31 Aug 2014

Test ride: KTM 1190 Adventure

Today a friend from ADVrider invited me along to Rykas Café at Box Hill for a test ride courtesy of KTM UK. I love the styling of KTM’s smaller bikes but have never been all that mad on their large ‘Travel’ (adventure/dual sport) bikes—the 1190 Adventure and 1190 Adventure R. Nevertheless I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to ride the competition, as I have been pining for a go on one of these for quite some time.

The 1190 Adventure has always gone head-to-head with the R1200GS—consistently the top two bikes in the large dual sport category. I believe they are both excellent bikes, but appeal to different types of rider. The respective literature and reviews all seem to point to the same thing—the R1200GS is aimed at 60/40 on/off road, and the 1190 40/60. Both bikes offer big power, comfortable days in the saddle and the ability to carry along a tower block—but the R1200GS is slightly biased to on road travel, and the 1190 to off road travel.

After selling my soul on a comprehensive form about how I would be sent straight to purgatory (without passing ‘go’) if I damaged the bike, taking a mandatory breathalyser test and donning a fetching hi-vis bib, I was handed the keys to a slightly uninspiring grey 1190 Adventure (I wanted orange, dammit).

Modelling hi-vis (they say a camera adds 10 pounds—hi-vis stretched over a padded moto jacket adds about 75!) while testing the height... seat plenty low enough, feet planted flat.

My companion for the test ride—I wanted the orange one!
The 1190 Adventure looks like a huge bike in photos, and not much smaller in person. However, hopping on board, the bike felt smaller than either my R1200GS or my F800GS and I could easily flat-foot both feet on the ground. The handlebars are not as wide as either of the GS bikes, and the clutch/brake levers are stubbier.

I didn’t get off on the right foot when I tried to start the engine—the first attempt resulted in a click and a pinking sound from the engine. Second attempt was the same. Third time lucky, it fired up to a far more civilised, quiet idle than I expected—in fact, it was such an unintimidating sound I thought I’d got on the 690 SMC by mistake. Compared to the R1200GS’s boxer bark on start-up, the KTM sounded almost underwhelming.

Moving off, a pleasant surprise was how beautiful the clutch action is on this bike. KTM has BMW beat on this one—the R1200GS’s hydraulic clutch is sharp and snatchy to the uninitiated, whereas the KTM has a nice, wide engagement area, making a ham-fisted start unlikely to stall the engine.

The riding position is about halfway between my 800 and 1200, but the narrower handlebars felt odd at first to me, having spent the last 2 1/2 years with the BMWs.

Our group, led by a KTM employee, headed out along a few 40mph roads to start. The gears shifted well on the 1190—smoothly and accurately—and making progress was relatively effortless in traffic. But the engine sound bothered me, it seemed too quiet for the character of the bike—thrumming away almost, dare I say, like a large capacity scooter... accompanied by scooter-like engine vibration. This bike is crying out for a louder exhaust!

Once onto national speed limit roads (60mph) I had a chance to wind it up a bit. Once the revs exceed 5,000rpm the engine starts to get some character and smoothes out beautifully, sounding like a mini V8 stock car (although muted). This is the magic spot of the 1190—an instant transformation into a quick machine.

On my R1200GS I’m accustomed to stump-pulling torque just off idle, and the KTM felt a little bit flat in this respect. The KTM’s engine starts off meek and heads quickly to mad—whereas the BMW boxer pulls for Germany constantly through the rev range. Put another way, you get an exciting rush of power on the KTM, but even and constant acceleration on the boxer. Which is better? Neither—it’s your preference.

Through the bends, the 1190 Adventure certainly feels safe and secure, but the centre of gravity feels higher than the R1200GS, closer to how my F800GS feels. The KTM changes direction easily and effectively but I had to keep looking down at the dash see what gear I was in and where the revs were sitting. I quite enjoyed the good burst of power the bike offers between the corners.

The brakes scrub off speed as effectively as the R1200GS but the front end dives, although not as much as the F800GS—a consequence of long travel forks. Despite diving, the bike remains completely stable.

I didn’t get a chance to play with any of the settings, but on the left was a pod of arrow buttons and a selector in the middle. Sorry KTM—BMW has you beat on this one for ease of accessing all the bike’s features through dedicated switches.

During the test ride, I thought the KTM had a seat warmer and was thinking how nice that was... but it turns out it was simply the heat from the engine... great in the winter, but not so so good on a hot day.

Returning the bike, I turned it around in a space about the size of my bedroom, and the bike is stable and easily managed at walking speed. It goes up onto the centre stand more easily than either of my BMWs as well.

Final thoughts? Overall I liked it—it’s fast and easy to ride, taking less than 5 minutes for me to gain my confidence. However, considering the extra 25hp it has on the R1200GS, it didn’t feel any faster—I would say the two bikes would be neck-and-neck up to about 100mph. KTM’s traditional-style suspension is beautifully damped and well controlled but lacks the wafty, magic carpet ride of BMW’s quirky telelever/paralever system—which has the added benefit of anti-dive braking.

Would I buy one? Interesting question. Overall it reminded me of a much more powerful and refined F800GS—perhaps the similar suspension layout and centre of gravity made it feel like that to me. If my needs were more off road focused, then yes it would be a contender. But for long journeys through narrow, twisty paved roads alternating with open highways and a few dirt trails, I still feel I made the right choice with the R1200GS.

Go on the forums and a minority of very loud people will have you think neither the KTM nor BMW will last more than a month before everything goes horribly wrong—but with virtually no issues at all with either my 800 or 1200, I have no reason to believe a new KTM would be any less reliable.

In summary—the 1190 Adventure is a fine bike aimed at a slightly different buyer than me. And the optional Akrapovič exhaust should come standard.

30 Aug 2014

Two (and a half) years on with the F800GS

I started this blog when I bought my first dual-sport/adventure bike on 1 March 2012—my beloved F800GS Trophy in a fetching desert blue and alpine white colour scheme.

BMW gave me a very fair part-exchange price for my Honda Hornet which was 4 years old at the time but only had about 10,000 miles on the clock. I took very good care of that bike and it still looked showroom fresh after a good cleaning and waxing.

Along with the Hornet, I delved into my savings account once negotiating the price of the F800GS—and paid for my very first brand new BMW in full by direct debit! There was something satisfying but slightly odd about getting a new bike and not having any monthly payments.

After getting to grips with handling such a large bike, I couldn’t stop raving about it. An absolutely  cracking machine.

So, two and a half years later, has the gloss worn off? Read on...


The F800GS is not the very best bike in any one single area, but it all comes together to become one of the very best all-rounder bikes overall. It is a well mannered bike on road and easy to surprise sport bike riders through the curves as it can plough through corners quickly and with confidence. The bike isn’t powerful enough to get you in too much trouble, but it’s much faster than you think. Strong torque means it has the potential to be an absolute hooligan bike (effortless wheelies!) if you want it to be. Handlebars are just the right height when filtering to go over top of car wing mirrors, and underneath van wing mirrors. The narrow chassis squeezes through traffic as easily as a scooter.

Off road, once you get it in your head that this isn’t intended to be a featherweight trials or enduro bike, it will take you pretty much anywhere you want to go. Treat it with respect and sanity in the dirt and it covers ground with confidence, quickly and comfortably. With the right tyres, it is even well mannered in mud and sand.

The F800GS is great for long journeys if you stop for a few minutes every couple hours to get the blood circulating through your bottom—the seats (stock and optional ‘comfort’ seat) leave a bit to be desired. Range is very good considering the 16 litre tank size—this translates to about 250 miles per tank on a long journey.

BMW has worked out the quirks which plagued a handful of early models—mine has had zero problems in 14,000 miles. Servicing direct from BMW is very reasonable (£150–200 every 6,000 miles, roughly half the Honda Hornet’s servicing costs). The build quality is peerless—as good as the best from Japan.

After more than two years of ownership, it still excites me to ride this bike—it is the motorbike equivalent of a loyal sheep dog.


  • Light weight (for its class) means the modest power gets to the road effectively.
  • Smooth power delivery and generous torque make the bike deceptively quick.
  • Even on knobblies, handling is quick and the bike is easy to flick through corners.
  • Steering/suspension geometry are great for city use due to exceptional low speed stability—narrow chassis perfect for filtering.
  • Top of class fuel economy with 60mpg easy to attain on longer journeys even 2-up with full load of luggage.
  • Handling not spoilt when carrying a full load.
  • Soft, long travel suspension perfect for war-torn UK road surfaces.


  • Narrow stock seat great for off road use, not so great for long journeys—my bottom gets numb every couple of hours.
  • Comfort seat option a demonstration of German humour—while better than the stock seat, it is not very comfortable.
  • Stock and optional touring windscreens not very effective at high speeds—adding an aftermarket extension would make high speed travel exponentially more relaxed.
  • Front end dives significantly under hard braking. This can be mitigated by using the rear brake heavily at the same time which causes the bike to chew through rear pads (although these are cheap as chips to replace at only £25/set from BMW).

Do you ride an F800GS? Let me know your experience in the comments below.

29 Aug 2014

Saying goodbye to a British motoring icon

No it’s not a bike... not a car... but something all motorised vehicles must have displayed. The humble tax disc, introduced in 1921.

A bit of background. In the UK, all vehicles (excluded those without an engine, such as bicycles) must pay road tax to use public roads. Most recently, road tax for a car is calculated based on CO2 emissions, and for a motorbike (unfairly) based on engine size. For reference, CO2 emissions are related directly to the fuel efficiency of a vehicle.

Cars which emits less than 99g/km of CO2—those which are rated at 66mpg or greater (for example, the BMW i range and certain high efficiency smaller cars)—have the benefit of free road tax, but owners still must renew it annually. From 100g/km upwards, the cost is on a scale ranging from £20 (BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics) up to a whopping £500 (BMW 760Li V12) per annum. It’s no surprise, then, that most automakers offer models emitting less than 120g/km and use the low road tax rating as a selling point.

Bikes are treated with much more discrimination. Instead of the logical CO2-based car system, the tax is based entirely on engine size. Up to 150cc is £17/year, despite virtually all bikes in this class emitting far less than 99g/km. 151–400cc is £38, 401–600cc is £58 and over 600cc is £80.

The BMW F800GS, according to the registration document, emits 89g/km of CO2. Even the hefty R1200GS emits only 99g/km. Both of these bikes would be eligible for free road tax if they were cars, yet each costs £80/year to tax. Less efficient bikes such as the BMW S1000RR (142g/km) or the K1600GT/L (170g/km) pay exactly the same. Put another way, a 600cc sport bike rated at 150g/km pays less than the very efficient F800GS. Absolute nonsense!

Ranting aside, what you get for your payment is a round disc printed on ~200gsm matte stock with a perforated edge—this must be displayed on the windscreen (cars) or someplace conspicuous (bikes). On 1 October 2014, paper discs will be no more—from then, new renewals will not receive a disc, and current discs no longer need to be displayed.

Today I received in the post the very last tax disc I will ever possess. The end of an era which started 93 years ago, and a symbol which has lasted through generations of British motoring.

A bit of trivia... since 1921, more than 1.7 billion tax discs have been issued—more than 42 million last year alone.

I can understand the change. Previously, traffic wardens and other officials would routinely check the tax discs on cars when parked, stopped for driving infractions etc to ensure the tax was current, and issue an amazing (up to) £1,000 fine if not. However, with number plate recognition systems installed in most police cars, and a central database of taxed vehicles, this visual inspection has been superseded and offenders simply get a fine in the post.

Saving paper, printing, postage and administration costs on 42 million tax discs is sure to save a considerable amount of money for the government—but, of course, none of these savings are passed on to vehicle owners, as the rates remain the same.

A lot of people are moaning about this change. Psychologically, people like to have something tangible in exchange for payment, and the little paper disc was indeed a token which could be held in hand. Others argue that it serves as a reminder for when the disc must be renewed, although all owners are posted out a reminder a month before expiry.

But I think the real reason for all the moaning is much simpler—nostalgia. A 93 year tradition in motoring has come to a close.

Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments below about the end of physical tax discs, and the discrepancy between car and motorbike rates.

24 Aug 2014

End of the road for the K1300R?

I’m quite fond of BMW’s K1300R—a ‘roadster’ class (aka naked) bike with silly power (173hp) and torque (140Nm), featuring slightly alien, biomechanical styling. It looks like no other bike, with divisive design which should either be at featured in a museum of modern industrial art, or hidden in the depths of an abyss, depending on who you ask.

I fall in the former category—I think it looks fantastic, particularly following its midlife refresh, which made an already long and low bike appear even longer, lower and more menacing (photos from 2008 and 2014 shown at the end of this post). BMW have accentuated the fact there are no front forks using angled covers up front, as the bike uses their duolever system which is similar to a multilink or double-wishbone system (read about it here). The bike looks like it’s hunched over, ready to spring forward.

The wheelbase is also noteworthy, as it is the longest of the naked bikes on the market, and among the longest overall. This gives the bike excellent straight-line stability (important with a 160+ mph top speed) but also makes it slightly more reluctant to turn compared to a sport bike.

I’m speculating, but I suspect the K1300R is not long for this world, as the main change for 2015 is the launch of a sole ‘Dynamic’ version which includes nearly all previously optional equipment as standard. This is the pattern BMW seem to use before replacing or removing a model from their range.

The numbers tally with this—according to the UK database of new vehicle registrations, the numbers sold of the K1300R have reduced consistently from a high of 156 in 2009 down to 13 so far in 2014. Yes, the UK is a small market compared to a worldwide scale, but to give context, the R1200GS (among BMW’s most expensive bikes) has found 689 homes so far in 2014—or put another way, for every K1300R sold, BMW sell 53 R1200GSs. [Edit: the UK is BMW Group’s third largest market after Germany and USA.]

Unfortunately it is not economically viable for a mass market company like BMW to produce a product in such small numbers—they are in the business of making money. As such, the Dynamic model seems to be a last hurrah for the line—an effort to move a few more out the door by enticing buyers with the high specification.

It will be interesting to see if a replacement comes for 2016 as it would be a shame to write off such a unique and individual bike to the history books, but I’m not holding my breath. The ‘German Thug’—a bike so different that no one else has copied it to date—has its days numbered I fear.

Have you ridden this bike? Heard any rumours? Think it’s gorgeous? Wish you could un-see it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

K1300R initial release, 2008
K1300R initial release, 2008
K1300R, 2014
K1300R, 2014

Hands on with the Fujifilm XF1

I’ve been a Nikon camera user for nearly two decades—for the past eight years I’ve exclusively used their excellent DSLRs starting with their entry level D40 and adding their semi-professional D7000 a few years later.

Part of my day job is photographing people, events and medical procedures in a healthcare setting, and I take a great interest in photography in general. I love the full control DSLRs offer, the instant response of the controls, and the ability to optically view the scene through the lens to see exactly what the camera’s sensor will ‘see’.

The problem with DSLRs is the size (and weight) which limits their day-to-day usage in the real world. Even the ‘tiny’ D40 is nearly 1kg with the lens and there’s no way that’s going in anyone’s pocket (if you could squeeze it in, you’d be really happy to see everyone). The D7000 is heading towards 2kg with the lens and speedlight (flash)—nearly enough mass to have its own gravitational field.

There’s a cliché in photography circles—the best camera is the one in your pocket. Sadly that excludes DSLRs when you’re out and about doing the day-to-day. For me, if I can’t fit it in my pockets, it’s not coming along—I’ve never warmed to the ‘man bag’ thing.

That leaves my iPhone for everyday snaps, and it does quite all right... actually better than all right compared to many smartphone cameras, and indeed many cheap compact cameras.

The thing that puts me off compact cameras is the quality. I find most of them turn foliage into a smeary mess along the lines of a watercolour painting produced by a first year art student. Many also create halos of blue/purple (chromatic aberration) around high contrast areas, such as where the edge of a building meets the sky—even the iPhone camera exhibits this phenomenon due to its tiny lens and imaging sensor.

I did a bit of reading up on premium compact cameras as I wanted a camera superior to my iPhone but not much bigger in size. I also wanted something with quality approaching a DSLR, and a sufficient number of buttons and dials to easily adjust the settings without faffing about in the menu system. Something small enough to pocket on trips when I want to pack light and don’t want to worry about being responsible for £2,000 of kit.

When I was in a camera shop recently, I had a play with the various models on display. I found Nikon’s offerings in this category rather uninspiring, with the exception of the staggeringly expensive but gorgeous Coolpix A—out of my price range at £1,000. Yup, £1,000 or nearly double the cost of their entry level DSLR with a kit lens (to be fair it uses the same sensor as some of their professional cameras).

Canon, Samsung and Panasonic had cameras which were no more inspring. All perfectly capable, well built cameras, but none of them ‘spoke’ to me. The Sony RX series was a notably beautiful piece of kit, but with a starting price of £650 they were far more than I wanted to spend.

I fell in love with the highly rated Fujifilm XF1 which normally retails for £399 but was on offer at an amazing £129. A price cut like this is usually a sign that a successor is imminent, but this doesn’t negate the fact that I could get a premium camera at an entry level price. The XF1 comes wrapped in a red, tan or black leather-like material which doubles as the grip. The camera is capped top and bottom with aluminium and has a slightly retro, modern-classic feel to it. My mind said black, but my heart said tan—so I put in an order for the latter.

After only a couple days’ experience with the XF1—I’m still getting acquainted with its features and quirks—this is an unedited example of what I’ve been able to make it do:

Focal length 9.4mm, ƒ10, 1/16 sec, with flash

Considering the challenging shot (dark woodland contrasting with the bright lights on the bike and strong sunlight coming through the trees) the XF1 coped remarkably well and I was able to capture the slightly surrealistic scene accurately. So the XF1 hits the mark then—my iPhone could not have been coaxed to take a photo like this, but my D7000 would have been able to pull more detail out of the shaded trees.

The XF1 is about the size of an iPhone 4 in length and width, and 3x the thickness (or slightly more than an inch)—it feels as sturdy and as beautifully put together as you would expect from a Japanese camera maker. Many reviews complain about the power-on procedure but I don’t find this an issue—you turn the lens ring and pull out the lens. After doing it twice, it becomes second nature. To zoom, you manually turn the zoom ring on the lens. Easy.

Fujifilm XF1 (off position)
Fujifilm XF1 (on position)
Fujifilm XF1 screen and controls
Nikon D7000 with speedlight and Fujifilm XF1—two XF1s could fit inside the D7000 lens!
I won’t go into technical detail about the functionality of the XF1 as I am not a professional camera reviewer but will say there are enough buttons and dials to change settings such as exposure (and exposure compensation), aperture, ISO, flash compensation etc without having to dig through menus. As someone who always seems to tilt to the right when I take photos, I like the grid and horizon overlay features which I’ve not seen in a compact camera previously. Moving between Nikon and Fujifilm interfaces was painless as the menu system and options are similar.

The controls on the XF1 are responsive and there is no perceptible shutter lag—the camera snaps the photo precisely when the shutter button is pressed. The autofocus is very quick (as fast as my D7000) and accurate on the first try about 95% of the time. The camera has lens-based image stabilisation which works well for my somewhat shaky hands—plus, as the zoom is manual, the camera invites you to hold it with two hands like a DSLR, helping further to reduce shake.

I find that the XF1 (as with the D7000) tends to overexpose slightly in general, but this is easily remedied by bringing the exposure compensation down -1/3 or -2/3.

The XF1 has Fujifilm’s EXR engine which extends the dynamic range of the camera by bringing up shadows and reducing highlights, although I find it isn’t quite as effective as Nikon’s similar D-Lighting functionality. Then again, the camera cost 1/10 of the D7000.

In the dark woodland shot above, I capped the camera at ISO 800 and there was little noise in this, or in any of the other photographs. The combination of a fast lens (ƒ1.8) and large image sensor (2/3” compared to the class average of less than 1/2”) helps, but also the camera uses Fujifilm’s technique of doubling up the pixels on the sensor at high ISO settings to pick up more light—but this reduces the image size from 12mp to 6mp at ISO 1,600.

As with most cameras, the XF1 can record video. However, this isn’t a feature I use often and I’ve not tried yet with the camera. For video I usually use my GoPro attached to my helmet.

The XF1 has a good selection of scene modes and effects. For example, you can select black and white photos with a spot colour (red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple). I find it works well with pure colours (such as the red paintwork on my R1200GS), but not so well with a range of colours (green leaves). I’ve never really used camera effects as they aren’t appropriate when photographing surgical procedures or healthcare staff, but I can see the appeal when playing around.

Partial colour effect—red
Partial colour effect—green
Dynamic tone effect
Toy camera effect 
Tilt-shift (miniature) effect
I’m more than pleased with what the XF1 offers and it sits perfectly between my iPhone and my Nikon DSLRs. Considering the sale price of 1/3 the original, bringing it line with most bottom-of-the-range compact cameras, this camera was a steal. I can pocket it when I go on trips, with or without a bike, and without filling half of my small weekender suitcase with camera gear. The classic design fits perfectly in my hands and doesn’t try to be a fashion accessory—it is what it is, a minimalist camera with a surprisingly flexible set of features and capabilities.

I’ll leave you with a few more shots taken around Berkshire and Surrey over the past couple days. As always, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

R1200GS at old-school petrol station in Berkshire
R1200GS at old-school petrol station in Berkshire
F800GS at Old Simms Copse, Surrey
F800GS at Old Simms Copse, Surrey
F800GS at Sheepwalk Lane, Surrey
F800GS at Sheepwalk Lane, Surrey

20 Aug 2014

BMW promotes the urban abilities of the GS

One of the reasons I became interested in BMW’s dual sport beasts was my daily commute in the heart of central London. Not the usual campaigns BMW use when advertising the GS range.

I did the scooter thing—after a string of near misses and getting knocked off once by an inattentive (idiot) driver in a hybrid I moved to something more substantial, a 600cc Honda Hornet/CB600FA.

While the additional road presence and more powerful lighting seemed to increase my conspicuity (and reduce the number of near misses), I still felt vulnerable on the road, sitting at the same height as the drivers around me and having just as little long range visibility as I had on the scooter.

After a (very noisy) journey to Calais for a few exclusively French groceries, I had enough of the Hornet. Two hours each way sitting at 7,000 RPM at 70mph with no wind protection resulted in sore muscles the next day as though I’d run a half-marathon.

I can’t blame Honda for this—the Hornet was never intended to be a long(er) distance bike. It was, however, an extremely well engineered, precision machine which was great fun to ride. The handling was almost telepathic and the engine could rev and rev forever with its stratospheric redline—13,000 RPM! Typical of Honda engines, it could have done with a touch more torque at low RPMs, but lugging about wasn’t the idea behind this bike, and the upper end more than made up for this lack of torque.

I’d looked at GSs but never took one for a ride, as I thought they were too tall for my torso-biased average 175cm height (ie not the longest legs). But on a cold January morning in 2012 I bit the bullet and visited my local dealership, Park Lane.

Sure enough I could only get the tips of my toes on the floor on the F800GS, but the bike carries its weight low and it felt a lighter bike than my Hornet, despite its extra 20kg. As I rode up the ramp from Park Lane’s subterranean garage I was wondering what I’d got myself into, shakily navigating the steep uphill curve on a completely foreign bike.

Once I reached the surface and onto the city streets, I was still feeling nervous, but the smooth power delivery and strong torque of the 800 made it effortless to ride. It is an easy bike on which to set off, as the toque comes from just above idle and the clutch engages softly—you can’t stall this bike unless you ham-fist it.

After an hour in 2°C weather I was freezing to my core, apart from my hands, which were toasty on the heated grips—but I knew this bike was for me. Why? The ‘pick any gear and go’ torque, effortless in the city. The smooth clutch and gears. The deceptively quick pace due to the smooth power delivery. The long-travel, soft suspension which absorbed anything our bombed out London tarmac could offer. The height of the bike melted away into a distant memory and I felt safe and secure riding it.

The height, ironically, was one of the key things about the F800GS which ‘clicked’, and I knew it was the bike for me. When you sit on it, you look over the roofs of the other cars, and even most vans if standing on the pegs (disclaimer: probably not recommended in city traffic). Long distance visibility in traffic is, in my opinion, the most important safety feature of a bike—ahead of ABS, traction control or anything else. Seeing what’s coming up allows more time to plan ahead (or plan an escape route)—the further you can see, the better.

The height has other advantages as well. The headlamp is roughly level with the mirrors of other vehicles, so they see you coming up sooner and brighter. The road presence means drivers generally don’t disregard the bike as an ‘invisible object’—one of the main causes of crashes between bikes and cars in urban environments. The wide handlebars are just high enough to clear the wing mirrors of most cars, and just short enough to go underneath the wing mirrors of most vans—indeed, the bike can filter through traffic that can often block up a small scooter.

But also, the off road engineering helps in an urban setting. The steering and suspension geometry is designed for stable, low speed manoeuvring making it easy to thread through stationary traffic, helped by the low centre of gravity and (relatively) low weight. And, again, the long travel, heavy duty suspension makes short work of everything from speed humps to decayed, potholed tarmac.

Needless to say, I put down my deposit and placed a factory order for a fully-specced 2012 Trophy that day (and my R1200GS a year and a half later). While GS range is not advertised for commuting, they do the job better than you could imagine.

It seems BMW have picked up on this, as they recently commissioned renowned German automotive (and GQ) photographer Markus Hofmann to do a beautifully monochromatic photoshoot showcasing the R1200GS in Berlin—its ‘birth’ city. The press release follows.

Let me know in the comments your thoughts about using dual sport bikes on the daily commute.

On safari in the urban jungle

The ‘go anywhere’ credentials of the all-conquering BMW R 1200 GS are well known. Usually pictured in far-flung, off-the-beaten-track destinations where other enduro-styled motorcycles fear to tread, the iconic GS also states a strong case as the perfect bike for the urban jungle...

With traffic gridlock, high levels of pollution and people swarming everywhere like ants, city living is not for the faint-hearted. But rising above the claustrophobia is easer than you think, if you have a BMW GS.

Designed for the open road, the GS is equally at home within the confines of the city. Its lofty riding position offers a commanding view over the car roofs, and its balanced chassis and low centre of gravity allows easy manoeuvring between lanes of traffic in built-up areas, ensuring you get to the front of the queues safely and quickly. The punchy, torque-rich boxer engine propels you swiftly away from the traffic lights the second they turn to green, while the combination of advanced safety aids such as anti-lock brakes and traction control ensure that if you need to stop or change direction quickly—however bad the road surface is—then you can brake, or accelerate hard, in confidence.

They say that good design never dates, and with its fantastic looks and strong design language, the sleek boxer is the latest incarnation of a GS success story that is now well into its fourth decade. The latest model's floating panels, clever use of contrasting materials and colour schemes complement the thought-provoking, often striking architecture that is the hallmark of a modern city such as Berlin, where these pictures were made.

The man behind the camera in the German capital was professional photographer Markus Hofmann, who believes that city riding should consist of more than a daily battle for survival in your quest to find that elusive parking spot.

“City life is an all-challenging, ever changing experience, from our demands as consumers to the way we move around our urban centres,” says Hofmann. “Speed is of the essence of course—not just in how we receive our goods and services, but also how we get from A to B, and back again. I wanted to show that this can be achieved in a stylish, sophisticated way and that a BMW GS is the perfect tool for meeting the challenges of urban mobility head on. After all, why not negotiate your way through that forest of skyscrapers on a cool, adrenaline-fuelled ride that exudes style and performance in equal measures?”

A full set of photos can be viewed in the press release.

7 Aug 2014

Do people hate new technology... or just how it’s used?

After a short hiatus (and a ridiculously busy schedule which sadly hasn’t involved riding anywhere interesting) I’m back, and my first post isn’t even about bikes... it’s about the beginnings of a backlash I’ve been noticing lately.

Back in February, a young technology writer and self-styled social media consultant got herself in a spot of trouble with patrons of an ‘alternative’ (I really dislike that term) bar—Molotov’s—in San Francisco when she continued to use her Google Glass (variant thereof pictured right) to film them after they’d expressed increasingly hostile discontent (you can see some video clips, as well as her account of the incident here).

Of course the media jumped on this, with some articles branding the incident a hate crime. I have a serious issue with this—the definition of a hate crime is a (usually) violent act motivated by race, ethnicity, disability, religion, sexual orientation etc. I find it offensive that the term ‘hate crime’ would be used to describe the reaction to socially inept, self-entitled (and indeed selfish) behaviour on the part of both parties.

But what are the ‘haters’ hating? The technology? Or the people using it?

I know, from my own point of view as someone who readily embraces new technology, if I’m out enjoying an evening with my mates at my local, the phone stays in my pocket unless there is a bloody good reason to take it out. Perhaps a few snaps will be taken of our group to remember the night... But I’m out to spend time socialising—connecting with my fellow human beings. But that’s just me.

Nothing screams social pariah more than someone at the next table holding their smartphone at eye level, creepily filming your every move. Worse yet, someone wearing Google Glass, leering obsessively in your direction.

On a night out, no one expects a considerable amount of privacy in crowded venues or walking along the pavement—but at the same time no one expects to have their every move filmed by a random third party and potentially posted publicly for scrutiny on a worldwide scale (exhibitionists excluded, perhaps). It may be legal, but it’s certainly not ethical in this context, and doing so brings into question a person’s moral standards.

I don’t blame the technology—it’s irrational to hate inanimate objects (unless you’re old enough to have experienced a sheet feeder on a late 80s dot matrix printer, in which case I understand completely). Google Glass has great potential in the medical field, for example—or increasing efficiently via apps such as barcode readers. (But the product becomes slightly more sinister when combined with facial recognition software, for example.)

I sympathise on some level with the developers, as the concept is intriguing—using a heads-up display means our westernised world of smartphone-addicted zombies can stop fixating on a small screen while walking into others or straying into the path of a double-decker bus [insert Darwinian reference here].

It’s the people using the technology who need to get their heads out from behind the ‘mask’ of their computers and smartphones to re-learn the art of reading their environment and social interactions of the human beings around them. At a technology expo it is likely entirely appropriate for someone to covertly film other show-goers while playing with devices like Google Glass—at a bar (or in many social settings) it most certainly is not.

People are fed up with CCTV cameras spying on them at every corner, having their dirty laundry aired (literally) at airport security checkpoints, and (depending on their level of paranoid delusion) the government potentially intercepting their online activity... these types of surveillance are not within our control. But when a private citizen potentially imposes surveillance on us without consent, it is within our control to object—and many of us feel compelled to do so.

So it is no surprise that our social media consultant friend above had an altercation when her own video footage shows people masking their faces and others approach her on more than one occasion in a somewhat terse, but not overly threatening way referencing her Google Glass.

The Daily Mail (or as we British lovingly refer to as the Daily Fail) is a sleazy rag of over-sensationalised tripe and was rather generous in the article with the phrase ‘ripped the Google Glass off her face’—the video ends with a chap walking up and removing the glasses to stop the filming after the his party’s repeated and increasingly belligerent requests were ignored. Like most people, they no doubt didn’t want video clips of their night out ending up in the public domain which, ironically after all the media coverage, is exactly what happened.

Another article notes that one of the objectors, who was an off-duty employee at the bar, ended up getting the sack in the days following media coverage of the video footage. The article implies (but, to be fair, does not confirm) that this was connected to the incident. Alcohol consumption undoubtably fuelled the fire, but if it was me, I would have taken off the Google Glass long before events escalated—this would have avoided a ruined evening, a scuffle, a theft and the loss of someone’s job.

Her blog entry explains the incident from her point of view and she is clearly an intelligent, well-written individual (who understands the disappearing art of good grammar)—so how can a smart person miss so many signs and opportunities to prevent events from spiralling out of control?

You’d think an experience like this would be cause for someone to reflect and focus on the root cause to avoid recurrence in future. But self-entitlement clearly runs more deeply than conscience—to starkly illustrate, let’s fast-forward to July:

Venues are within their right to pose restrictions as they see fit. After ripples of negative press about the Molotov’s incident, I can’t say I blame the bars and pubs in the Bay Area which have chosen to ban Google Glass. They don’t want to be featured as ‘the next Google Glass fiasco’. This shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone.

With Google Glass, I’m not convinced people hate the technology—I believe they hate the way people use it, or, more accurately, the way they perceive that people will use it.

There is a saying—respect you, respect me. If you’re on a train and people around you are getting annoyed at the ‘tsh tsh tsh tsh tsh’ emanating from your headphones, get over yourself and turn the volume down a bit. If you accidentally cut off someone in traffic because your car’s blind spot detection system didn’t do its job, swallow your pride and wave an apology to the other person. If people around you don’t consent for you to film them, stop being an antisocial [insert expletive of choice here] and put away the smartphone, Google Glass etc.

There is some great technology out there—use it respectfully, wisely. There’s enough anger in the world without provoking it further.

My parting shot is this video which has gone viral with more than 45 million views in just three months. Remember the backlash I mentioned at the beginning of the article? It has already started.

What are your thoughts about socially unacceptable use of technology? Let me know in the comments below.