BMW R1200GS Rallye
From the second I got on it, the BMW R1200GS Rallye motorcycle was amazing. Perfectly balanced, with the weight down low, me sitting up so high, and a massive amount of torque right from the first twist of the throttle. The suspension was like a magic carpet ride. The experience of the Rallye quickly reminded me of a four-wheeled BMW brand: Rolls-Royce.
This hasn’t been my experience with all the GS models I’ve ridden, and I’ve ridden many. The best known and most successful motorcycle line from BMW, GSs typically remind me more of Range Rovers — big, luxurious, capable SUVs. The Rallye, like a Rolls, is on another level completely.
“Rallye” and the “Exclusive” are the monikers that BMW has given to the two top-of-the-line adventure bikes that use its boxer engines, with the horizontally opposed cylinders for which BMW Motorrad is famous. The Rallye is intended for the backcountry, such as the Long Way Round mud-and-snow routes slogged by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman. The latter is designed to burn down the Autobahn. Each can be equipped with cornering ABS and a quickshifter, as well as BMW’s astonishing electronic suspension adjustment technology, dubbed Dynamic ESA.
I tried both on the streets of Germany and Spain, and I definitely preferred the Rallye. For me, the difference was the extra 20mm of suspension travel offered on the Rallye. It’s meant to help the bike perform better in the dirt, but it really makes it a dream to drive on the road. Any road.
On the German BMW-Motorrad website, the 125-horespower R1200GS starts off at €15,150 ($16,635), though it costs an extra €590 to make it blue. That’s the colour the Rallye is supposed to be, and it’s also the best colour for a BMW.
To make it a real Rallye, you absolutely need to add the Dynamic ESA and the Sport Suspension for €1,100. Save yourself €1,550 by avoiding the Dynamic Packet, with driving modes you’ll never use and a very clunky quickshifter.
I would opt for the Comfort Packet with heated grips and the tire pressure monitoring system (this literally saved my life once on an S1000RR on the Taconic Parkway), a passenger seat, extra LEDs, a navigation system, and aluminium bags (the plastic ones suck), bringing the grand total to €20,962.
Less popular will be the HP exhaust option for €990, and I mean less popular with those around you who don’t like loud pipes. The boxer motor sounds pretty boring with the stock cans. I want the noise.
By all accounts the Rallye would perform well off-road, too, with different tires and another rider. As for me, I had smooth road rubber on the wheels and a complete lack of off-road experience or natural talent. I got stuck in the mud for the better part of the day somewhere between Cordoba and Granada.
Also, I don’t speak Spanish, but that’s neither here nor there with regard to the bike. When you have a 538-pound bike on slicks, six-inches-and-sinking in Andalusian quicksand, there is little you can do. (The bike is heavy, it’s true. That can be a drawback at times, but also makes it stable at cruising speeds.)
The Bimmer is a big bagger, meant for carrying lots of people and luggage, which is what made it so perfect for my 2,000 km trip from Madrid to Jerez and back, stopping along the way to visit Sevilla and Ronda as well. Still, it feels heavier than a Harley — and it’s got a lot less legroom as well.
I feel the legroom issue a lot, at 6’3” with a 36-inch inseam. There was a time when adventure bikes — of which the GS is the OG—fit me perfectly. But, like Ducati with the Multistrada (my GOAT motorcycle), BMW needs to cater to a broader audience, which means designing its big bikes for shorter people. Sad.
(Side note: I may have found the greatest motorcycle road of all time: Carretera Autónomica-4223, from Sentenil de las Bodegas to El Gastor in Cádiz. Do not miss this.)
Back to the review: The Rallye felt roomier to me than the Exclusive, though I somehow doubt the extra suspension travel carries through to the rider triangle. I felt like I had about 20mm more legroom when I turned the seat from low to high (the seat-height of the GS can be adjusted with plates under the bench).
The Rallye also seems lighter, though according to the spec sheet from BMW, it’s the same, elephantine 244 kg as all the others. The Rallye does have a shorter windscreen than a standard GS, and the Exclusive a larger one. The Exclusive also has an additional “roll cage” for the boxer motor, though it can’t weigh much more than 10 pounds in total.
The colours may play a role in the difference in feel between the two bikes. After all, scientists maintain that yellow Ducatis are faster than red ones, and the Exclusive is brown. Why would you want a brown bike? Brown is for Porsches.
Whatever the case may be, there are no technical factors other than the suspension that should separate the two high-end GS models, but I was hard-pressed to keep up with the 160 kmph cruising speed of the Autobahn on a 600km trip from Munich to Berlin on the Exclusive earlier this Spring. Maybe the wind was hitting me at exactly the wrong place? Maybe I was tired — I don’t know why.
Meanwhile, on the Rallye, I had no problem at all covering a similar distance from Madrid to Sevilla confidently at a triple-digit pace the entire time, pushing the manufacturer’s claimed top speed of 218 kph even in the rain.