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2020 BMW R 1250 GS Urban And City Review

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You know the drill: Journalist takes fully rigged BMW adventure bike on an epic journey tackling seemingly impossible terrain. The rugged moto gets knocked down but gets up again, proving its exceptional capabilities and saving the day by overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds and spanning endless horizons. But what about the rest of us with humbler goals, like shuttling through the suburban grid or threading traffic? Familiar urban sleds like Triumph Bonnevilles or Zero SR/Fs aren’t for everyone. Sometimes, you want to be the badass on a big, commanding, dual purpose bike.

Related: A 2,500-Mile Review Of The 2019 BMW R 1250 GS

The R 1250 GS may be adventure-ready, but it’s also city-capable.
The R 1250 GS may be adventure-ready, but it’s also city-capable. (Basem Wasef/)

On paper at least, the 2020 BMW R 1250 GS doesn’t seem like the most pragmatic choice for an urban assault vehicle. For starters, it’s big—not as hulking as its GS Adventure counterpart, which packs a gargantuan 7.9-gallon fuel tank and 591-pound curb weight, or off-road-biased foes like Ducati’s Multistrada 1260 Enduro or KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure. A large deal of the bulk comes from the Beemer’s signature character feature: the massive boxer cylinder heads that protrude sideways. Then there’s the 33.4-inch-tall saddle that can be ordered with an even higher altitude perch if you’re Teutonically built (like the bike). Swinging your legs over the big boxy saddlebags isn’t something you’d want to tackle on a regular basis (unless you’re a double-jointed freak of nature). But without them, the GS becomes vastly more welcoming.

Related: 2019 BMW R 1250 GS Long-Term Review

The cockpit view, with the windshield in its lowest setting, reveals a relatively compact set of controls despite the relative heft of the bike.
The cockpit view, with the windshield in its lowest setting, reveals a relatively compact set of controls despite the relative heft of the bike. (Basem Wasef/)

Speaking of welcoming, the 1250 GS’s larger 1,254cc engine benefits from what BMW calls ShiftCam, which uses variable valve timing for cleaner, more efficient combustion. Not only has horsepower climbed from 125 to 136, torque grows from 92 to 105 pound-feet. But the biggest benefits to rideability come at the crucial lower end of the powerband, where the new powerplant runs more smoothly than before, delivering off-the-line grunt with less chug-a-luggy chatter. Sure, that more honeyed power delivery makes it easier to negotiate Saharan dirt and sand. But it’s also helpful when you’re rolling at walking speeds trolling for a parking spot or slipping through traffic to get to the front of the line.

BMW’s familiar boxer cylinder heads contrast against the attractively finished engine block.
BMW’s familiar boxer cylinder heads contrast against the attractively finished engine block. (Basem Wasef/)

Poised at a red light, the GS stands tall and imposing, especially if it happens to be casually splattered with mud from, say, a weekend of trail riding. Don’t wash it down too soon after your excursion, as the muck only adds street cred… but leave it too long, and you become in danger of being a poseur. Choose wisely, the balance is delicate. When the light turns green, the clutch engages easily and the GS lurches forward urgently with quick twist of the throttle. There’s a lot of power on tap—not quite as much as Ducati’s superbike-sourced 158 hp mill and less power-to-weight ratio than the KTM, which is not aided by the BMW’s incremental weight gain with this iteration. But there’s also enough low and midrange grunt to easily lift the front wheel when accelerating hard with the electronics disabled. There’s a dizzying suite of assistance systems at play in the new GS, especially when equipped with the optional Ride Modes Pro package which adds a dynamic traction control system, lean-sensitive ABS, and hill start control pro, which enables personalized settings for how and when the parking brake engages.

You winkin’ at me? BMW may have abandoned asymmetry with the S 1000 RR, but the GS keeps its lopsided peepers.
You winkin’ at me? BMW may have abandoned asymmetry with the S 1000 RR, but the GS keeps its lopsided peepers. (Basem Wasef/)

Most of the bike’s settings are managed by BMW’s familiar control wheel on the left handgrip, which scrolls and clicks through menus displayed on the new 6.5-inch color TFT screen. While the setup might have annoyed die-hards when it debuted, it has managed to stand up to all but the most traditional of critics thanks to its bright display and ability to manage the bike’s increasingly expansive electronic settings. The display also somehow manages to feel at home in the city, offering a clear, concise way to get quick information and delve into the GS’s deeper-than-ever settings. There are still familiar hard buttons at both grips, but managing some of the deeper functions requires rolling and clicking that big dial on the left handgrip.

Without saddlebags, the GS’s width is accentuated by horizontally-opposed cylinders; the GS Adventure’s engine protection bars lend a bulkier look.
Without saddlebags, the GS’s width is accentuated by horizontally-opposed cylinders; the GS Adventure’s engine protection bars lend a bulkier look. (Basem Wasef/)

Despite its high and mighty stance, the GS can feel smaller and nimbler than it is when the suspension is dialed into firmer settings, either via manual adjustment or the ESA’s electronically adjustable modes. One of the great benefits of riding an off-road-capable bike in a city is that the usual annoyances that plague sportbikes become irrelevant. Ride disrupting potholes are easily soaked up by the compliant suspension, which in this case offers 7.5 inches of front suspension travel, and 7.9 at the rear (the GS Adventure offers even more cush: 8.3 inches front, and 8.7 inches back). It’s easy to take that bad boy persona to the next level by embracing a casual disregard for what others might think are obstacles. Wanna park on the sidewalk? Simply hop the curb. Don’t like how that cager cut you off? Swerve right past him on the shoulder. The GS’s power is plentiful, and though its heft can get in the way of hooning it like a 400cc supermoto, the shock and awe of maneuvering this beast through a city offers some consolation for those wishing for something smaller. It’s easy to pick up speed rapidly in the top dog GS, and BMW has added a feature that makes it easier to avoid trouble if you accidentally hit the gas while you’re grabbing the throttle. Dubbed Dynamic Brake Control, the system detects interfering inputs and cuts engine power while applying the rear brake. When intentionally operated, the BMW’s brakes respond crisply with excellent feel, offering powerful stops despite the bike’s weight. And on the topic of mass, the optional ESA suspension offers automatic load leveling to maintain proper pitch despite the addition of saddlebags or passengers.

Angular and jaunty, the R 1250 GS suggests rugged capability in profile, even against an urban background.
Angular and jaunty, the R 1250 GS suggests rugged capability in profile, even against an urban background. (Basem Wasef/)

At the end of the day, the BMW R 1200 GS might be a no-brainer for ultra-long-distance treks or large-scale ventures off the beaten path, but it’s still a somewhat controversial option for city riding. Yes, there are similarly configured but slimmer bikes better suited for lane-splitting (if it’s legal where you live). And indeed, the smaller 800 GS is more reasonable when you consider all the logical reasons for negotiating urban spaces. But there’s an undeniable mystique to that big ol’ boxer engine, and while the smaller bike is entirely practical, the big GS brings a sense of occasion to every ride that simply can’t be matched by its parallel-twin-powered stablemate. Go larger than life or go home: If you’d rather make your commute memorable and are repelled by two-wheeled appliances, BMW’s R 1250 GS offers an impactful and imposing way to tackle the beaten path.

The Beemer’s beak isn’t quite as pronounced as the Ducati Multistrada’s schnoz.
The Beemer’s beak isn’t quite as pronounced as the Ducati Multistrada’s schnoz. (Basem Wasef/)

Gearbox

Helmet: Schuberth C3

Jacket: Dainese Misano D-air

Gloves: Dainese Full Metal RS

Pant: Alpinestars Copper

Boots: Alpinestars J-Cult

ABS on the radially mounted 4-piston brakes are easily defeatable, enabling quick dirt capability— or tail slides on tarmac.
ABS on the radially mounted 4-piston brakes are easily defeatable, enabling quick dirt capability— or tail slides on tarmac. (Basem Wasef/)

2020 BMW R 1250 GS Price And Specifications

PRICE $17,895 (+ $495 destination)
MOTOR 1,254cc, DOHC, air-/liquid-cooled boxer twin; 8-valve
BORE x STROKE 102.5 x 76.0mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 12.5:1
FUEL DELIVERY Electronic twin jet fuel injection w/ ride-by-wire throttle
CLUTCH Hydraulically actuated multiplate wet clutch
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/shaft
FRAME Two-section steel tube
FRONT SUSPENSION 37mm BMW Telelever; 7.5-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION BMW Paralever adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping, optional electronically adjustable ESA; 7.9-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Radial-mount 4-piston calipers, 305mm discs w/ ABS
REAR BRAKE 4-piston caliper, 276mm disc w/ ABS
WHEELS, FRONT/REAR Die-cast aluminum; 19 x 3.0-in. / 17 x 4.5-in.
TIRES, FRONT/REAR 120/70-19 / 170/60-17
RAKE/TRAIL 25.5°/3.9 in.
WHEELBASE 60.0 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 33.5/34.3 in. (standard seat); 31.5/32.3 in. (lowered suspension)
FUEL CAPACITY 5.3 gal.
CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT 549 lb.
WARRANTY 3 years, unlimited mileage
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT bmwmotorcycles.com
The 6.5-inch TFT screen is bright and clear; the 5-inch touchscreen navigation adds $949, and is fixed in place by a key lock.
The 6.5-inch TFT screen is bright and clear; the 5-inch touchscreen navigation adds $949, and is fixed in place by a key lock. (Basem Wasef/)The GS’s non-pipe side reveals the shaft drive, and the relatively low position of the seat in relation to the profile, which sits as low as 33.5 inches.
The GS’s non-pipe side reveals the shaft drive, and the relatively low position of the seat in relation to the profile, which sits as low as 33.5 inches. (Basem Wasef/)Though the wheel on the left handgrip manages a plethora of controls, there’s no shortage of hard buttons on both bar ends for quick adjustments.
Though the wheel on the left handgrip manages a plethora of controls, there’s no shortage of hard buttons on both bar ends for quick adjustments. (Basem Wasef/)Available saddlebags snap into an otherwise discreetly styled rear subframe.
Available saddlebags snap into an otherwise discreetly styled rear subframe. (Basem Wasef/)A closer look at the frontal view reveals that the handlebars sit wider than those beefy cylinder heads.
A closer look at the frontal view reveals that the handlebars sit wider than those beefy cylinder heads. (Basem Wasef/)The seat can be adjusted between 33.5 and 34.3 inches, or 31.5 and 32.3 inches with the optional lowered suspension ($250); a no-cost low seat drops a further 1.1 to 1.5 inches for greater reach at a slight compromise to comfort.
The seat can be adjusted between 33.5 and 34.3 inches, or 31.5 and 32.3 inches with the optional lowered suspension ($250); a no-cost low seat drops a further 1.1 to 1.5 inches for greater reach at a slight compromise to comfort. (Basem Wasef/)No street parking? No problem: Parking a GS on the sidewalk just makes you look like more of a badass.
No street parking? No problem: Parking a GS on the sidewalk just makes you look like more of a badass. (Basem Wasef/)

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