Took a 200-mile ride last weekend on a buddy’s bike — a 2005 BMW R 1200 GS, which is the celebrated adventure bike that Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman took in their kickass documentary and adventure, [amazon_link id=”B004DP7S9E” target=”_blank”]”Long Way Round.”[/amazon_link]
I didn’t load the bike up for a overnighter or anything, just a delivery — one bud was selling it to another, and I got to the be the delivery man. Sweet job.
I usually ride an old 1994 Honda XR640L, which is a dual-sport dirt/street-legal bike that’s capable of anything you want to ride — but that means it’s not a standout performer on any particular surface.
The BMW R 1200 GS, on the other hand, is a standout for long trips over mostly paved but potentially rough roads. You can overload the bike, generally abuse it, and it’ll keep running. It weighs about 500 pounds, but comes with a low center of gravity. The upshot for me is that it felt lighter than it really was. With the riding posture and big wide bars, I could lean into corners with ease and pop right out of them. Even slow speed maneuverability was better than I expected.
On the downside, first gear is geared freakishly high for any sort of slow and tight trail work. Even on the street, first gear means you’re ready to go, so get going . . . unless you’re really good at clutch work. I can’t imagine being stuck in traffic with the GS — what a pain in the butt — much less imagine attempting to navigate any trail with a couple tight turns in a row. No wonder McGregor and Boorman had so many low-speed dumps.
My most interesting impression?
I felt part of the bike, and I’m a tall guy. Riding it was almost too easy. Too smooth. Each gear seemed as if it could go on forever, lug it or rev it, the 1200 GS don’t care. I only took it up to 90 on one stretch, but since my goal was to deliver it (and myself) intact, I backed off. Seemed as if 120 was within easy reach, though.
Meanwhile, what about the XR650L?
I jumped back on it after getting off the BMW, and it felt impossibly tall, impossibly stiff, with a center of gravity so high I couldn’t tell were it was. Tippy. Felt more like I was riding an engine along the top of a fence. Took about two blocks to get used to it again, to appreciate the untamed nature of the old-school beast.
Of course, I like both the BMW and the Honda. I think a guy really needs about five bikes. I have one. Future? Maybe. But if you get a chance to roll the throttle back on a buddy’s bike, take it.
P.S. In lieu of a ride, definitely watch “Long Way Round” and “Long Way Down.” Oh, and Boorman grows on you in his wicked fun “Race to Dakar.” All three are epic motorcycle adventure documentaries. Great stuff.