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I purchased a 2002 1150GS in the spring of 2004 because of a three week trip to a Greek island with a friend that was being planned for later that year. The bike was supplied by Vines of Guilford and the first thing you notice is that the BMW dealer experience is ermmm.... different. "Can I test ride the GS?" I asked, "Sure" said the salesman "Here are the keys; I'll see you in a couple of hours". So, there I was off for the morning on their bike after doing little more than showing my driving license. You won't see that at any Japanese dealership!
The bike has to be acknowledged as one of the most comfortable and efficient machines I have ever owned. The BMW panniers are superb and with the addition of a Givi box gave lots of luggage space. The bike handled exactly the same whether it was fully loaded or not. The engine is relaxed if a little agricultural and the gearbox functional if a little clunky.
Riding these flat twins is an experience unique to the breed and some considerable adjustment is needed if migrating from a highly strung four cylinder machine, or any four for that matter. It is solid engineering in the extreme and, when on board, you feel that the machine will take you anywhere. And it probably will as has been demonstrated time and time again. You will read in other reports and in the press that the indicators are a nightmare with a switch on each side and a separate cancel button. I clicked with them right away and don't understand the slating that this arrangement comes in for. But then, unless you have grown up with BMW's, you have to approach these bikes with an open mind as they definitely tread their own path. Tank range is usually in excess of 200 miles so fill ups are infrequent. Oh, I must mention heated grips. Fantastic! All bike should have them and the BMW items thinner than most as some other types can be too chunky. The shaft drive is fantastic and I never gave it a second thought.
I sold mine because I didn't get on with it. It was an OK bike but it wasn't me. I found that I could not cruise comfortably at any more than 65 mph as vibrations from the engine were uncomfortable and turbulence around my helmet was uncomfortable. For short periods anything up to 90 mph was OK but sustained cruising of the type when you are touring reduced this to less than 70. Perhaps the turbulence could have been improved with a different screen (I know a lot of guys fit the screen from the later 1200) but at 5'9" and with the standard item being as large as it was I should not have had an issue. By the way I managed the machine OK at my height and had the seat set on the middle of the three height adjustments available. I also understand that the engines get smoother with time and a new y-piece (without the catalytic converter) and a performance chip for the injection management system also helps. To be honest I really didn't want to go to all that trouble.
The usual thinking is that, because these machines are so different, you should not make you mind up about them in a hurry and you should take time to adjust. I owned mine for just over a year and 5000 miles. At the end of a 2000 mile tour of Spain I sold it. I think I gave it time enough but it just wasn't me. Some of my biking friends found it difficult to understand my decision as it was a ruthlessly efficient tourer and good all round bike. My explanation would be that I just didn't bond with it. When I go away on a bike the greatest thing is that you have two weeks with nothing to do but ride, anywhere and everywhere you want and I usually get to the end of the day looking forward to the next one. The beemer wasn't a bad bike but when I got off it after a day's riding I wasn't bothered whether I rode it again the following day or not.
Solid, efficient, different but not for me.
This reportis primarily based on two experiences of the BMW R1100GS motorcycle (the pre-decessor to the R1150GS). My first was when I took one for a test ride about two and a half years ago, the second is based on my first three weeks of owning a secondhand model, which I have done about one thousand miles on so far. I have to say that generally speaking I am not a big fan of BMW motorcycles and I have spent the last ten years or so, cutting my teeth on different varieties of Japanese (mostly sport orientated motorcycles). What initially attracted me was magazine reviews of the bike. I have always liked two cylinder motorcycles (my last was a VTR1000F), and I wanted something a bit more practical but still fun. I was initially considering a VFR750, but when I saw the Beemer appearing in the same reviews (and often coming out on top) as an all-rounder, I decided to take a closer look. On the first ride my initial impression was that this is one massive motorcycle and as I rode it off the dealer forecourt for the test ride (this was the special '98 model with full options and red/silver paint scheme), I was nervous that I might drop it embarassingly at slow speed near to the window. Despite being 6ft 3in tall this is still a big bike for me (compared to a sports bike at least). After a couple of miles (it took me that long to get used to the bizarre BMW style indicators), I started to feel a bit more comfortable on the machine and despite the slightly gruff agricultural gearchange and bizarre engine sticking out in front of my chins I could immediately see the appeal of this bike. I have to say that the front suspension on this motorcycle is really what seperates it from other big trail bikes and makes it such a good all-rounder. What is so good about is that there is very little fork dive when the brakes are applied hard. A factor which in the real world makes it difficult to keep a trail bike up with more road orientated machi
nes on the tarmac because of all the difficult transfer of weight and the change of wheelbase length that goes with that. This, combined with the (comparitively) low centre gravity offered by the boxer engine makes for a very good handling bike. The long fork travel is still preserved for sleeping policemen, road bumps and other imperfections which make it possible to keep up momentum where it would be impossible on a rigidly sprung sports bike. The small head fairing does quit a good job of keeping windblast off (although I have never ridden a proper touring bike so I think your expectations depend on your experience in that regard) and the high up riding position is ideal for traffic filtering and other low-speed capers The ABS option suits the special front suspension set up very well as with slightly irregular characteristics under braking, judging the amount of available grip can be difficult. It also made me want to buy the bike more as for those cold, tired moments, I figured it could be a life saver. All this was two and a half years ago, and now I have finally got around to buying one, I have discovered that the passenger comfort is excellent and occasional off-road work is possible. In short, I don't think there is another bike (excluding the six-speed 1150 version), which is such a genuine all rounder as this. The 1150 is a better looking bike and has 6 speeds (the 1100 has only five), but the 1100 is considerably cheaper and still a great bike.
This is without a doubt the best bike that BMW make. It's good for commuting, albeit a little bit on the wide side, hooning around country lanes, or even trundling down the motorway at a fair, if not always legal speed. Top speed may seem mundane when compared to the Jap sports bikes, and even some of the other BMWs, but what price the driving licence? What this bike has shedloads of is torque, as you would expect from a litre plus two cylinder engine. Off the line only the exotica can show this bike a clean pair of heels, and unless it's a straight road you'll soon catch them again. It can carry a pillion with ease, and the trick front suspension, which looks more like something to be found on a car, makes diving under braking much, much less noticeable than with the best of normal fork designs. ABS is a must with narrow semi-trial type tires, and is brilliant at leaving the rider to concentrate on where the bike is going. It can even cope with small diesel spins, only a deity can cope with the big ones! A large fuel tank gives something like 180 miles between fill-ups, although working the throttle hard, always a temptation in the dry, reduces this somewhat. If you can only have one bike, save your pennies up for one of these. You won't regret it and there are more coming onto the second-hand market, most BM bike dealers have something to offer. Loads of aftermarket goodies, such as lower seats and side-stand extenders for us shorty legs. Also all sorts of luggage, extra protection in the event of a tip-over (the Wunderlich 'hard parts' are a good investment). Downside is that it is a heavy b@$#@rd, and needs to be treated carefully at slow speeds.
I am writing this review as a very very satisfied owner of a 1999 BMW 1150GS. I have owned 5 motorcycles inc. the 1150 and without doubt it is the very best bike I have ever ridden or owned. It does everything you could want from a motorcycle. It takes me on a 25 mile daily city commute, it takes long journeys in its stride and at weekends it is more than capable of keeping up with and quite often showing a clean pair of heels to the run of the mill Japanese sports tourers. It does have its quirks and maybe more than other bikes as BMW seem to like doing things their way. The looks are either love it or loathe it and the same applies to the switchgear. I rode a friends japanese biek the other day and I have to say that I found using the BMW switchgear much easier and safer than on his bike, ie, if you want to turn left you push teh button with your left thumb and if you want to turn right you push the button with your right thumb, very simple. A lot of people think of BMW's as being old, boring, odd etc etc, but you cannot be further from the truth. It is a bike that once ridden you do not want to put away and the grin factor is wonderful. Also it is not expensive to either purchase or to run. BMW servicing and parts are the same if not cheaper than other manufacturers and you have all teh backing of a major vehicle manufacturer behind the dealer. If you are thinking about it go to your nearest dealer ask for a test ride (my local dealer gives test rides, over night, for the afternoon or morning or if they are not busy fro the whole day!!!!! I would be very surprised if anyone (unless vertically challenged or suffer from vertigo) doe snot want to to order one after a test ride.