24 Dec 2013

And what about the objectivity?

On 20 December Visordown published an article entitled Kevin Ash’s widow still waiting for answers from BMW.

If you see a title like that you know it’s going to be a contentious article, but I was somewhat unprepared for what, in my opinion, was tabloid style reporting, with unreferenced quotes from various points in time since the accident occurred, and what felt like the author leading the reader toward his own bias on the subject.

I know the journalism community is tight (‘take one for the team’ etc) and they lost a very highly regarded colleague on the day of the accident, but I would also expect the reporter to indulge in at least a dribble of objectivity. Instead, the tone was one of the ‘big bad corporation’ remaining tight-lipped—despite stating that the public prosecutor in South Africa hasn’t yet released the findings of the investigation. Is BMW meant to fabricate something in the meantime?

A couple of ‘facts’ in the article were not well researched. The article states that the R1200GS has been equipped with a steering damper since October, although my bike, which was built in late August and delivered at the beginning of September, came with the damper. Sloppy reporting, but forgivable. The statement about ‘a new traction control package called Automatic Stability Control’ is incredibly misleading. The system is not new—in 2013 buyers could optionally have the bike fitted with 5-mode ASC (rain, road, dyna, enduro, enduro pro), and the vast majority of the bikes sold were so equipped. For 2014, BMW made 2 of the 5 modes (rain, road) standard on all models, and the other 3 modes (dyna, enduro, enduro pro) optional. To give some context, they also made ABS standard on all models in 2012, when this was previously optional.

The context in which the steering damper and ASC were mentioned implied that BMW had added these features in response to the accident. Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t—but objectively speaking, there are simply no facts to prove or disprove this theory at this point in time.

With very few exceptions, I have all but stopped reading comments on news articles, much less getting involved in futile commenting wars with armchair activists (too many angry people propagating thoughtless and hateful drivel) but this time I felt compelled to create an account and express my views objectively:


Firstly, RIP to a great personality, reporter and loving family man. No one wants these things to happen in our circles. And like any grieving family, KA’s wants answers. They are angry. Upset. They want someone to blame. They want closure. I would too. As it stands now, no one knows exactly what happened and it will likely remain this way indefinitely.

Almost unanimously, the responses here are quick to point the finger although none of us witnessed the accident. If a tank slapper was the cause of the accident there would most certainly be damage to the steering stops which inevitably would have been reported by this point by the public prosecutor based on the finds of the SA police who investigated the incident. Since this has not been reported, no manufacturer (BMW, Ducati, KTM, Honda etc) could be reasonably expected to admit liability for speculation or allegation of which there is no proof. If BMW were found to be negligent by the investigation you can bet it would have been splashed across international media circles like lightning. But people love to vilify the ‘big, bad corporation’ without any objectivity. A corporation with people like you and me who have exactly the same strong feelings about the incident. You can bet there are engineers and testers losing sleep about how their work resulted in someone’s death.

BMW claim their decision to fit a steering damper on 2014 models of the standard 1200 is to harmonise the production of the platform which now includes the new Adventure and RT models which were designed from the start to include the damper—exercising economies of scale or some such economics-speak. Everyone will of course have strong opinions on this claim but it is nevertheless nothing more than speculation to connect this to an issue that was experienced by a couple of reporters, yet strangely not reported in various forums by the 17,000 or so owners of this model.

KA had a reputation for being a sensible, experienced rider. But he was still a human being with the potential to make errors in judgement like any other person. Was this the case? Again, nobody knows. I don’t know how many of the people commenting here ride regularly off road... I have enjoyed doing this for years on heavy bikes, and despite my experience I still come off the bike from time to time—it’s an inevitable risk of the activity. And for any number of reasons... Misjudging a rut. A brief lapse of reading the trail surface. A small, unfortunately located rock mid corner.

So we are back to the beginning again. A person has died who shouldn’t have died and I wholeheartedly join in with everyone else who sends their best thoughts to his grieving and heartbroken family. I hope they find closure somehow. But perhaps the reason nothing more has come from this incident, is because there is nothing more to come. Sometimes accidents happen to good people.


I was somewhat surprised by the response (perhaps I shouldn’t have been). Wild accusations of being paid by BMW to write this, corporate astro-turfing (ie a BMW spokesperson attempting to appear as a general member of the public). Of course it’s all a conspiracy and we should all sit around wearing foil hats. My response:


I’m not sure how I should take the comments above. No, I most certainly do not work for BMW. But at the same time I don't feed into foil hat conspiracy theories based on speculation. My line of work is in communications in a healthcare setting which involves considering events and writing with objectivity—I have also worked in clinical risk management.

Re-read what I have written carefully and you will find that I have not sided with anyone—I have simply pointed out the knowns and unknowns in this incident without drawing any conclusions based on speculation.

I agree with [nickname removed]—it is a rather convenient coincidence that BMW have added the damper on 2014 models. But no one outside of BMW has all the facts behind this decision, so to draw a parallel to the accident would again be based on speculation. If I had to harbour a guess, I would say it would be more toward the public perception side of things than an outright design flaw, based on the negative press. But that astro-turfing remark is a bit rude—I’m not difficult to find on google, I’m either duffs or duffs10 on several motorbiking forums.

Also agree with [nickname removed]—large corporations are not quick to issue statements until all investigations have been completed. If anyone of you were potentially liable for a tragic event, would you issue a statement before having all the facts? I would expect once the public prosecutor has issued their statement, one will follow from BMW.

I would love to know if there was a clear root cause behind the accident—as much as anyone else here—but this just isn’t the case at this point in time.


As of 9:30pm on Christmas Eve (how sad am I to be doing this when I should be focussing on the lovely bottle of red staring at me from across the room) the comments have been suspiciously disabled for the article, although they are still accessible in the Visordown forum.

It worries me about the state of the world when objectivity is viewed with suspicion, and where people form such strong opinions based on nothing more than speculation and hearsay, instead of researching the facts, however few are available.

But when this includes reporters, who are paid to write objectively and without bias, there simply is no excuse.

Come on, you know you have an opinion—let’s hear it.

3 Dec 2013

23 Nov 2013

Dying on the roads

Oops... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is perhaps a topic no one wants to think about. When the lovely Leslie over at one of my favourite blog sites Advgrrls.com posted an article about road safety stats I started doing a bit of digging.

I was really surprised that the US had such shockingly (for a westernised country) high RTA death rates—13.9 deaths per 100,000 people. Compare this to Canada at 7.8/100,000, the UK at 4.8/100,000 and Japan at 3.8/100,000. Belgium has a reputation of having the worst drivers in Europe and their rate is lower at 10/100,000 (actually it’s Lithuania which takes this title at 15.5/100,000)… Source: WorldLifeExpectancy

What is interesting is that the US has such large, open and comparatively straight roads compared to Europe, Japan etc, yet the Europeans (subjectively) tend to drive faster and more aggressively than their American counterparts… But then, Canada has roughly half the death rate of the US, with similar types of roads…

So where is it all going wrong?

Insufficient driving training—or driving training designed to pass the test and not actually teach real world skills? Canada has graduated licensing which probably helps bring the death rate down whereas the US varies state by state…

Cultural/attitude/ego differences within the populations of the different countries? Japan, Canada and the UK are all countries which have reputations for high overall standards of conduct, etiquette and appropriate behaviour in public (although that goes down the toilet when the British travel somewhere warm!!)…

Penalty rates? Europe, Canada and Japan tend to have FAR stiffer fines than the US… Drink/drug drivers? Who knows…

All I know is that I feel a hell of a lot safer on the roads here than I did before looking into this.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) website has an interesting and very comprehensive report about RTA rates—what is quite interesting is that the report identifies that RTA rates are disproportionately higher for lower income/education groups which makes logical sense… these groups typically aren’t using vehicles with the latest technology/safety features, and typically don’t have the disposable income for proper PPE, training etc.

I drove (a car) for 14 years in Canada totalling in the region of 200,000 miles and about 20,000 miles in the US for holidays. While in general I never felt particularly endangered I did find, subjectively, that in both countries there was a whole lot more road rage than anywhere I’ve driven in Europe. Silly things like someone not looking when changing lanes, and the car which was wronged just not letting it go… people holding down the horn when pensioners were driving below the speed limit. Things like that. Of course this was mainly in cities/built-up areas—it was much more relaxed in rural areas (Californian redwoods was a particular delight, as was Hwy 99 from Cache Creek to Pemberton, BC).

It would be interesting to have someone who specialises in social/cultural psychology or a similar field provide an analysis. For example, the differences in general stress levels between North America and the EU (the speculation being that higher stress equals more distraction equals higher accident rates)…

One thing that stands out in my mind is paid leave from work. My understanding in the US is that there is no obligation for an employer to provide this—in Canada it was (when I lived there) a minimum of 10 working days (2 weeks). In the EU (where it is felt that sufficient time away from work makes for more productive and happy employees) it is a minimum of 20 working days but most people get 25 + bank holidays (of which there are between 5 and 10 depending on the country). In my current role (which I’ve done for 5 years now), I am entitled to 38 days of paid leave each year (including bank holidays)—in other words, nearly 2 months each year—and this is quite typical.

The typical work ethic is different in the US, Canada and UK (three countries on which I can comment from first-hand experience). Canada and the UK are fairly similar—people are committed to their jobs but it’s not particularly commonplace to find people ‘burning out’ from work. However, in the UK people tend to include A LOT more about their personal lives in their relationships with colleagues than in Canada where this practice was a fair bit more restrained. A lot of my friends who live in the US seem have a huge drive (and therefore source of stress) to work as hard has they possibly can to get a promotion and a higher salary, move up the social ladder and repeat almost obsessively. They seem to take failure as just that, rather than a learning experience for success in future. There’s often no convincing them to take a holiday to come visit me out here, for example—and when I’ve visited them I know to make my own agenda to accommodate their work schedules! The culture is very much ‘keep aiming higher’ whereas in the UK it’s more ‘keep aiming higher but know when to stop and have a pint’.

Aside from speculations about stress levels and work ethic, one serious and highly researched issue in both the US and Canada is people using mobile devices while driving—not sure if this has reduced in recent years and what laws have been passed. This used to be an issue here as well until the police started proactively handing out huge fines plus 3 points on licences, and mandatory driving bans in certain circumstances. If you drive for a living, it’s a pretty convincing incentive to not use a mobile phone while driving when you could be banned for 2 years if you cause a crash or kill someone…

All of our countries have their positives and negatives (don’t get me started on the negatives of the UK) but the more you delve into the social and cultural complexities of each, the more you realise how unique each one is. Which may go some way in explaining the differences in RTA rates.

I would love to hear other peoples thoughts.

R1200GS Adventure

A few weeks ago BMW announced the new R1200GS Adventure, based on the 2013/14 liquid cooled R1200GS. BMW UK have now announced pricing and when accounting for the extra items the Adventure has standard (engine protection bars, spoked wheels), there is a roughly £700 price difference between the two. Other than the bodywork and larger fuel tank, the engine has some minor changes (heavier flywheel) to reportedly make the bike smoother at lower speeds off road.

Photo credit: BMW

Until I get my greedy hands on one for a test ride, I can't really comment—but from an aesthetic point of view, it looks much larger than the standard model despite similar overall dimensions. Obviously the larger tank makes it visually heavier but it has lost a bit of the tight and clever design work which makes the standard model look smaller than it really is. The bright finish on the tank reminds me of the R1150GS from the early 2000s. Design-wise I really like the black frame, wheels and engine casings—and the little cubbyhole in front of the fuel filler is a useful idea (credit card, Tic Tacs, keys etc).

I also like the matt olive colour but the orange graphics seem a little bit more than a nod to a certain orange manufacturer **cough** KTM.

I do like the functional, raw look about it but not enough to feel post-purchase regret for getting the standard model.

BMW's press release follows.

The new BMW R 1200 GS Adventure.

The arrival of the new BMW R 1200 GS Adventure marks the start of the next chapter in the success story of the large, boxer-engined GS models that extends back over more than 30 years. Since its debut in 2005, BMW Motorrad, the world's most successful manufacturer of large-capacity travel enduros, has firmly established the big GS Adventure as the definitive machine for long-distance travel. It transports two-wheeled explorers to the farthest-flung corners of the world and allows them to keep pressing on when others have long since turned back.

The BMW R 1200 GS Adventure as the quintessential travel companion for expeditions and long-distance exploration. 

The new R 1200 GS Adventure continues in this same tradition, building on the dynamic performance characteristics and excellent off-road and touring capabilities of the R 1200 GS to provide the new, ultimate solution for globetrotters, travel enduro aficionados and touring riders with a passion for off-road action.

The new R 1200 GS Adventure is powered by the same spirited air/liquid-cooled boxer engine featured on the R 1200 GS, with a displacement of 1,170 cc and an output of 92 kW (125 hp) at 7,750 rpm. The stand-out feature of the power unit – introduced last year after being newly developed for the R 1200 GS – is the new precision cooling system which uses water instead of oil as a cooling agent. Also new is the engine's through-flow, which is now vertical for even more efficient power output, as well as the six-speed gearbox that is integrated into the engine housing along with the wet clutch. For the first time on a BMW production motorcycle, the maintenance-free cardan-shaft drive is now positioned on the left-hand side. With the aim of further improving the rideability of the R 1200 GS Adventure, especially on off-road terrain, the drive's flywheel mass has been increased by around 950 grams and an extra vibration damper has been incorporated into the powertrain.

Designed, engineered and equipped for supreme globetrotting capabilities. 

The big BMW GS Adventure is something of an icon amongst large-capacity travel enduros and is the top choice for world travellers on long-distance tours, even to the remotest regions of the planet. No matter whether it is negotiating tarmac roads, gravel tracks or rough terrain, the large-capacity GS Adventure gets its riders safely to their destination. This both compelled and inspired BMW Motorrad to make the new R 1200 GS Adventure even better in every way.

Like the R 1200 GS, the Adventure is also built around a robust and torsionally resistant tubular steel spaceframe. However, it has a larger 30-litre tank (10 litres more than on the R 1200 GS) to allow for an increased range, while the fuel tank itself is now made from lightweight aluminium. The R 1200 GS Adventure already comes equipped as standard with ABS, Automatic Stability Control (ASC), as well as the two riding modes "Rain" and "Road", which enable the riding characteristics to be adapted to most road conditions. This further enhances the range of use of the new R 1200 GS Adventure considerably, at the same time as providing a significant safety boost on slippery surfaces in particular.

Three further riding modes can be added by ordering the optional Riding mode Pro feature, which is accompanied by the Enduro ABS and Enduro ASC add-ons for off-road riding. The three extra riding modes Dynamic, Enduro and Enduro Pro (which can be activated with a coding plug) make it possible to adjust the settings of both ASC and ABS and, if fitted, the semi-active suspension Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) to suit the specific requirements of off-road operation.

Besides new bodywork styling with even more masculine flair, the globetrotting abilities and greater off-road expertise of the new R 1200 GS Adventure are clearly brought to the fore by a new chassis set-up with a further 20 millimetres of spring travel, increased ground clearance and a trailing arm with modified geometry for even better handling. A larger windshield with convenient hand-wheel adjustment, additional air flaps as well as hand protectors greatly increase wind and weather protection. Wide enduro footrests, adjustable, reinforced foot-operated levers and completely restyled bodywork add the finishing touches to the look of the new R 1200 GS Adventure.

Highlights of the new BMW R 1200 GS Adventure:

  • Based on the same versatile overall concept as the R 1200 GS, with spirited twin-cylinder boxer engine and agile chassis, but with enhanced off-road prowess and globetrotting abilities.
  • Increased flywheel mass in the engine and additional vibration damper for even smoother running and superior rideability.
  • Spring travel 20 millimetres longer at front and rear compared to R 1200 GS.
  • 10 millimetres more ground clearance than predecessor.
  • Modified geometry of trailing arm for even sharper handling.
  • Completely restyled bodywork in distinctly robust and masculine GS Adventure design.
  • 30-litre fuel tank with similar range to predecessor.
  • ABS, ASC and two riding modes as standard.
  • Three further riding modes available as an ex-works option.
  • Semi-active suspension Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) available as an ex-works option.
  • More comfortable, tilt-adjustable bench seat.
  • Large, adjustable windshield and air flaps.
  • Wide enduro footrests.
  • Adjustable, reinforced foot-operated levers.
  • Robust engine and tank protection bar.
  • Wide range of special accessories and optional extras available ex-works.

22 Nov 2013

14 Nov 2013

11 Nov 2013

29 Sept 2013

9 Aug 2013

BMW's press release on the R1200GS

More information about the R1200GS is below in BMW's official press release.

Photo credit: BMW Group PressClub Global

The world's most successful travel enduro is perfected.

The "BMW GS" concept has embodied riding pleasure and the desire for adventure for over 30 years. This applies especially to the GS motorcycles with the opposed-twin "boxer" engine. The "big GS" allows motorcyclists to explore the most remote corners of the world—an idea that has already inspired numerous globetrotters to set off on their travels.

But the GS was and still is much more than this. Whether sports-style cornering on winding country roads, excellent travel times due to high motorway speeds, relaxed tours with a passenger or daring rides over rough terrain—every GS has offered supreme mastery of these skills in its respective era and this won't change with the new version.

It is the unique integrated concept of the big travel enduro bike with boxer engine, complete with authentic charm and a powerful, high-torque engine, which is loved by legions of motorcycle fans all over the world to this day. It is not for nothing that the "big BMW GS" with boxer engine has been the undisputed frontrunner in its market segment for many years and is the best-seller within the BMW Motorrad model range. BMW is now beginning a whole new chapter in GS history: the most popular travel enduro in the world has been brought to perfection.

The challenge: how to improve even more following nine years at the top.

Even in its ninth year of production, the current BMW R 1200 GS is still setting the benchmark in its segment in comparative tests with its outstanding overall concept and innovative technology. With over 170,000 units sold, it is the most successful and top-selling travel enduro in the world.

So the challenge facing the BMW Motorrad development department was considerable: to further optimise the GS—an icon of three decades—improve it in all areas and equip it with innovative technical solutions to ensure it is in good shape for the future.

The development goals of the new BMW R 1200 GS:

  • Further increase performance overall—without neglecting its well-established virtues.
  • Perfect its touring suitability.
  • Increase off-road suitability.
  • Achieve superior figures within the travel enduro segment and beyond in terms of engine and riding performance.
  • Ensure preparation for the future in terms of noise and exhaust emissions.
  • Suspension with top handling, optimum traction and increased off-road performance.
  • Increase active and passive safety.
  • Unmistakable BMW Motorrad design in typical GS style.
  • Top quality as is characteristic of BMW Motorrad.

Newly designed air/water-cooled boxer engine with vertical through-flow, integrated gearbox and left-hand cardan shaft drive.

Geared towards the above goals, the entire R 1200 GS was completely redefined, particularly the drive concept.

The performance aspired to, as well as adherence to future anticipated requirements in terms of noise and exhaust emissions, is ensured among other things by a change in the cooling system. The boxer engine in the new R 1200 GS continues to use air/liquid cooling, however, the coolant oil has been replaced by a glycol-water mixture. This ensures a high level of heat absorption capacity of the cooling liquid for more efficient heat dissipation.

So-called precision cooling (a principle similar to that used in Formula 1) involves only those engine elements being cooled with coolant, which are particularly exposed to thermal stress. The engine still continues to use air cooling, thereby preserving the characteristic appearance of the opposed twin boxer engine. The two radiators are small and inconspicuously integrated.

The through-flow is now vertical instead of horizontal for improved filling, and the engine housing integrates the 6-speed gearbox as well as a wet clutch with anti-hopping function instead of the dry clutch as was used previously. What is more, the secondary drive now runs via the well-established cardan shaft on the left-hand side. With an output of 92 kW (125 bhp) at 7700 rpm and 125 Nm at 6500 rpm, the new engine offers superior power and performance in the travel enduro segment and beyond.

The empty weight (ready for the road) according to DIN of the R 1200 GS is 238 kg including standard BMW Motorrad Integral ABS.

E-gas and cruise control.

An electromotive throttle actuator is now used for the first time in a GS motorcycle. Here, rider commands are passed on directly by the sensor in the accelerator twist grip to the engine control system; this then regulates the throttle valve electronically. The use of the E-gas system provides a significant improvement in terms of controllability and response. What is more, the rider can adapt engine characteristics to the situation on the road by means of five modes (optional extra). It was also possible to include an electronic cruise control function (optional extra).

ASC and riding modes as an optional extra: five freely selectable modes—"Rain", "Road", "Dynamic", "Enduro" and "Enduro Pro".

For optimum adaptation to the rider's individual needs and purpose, the new R 1200 GS now offers five freely selectable riding modes for the first time: these are an ex works option and feature three different E-gas settings and with varying engine characteristics. Linked to this is Automatic Stability Control ASC with a special enduro configuration. If this option is chosen, BMW Motorrad ABS, ASC and—if installed—the semiactive suspension are all adapted to the respective profiles of these five modes.

Semiactive suspension: BMW Motorrad Dynamic ESA for optimum riding dynamics in every situation as an ex works option.

The new semiactive suspension BMW Motorrad Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) taps into a whole new range of possibilities as well as providing maximum riding safety and performance. Dynamic ESA monitors the vertical movement of front and rear wheel control as well as other parameters by means of a spring travel sensor in each position, and adapts the damping automatically to the situation depending on riding conditions and the manoeuvres being carried out. Damping adjustment at front and rear is effected by means of electrically controlled regulation valves.

New chassis with tubular steel bridge frame and specially adapted wheel/tyre dimensions of 120/70 R19 at front and 170/60 R17 at rear as a world first.

The chassis of the R 1200 GS uses a completely newly developed tubular all-steel bridge frame with a bolt-on rear frame. Along with the newly designed Telelever at the front and the EVO Paralever at the rear, this has resulted in a further significant increase in torsional stiffness and hence ride stability and steering precision. Optimised handling qualities are the result of refined master geometric chassis data, and a longer swingarm provides further improved traction—especially when riding over rough terrain.

A globally unique feature of the new R 1200 GS are the tyres in the sizes 120/70 R19 at the front and 170/60 R17 at the rear, specially adapted to improve performance.

Revised brake system with radially mounted Brembo Monobloc brake calipers and BMW Motorrad Integral ABS as standard.

The brake system of the R 1200 GS has been extensively revised, too. There are now radially mounted Brembo Monobloc brake calipers at the front and a larger brake disc at the rear.

In line with the BMW Motorrad principle "Safety 360°" the new GS is also fitted as standard with the BMW Motorrad ABS, here in the part integral version.

The first motorcycle in the world with LED main headlight including integrated daytime running light for even greater safety when riding during the day and at night as an ex works option.

Even in its standard trim the new R 1200 GS has a main headlight with optimised light efficiency. In order to be seen even better during the day, BMW Motorrad also offers a daytime running light as an ex works option. For excellent road illumination and therefore even greater safety both day and night, an LED main headlight with integrated daytime running light is fitted in a motorcycle for the first time ever. It comprises innovative LED technology with a sophisticated cooling and decondensation concept.

Electrical system with new vehicle power supply and Multi-Controller for the BMW Motorrad Navigator IV.

The new R 1200 GS has the innovative new vehicle power system with altered function partitioning as already used in the 6-cylinder models K 1600 GT and GTL. As before, CAN bus (Controller Area Network) and LIN bus technology (Local Interconnect Network) enables significantly reduced wiring as compared to a conventional system. The previous central vehicle electronics has been partitioned into two separate control units.

The Multi-Controller, newly available for the GS, allows fast and convenient operation of the BMW Motorrad Navigator IV. It is located on the inside of the handlebar grip. This means that selecting functions is much less distracting than pressing buttons and does not require hands to be removed from the handlebars.

Aerodynamically optimised windshield with one-hand operation and optimum ergonomics.

The newly developed windshield of the R 1200 GS offers further improved wind and weather protection while also reducing wind noise. Adjustment is simple: an easily accessible and ergonomically optimised selection wheel is operated using one hand.

The new R 1200 GS has extended adjustment options for optimum seating comfort. The rider's seat can now be adjusted in height and tilt angle and the passenger seat can be shifted longitudinally to obtain the ideal distance between rider and passenger. The new handlebars can easily be turned upwards and, together with the optimised knee grip in the fuel tank area, they ensure an even better standing position for off-road riding. The improved knee grip can be clearly felt when seated, too. A high and a low seat, as well as an adjustable footrest system and adjustable foot controls, round off the program of special accessories offering individual adjustment facilities.

An overview of highlights of the new BMW R 1200 GS.

  • Completely newly designed engine for top-level riding dynamics within the travel enduro segment.
  • Capacity 1170 cc, rated output 92 kW (125 bhp) at 7700 rpm and a maximum torque of 125 Nm at 6500 rpm.
  • Cylinder heads with vertical through-flow for increased efficiency and performance.
  • Compact air/water cooling for optimum heat management.
  • Basic engine with compact, light and yet rigidity-optimised crankshaft.
  • Vertically separated case in open deck construction.
  • 6-speed gearbox integrated in engine housing, including wet clutch with anti-hopping function and reduced lever operation force.
  • New intake system for optimum output and torque with 52 mm throttle valve diameter.
  • E-gas for improved ridability, running smoothness and special functions.
  • Innovative exhaust gas system with electronically controlled exhaust flap for optimum performance characteristics and an earthy boxer sound.
  • Freely selectable riding modes "Rain", "Road", "Dynamic", "Enduro" and "Enduro Pro" with three different electromotive throttle actuator settings in conjunction with ASC (Automatic Stability Control), ABS and ASC settings for off-road riding as well as different mode-specific Dynamic ESA settings (option ex works).
  • New suspension with torsionally stiff tubular steel bridge frame and bolt-on rear frame.
  • Optimised lightweight cardan shaft drive now running on the left-hand side.
  • Newly developed and optimised Telelever at front and EVO Paralever at rear for an even more precise ride feel.
  • Refined master chassis geometry data and long swingarm for excellent traction.
  • Optimised seating width and position, and adjustable handlebars for even greater comfort.
  • Optimised ground reach for rider (inner leg length).
  • Tyre/wheel dimensions of 120/70 R19 at front and 170/60 R17 at rear as a world first, tailored specially to the R 1200 GS.
  • Revised BMW Motorrad brake system with radially mounted Brembo Monobloc brake calipers at front and 2-piston floating caliper with enlarged brake disc at  rear (Ø 276mm, previously 265mm).
  • BMW Motorrad Integral ABS as standard.
  • Semiactive suspension Dynamic ESA (ex works option).
  • Main headlight with optimised light efficiency and LED daytime running light (ex works option).
  • World's first motorcycle with LED main headlight featuring integrated daytime running light (ex works option).
  • New vehicle electrical system with partitioning of functions.
  • Extended electric switch units.
  • Electronic cruise control (ex works option).
  • Preparation for navigation unit with Multi-Controller to operate the
    BMW Motorrad Navigator IV (ex works option).
  • Windshield with one-hand operation for excellent wind and weather protection.
  • Seat with multiple adjustment functions for perfect ergonomics.
  • Number plate carriers quick to dismount for off-road riding.
  • Increased ground clearance (+ 8 mm).
  • New instrument cluster with on-board computer as standard. PRO on-board computer as an option.
  • Four main paint finishes to choose from: Alpine White, Racing Red, Blue Fire and Thunder Grey Metallic.
  • Extensive range of special accessories and rider equipment.

Berlin? It's London calling...

Following on from my trip to the Alps, and now over the post-holiday depression I paid BMW Park Lane a visit earlier this week to have a look at a new R1200GS and took this fetching red example for a short test ride:

I won't bore you with all the details (there are plenty of online reviews on this bike) but suffice to say it ticks all the boxes for my inner geek with a long list of electronics. It is hugely powerful, reverberating at idle and accelerating with more torque than a freight train. The sound it makes echoes between the buildings.

I love my F800GS and it's not going anywhere, but the next time I do 3,000 miles over 12 days I need something a little bit more spacious and with adjustable seats. The 1200 ticks the box here also with the front seat adjustable for height and angle, and the rear seat adjustable for space (moving forward and backward). And with 50% more horsepower and nearly double the torque of the 800, it promises to be even more effortless on a long day of riding.

After discussion with excellent sales exec Harald I selected options and accessories. I say excellent because Harald was patient and transparent with all my questions and went out of his way to liaise with the regional BMW UK manager to look into a small insurance issue for me (which was resolved to my satisfaction within 2 days).

I put down my deposit on a red 2014 R1200GS TE to secure a slot on the assembly line in Berlin. Third week of September, the computer says. Tick tock.

The TE (touring edition) includes the gorgeous full LED headlight/daytime riding light, electronic semi-active suspension (compensates for weight and road surface and can be adjusted firmer or softer as required), 5 riding modes, GPS mount, heated hand grips, tyre pressure sensors and cruise control.

I ordered it with the following options/accessories:

  • spoked wheels—much stronger than the cast wheels so no worries about cracking a rim off road or on London's bombed out roads
  • factory alarm
  • side cases and top box with backrest
  • large tank bag
  • LED fog lights
  • secure oil filler cap
  • crash bars

It will look similar to this bike:

Photo credit: BMW

...but with these wheels:

Photo credit: BMW

Why do I need two bikes? It gives me the best of both worlds really—I will use the F800GS for treks out on rougher roads/byways/trails, being the more suitable (and lighter) bike for this type of terrain, and also fitted with the tyres for the job. Since it has already done a winter on our salty roads, I can keep using it for commuting when the weather becomes foul without losing sleep over the inevitable damage the salt will do to the finish. For long trips and on days where it won't be getting a salt bath I'll have the R1200GS. That's not to say it will be a sunny day/Starbucks cruiser bike, I intend to use it to its potential as well.

If, down the road, I find it does everything I want and the 800 becomes redundant I can always consider selling it on at that point. But for now it would break my heart to get rid of it when it has been a model of reliability and enjoyment.

BMW's own insurance offers a really good deal for people with two BMW bikes—the insurance is paid on the more valuable bike and the less valuable bike is insured under the same policy at a flat rate of £5/£1,000 of value. A really good deal I must say.

I'll need to update my blog description since it will now have a joint F800GS/R1200GS focus... Six weeks to go!

7 Jul 2013

The trip in hindsight

While suffering at home in London in 30°C weather with clear skies and nearly 100% humidity, and after nearly a whole bottle of Chat-en-oeuf circulating through my veins I thought it would be a suitable time to reflect on the trip.

Hightlights? Visiting Tom in Lille, my friend Laure in Ammerschwihr, my friend Renate's family in Flachau and meeting Dirkyan in Belgium all top the list.

There were a few more. Hôtel La Val in Ruèras Switzerland with its kind and accommodating husband and wife team, Hôtel Ambiente in Wemding Germany with its considered mix of old and new carried out to perfection, and Urberacher Hof in Urberach Germany with mum and daughter team Margarete and Gisela who made us feel part of the family. Honourable mention to Hôtel du Commerce in Thônes France with its tip top restaurant and meeting Zoë our expat Irish hostess (and fellow biker).

Every country we went to was full of generous, kind and welcoming people without exception. It’s interesting how countries gain reputations from visitors but our experience shattered all the preconceptions. From petrol station attendants to restaurant servers and hoteliers, everyone did more than their fair share to make us feel welcome. I don't know how much of that was down to travelling by motorbike but it doesn't matter really.

But which country did we enjoy most? I would have to say Germany. There is a certain acceptance ingrained in German culture toward outsiders that I can't quite put my finger on. The roads on the whole are an engineer’s wet dream with curves and bends seemingly designed to fling a motorbike around. And the autobahn is always close by when the temptation of opening up the taps on the bike becomes too strong to resist.

I can’t neglect the Grimsel Pass in Switzerland, however. This caught me out, temperature dropping from 17°C at the bottom to 0.5°C at the top with a full on snowstorm. Perhaps I didn't express earlier just how terrifying the experience was... I really thought, at a few points, that the next hairpin corner would be my last, slipping on black ice and sliding off the guardrail-less edge and smashing to our deaths on the rocks hundreds of metres below. But I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.

To balance the Grimsel, the Cormet de Roselend was the definition of joy on a bike, especially on the way back with a mad German man on an R1200GS as a pace bike in front of us. I think we caught him out keeping up on a fully loaded F800GS, a testament to the capability of BMW’s midrange GS bike.

Finally, the real star of the show was the bike itself. After nearly 3,000 miles of heavy going (225kg including us and the luggage) it kept chugging along without retort, not giving a single problem along the entire journey. True, I replaced the rear brake pads in Austria, but they were nearly shot when I left London. I checked the oil a few times along the way but I needn't have bothered—it didn't use a drop. And the economy was the biggest surprise—60mpg on the nose. Considering the weight and the steep mountains we crossed, this figure is nothing short of a miracle.

I can't wait for the next adventure later this summer—though it won't be quite so far from home, I'm thinking Wales or Scotland.

Alps 2013 quick links

Day 1: London to Lille
Day 2: Lille to Hagondange
Day 3: Slow road to Ammerschwihr
Day 4: Ammerschwihr
Day 5: Ammerschwihr to Thônes
Day 6: Thônes to.... Thônes
Day 7: Thônes to Ruèras
Day 8: Ruèras to Flachau
Day 9: Flachau
Day 10: Flachau to Wemding
Day 11: Wemding to Urberach
Day 12: Urberach to Antwerp
Day 13: Antwerp to London

The gear and how it held up
The trip in hindsight

6 Jul 2013

The gear and how it held up


  • BMW F800GS Trophy with OEM aluminium panniers and usual bits - new rear pads €66 at BMW Motorrad in Kaprun Austria (nearly ready for replacement at the start of the trip)
  • Heidenau K60 Scouts - about 50% tread at the start, now about 20% tread
  • various tools + tyre irons/spare tube - not used
  • DRC mini foot pump - not used
  • chain lube - used daily 1–2x

  • GoPro Hero3 - no issues (but battery life is horrible)
  • Nikon D7000 + 2 lenses, polarising filters and speedlight - no issues, excellent battery life (at 75% after 500 shots)
  • SPOT Connect - absolutely rubbish, see below
  • BMW Navigator IV GPS - no issues, but software really needs a 'navigate to route' function to join up on pre-programmed routes... currently the only option is to navigate to start of route so you are on your own to find your way to a point along the route
  • Sena Bluetooth SMH-5 intercom - no issues, see below
  • iPhone 5 - no issues, Booking Tonight app was immensely useful
  • iPad 2 with camera connection kit and compact bluetooth keyboard - no issues, although not really needed along with laptop
  • DIN to 3x USB adapter with device cables - no issues, only used once as devices charged each evening in hotels
  • Sanyo Eneloop AA batteries + USB charger - not used (see below re SPOT Connect)
  • MacBook Air (work laptop) - no issues

  • bike documentation/insurance - required, but not used
  • passports - only used to re-enter UK
  • St Christopher talisman - clearly it worked, we got back in one piece!
  • European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) - required, but not used
  • bank/credit cards + driving licence
  • emergency map - not used
  • personal hygiene items + ear plugs
  • carrier bags - for dirty laundry, wet gloves etc
  • small gifts for friends/family

  • Icon Patrol waterproof jacket/trousers/gloves + Variant helmet and spare visor - see below
  • TCX X-Desert waterproof boots - no issues, dry feet all the way!
  • Caterpillar shatterproof safety sunglasses - no issues
  • CamelBak 1.5l hydration pack - apart from a plastic taste to the water for the first few days, this was much more used than I thought it would be, wouldn't travel without it now
  • spare non-waterproof gloves - no issues
  • t-shirts/vests, shorts, cargos, trainers, underwear, socks

  • BMW Boulder 2 jacket with waterproof liner/City 2 trousers - no issues, whomever BMW commissions to make their gear does it well and it is up to the task
  • Hein Gericke gloves - no issues
  • Shark S500 helmet - no issues, although not a particularly quiet helmet
  • Icon Patrol waterproof boots - no issues
  • waterproof over-suit - cheap and nasty and performed as expected at its price point
  • shirts/vests, shorts, jeans, shoes, underwear, socks

+++ Sena SMH-5 Bluetooth headset/intercom

This was the quiet star of the show—from hot to cold, and rain to snow these little units never stopped, never gave any problem at all. They are the least expensive units in Sena's range but well-featured and support multiple bluetooth connections, so GPS instructions, mobile phone, music player and intercom functions all work as expected. Battery life is fantastic, with the intercom open all day they last nearly 2 days on a charge, and charge via USB. This is an example of a device that does what it should do without any fuss. Are you listening, SPOT?

Photo: Sena SMH5 • Source: Sena Technologies

+++ Icon Patrol Raiden gear + Variant helmet

Couldn't be more pleased, it's not particularly expensive gear compared to some but it is well constructed, fits me perfectly and works as advertised. I've shelled out a bit extra to replace the stock, unremarkable pads with D3O versions (CE Level 2) but otherwise it is as shipped. I stayed completely dry through all sorts of rain, with one exception—a bit of dampness seeping through the undersides of the trousers after 2 hours of downpour including an hour on the French motorway. The Variant helmet shape is also great in rain as the airflow combined with the peak keeps the visor clear of rain, and in hot weather it is the best ventilated helmet I've had to date. A lot of people seem to have an aversion to brighter coloured gear but to be blunt I don't and whatever makes people see me means one less person to plough into me on the road. Too bright for you? They make their gear in black also. And the hood is great when you take off the helmet on a rainy day. Doesn't flap at speed either.

--- SPOT Connect

The biggest disappointment of the trip with respect to gear—YES I know it says on their website that they recommend using special Energizer Lithium batteries but what they don't say is that other batteries either don't work at all, or only last an hour or so. The special Energizers are virtually impossible to find anywhere in Europe. Top that off with constant Bluetooth connectivity issues (phone and device stop talking) and a stupid app on the phone which needs to be in the foreground or the unit stops sending tracking points, and you have a product that would do better smashed at the bottom of a rocky Alpine chasm than come along on my next trip. Infuriatingly disappointing after wasting a shitload of cash on this plus another shitload of cash on the subscription fees. And the map sharing function on their website works like something from 1999. In 2013 devices should not be such a struggle—are you listening SPOT? Built-in battery, USB charging and up-to-date software should not be too much to ask for a 'premium' product.

Photo: SPOT Connect • Source: SPOT LLC

Alps 2013 quick links

Day 1: London to Lille
Day 2: Lille to Hagondange
Day 3: Slow road to Ammerschwihr
Day 4: Ammerschwihr
Day 5: Ammerschwihr to Thônes
Day 6: Thônes to.... Thônes
Day 7: Thônes to Ruèras
Day 8: Ruèras to Flachau
Day 9: Flachau
Day 10: Flachau to Wemding
Day 11: Wemding to Urberach
Day 12: Urberach to Antwerp
Day 13: Antwerp to London

The gear and how it held up
The trip in hindsight

5 Jul 2013

Day 13: Antwerp to London

I'll say one thing about the chain hotels—they do good international breakfasts. We were presented with a buffet-style spread (smörgåsbord?) covering everything from fresh fruit to salad to scrambled eggs.

During breakfast the woman at the next table loaded up on two full plates of breakfast, and then made herself an enormous sandwich which she wrapped in a napkin and hid in her handbag. Naughty.

Our Eurotunnel ticket was for 6:20pm so we decided to taken the rural roads back to Calais since the journey would have only taken 2 hours by motorway.

Someplace between Antwerp and Ghent.

The same place, looking the other way.

Along the way we stopped in Brugge for lunch at an Egyptian restaurant I've been to a few times in the past—Toet Anch Amon—located 30m away from the Friet Museum (and free motorbike parking). It's interesting how owners of small restaurants remember people who have come in before, as was the case this time. The last time I ate there was more than a year ago.

A museum all about chips!

London was calling so we slabbed it the last hour to the Eurotunnel terminal and arrived nearly 3 hours before our scheduled departure time. The Eurotunnel operates a flexible system allowing people to depart up to 2 hours before or after the scheduled time at no charge. The theory is to prevent people from driving dangerously to make their crossing.

With motorcycles it's even more flexible, as the people directing traffic simply radio ahead to the train and squeeze you on the next available crossing regardless of the schedule time.

After speaking with an extremely cheery border officer we made our way to the shuttle and crossed 2 1/2 hours early.

View from inside the shuttle as we left Calais—train yards are not exactly eye candy.

In situ for the crossing.

A panorama of the carriage.

Coming out on the Folkestone side we beelined it straight to London dodging the sloppy UK drivers most notably in South East London. Unscathed we arrived and got straight on the phone for takeaway before checking out for the night.

Alps 2013 quick links

Day 1: London to Lille
Day 2: Lille to Hagondange
Day 3: Slow road to Ammerschwihr
Day 4: Ammerschwihr
Day 5: Ammerschwihr to Thônes
Day 6: Thônes to.... Thônes
Day 7: Thônes to Ruèras
Day 8: Ruèras to Flachau
Day 9: Flachau
Day 10: Flachau to Wemding
Day 11: Wemding to Urberach
Day 12: Urberach to Antwerp
Day 13: Antwerp to London

The gear and how it held up
The trip in hindsight

4 Jul 2013

Day 12: Urberach to Antwerp

The Urberacher Hof was another highlight of the trip—Gisela and her mother Margarete were fantastic hosts. We were treated to a full classic German breakfast and then personally seen off when we left. Definitely worth a stay.

Milka muffins for breakfast.

A bit of memorabilia from a Canadian icon—in central Germany!

The weather was threatening to rain but fortunately never followed through and before long the clouds parted. I said it before, but Germany is made for motorbiking, the roads are excellent and the speed limits are realistic enough that you can have fun without risking your licence.

A mum-n-pops petrol station.


We soon headed off the main road onto a twisty, narrow route through the forested hills.

During the climb, a beautiful cathedral appeared.

We stopped in a tiny farming village for a quick rest. Maybe being used to dirty old London our standards are low but Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria and Germany were shockingly clean everywhere, no rubbish to be seen.

Old tudor style farmhouses, some in better condition than others.

Around 5pm we reached Würselen (near Aachen), the unassuming home of FC Moto—known for its excellent European mail order service selling all sorts of motorbiking gear. Indeed there was an overwhelming selection of everything from helmets to full body rigs.

Out front of FC Moto.

We slabbed it from Aachen across the bottom of the Netherlands, stopping briefly in Heerlen for chocolate sprinkles (a Dutch/Belgian thing) and on towards Antwerp.

We met up with our friend Dirkyan at a motorway exit just before Antwerp and followed him through some beautiful Belgian villages to his home where we met his wife and were treated to a delicious home cooked meal and local specialty beer. We stayed until late talking about our travels and life in general. It was a real pleasure and a great way to spend the evening—thank you Rango for inviting us to your home!

We rode the short distance to Antwerp where we stayed in our first chain hotel of the trip—the Scandic Hotel Antwerpen. Although the room had the personality of a wardrobe, the price was right and the night manager was kind enough to let me park underneath the hotel for security in the staff area. Even the chain hotels can be accommodating when you travel by bike.

Still not over my cold I didn't even unpack the panniers, it was straight to bed for the night.

Alps 2013 quick links

Day 1: London to Lille
Day 2: Lille to Hagondange
Day 3: Slow road to Ammerschwihr
Day 4: Ammerschwihr
Day 5: Ammerschwihr to Thônes
Day 6: Thônes to.... Thônes
Day 7: Thônes to Ruèras
Day 8: Ruèras to Flachau
Day 9: Flachau
Day 10: Flachau to Wemding
Day 11: Wemding to Urberach
Day 12: Urberach to Antwerp
Day 13: Antwerp to London

The gear and how it held up
The trip in hindsight

3 Jul 2013

Day 11: Wemding to Urberach

I came down with a nasty cough/head cold which kept me up with hiccups and heartburn much of the night. With breakfast running only until 9am I had no choice but to get myself up but couldn't face anything more than a yogurt and some melon.

Hotel Ambiente looking fantastic despite the cloudy skies.

Feeling less than myself I could barely bring myself to carry down the panniers, sweating like I'd run a marathon. We got underway and the cool air helped matters considerably with the odd rain shower actually refreshing as we rode toward Kitzingen.

Petrol station colour matched to the bike.

We arrived in Kitzingen around noontime—having been 14 years since I was last there, I couldn't remember where to go to find the cemetery where Vlad (Dracula) the Impaler was buried.

The tourist information office was closed between noon and 2pm so I stopped by the local police station where I was buzzed into a rather stark and intimidating office.

However, I was greeted by a smily and rather round older policeman with an enormous German-style moustache and his colleague who looked about 12 years old. I'm quite certain it wasn't the first time they were asked about this as they had a good old laugh when I told them where I wanted to go. Nice to see the Bundespolizei actually have a sense of humour as they always look so serious and suspicious when you see them in the open.

We got to the cemetery which is just over the road from the town's crooked church spire which, through the years, has leaned directly toward Dracula's grave. The spire has openings in the shape of inverted crosses so that at nighttime the light inside will fall on the ground the correct way up in relation to the spire itself.

The crooked spire.

Dracula's grave protected from vandalism by the wrought iron gate.

On the ceiling above the grave are angels throwing up on the bodies of people Dracula killed in battle.

Close-up of one of the skulls.

A shot of the rest of the cemetery.

We carried on toward the village of Giebelstadt where I stayed with friends in the (now disused) US army barracks in 1999. Along the way we stopped to have a bite to eat at a little bakery in Fuchsstadt where I accidentally knocked over the bakery's sandwich board with my right pannier.

The bakery in Fuchsstadt.

Unfortunately I couldn't find the barracks—it seems they were knocked down after the US army abandoned the base so we topped up with petrol and started moving in the direction of Aachen.

Still not feeling my best we stopped more often than usual, in one place on the side of a farm road where we were approached by a very excited black dog and a farmer woman who spoke German with the strangest accent I've heard. I don't think she saw tourists often and was interested in hearing where we'd been and how long we'd been travelling.

Happy pup.

Rural farm road.

By 5pm I was done for the day, finding it increasingly difficult to focus on the road so it was time to find a place to spend the night. My phone picked up the Urberacher Hof 20km away in Urberach which was favourably rated and only €50 for the night.

When we arrived I have to admit I would have taken the room even if it was lined with cockroaches but it was a wonderfully quirky and slightly kitsch mum-and-daughter operation with a homely atmosphere.

The owners allowed me to park in their back garden for added security.

We had dinner at the gasthaus which specialised in pub-style food.

The gasthaus.

Perhaps boring to look at but one of the most delicious salads I've had recently.

Half a deep fried chicken with chips—this is what holidays are about.

The view from our table.

Bellies full it was time to get some sleep and hopefully shake off my nasty cold.

Alps 2013 quick links

Day 1: London to Lille
Day 2: Lille to Hagondange
Day 3: Slow road to Ammerschwihr
Day 4: Ammerschwihr
Day 5: Ammerschwihr to Thônes
Day 6: Thônes to.... Thônes
Day 7: Thônes to Ruèras
Day 8: Ruèras to Flachau
Day 9: Flachau
Day 10: Flachau to Wemding
Day 11: Wemding to Urberach
Day 12: Urberach to Antwerp
Day 13: Antwerp to London

The gear and how it held up
The trip in hindsight