I read with great interest your open letter to all BMW GS haters posted on adventurebikerider.com. Your letter prompted me to write an open response to you.
I would be surprised to learn that there are any significant numbers of riders who “hate” the BMW GS. I doubt that there are large numbers of riders who feel so strongly about the GS that their feelings rise to the level of “hate”. Instead, I suggest that there are many experienced riders who see the GS bikes for what they actually are – very capable touring bikes that can be ridden on easy dirt roads. However, that’s just my opinion, not backed by any verifiable research – just as your belief that there are sufficient GS haters to warrant an open letter to them is also an opinion not supported by any supportable evidence.
One can have a differing opinion about the mighty GS without “hating” it. Seeing the GS as it is – its strengths and weaknesses – is very different than “hating” the GS. It appears you might be confusing the two.
With that point made, let’s talk about the capabilities of the GS. I suggest your comments about the GS are representative of newer, less experienced GS owners. For example, you wrote that “People tend to scoff when they see a GS. Well, here’s the thing: I hate Starbucks and my GS can go off-road, and I mean, it can really go off-road. In 2011, thinking I knew more than I did, I set off on my baby GS to the Trans-Labrador Highway (TLH).”
There seems to be a significant difference between what you call “off-road” and actual “off-road”. A road – be it dirt, gravel, or pavement – is still a road. It’s not “off-road”.
In actuality, dirt road riding is “off-pavement” riding, not “off-road” riding. The distinction between “off-pavement” and “off-road” is not one of just semantics. Roads, generally speaking, tend to be created to make overland travel easier and simpler. Any experienced off-road rider will confirm that actual off-road riding is very different than off-pavement riding.
Truthfully I have never ridden the Trans-Labrador Highway but the fact that its very name includes the word “highway” indicates that the TLH is actually a road. Not off-road. The TLH Wikipedia entry notes that “long parts of the road are a well-packed asphalt/gravel surface that is re-graded annually” – in other words, it’s a road, and judging by the description, an easy dirt gravel road and not a fair test of the GS’s off-road or rugged terrain capabilities.
You further mention riding your 1200GS in the Fundy Adventure Rally. Not being familiar with that rally I conducted a Google search and found this description of the various routes available to riders at the rally. The Scavenger Hunt ride is described on the Fundy webpage as “this ride is a 250 km loop that covers a mixture of gravel roads and pavement through some of the most scenic parts of the Fundy area.”
The A-B-C rides are described thusly:
“The easiest is the A option that uses a mixture of paved and easy gravel roads that would be accessible by most cars. The B option wicks it up a little with rougher gravel roads that you’d want a good pickup truck for and is suitable for armored bikes (bash plates, etc.). Then there are the C routes: note that the entire leg is unlikely to be all /only C-level riding, however there will be spots where it gets awfully muddy, rocky, steep… or all three. There may be some pretty good water crossings to tackle too.”
As can be seen from the descriptions above the Fundy routes consist of “roads” including pavement, easy gravel, and dirt with a few difficult sections. Again, this is not off-road riding, nor does it seem to be particularly challenging riding – small sections of muddy, rocky, and/or steep sections are fun but are not a reasonable or thorough test of the off-road capabilities of any motorcycle.
So, in summary, the riding you reference to prove the “off-road” capabilities of the GS are actually not “off-road” at all. They are “off-pavement”, the majority of which is not particularly challenging.
None of this means that “off-pavement” riding can’t be difficult. It certainly can, which brings up the question of just how capable the GS is on more difficult off-pavement riding.
You mention being inspired by Ewan and Charley’s trips, inspiration which led you to the GS. Did you also happen to notice that their first choice for their trip was not a BMW GS? In fact, they dearly desired to ride a more dirt capable KTM adventure bike around the world but KTM’s refusal to provide free bikes and support caused Ewan and Charley to settle for the GS.
Further, Ewan and Charley abandoned the only two difficult off-pavement riding sections of the Long Way Round trip – Mongolia and the Road of Bones – because they discovered the GS was simply too big and heavy for this type of riding. The strain and effort required to ride the giant GS through the terrain in Mongolia and the Road of Bones was too great for the lads, leading to their failure to complete either off-pavement section. Ewan and Charley were inexperienced adventure riders, a fact which likely explains why they selected bikes much too heavy and bulky to handle the more difficult off-pavement riding they encountered in Mongolia and on the Road of Bones.
What about actual off-road riding? Can the GS be ridden off-road? Of course it can. However, that doesn’t also imply that it is a good choice for actual off-road riding or that it is a particularly capable off-road bike. It isn’t either. If it were a good choice for off-road riding then riders would not choose to own and ride street legal dirt bikes such your KTM 450 EXC. Indeed, if the GS was capable off-road you likely would sell your KTM and just use the GS for all your off-road adventures.
When it comes to dirt riding one fact reigns supreme over all others – weight matters and it matters a lot. The heavier a bike is the less capable it is off-pavement or off-road. As terrain gets increasingly difficult, weight becomes more important. As riders gain more experience they tend to learn this crucial fact and either stop attempting harder dirt on 500 lb. adventure bikes or they buy 250 lb. dirt bikes like your 450 EXC for their serious dirt riding excursions.
In your final paragraph you wrote, “The BMW GS? Well, it does everything, and it does it well. People often ask me if I could own just one bike, which would it be? Without hesitation, I answer ‘the GS’. In my opinion, it’s the perfect motorcycle…”
I suggest it is neophytes such as yourself making ill-informed comments like this that lead to the “hate” you perceive toward the GS. While the GS is a very capable motorcycle it certainly does not “do everything and do it well”. In fact, as has been demonstrated above, the GS is a poor choice for difficult dirt riding due to its weight and heft.
Further, while the GS may be the perfect motorcycle for you, it is a mark of inexperience to suggest it is the “perfect” motorcycle with no qualifications. One need only ask, “Perfect for what?” to expose the fallacy of that claim. Is it the perfect bike for flat track racing? For motocross? For a beginning 12 year old rider? The answer is obvious. No one bike can do it all.
The truth is there is no “perfect” motorcycle. There may be a best bike for you and the type of riding you do but that’s about as close to “perfect” as you will ever get. The fact that you personally own at least two motorcycles – a GS and a KTM 450 – underscores this point. If the GS were the perfect motorcycle you wouldn’t need to own anything else.
I get that you love the GS and don’t like when other riders say negative things about it. However, I caution you to not fall into the trap of loving a bike so much that you are blind to the things it doesn’t do particularly well. All bikes have strengths and weaknesses, including the beloved GS. When GS riders stop making exaggerated claims about the capabilities of the GS then I suspect the “haters” will stop attempting to correct what they see as misinformation being spread by GS fanboys.