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My BMW R 1200 GSA and the 30k km check point

I bought my BMW 1200 GSA new last spring (2010). It now has 30.000 kilometers on it, which is pretty intense. At least thats what I think. I have no idea how much milage bikers of today are actually putting on their bikes. Never asked. Anyway, I thought it would be a nice idea to write a condensed report on how this first year and a half of ownership has been.

The BMW 1200 GSA is a wonderful motorcycle. In fact its the best, most versatile bike I ever rode. This bike has taken me on paths where a farm tractor would not have made it, I have done stretches with water up to the wheel axles, gone on steep dirt ”roads” strewn with loose rocks the size of cats heads and I have done over 180 km/h on the german autobahn with loaded panniers, passenger – and with perfect handling. It handles very well on curvy asphalt roads and I have done marathon rides from early morning to late night with just a mildly soar ass.

I am in short, impressed with this bikes versatility and I am happy to own one. But even though I praise the bike I am not without criticism as you will see. I have divided it in two parts: Mechanical problems and design failures.

Mechanical problems. So far very few but still – a few.

Tires

The first problem that occurred to me was that the original front tire (Continental Road Attack) made the front end wobble in curves at low speeds, such as in roundabouts. I had to change the tires after 12.000 km which was some three to four thousand kilometers to early. I changed them at BMW in Stuttgart and asked them what they thought the reason for this could be.

Stuttgardt BMW motorcycle center answered me that it could have been either a factory defect or the tires had run with too low air pressure. I doubt that low tire pressure was the cause to the wobble since I had followed the instruction book which says 2.4 psi in the front.

Their interesting comment however was that the manual is wrong on that point. Tire pressure should be much higher they said and since then I have followed their advice and keep a higher tire pressure. In the front between 2.6 and 2.9 and in the rear between 2.8 and 3.1. Higher pressures with higher load.

In Stuttgardt I changed the Conti’s for a set of Metzler Tourance and have been happy with them. Those puppies are however worn out now, and are exchanged for a pair of Michelin Anakee 2. I liked the Metzler tires better than the Conti. Now it’s time for a roadtest fo the Anakee 2s.

Battery

The original battery is almost gone. Way too early! It should last many years more and not be in a state where it hardly cranks the engine around if the bike has been standing for only three days. Shape Up BMW!

Broken ABS sensor

Rear ABS sensor failed. Had it replaced on the guarantee at a BMW service shop in Ängelholm, Sweden. They made a sloppy job though. Forgot to cut off the ends of wirestrips etc. Just because a garage is BMW it apparently does’nt mean they do a god job.

Light bulb.

Changed the low beam light bulb. Normal I suppose.

Design failures

No 1. The Engine

My bike is a 2010 year model which means it has the ”new” engine with 110 hp. The engine is great and I like its low rpm torque very much. It’s my first boxer and have grown to like to have my feet behind the cylinders since it keeps them away from the wind and warm when its really cold. However I don’t like its sound at low revs. Its a meek sound compared to long stroke engines and hasn’t got the ”thumpy” quality I like. BMW: I would like to see your sound designers at work here! There is the option of spending a big wad of cash on a new silencer but I don’t know. That ought to be stock from start.

Worse than the sound is the fuel consumption. I have used an app (Road Trip) for my iPhone so I have an exact record over fuel consumption for every gas stop I made. The range is from 0.504 liters per 10 km to 0.84 liters per 10 km. Average is 0.604. Take away a few high peaks and average is down to 0.56 L per 10. The span is very much due to how I drive and how much packing I have but fuel quality also matters. It has better milage with high octane fuels and it runs cleaner. In Germany Aral has a 102 octane fuel – try it if you can, its worth the price but make sure you fill an empty tank to feel the difference. The good milages have been during days on back country roads where I seldom went over 100 km/h while having no passenger. The really bad milage comes from extreme driving such as a day on a high altitude highway in southern Spain with a low octane fuel, a passenger on the back seat, the thinner air at the high altitude and of course the speed, I was going between 120 and 180 km/h for most of that tank of fuel. Still I think average fuel consumption should be brought down.

The clutch seem to be a little too sensitive. It’s not possible to slip on the clutch too much without burning it and with this kind of bike it’s likely that you from time to time end up in situations where you just have to slip on the clutch. I have had it smell bad once when I by mistake got stuck in a pit in a field. Kind of a combo of very uneven ground, long wet grass and a heavy bike. Clutch smelled. Get it?

Oil consumption is fair. 1.5 Liters at 30000 km. It took me some time learn how to refill and adjust the oil level. The level glass on the bottom left side of the engine is extremely sensitive, so ANY tilt of the bike make it look almost empty or almost full, which makes it dangerously easy to overfill it. And mind you – in the manual it says that if you overfill you have to take the bike to a garage and tap the overfill! So I have learned to look carefully for level ground when I choose gas pump (I check the oil level every time I fill the tank) and fill to the middle of the level glass only, never to the top.

Vibrations are not bad at all. I go very far before they start to feel any numbness in my fingers. In general I don’t even notice any vibes. One thing I have noticed however, is that handlebar vibrations tend to increase when I hypermile and drive like an old lady for long times to get fuel consumption down. Vibrations go back to normal whenever I take him out on the highway and blast off in like 150 – 160 km/h for an half an hour or so. Why is that? Carbon deposits? Anyone?

No 2. Too many plastic parts

This bike has many plastic parts. Plastic look ok when new, but come on, everyone know the colors bleach over time and gets a stained look. My nice bike will not look pretty in say five or six years time when this rapid aging becomes visible.

I can spend money on toxic products such as back-to-black to try and protect the plastic from the damaging UV-rays but it just wash away after a rain. Plastic also become increasingly brittle over time as the softeners inside the plastic vapours.

This is seriously irritating and has a name for it: Planned obsolescence. To exchange the plastics for for example panels made from aluminum is not a question of esthetics, production costs or added weight to the bike but a question of BMW trying to drive future demand by accelerating aging.

BMW: Please get rid of the plastic parts. You can do better than this.

No 3. Instrumentation and GPS

Fuel Gauge. Earlier models have had problems with the fuel gauge, so I understand. On my 2010 model the fuel gauge is still not exact and appear to have a life of its own. Generally I trust it but sometimes it goes off chart. It has even failed completely for one whole day, only to return to normal for no apparent reason at all. To sum up the best thing to say is that the fuel gauge is more of a mystery than machinery.

Tire batteries. I am curious how one changes batteries in the air pressure sensors. When that day comes I hope its easy! Probably though, you just have to remember when you switch tires.

Speedometer. The speedometer is constantly indicating 4 km/h faster than reality. BMW Stockholm says nothing can be done about it and that its normal. Normal maybe, but it sure as hell is irritating, especially when a super accurate GPS sits right next to it, giving the exact speed.

GPS. Speaking about GPS:es. The BMW GPS Unit from Garmin suck. In fact it sucks big time. When I ordered my bike I ordered it together with the BMW GPS believing it must be the best choice. Luckily for me my bike was delivered without it due to some manufacturing problems.

As a temporary solution I bought a TomTom GPS cradle for my iPhone and the Navigon Europe GPS App and went to Spain with that set instead.

After the first summer and some 14.000 km I could install the BMW GPS and realized that it was lightyears behind the iPhone/Navigon combo. The BMW/Garmin solution is not only slow in handling compared to the iPhone (slow interface, slow updating which is sometimes critical in for example roundabouts, and a slow touchscreen).

Apart from the unit itself I spend hours trying to figure out the computer software that went with it (Mac) without really succeeding. The Garmin unit is also big and clumsy compared to the iPhone and does not sync to either my iTunes library or the address book – and I do not want to have two parallel music libraries and two parallel address books. Why should I? Besides the Garmin unit only reads mp3 and most of my music is in the AAC format.

The only advantages I could find with the BMW/Garmin solution is that its possible to plan routes on the computer before you go. Can’t do that on the iPhone/Navigon combo. In reality though only the dreamer plans that far ahead. When you are actually on the road I am always open for the unexpected, or the unexpected is open for me.. Would I then pick up my computer, do some serious mapwork, sync the Garmin to the computer and then go? I dont think so.

I will probably not even have a laptop with me. Oh, and by the way, to sync the Garmin you need to remove the watertight battery hatch – not so easy.

The other advantage is that the BMW/Garmin unit is safe from water while the iPhone is not. However that is much less of an issue than you would first think. I was really anxious for the iPhone in the beginning since it was so unprotected, but after having realized that the windscreen surprisingly enough takes almost all water from any rain weather – as long as you drive the iPhone sits perfectly safe from water behind the wind screen even if its pouring down. Again – as long as you don’t stop! Sometimes I covered it with a simple little plastic bag. This summer I am cool about the whole thing since I made a holder for it that has a rain cover.

No 4. No cruise control

Why? Still I am ambivalent about crusie control I don’t know if I really want one. Many bikers I have met use different kinds. I have tried one of those Palm-wings but didn’t like it. I would want one that like the ones in cars, immediately goes to manual mode at any touch of the throttle or brakes. The throttle is easy and in good balance so its not tiring to hold it. It’s just that I cant let go of the left handle bar thats the problem.

No 5. Difficult to clean

It takes a loong time to clean this big beast. To many details, corners and difficult-to-reach places. BMW, please give us a cleaning kit for this bike with special brushes for all those places.

No 6. The kick stand (or side stand)

The sidestand has a ”foot” thats too small. Parking on a surface that is just a trifle soft makes the kick stand sink into the ground which could make the bike fall over. I therefore always pack a small piece of a wooden plank in a bag that sits on top of one of panniers.

Should it be necessary to pack piece of wood on a high tech bike like this huh? The side stand is also a centimeter or so too short – leans over just a little bit too much. However, as harsh this critique this may sound, the solution is not to just enlarge the side stands foot, or to buy that foot enlarger that Touratech has for sale.

Sometimes the ground is so soft, like for example right now when I am writing this I have my bike parked right outside on a wet lawn. The piece of wood I pack takes the weight without sinking, but it needs to be that size to do the job (about 20 by 10 centimeters).

Conclusion is that even with a bigger ”foot” on the side stand I would need to pack a piece of wood.

No 7. Windscreen

I am 182 centimeters tall and have the seat in the lower position. Still my head is in the lower part of the turbulence from the windscreen which is unnecessarily noisy. No I do not want a wind screen extender. I want better aero dynamics.

No 8. ESA, The automatic elevation system

Good but could be better since it can’t handle very heavy loads – read a big guy on the passenger seat together with heavy load in the panniers. But still I like it very much. I know many have been critiquing this system, but I don’t think they realize how important the suspension is for the bikes handling. It’s a huge difference to be able to adjust the shocks for different loads and for different driving. ESA is a really nice feature!

But! One thing that is funny and where I just cant stop wondering how the designers where thinking, is the option to choose between driving in terrain with small bumps or huge bumps.

Since this is an adventure bike, and I use it as such, I very seldom know what lies ahead – it just comes. And when the bumps come, never have I had the possibility to stop and think – ah umm, looks like huge bumps ahead, I really need to stop and adjust the ESA system.

No, you can bet your arse that those huge bumps will be under water in a big puddle or come right at you while going uphill on a narrow dirt road where it will be impossible to stop and adjust things. In reality you just have to use whatever adjustment you are in.

Conclusion is that even though the ESA system is a great system, it still bear some resemblance to a paper product.

No 9. The panniers

The panniers I have are the original BMW, manufactured by Touratech. Build quality is ok with a few flaws.

One such flaw is that the little wire inside that prevents the lid on the side panniers from falling to far down when you open them, comes loose to easy. I dropped the lid once on one of the panniers and whoops, the aluminum in the lid was bent and the alignment to the box went south. Its especially sensitive if you have stuff strapped to the outside of the lid.

A dent there is almost impossible to correct without a sheet metal shop and even then it’s hard work.

The seams holding the zippers in the inner bags are starting to break and needs repair. The inner bags are also a little bit too small and I wonder why that is. Really strange!

No 10. Corrosion

Old knights rust, Oh yea! Rust is visible in some places. Under the bolts that hold the front discs and at some of the joints where the engine guard mounts to the frame. My bike has been in a warm garage most of the time when its parked.

Summary

The core of my experience so far is that the BMW R 1200 GSA is a wonderful bike with a few design issues. If that holds up in the long run, well, that is for a future post to tell. Hopefully my experience of this beast will remain positive when I write the 50K km check point as well.

Gibraltar, my bike and me.

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