Perhaps it is this time of year. If you're a dedicated rider, when is there a better time to look at new bikes? The less dedicated, while doing less riding, are looking at budgets and holiday expenses. Maybe they decide to redirect recreational activities toward something less expensive that can be done indoors. Chess or Bridge, anyone? They put their motorcycles go on the market at a time when the number of new riders entering the market is at a seasonal low. Those of us who would never think of giving up riding are stimulated to think about the next year of riding, maybe while we are putting repairs on the current steed. In the worst of weather, we can catch up on our reading of motorcycle magazines, and there we see coverage of new models.
My 2003 R1200 CLC is a few hundred miles shy of 60K miles and has been in need of a new rear shock for a couple of years, truth be told. Early in the year, the techs assured me that the current one was within spec's," but added that an aftermarket shock would improve performance. Improved performance, in shocks, translates into improved safety, so it's time to make the improvement. The price of a new shock, it's installation, and other needed work (60K service coming up) adds up to an amount that would make a good down payment on a new bike. So, like many others, I deliberate as well.
The CLC was not the most popular model BMW ever developed. BMW decided not to make them any more. Motorcycle Consumer News has echoed the opinion of many, chalking up BMW’s decision to curtail the model to the lack of a larger engine to put into it, and a conviction that BMW needed a larger engine to compete with the larger displacement cruisers from other manufacturers.
I disagree. I think that the 60 horsepower engine is a better choice than larger horsepower choices. The BMW cruiser does not need to conform to the mold of other manufacturers. As it is, or was, it served well for someone, such as me, buying a first 1200 cc BMW. It had the boxer engine. It had comfort and luxury features of larger models. It provided a great seat for a significant other who might also be new to the idea of motorcycling. Sixty horsepower is enough to get the job done, but not so much that power alone might get you into trouble. The new rider really has to push it to “push it.”
As my riding ability matures, there are two or three things that I now find limiting, with the cruiser. One, it is not the best vehicle for off-road use or even for unimproved roads. Two, it is not as stable at speeds above 80 as I would like – probably because of the amount of cargo I gratefully carry in the two hard side-bags and the back box. Third, it does not have a very ample fuel range. At 110 miles on the trip meter, the gas light generally comes on – not that it isn’t a good idea to take a break every couple of hours.
Many people in the Baltimore Metro Washington BMW riders’ club (http://www.bmwbmw.org/) ride GS motorcycles. They advocate the model. Jim Von Baden is a particular advocate and I know he is a considerate and good rider with experience that includes other BMW rides. Jim was one of the first to admonish me to get new shocks, and having seen my cruiser arrive with tell-tale bits of mud, suggested that I look at a GS. I’ve also seen a few Iron Butt riders, one parked at Bob’s BMW on recent Saturday and others at the Finger Lakes Rally, riding GS’s.
The other models on my radar are the LT and the new K1200 GT. When I purchased my cruiser, I didn’t buy a LT because I wanted a boxer engine. Even though the LT might not be any better on dirt and muddy roads, it might not be any worse. Its added comfort and range are still attractive. Never mind the picture of Don Arthur’s odometer reading 300,000 miles that is tacked up near the coffee pot at Bob’s BMW. There is conjecture that the next model of the LT will have the new GT’s engine. That’s an attractive idea. As you’ve probably read the same reviews that I have about the GT, I’ll not go through my thinking concerning it, but a GT engine in a LT might be something that I might want to look at when I have a budget, down the road.
In the end, I decided to keep my cruiser, get a good set of after-market shocks, and put another 40K miles on it if I can. It deserves to see a hundred thousand miles. More to the point, I know that if I were to ever part with it, I would regret it as it has been a part of so many memories in these first few years of my riding BMW.
Henry Winokur, my boss in the Maryland Motorcycle Safety Program, ordered Works Shocks. Knowing Henry, I didn’t have to do the price/performance calculations myself. I called them and asked for the MSF Instructor/BMW club discount (which turned out to only be $10) and ordered their best rear shock, grateful that somebody was finding enough business manufacturing parts for the cruiser. I scheduled the replacement at Bob’s then called Carter and asked about doing a test ride on a GS.
What I left out of this story was a recent weekend ride with other riders of the BMWBMW club after the monthly ride-to-eat breakfast. I followed Jed, a more experienced rider on a LT. Stopping for a cup of tea, at his place afterward, he pointed out that I seemed a bit “tentative” in my riding. Not knowing about my need for shocks, he suggested that I might enjoy the business of riding a bike that handled better. That underlined, in my mind, the need to at least find out what I was missing.
Carter pointed out the features of the GS. He showed how to start it then turned on the heated grips to get them ready for my ride home. Then he spent a few moments describing other features like the brakes, how to use the center stand, and hard bags that could be expanded with a neat lever to hold more cargo.
I appreciated the idea of “partially linked brakes.” A rear brake that only worked on the rear wheel and a front brake that added in some rear brake sounded like a good arrangement.
“Have fun,” he said. “Call if you have any questions.”
With a wave he headed back inside, out of the cold.
I put on my helmet then walked around the bike a couple of times looking for the accessory jack to plug in my Gerbing Winter gear. Not finding it, I decided to look for it later and call if I needed to do so.
Taking off, the bike had a very different feel to it. I tested the brakes and was relieved to find in them the same kind of performance I get on my cruiser. Turning was different. I made a couple of U-turns in the parking lot to get the feel of things before deciding to head toward the road. It would take a while to adjust counter weighting skills for slow turns. It was more than the fact that the head light was not attached to the forks. Stopping at the entry to the road before turning right, the height of the bike required tip toes, and I’m taller than a good many of those I see riding the GS. The right turn was still disconcerting so I rode just a bit before finding a parking area to experiment. After a few more tries it started to feel manageable. Still not entirely comfortable, I rode on.
First just a short hop, then a bite to eat, before moving on. Dorsey Run had no traffic. It was a good place to feel a bit of the power and enjoy the throaty sound of the well tuned boxer engine. It went well in a straight line. The shocks handled train tracks in a way that started to give me a sense of confidence. As a few small curves fell behind I got an idea of something that was bugging me. The bike felt like a precision dirt bike. Although it has been many years since I’ve ridden a dirt bike, I kept thinking that I had knobby tires, and that was not the case. I was off balance because the bike was trying to perform better than I wanted to let it. Later, coming to some tighter corners, I realized that it would also take some time to get use to the extra power of the engine on the chassis so much lighter than my cruiser. I had to be more on the throttle to prevent too much deceleration as the GS not only has power to go, but the power to slow down, and at speeds and in gears that I did not expect compression to be in the picture. Gearing down to second for a corner, I particularly had to be careful not to close the throttle all the way. Riding a higher performance bike requires skills that one can forget riding more forgiving bikes.
After a quick barbeque sandwich and a coke at Daniels, I called Carter and he clued me in to where the accessory jack was hiding. While I had been around the bike three or four times without finding it, knowing right where to look (under where your left hip would be on the seat) made all the difference. Route 100 took me to 108 then more two lane corners on Sheppard’s Lane to Foley Quarter. Still I felt the bike trying to brake on me in the corners. It was most noticeable when I tried to idle through a corner instead of accelerating. A few more corners and I realized that it was also the position of my head relative to the front tire, and the steeper rake of the forks that was adding to the sensation.
I turned and headed for
Now, let me hasten to say that what I’m describing are mostly the feelings of reflexes inexperienced with the GS trying to acquire familiarity, not any actual defects in the bike. This is useful mostly if you are interested in how it feels for someone relatively inexperienced to ride one for the first time. The bike felt impressive in not only its power but also its precision. Sometimes, at higher RPM’s, it reminded me handling a good electric razor. Other times its sure-footedness reminded me of a Jeep CJ5 negotiating dirt roads, in
I pondered how to describe the overall feeling of riding a GS. Not everyone will understand how the GS reminded me a helicopter simulator that once conveyed to me how an Osprey has more armor to protect pilot and crew from small arms fire than a Night Hawk and the power to quickly jump vast distances. Maybe a more useful analogy is that of a heavy-weight fighter who can jump rope faster than anyone you’ve ever seen.
The next day was cold and rainy. I rode to work in DC then up to Bob's, near
I apologized to Carter for getting the bike wet and bought a rainproof Olympia Jacket for the return trip. Riding my bike cruiser home with new shocks, it felt very different from the GS. The handlebars were too high. I think I figured out what people meant by the word "flickable" and it wasn't a flickable. But I was glad to have my rain pants on and did the heated seat ever feel good! Moreover, the sound of the boxer engine, and it always sounds better after Steve gets done tuning it, was a reminder of what I like most about both bikes.
Someday, I will have a GS for a ride to
- Shock travel distance
- Fuel capacity (the gas light went on, so I filled it and have never put that much gas in a motorcycle before).
- Shift lever no longer depresses once you're in first gear.
- Instruments that show gear & fuel level
- Performance over speed bumps.... What speed bumps? Were those speed bumps?
- Great brakes and their partially-linked feature.
- I found the seat comfortable despite the lack of heating.
- Heated grips did a good job of keeping my morale up in the cold & wet.
- Lack of heated seat
- Small wind screen
- I kept looking for another gear on the top end
- Can-Bus instead of fuses (Gerbing jacket liner and pants caused the accesory outlet to shut down. I'll admit I went to some trouble to find the fuses before giving up and deciding to run without figuring that I the fuse it would need would be in my tool bag in the cruiser's side bag.)
- Needs more lights (Cruiser has two low and two high, providing built-in redundancy).
Friday the 24th at Bob's was "Black Friday" with a great sale and a promotion that allowed me to ride to lunch with Bob at a great restaurant afer purchasing things I really needed, anyway, at a discount. It was a splendid day for riding -- almost unbelievable after the last two days of drizzle.
I killed about an hour discussing motorcycles with several other riders before overhearing Laura Jones in a conversation with Don Williams concerning a new R bike's filter. They were discussing the business of how you could get an extra few-tenths of a gallon into the tank by re-routing the overflow hose to the canister -- something that my cruiser would benefit from. Laura had to leave, but Don and I continued a conversation about the GS. It turns out that he has resolved some of the things that concerned me.
A new seat provides him with heat. Windscreen and lights are simple enough to upgrade. And he described a trip to St. John's Bay that reminded me that there are adventures fairly close at hand, on this continent.
He also told me about his method of using the Airflow pants as an insulating layer under an Aerostich. I need both, and both are easier to afford than a new motorcycle, at the moment.