Saturday 24 August 2019

BMW R1250 GS review: The best just got better

Smoother, more powerful engine is star of the show thanks to ‘ShiftCam’ tech

The new BMW R1250GS in Rallye TE trim
The new BMW R1250GS in Rallye TE trim
Finn Gillespie

Finn Gillespie

THE best way to truly get to know a bike as you put it through its paces, I’ve now realised, is on wet roads.

Wind, rain, sleet, snow, hail, ice – it may have been late coming, but winter arrived with a bang in January.

My test machine for the past few weeks has been BMW’s new R1250GS in ‘Rallye TE’ trim. Family duties put paid to getting out on rare good-weather days, so me and the big GS have been getting to know each other in ‘challenging’ conditions.

BMW Motorrad’s R1200GS has been a massive hit since it first hit the showrooms in 2004 (the original R80G/S appeared in 1980 and went through various incarnations, with the R1150GS preceding the 1200).

'ShiftCam' technology is the major new feature of BMW's R1250GS
'ShiftCam' technology is the major new feature of BMW's R1250GS

Largely because it was such a big seller, BMW left the 1200 well enough alone over the years, with only relatively minor updates.

Then, in 2013, a completely redesigned opposed-twin engine came as a water-cooled unit for the first time, increasing power from 110hp to 125hp and torque from 120Nm to 125Nm.

For 2019, BMW’s flagship engine gets a capacity increase, with increased power (up by nine per cent) and torque (up by 14 per cent), and lower fuel consumption (reduced by four per cent, BMW say) – all made possible with ‘ShiftCam’ technology, which varies the valve timings and the valve strokes on the intake side. The intake camshafts also allow for asynchronous opening of the two intake valves, optimising fuel and air intake.

The lovely result of all this engineering is that the system switches between part-load cams and full-load cams when the rider demands more.

The key thing here is that the system doesn’t just kick in at a certain rev range. Instead, it reacts to how hard you twist the wrist.

Haven’t Honda got a system like that, I hear you ask? Well the key difference with their VTEC system was that I found it kicked in quite abruptly, whereas as much as I’ve tried, I haven’t yet noticed the ShiftCam technology at play on the GS, save for a discernible improvement in both power and refinement from the engine through the range.

TFT display comes as standard on the new BMW R1250GS; Rider Modes Pro featured on the Rallye model we tested
TFT display comes as standard on the new BMW R1250GS; Rider Modes Pro featured on the Rallye model we tested

While the GS has had a major engine upgrade, BMW have stuck to a winning formula when it comes to the chassis. It’s the by-now-familiar two-piece steel tube frame with the engine as a stressed member, Paralever shaft drive and Telelever suspension up front.

So it’s business as usual in the handling stakes, with the R1250GS feeling more composed than ever thanks to the familiar chassis and refined engine – and a host of rider aids.

The standard bike comes with ASC (Automatic Stability Control), Rain and Road riding modes, Hill Start Control and TFT screen with connectivity.

The model I tested was the Rallye TE, with extra goodies that include ABS Pro with dynamic brake light, Riding Modes Pro (includes Dynamic Pro, Enduro and Enduro Pro), heated grips, Tyre Pressure Control, cruise control, DTC (Dynamic Traction Control), Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (D-ESA), Keyless Ride and Gear Shift Assist Pro.

This latest tech is all very well, and we could spend all day dissecting the finer detail of how each bit works. But as I said at the start, it’s on cold, wet roads that these rider aids really come into their own.

Like anyone who rides a motorbike, I tend to get a bit more tense in the wet. I’m constantly questioning the grip at the front, whether the back’s going to spin up if I accelerate too hard out of a corner, and if I’m going to lose the front under hard braking.

But over a few weeks of hellish weather, I’ve realised that the beauty of this gadgetry is that it works quietly away in the background, leaving me to enjoy the ride despite the weather.

Countless hairy moments have been avoided by the traction control keeping things calm at the rear and I’ve had bags more confidence while braking firmly in the wet thanks to the ABS Pro.

Rain mode has delivered a softer and smoother throttle response when it’s been really wet and cold.

BMW Motorrad was always going to have a challenge improving what is arguably the best bike in its class.

However, by focusing on the engine, which was starting to lag behind some of the competition in the power stakes, and the already impressive armoury of rider aids, while leaving the rest pretty much alone, the best just got better.


Engine: 1,254cc horizontal flat twin

Power: 136hp@7,750rpm

Torque: 143Nm@6,250rpm

Frame: Two-section steel tube, load-bearing engine

Seat height: 850/870mm, with lower and higher options.

Wet weight: 249kg

Tank: 20l

Price: From €17,534

Rallye TE model tested: €22,464

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