23 Nov 2014

The extraordinary convergence of a name

The GS name was used in the automotive industry long before BMW’s famous line of bikes. From 1970–1986 French carmaker Citroën manufactured a small family car—the Citroën GS (and later GSA).

At first glance, this humble, plucky car would seem to have nothing in common with BMW’s contemporary range of dual sport bikes other than its name, but look more closely and a most extraordinary convergence appears.

Citroen GSA circa 1980

Bearing in mind the Citroën GS was launched in 1970, it was equipped with unheard-of technologies for its day. A hydropneumatic suspension system which, through mechanical means, self levelled and adjusted damping according to road conditions, and prevented the front of the car from diving during braking. A precursor to anti-lock brakes which linked the braking and suspension systems to distribute front/rear brake force according to load, helping to prevent lock-up under hard braking. Even the option of clutchless manual gear changes.

Many of its technological features are mirrored in the R1200GS, and a few in the F800GS—more than 40 years later. The table below compares some key features:

Citroën GS/A



Air cooled boxer engine 1,000–1,300cc depending on version

Air/liquid cooled boxer engine 1,200cc

Liquid cooled parallel twin 800cc

Self levelling air/oil double wishbone/trailing arm suspension with anti-dive braking and mechanical adaptive damping

ESA semi-active wishbone/trailing arm suspension with electronic preload adjustment, anti-dive braking and electronic adaptive damping

ESA fork/swing arm suspension with electronic adaptive damping (on rear only)

All disc brakes with load sensing, pressure propotioning system linked into suspension to reduce likelihood of locking brakes

All disc brakes with load sensing, pressure proportioning system and ABS

All disc brakes with ABS

Optional clutchless manual shifting via C-Matic system

Optional clutchless manual shifting via Gear Shift Assist Pro system


Class leading aerodynamics, among the first vehicles to utilise Kamm tail design which used airflow to keep the rear window clear of water without the use of a wiper

Wind tunnel optimised design to optimise airflow, reducing the amount of spray reaching the rider/pillion when riding in wet weather and maximising high speed stability

Wind tunnel optimised design, maximising high speed stability

Unique design which set it apart from other vehicles of the era

Individualist design unique to BMW

Individualist design unique to BMW

Class leading fuel efficiency

Class leading fuel efficiency

Class leading fuel efficiency

Popular with more than 2.5m sold

BMW's top selling motorcycle worldwide

Popular bike in its class

However, the Citroën GS had one party trick up its sleeve that not even BMW’s latest can match—the ability for that hydropneumatic suspension system to balance the car on three wheels.

Citroen GS circa 1975 turning with a wheel removed

The point? Back in the 70s, tyre failure occurred at an alarming rate compared to today, and the GS remained perfectly controllable during a blow-out even at its top speed, enabling the driver to safely come to a stop.

In fact, the suspension was so stable, the car could negotiate a slalom on three wheels.

It’s interesting that the GS name represented such advanced technologies back in the 70s, and continues to do so today, albeit in a very area of the transportation marketplace.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Gear Shift Assist Pro—summary and myth busters

Two of the most-read posts on my blog are the ones relating to the Gear Shift Assist Pro (GSAP) system on the R1200GS which was launched earlier this year. Of note, the system was an industry first for road bikes with the ability to execute both upshifts and downshifts without using the clutch. However there was, and has been, little coverage by the mainstream motorcycle press.

If you’ve read the posts above you’ll know I couldn’t be more pleased with the system, so eight months on I’m revisiting GSAP from a functional side, based on questions asked in a number of forums.

Physical operation

  • The device is simply a sensor with a linkage which replaces the standard linkage between the shifter and the shaft on the transmission.

Electronic operation

  • During an upshift the system senses the movement on the shifter and when it passes a threshold, cuts fuel injection for 50–100ms to relieve torque on the driveline and enable the next gear to engage. 
  • During a downshift, the system senses the movement on the shifter and when it passes a threshold, adds enough fuel to relieve driveline torque, then readjusts fuelling to match the rev of the next gear down, which occurs over 100–150ms—basically the same principle as double declutching squeezed into a timeframe of about 1/10 second, or two virtually instantaneous blips of the throttle.

Clutch operation

  • Unaffected—the system does not integrate with the clutch in any way.

Shift feel/action

  • Subjectively, about 5–10% heavier than stock when shifting with the clutch—the geometry of the linkage/sensor is slightly different than the stock linkage which makes the shift action slightly heavier.
  • The shift feel is about 50% heavier when using the GSAP system (without the clutch). Gear changes using the system must be executed in a deliberate and committed manner—no half-hearted attempts.
  • Some people report that neutral is easier to find after the unit is installed due to this change in geometry (myself included).

Normal shifting (using the clutch)

  • Exactly the same as stock but with a 5–10% heavier feel as mentioned above. When using the clutch the GSAP system is inactive. The GSAP system takes feedback from the microswitch in the clutch lever which also deactivates the cruise control and/or the starter motor.

GSAP shifting (not using the clutch)

  • Upshifting requires the throttle to be open with the bike accelerating (even gentle acceleration). Downshifting requires the throttle to be fully closed with the bike decelerating. Any deviation from these two rules will result in a rough shift. 
  • Works in all gears on and off road once the bike is in motion—you must use the clutch as normal to move off and also when coming to a complete stop.
  • Once you are accustomed to the operation of the system it is particularly handy when riding in conditions which require a higher number of gear changes—for example, in urban areas or twisty mountain roads.

Learning curve

  • It took me about two miles worth of city riding to learn the system and have it executes shifts perfectly about 90% of the time. Eight months later, virtually 100% of shifts are executed perfectly within the parameters noted in the point above
  • Shifting from 1st to 2nd or downshifting from 2nd to 1st works as well as the other gears, but with experience you will get a feel about when it is appropriate to do this change using the system, due to the effectively higher engine braking/power while in such low gears.

System quirk

  • The R1200GS engine management cuts fuel flow during deceleration, but starts injecting fuel again in preparation for idle as the revs drop below approximately 2,250rpm. You can hear this on the bike as 1–2 slight pops from the exhaust. Downshifting using GSAP at or below that particular point will result in a rough shift.

Rider quirk

  • Most riders have ridden only manual bikes and it is very unnatural to keep the throttle open while executing a gear change. If you find the system rough on upshifts, it is nearly always due to an unconscious roll-on or roll-off of the throttle, even the slightest amount. It took months to retrain my brain not to move the throttle at all during upshifts which was resulting in the odd rough shift.

Do you have anything to add to this list, or any other questions about the system? Let me know in the comments below.

10 Nov 2014

BMW F800R updated

Along with the launch of the S1000XR, BMW announced their updated F800R at EICMA Milan 2014 on 4 November. I’ve taken a few days to digest the changes to this often underrated bike.

My first impression is that the updated F800R has lost a good chunk of its distinctiveness because of BMW’s decision to move away from the asymmetrical ‘winking’ headlamp unit in favour of an anonymous single headlamp which would look equally at home on any number of bikes from Honda, Suzuki or Yamaha to name a few.

While the new look is growing on me somewhat, the bike does lose much of its identity—however, the change is not as far removed from BMW as it may seem. The headlamp bears more than a passing resemblance to the Husqvarna Nuda—a bike based on the F800GS which was developed while Husqvarna was under BMW ownership. On both bikes, the headlamp is near vertical, giving an optical illusion that it is leaning forward rather than sweeping back. The bodywork has been updated to flow with the new headlamp.

The other noticeable upgrade is the front forks—the previous standard forks which have been replaced by less spindly-looking upside down forks which gives a more solid look to the front.

Other changes include a 3 hp increase in power and shorter gearing in 1st and 2nd gears to help increase acceleration. Front brakes have been upgraded to radial callipers and the bike rides on lighter alloy wheels compared to the previous version. Options now include ASC (traction control) and ESA (electronic suspension adjustment—as with the other F-series bikes it only affects the rear suspension).

While the F800R, subjectively, remains an attractive motorbike, I can’t help but lament the fact it has lost a lot of its quirkiness that made the previous version stand out.

F800R 2015

F800R 2015

F800R 2015 with BMW accessories

Husqvarna Nuda with similar headlamp styling. This discontinued bike featured some amazing design details (look at the front spray guard, for example) and was based on the F800GS, sharing much of the frame and many components, and powered by a 900cc version of the F-series parallel twin engine.

9 Nov 2014

Filtering (aka lane splitting): Yes, it’s safer

In most of the world, filtering (otherwise known as lane splitting) is not only legal and expected practice by motorbikes, it is often a component of the road test when going through the licencing process. Yet, this practice remains a point of contention with often strong negative opinions in North America where filtering is illegal (outside California).

Even in California riders tend to have strong and mixed opinions on the practice, despite studies on the subject which have consistently shown that fewer fatalities occur in areas where filtering is legal or tolerated.

I have more than 20,000 miles of inner city London riding under my belt (and many more long distance miles). During this time I would say someone has deliberately attempted to block me or endanger my life at most once every 3–4,000 miles because drivers here tend to understand that motorbikes reduce congestion which therefore shortens journey times for everyone.

Having lived and driven in North America extensively, I noticed a much higher level of aggression and road rage by drivers there compared to Europe—as though people are much more reactive to the perception that their rights are being infringed for any number of reasons, not least because another vehicle is able to squeeze through smaller gaps and is therefore able to make progress more quickly. The driving culture is very much ‘me, me, me’—if I can’t go, no one else should be able to go, it’s so unfair, so I’m going to block anyone trying to come through.

Even if filtering was made legal across North America tomorrow, until this culture shifts to one of mutual respect, acceptance and understanding, filtering just won’t work in the states and provinces where it is currently banned. It’s not queue-jumping—it’s making full use of available space.

Of course, filtering is not carte blanche to ride like a buffoon—it is about moving with caution and prudence at a speed appropriate to the traffic and road conditions. Like most riders in the UK, I won’t filter on the motorway unless speeds have dropped below 40–45mph because common sense dictates that anything faster starts to become an unacceptable risk. And flying by slower or stopped traffic at high speed is a disaster in waiting—again, common sense.

I can’t really say it better than this article from Gizmag (follows below). I’d love to hear from readers in North America about why you are for or against joining this practice which works so well in the rest of the world.

Motorcycle lane splitting: Better for riders, better for drivers, and safer than sitting in traffic

Recent research has confirmed what many motorcycle riders have known for years. “Lane splitting”—or riding in between lanes of traffic—obviously saves riders a lot of time, but it's also considerably safer than sitting in traffic and acting like a car, as long as it’s done within certain guidelines, and contrary to what many drivers think, it actually speeds up traffic for everyone else on the road. Riders, please pass this information on to the drivers in your lives.

It’s time for certain drivers to get these thoughts out of their heads: “lane splitting is queue jumping,” “motorcyclists should have to wait in line like the rest of us,” “riding in between cars is suicidal.” While it’s illegal in most of the United States, it’s accepted in many other parts of the world, and evidence is mounting that lane splitting is safer for riders than sitting in traffic, and actually benefits car drivers as well as the riders themselves.

Filtering in Europe. Photo: Gizmag

Safety benefits of lane splitting for motorcyclists

One of the key arguments against lane splitting is that, to many driver’s eyes, it seems like a dangerous practice. From a rider’s perspective, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The most common type of accident on the road is a rear-ender. These make up 40 percent of all accidents in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And while most of these are minor fender benders between car drivers, there’s really no such thing as a minor fender bender if someone slams into the back of a motorcycle. By splitting between lanes, riders are able to put a shell of slow or stopped traffic around their bikes and protect against the inattention of other road users.

In a recent Berkeley study undertaken with the California Highway Patrol’s assistance, 7,836 motorcycle crashes were examined closely, with some 1,163 of these crashes having occurred while the rider was lane splitting.

Riders who were splitting at the time of their accident were significantly less likely to be injured in every category than those who weren’t: 45 percent fewer head injuries, 21 percent fewer neck injuries, 32 percent fewer torso injuries, 12 percent fewer arm/leg injuries, and 55 percent fewer fatalities.

This is quite possibly because the majority of those splitting accidents happened at speeds between 1 and 30 mph (50 km/h). The data also shows that the safest way to lane split is to travel at less than 30 mph, and less than 10 mph above the speed of the surrounding traffic. Injury rates leap up in all categories when both of these conditions are violated.

Motorcycle lane filtering: faster and safer for riders, plus it makes the journey quicker...

Benefits of lane splitting for other road users

Lane splitting is an unspoken contract between riders and drivers. Riders don’t wait for stopped cars, and in return, they don’t make the cars wait for them. Where many drivers get it wrong is that they see lane splitting as "queue jumping" that will cause each car to go one further spot back in the queue. In truth, a filtering bike disappears from the queue altogether, the only time a motorcycle holds a car up is when it sits in traffic and acts like another car.

Filtering bikes work their way to the front of stopped traffic at red lights, and accelerate away much quicker than the cars around them. When they reach the next stoppage, they disappear again between the lanes and no car is held up.

Certainly, this is a good deal for the rider, who arrives much earlier than the car driver. But every filtering rider has a positive effect on traffic flow that benefits every other motorist. A 2012 Belgian study found that if just 10 percent of drivers were to switch to motorcycles and filter through traffic, travel times would decrease for the remaining car drivers by some eight minutes per journey. This benefit would not exist if motorcyclists ignored the inherent advantages of their smaller, narrower vehicles and sat in line like cars.

The same study found considerable environmental benefits to lane splitting. Not because bikes emit less carbon (many larger bikes are as bad as cars), but because every bike that lane splits actively reduces the amount of time every other vehicle on the road spends sitting in traffic jams.

So the next time a rider wriggles past you in traffic, remember that it’s a win-win. The rider is saving time and money, and looking after their own safety, but they’re also making everyone else’s journey faster. So give them some space, for your own sake.

4 Nov 2014

S1000XR released

As expected, the S1000XR was released today at EICMA Milan 2014. The new bike is classed as an ‘adventure sport’ and is listed within the Enduro category on BMW’s international website (between the F800GS and R1200GS ranges). Its main competitor is the Ducati Multistrada.

The 999cc 4-cylinder engine is a slightly modified version of the 160hp S1000R engine, with the same power but a 2,000rpm lower redline. It is available (as standard or optionally) with BMW’s usual electronic aids including dynamic traction control (DTC), up to four riding modes, and their implementation of bank-sensitive ABS (ABS Pro). It should move, too, with slightly lighter weight (fuelled wet weight of 228kg) than the Multistrada and similar power (but slightly less torque).

Clearly this bike is not intended to take mud-bogging (let’s face it, most GS owners don’t take their bikes off road either) but it does combine longer travel suspension (compared to the other S-series bikes) and an upright seating position—features which make adventure bikes so comfortable on tarmac of any condition.

The frame is interesting—at the front it is similar to the other S-series bikes using a perimeter frame, but the rear frame appears to be a bolt-on type similar in concept to the R1200GS. Drive is by chain, not a driveshaft. Suspension is conventional using upside down forks up front and a two-sided swing arm at the rear.

Styling is similar in concept to the S1000R with asymmetrical headlamps and left/right fairings, but with a few GS details thrown in, such as a tiny beak and contrasting bodywork between the top and bottom fairings.

Lighting is still halogen as with all of BMW’s current range apart from the R1200GS, but an LED daytime riding light is available. I’m quite surprised BMW hasn’t migrated to full LED lighting as they release new models, considering the popularity of this option on the R1200GS (I have yet to see an example of this model in the UK without the LED).

Admittedly I’m not the biggest fan of ‘adventure-style’ bikes with no off road capabilities—BMW themselves have made no mention of taking the S1000XR off road. I have made my thoughts known about Honda’s perpetual release of road bikes in pretty frocks and jacked up suspensions, but the S1000XR seems to take a different route with its bespoke frame and near-superbike specifications.

I’m looking forward to reading upcoming reviews, and also doing my own review once my dealership has one available for a test ride.

Now that the S1000XR is ‘official’—what do you think? Let me know in the comments.


2 Nov 2014

It’s come a long way...

I started this blog on Tumblr in early 2012 when I purchased my F800GS, before migrating it to Blogger a few months later in May. How do the stats measure up over the last 29 months?

Page views

Page views are the number of people who visit or revisit pages on the blog.

  • Overall 22,997 people have visited my blog, or just under 800 per month
  • Until February 2014 I was averaging about 400 visits per month after which interest increased substantially
  • July 2014 (following my crash in the Czech Republic) was the busiest month with 3,169 visitors

Top 5 posts

I was surprised that my article about travel gear made it into the top 5. Not as surprised by the Gear Shift Assist Pro as there was virtually no coverage by the motorcycle industry of this device’s application on boxer models. Likewise, there was so much confusion about the discontinuation of the British tax disc, people were looking for information from any available source. Finally, it seems you are a bloodthirsty lot with the post about my crash near Prague making the list!

How people find this blog

Most people find this blog via Facebook, followed by Google and Twitter. All my posts automatically syndicate to these three services. After the big three, Advrider and BMW GS Club Netherlands round out the list.

Where people live

By far, the majority of visitors live in the USA and UK with 8,067 and 5,744 visits respectively. Canada, Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Russia are unsurprisingly in the top 10, but I was somewhat surprised to see quite a following from China and Turkey.

Devices people use

This is where things got quite interesting for me. Top of the list were Windows and Mac users (43% and 25% respectively). Linux users came in at 9%.

The remainder were almost exclusively mobile users on smartphones and tablets. Despite Android phones and tablets dominating the market (around 80% if I recall correctly), iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) account for 15% of visitors, compared to a surprisingly low 4% for Android.

The outliers which do not register as percentages are the 7 visitors using Blackberry devices and the 5 visitors using their Playstation gaming consoles.

People’s preferred browsers

Safari tops the chart at 32% (desktop and iOS versions combined). This is followed closely by Chrome at 31% (desktop and iOS/Android versions combined). Firefox and Internet Explorer come in at 19% and 11% respectively, their popularity waning in recent years.

A few last thoughts

Some of these stats were a bit unexpected. With some purely unscientific analysis I would come to the following conclusions:

  • The people visiting my blog generally own or have an interest in BMW GS bikes and tend to have enough disposable income to buy premium devices—this may explain the high percentage of Apple computer and mobile device users.
  • Blackberry is screwed as a company—7 out of 23,000 visitors!
  • My efforts should include making better use of hashtags for Facebook and Twitter, and meta tags for Google so this blog will feature more prominently in search results.
I enjoy maintaining this blog and welcome feedback and even contributions from readers if anyone feels so inclined. And don’t be shy—let me know your thoughts in the comments below!