BMW R1200GS ADVENTURE

I confess that sometimes I just don’t get it. Dirt bikes, in my mind, are small, light things that jump, wheelie and in the hands of some, even do backflips. The whole Adventure bike movement is like something happening in another language. I want to understand, but the words just don’t make sense.
      That just changed. BMW introduced the 2010 R1200GS Adventure in the only way the press could really understand the bike: a true adventure. I’m not talking about a half-day ride that included a few miles of graded dirt road. This was a true survival run, comparable with the Blackwater 100, the Moose run and any other infamous ride you can think of. The BMW press department didn’t intend for it to be that way, but out of the 44 bikes that started, only seven made it back to the hotel.
      After a briefing on the 2010 GS, which is highlighted by a new double-overhead cam head design, the army of North American motorcycle editors was supposed to ride a 120-mile loop through the mountains around Yosemite National Park. The plan was to ride half street and half dirt–the type of dirt that is appropriate for a 1200cc horizontally opposed twin. It turned into a frozen ordeal that saw bikes crashed and lost all over an area the size of one of those little New England states.
      The weather had already been iffy, right from  the start. Intermittent rain fell all day with the temperature in the low 50s. I had no idea how to dress for that. Some 20 years ago, I worked at Cycle World and tested street bikes all the time. I don’t remember being cold, so I must have dealt with it some way. When I stared looking for my warmest street stuff, it had been eaten by moths at least 15 years ago. The real street editors, on the other hand, were old pros. They had electric cords hanging out of their vests that plugged right into the BMW in some secret place that I couldn’t even find.
      But I found the heated grips on the GS right away. I had two shirts, an enduro jacket and 20-year-old street boots, but my hands were great. I can’t even say that I was suffering until the day started winding down. The GS was awesome on the dirt roads. There were two versions that I got to ride, the Standard and the Adventure, the second of which is taller with more suspension travel. On either model, a little switch on the handlebar could stiffened up  the suspension as soon as you went off-road, and the bike was surprisingly manageable. At first I was afraid of it. But after a while, I somehow get used to riding the mammoth machine and it began to feel normal. I would wheelie over water bars and slide the rear end as if I knew what I was doing. This, I thought, is what they mean by adventure: dirt roads where you aren’t afraid that the bike will hurt you. I was wrong. Adventure is when the temperature plunges into the 30s, snow starts blowing sideways, ice builds up on the windshield and visibility drops down to the end of your nose. That happened after we crossed into the National Park itself. The group started fragmenting and I ended up with about 20 other riders trying to cross a pass that was rapidly becoming impassable. Up ahead there were several car crashes and the park ranger wasn’t letting anyone through. Our argument that motorcycles were perfectly safe in the ice was shattered when several of the bikes got cross-rutted in the snow and fell right in front of the ranger.
      At that point, I learned more about the BMW than I could have any other way. Those cylinders sticking out? They are actually feet warmers. That windshield? It was salvation. Over the next hour I huddled down in the cockpit as we made our way back the way we came. The heated grips became the center of my world. Unfortuneately, visability became the real issue. I had to wipe both sides of my Shoei  Hornet’s face shield every few seconds. It would ice up on the outside and fog up on the inside. That meant my left hand was always wetter and colder than my right. I really felt sorry for the street guys who wanted to look the part by wearing goggles and full dirt helmets. They were effectively blind.
      I was riding the Standard GS at that point. Sliding around in the ice would have been more challenging on the Adventure, but that model had a taller wind screen, so it was half and half. Actually, riding the BMW was the least of my problems. After spending the day learning to ride it in the dirt, dealing with the ice and snow was not much of an issue. Visibility, wetness and cold were my issues.
      In the end, my group found our way to the Ahwahnee, a National-Park-run lodge in the center of the park. We stood dripping by the fire while the BMW press department figured out an escape that would eventually involve abandoning the bikes overnight and renting a bus with chains. That would be permitted on the roads that were closed to even us.
      As it turned out, we were the luckiest group–or at least the one to survive in the most comfort. A small group made it through the pass before the road closed and was completely frozen, but made it back to the Tenaya Lodge were we were really staying. Another group followed Dirt Rider’s Jimmy Lewis back the way we had come. When they got to another road closure, Jimmy simply disappeared into the woods, leaving his less dirt-savvy followers to fend for themselves. They abandoned the bikes at a nearby town.
      The next day I was supposed to ride my GS back in time to shoot an ATV test  for Dirt Wheels. But there were no operable bikes available. I ended up getting a ride back to southern California in the backseat of a Taxi, arriving in time to shoot studio photos until midnight. The following day was 10 hours of ATV testing at Glen Helen, and the day after I was entered in a 115-mile bicycle race in Redlands, during which I was stung by a bee and went into shock. But I finished. It was a good week.
      In the end, I can’t imagine a bike that could have gotten me through the Yosemite adventure in any more comfort than the BMW. Yes it’s big, but you simply adjust your way of thinking. A full dirt bike might have managed the ice better, but I would have frozen in  place long before I made it to the Ahwahnee. For a full test of the BMW R1200GS Adventure, check out the August issue of Dirt Bike in print.
 
Riding the street is natural and the GS. The press models had knobbies, which wore quickly but worked well everywhere.
 
 
The day after: blue sky and no time to ride.
 
 
Learning to deal with the BMW’s mass off-road was easier than I thought.

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