BMW  R 1150 GS

One of the best multi-purpose motorcycles in the world just got better... 

The R1150GS: The Swiss Army knife of two-wheelers

As soon as you find a bike that you think is best for you, you'll notice that while it excels in some areas  it lacks in others. A great sports bike on the race track is often awkward on the street, and don't even think about commuting on it. Some bikes have all the ingredients to make a great tourer, but are terrible in the twisties and at track days. If your needs are similar to mine (you want all this from a single bike), then in my opinion, the big BMW R1150GS, is what you need. To find a motorcycle that you can do a bit of everything on, a bike that you can tour on, that you can ride fast on a track with, that you can sometimes go to work on when the weather's great, and even ride on sand roads. The big GS is the Swiss Army knife of two-wheelers, not only able to do a bit of everything, but do it better.

More than 150,000 of BMW's R-series GS models have been sold since it's introduction in 1980, so BMW must've done a thing or two right with this bike. BMW's Telelever front suspension system does away with nearly all of the front brake dive found on other motorcycles. Another BMW exclusive is the Paralever shaft-drive system designed to eliminate almost all of the harsh drivetrain lash commonly found on big, shaft-drive motorcycles.

The big "Boxer" has a 1130cc fuel-injected, eight-valve motor coupled to a six-speed gearbox. The GS has also been graced with a self-diagnosing Bosch Motronic MA 2.4 electronic management system, a large oil cooler and a new hydraulic clutch to better cope with the added ponies and new transmission.

Chassis changes include a lighter Telelever system, re-inforced rear frame mounts, footpeg supports and sturdier transmission housing where the Paralever bolts onto. Standard features include a centerstand as well as saddlebag racks, hazard warning flashers, heated grips and a 12 volt plug for accessories.

Thanks to new body work and bolt-on bits, the most visually noticeable change to the GS is its restyled appearance. In addition to the asymmetrical twin headlamps, a three-position adjustable windshield and restyled mudguards, the rider's cockpit (dash) features a standard rider information display with a digital clock, fuel and oil level gauges and gear indicator. Adding to rider comfort is the, two-position adjustable seat height that makes this relatively large bike a consideration for a few people who (at first glance) might otherwise deem the bike too tall and cumbersome.

Even before I rode the bike, I was taken in by it's looks. While some might think the GS is cool-looking and a breed apart, others think it too functional looking. Like the old R1100GS, the new 1150 possesses strictly love-it or leave-it looks. The upper "mudguard" and headlight cluster give the bike a very distinguishable duck-like snout while the Telelever front visually still takes getting used to and the single-sided Paralever rear end makes the back of the bike look empty; that is until you attach BMW's pannier system that holds just about anything you could ever need for a Redline Run weekend (see Redline Runs from Home page). These panniers and their mounting system are the best in the business.

Whether you love or hate the 1150GS's looks, it becomes irrelevant after a tank of juice has passed through the injectors. On the bike's esthetics, or lack there of, all is forgotten as you travel almost effortlessly down the road, on the highways, in the twisties, through town, through inclement weather and over sand roads. The 1150cc horizontally-opposed Twin delivers enough power for a very enjoyable ride, either rolling along at 120kph or blasting down a sand road. Big power is rarely out of place unless it comes on abruptly or at inopportune times, but the GS doesn't disappoint, it is so smooth and controllable.

The six-speed box is a huge plus. The first five gears are closer together, with 6th being like an overdrive, bringing the engine revs down considerably from 5th into 6th, and there's still enough power in that economy 6th gear to overtake at speeds above 140kph, making things smooth and economical on long stretches of road.

I need to clarify something: The R1150GS is not a proper dirt bike, yet within reason, there's no dirt road that cannot be competently negotiated. This was not my first ride on a GS, I've even attended BMW's Country Trax Off-Road Riding Academy on one of these bombers. And found the 1150GS better and more confidence inspiring than even BM's smaller and lighter 650GS (which I rode for a short stint at the end of the second day). Actually I found the size and weight of the 1150GS helped maintain stability and confidence, especially in soft sand.

While the GS can handle just about any dirt road, it's real domain is the tarred road, where at least 95 percent of "adventure-touring" is done. If you think you'll spend more than 10 percent of your time doing "real" off-roading, look for another motorcycle. Even when we rode two-up, all it took was a few turns on the preload to heighten the suspension and we were able to keep up easily with most of the Sunday morning racers (also used maximum preload at Midvaal Raceway).

The new adjustable windscreen provided better weather protection than we expected, given its diminutive size. But the front end cosmetics take a bit of getting used to. The instrument cluster is well laid out and easy to read at a glance. Don't think the heated grips are for sissies, on cold mornings I realized that, even if my body was cold, as long as my hands were warm the colder temperature didn't bother me too much.

The ABS brakes are a welcome addition for what the 1150 GS is designed - touring and commuting (ABS should be switched off for sand-road riding) - it bolsters the rider's already high level of confidence in the bike. The Brembo brakes are electronically assisted and worked like a charm (when the ignition is off you can get caught out and push the bike into a wall).

There's just something about the GS that I can't quite put my finger on. It's a feeling that comes from riding a bike that can do just about everything... and do it well, whether it's grinding the outsides of your shoes on a twisty road or riding effortlessly over a rocky dirt-road, the GS is in it's element. The R1150GS is so well balanced.

If you had to choose only one bike, and you chose the 1150GS as your personal "do-everything-bike", you'd sleep well at night. Thanks to Gary Whitehouse at BMW Lifestyle in Midrand for the ride. Now where's that 1200GS you keep hiding?

visiting the Castle at Kyalami

A versatile machine

very capable


Handles like a dream on tar.    Photos by Dylan Slater


All things considered, you can have great fun on the 1150GS. It's great in the dirt, it's massive fun on the tar and it will be perfect for long distant rides, like the Jo'burg to Durban Run or Jo'burg to Cape Town Run (nudge, nudge - wink, wink).






opposed twin cylinder, air/oil-cooled four stroke.


1130 cc


101/170.5 mm

Max output

62,5 kW (85 bhp) @ 6750 rpm

Max torque

98 Nm @ 5250 rpm

Compression ratio


Valve control


Valves per cylinder


Intake/outlet diameter

34/29 mm

Dimensions and weights


Overall length

2 196 mm

Width with mirrors

920 mm

Handlebar width


Seat height

840/860 mm (2 available heights)

Wet weight,  ready for road

249 kg

Max permissible weight

450 kg

Fuel capacity

26 liters



Acceleration 0 - 100 km/h

4,5 sec

1 km from standing start

24.7 sec

Maximum speed

approx. 195kph

Fuel consumption: 90 km/h

4,5 l/100 km

Fuel consumption: 120 km/h

5,7 l/100 km

Bike supplied courtesy of BMW Lifestyle Midrand