds, even a bit friskier, the electronics rarely come in to play.

Another positive for the XR is its Gearshift Pro is a lot slicker than the GS version. Up and down on the XR, each shift is short and clunk free meaning the heavier cabled clutch on the XR can be almost forgotten once on the go.

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There are a few grumbles with the XR, though nothing major. The clutch is heavier than the GS, but not heavy. The clutch lever isn’t span adjustable. The two-position screen is decent, but could maybe do with being a touch wider. The luggage brackets seem an afterthought compared to the simplicity of GS’s set up. The oil sight glass and top up are each on different sides of the bike. The chain slack is hit and miss to get right first time, even with a Chain Monkey, ahem.

The only real negative I had about the GS over the long term, that reared its ugly head very early on, was that it’s a fecker to clean. If you’re like me and you are a touch OCD about the cleanliness of your bikes then set aside some cleaning time each time you want to give the bike a wash, cos damn, that thing is like the Forth Rail Bridge, the job is just never done.

R1200GS vs S1000XR
Jock’s old GS. Look at all those fiddly bits that need cleaning

The XR is easier to clean than the GS but it’s not easy to clean. Trying to fit a chain through the swingarm is only easy if it’s a narrow chain, which miffs me no end. In these minor grumbles it only shows how good the GS is and how young, relatively, the XR is.

The GS sure plays hard with the dual-purpose nature of its design brief, it is after all arguably the class leader. If sales figures are to be believed it was the bike we performance junkies turned to when our backs and wrists got sore on long superbike journeys, long before the adventure bike market realised we were doing that. Now we have adventure sports bikes like the Ducati Multistrada, possibly the KTM 1290 Super Adventure and definitely the BMW S1000XR to choose from.

Between the GS and the XR if you want bigger OEM luggage, more farkle potential, don’t need 165bhp assistance or superbike insurance premiums, then the GS is still the daddy. When it comes to others thinking you’re pretending to be either Ewan or Charlie, even if all you really want is a decent go anywhere touring bike that doesn’t mind your ham-fisted trundles down a dirt track or two, the GS is the awesome washing machine that it’s grown up to be. And most recently liquid cooled too eh? How’s that for progress since the 1920’s?

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Maybe you’re drawn to the up to date broad BMW family, or even just the adventure sports promise of superbike performance and dual-purpose bike levels of comfort. Regardless of the reason, the XR is now a vibe free option for riders tired of being tired on sports bikes, but not quite ready to be led into the adventure bike wilderness of farkles and no head nods.

If you don’t mind higher insurance groupings, don’t mind the stress of accessible 165bhp in a country full of speed cameras, vans, dashcams, don’t mind 42mpg average, don’t mind a chain and almost redundant mini beak; want a touring, commuting, comfy superbike then the XR is the daddy.

Having ridden the S1000RR, the XR’s a full-on monster fun bike. Having ridden the S1000R it’s a windy monster fun bike. Now as the owner of an XR it’s a tall, comfy monster fun bike. But it is, in essence, a superbike on stilts. Don’t think it’s a road only version of Ewan or Charlie’s bike.

But both the GS and XR are 9/10 bikes regardless. You just have to ask do you want a shaft, the farkle-land potential, no nod image of the worlds most rounded bike? Or do you want a superbike with touring potential in a stiff but balanced road based package, that garners more nods than the GS, but means the Chain Monkey is back out alongside the chain lube?

If I was back in 2015 and had a vibration free experience, this hypernaked owner would have gone the XR route, looking over to the GS wondering what all the hype was about. Now I realise that the 2015 GS I owned won’t be the last GS I own and that anyone on a superbike who is looking for something different has some great choices out there, no matter the flavour they want.

Get yourself sorted:

If you are thinking of switching from a sports to an adventure bike, see how Jock made the change.

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The Author

Jock McJock

Jock McJock

Jock would describe himself as a world child, though a child with a greying beard and ever-receding hairline.

Gaining his bike licence over 30 years ago, from the roads of Perth, Scotland, to the dirt roads of Perth, Australia, he stopped counting the miles as the half million mark easily came and went, barely noticed. Emotive, sarcastic, direct, as happy to bimble and take in the view as he is to drag a kneeslider and ignore the view.

His biking CV is an eclectic mix, from racer to tourer, track instructor to ride leader, he has ridden all over the globe, describing the journey as ‘in progress’, never ready to sit back and settle for the biking memories he has. Rather than just going from A to B, Jock makes sure A to B has a story in it to tell.

Jock revels in the analytical side of riding and product testing. His passion spills out into helping everyone from newcomers to aspiring racers, providing guidance to those riders who may lack confidence on their bikes, through lectures and riding analysis.

So buy him a donut and a coffee and settle in for a roller coaster ride of biking emotions.