By Kurt Asplindh | Nevada
The last three, four-wheeled vehicles I’ve owned have all been 4-wheel drive. So when I decided to buy a motorbike after a ten plus year hiatus of not owning one, it had to be a one wheel drive SUV. I wanted a comfortable bike that had the carrying capacity for all of my camping, fishing, and photography gear. All of my favorite fishing holes and camping spots are not on the side of a paved road.
Back in 2007 when I started looking to buy a new bike, I had this idea to ride to Alaska one day but wanted something to take camping and fishing in the Eastern Sierras, Northern Nevada, Southern Utah and to explore Death Valley National Park on. Four of my favorite places. I looked at all of the brands that fit my criteria. It had to be comfortable and have enough power to do freeway speeds fully loaded with all of my gear. I started talking to riders when I saw them in gas stations. I would ask them how long they had owned their bike, how many miles they had on them and about the amount of maintenance required to keep the bike running? The thing that surprised me was that BMW owners on average had more miles on their bikes and kept them longer than a lot of other bike owners. And for maintenance, everyone said, change the fluids and check the valves. I was educated about how a drive shaft is a good idea, as it is one less thing to maintain. I keep vehicles for a long time, my last jeep had 267,000 miles on it. The only reason I don’t have it anymore is someone turned left in front of me and totaled it. I was going for 300,000 before I bought a new one. Dang it.
I chose the 2007 BMW R1200 GS. It would do everything I wanted to and had the reputation of being the bike you want to ride around the world on. It was different enough to be cool and ugly enough to be pretty. It was also the first year and didn’t have the servo assisted brakes I was told to avoid. Power brakes are not needed off pavement and I spend a fair amount of time there.
The ABS is switchable. You want to disable the ABS when you are on gravel roads or stopping becomes very exciting. One of the many great things about the GS is the on road handling. You can easily cruise down the interstate at speed or take the twistiest road you can find and have a great time dragging your foot pegs. Off highway the one thing you have to remember is, this is not a dirt bike. It’s a 600 pound fully loaded touring bike that has an amazing capability of riding down any road you want to. It’s not a magic motorbike that anyone with little or no off highway experience should just load up and head into the forest, mountains or desert. But for a bike as large and as comfortable as this, it is easier than you think. My advice on taking a GS off pavement, take a big bike off road riding class then take it again a year later after practicing what you have learned. The GS also has a Telelever front suspension. If you are not familiar with this, look it up. It’s basically an “A” arm attached to the engine with a single shock that holds the fork tubes in place. There are no springs in the fork tubes, just a bit of oil. What this does, is creates a front suspension that has very little flex and very little dive, yet provides amazingly good feel to the road. It is also very strong.
With the GS you have the ability to add protective parts, additional lights, luggage of various types and a plethora of other parts to make your bike the way you want it. Almost a custom build, if you will. Some owners leave their bike as is and guys like me add pieces to make the machine safer and less susceptible to damage in the wilderness, and in the Starbucks parking lot as well.
When you ride your bike off pavement, whether you are five miles or a hundred miles from the nearest town and there is no cell signal, you need to protect your bike from damage. I sometimes find “extra gravity” when I’m riding off pavement and you need to protect your bike from impact so you don’t have to ride out on the back of your buddy’s bike and leave yours in the middle of nowhere until you can get a truck out there to retrieve it. Over the years my bike has gone through some “hard part” changes. By hard parts I’m talking about crash bars, skid plates and guards to protect the fragile parts that are on today’s motorbikes. Lighting has also changed in the last seven years and my bike has had its share of upgrades there too. After seven years of ownership and lots of bike jewelry, (parts that have failed when they shouldn’t have) I finally have what I believe to be the “best of the best” parts on my GS. AltRider (http://www.altrider.com/), located in Seattle, WA makes what I believe to be the best bike protection in the industry as well as amazing soft luggage and the most well designed tank bag I’ve ever used. I have their complete kit for my bike including crash bars, skid plate, and all the guards for the headlight, oil cooler, brake master cylinder and reservoir and fuel injectors. They also make an amazing luggage rack that holds my water proof duffel bag and extra fuel in a US made RotoPax gas can with lockable storage. AltRider also make a side stand foot to keep my bike from tipping over in soft sand or superhot and soft pavement. As far as lighting goes, I use the Clearwater Lights, made in Rancho Cordova, CA. Clearwater’s ERICA lights have a 6000 lumen (each) output and the DARLA lights have a 2000 lumen (each) output at full power. The lights are sold in an easy to install plug and play kit. The lights come with a digitally controlled dimmer switch to lower the intensity when you don’t need or want all that light. But when you need it, you have it. As I’m getting older my body hurts a little more than it used to and to help eliminate the pain in my wrists when touring on or off pavement, I have installed a set of FASSTCO Flexx bars, which are manufactured in Washington, Utah (http://www.fasstco.com/product/flexx-handlebars-mx). These handlebars have been engineered with urethane bushing suspension so that vibration and the jarring impact of riding is minimized, so you can ride longer with less fatigue. I have also changed out the mirrors on my bike, so that when I venture off highway I can fold them in and not worry about breaking them. The stock BMW mirrors are great, there’s no problem with them at all, except when you break one in a fall, it’s almost a hundred bucks for a new one. Doubletake Mirror (http://www.doubletakemirror.com/), based in Colorado Springs, CO, sells a set of two for about the same price of one BMW mirror and they are guaranteed for life against breakage. Some BMW GS models came with cast street wheels. These have a tendency to bend or crack off highway if you happen to hit it just right or wrong, depending how you look at it. I upgraded mine with a spoked set from Woody’s Wheel Works (http://www.woodyswheelworks.com/), in Denver CO. Woody makes a Superlite billet aluminum hub and Superlaces stainless steel Supersized spokes to an Excel rim that is custom drilled. The result is the strongest, lightest wheel you can get for your motorbike. When riding down gravel roads the bikes tires will pick up small rocks and pebbles and when I’m riding were it actually rains every once in a while, like my ride to Alaska, (yup, I did it). Machine Art Moto (http://machineartmoto.com/), located in Frenchtown, New Jersey, offers the MudSling, rear fender extension and Avant, front fender extender, which keeps the flinging debris from damaging the bike’s paint and also protect the suspension from being damaged as well. Machine Art Moto or MaMo for short, also make a cylinder head cover out of a proprietary blend of a super space age plastic material that is incredibly strong and impact resistant to protect against the rocks that are too small for the crash bars to stop.
Now you must be thinking, what does smart money have to do with this bike? It sounds like this guy has spent a fortune on it. You’re right, I have spent a lot of money on my bike. Like I’ve said, I keep vehicles for a long time. I expect to get at least 200,000 miles out of this machine. There is no reason not to. But taking this bike into the wilderness like I do; I want to make sure I can get back home, and sometimes the road home can get a little rough.