To set the scene for this ride, work sent me to Minnesota for a week in mid January. I figured this would be a great opportunity to let Motorcycles of Dulles (MOD) do the 30K mile check up and swap tires on Brahma. (I’m 4K miles past due on that check). I dropped Brahma off on Saturday and said I would be back the following Saturday.
On Wednesday, Melvin from MOD called to inform me that the front bearings were seized. They would not move at all. He said it would take 2-3 days for the new parts to come in so I told them to fix it. After all, one should not ride with bad front bearings and I figured Brahma would be done on time.
When I arrived back Saturday, the delivery service had not yet brought the new parts, dang it. Going a week without riding is hard on me but at least I didn’t see anyone in Minneapolis riding either so that helped. I looked at Melvin and said, “What loaner bike do you have for me then?” Ken Davies has been trying to get me on a BMW ever since he bought the BMW dealership and moved out to Dulles. He succeeded finally and they gave me a 2008 R1200GS Adventure with 80K miles.
This bike has just about every doo-dad a bike can have I think. The previous owner knew his business when it comes to decking a long-haul bike out. He upgraded the head lights to those pure white, holy-crap-bright lights and added two sets of ultra bright LED driving lights. One set is truly off-road use only as they hurt my eyes in bright sunlight. There are several red LED tail lights that pretty Pillion tells me are too bright when she was close behind.
He has a tank bag, two engine guard bags and all three hard panniers out back. The bike has two GPS receivers, tire pressure indicators, what looks like a cat 5 cable coming up to the steering head, two heated gear cords and several power outlets around the bike. There is a cell phone holder on the bars too. It took me a few minutes to figure out what was what before I took off on the machine.
I have a 32 inch inseam; getting on this tall bike was a challenge for me. Once on it, dropping my full weight down, allows me to almost flat foot it. I am reminded of my last dirt bike; a 1978 Honda CR500 which I think was about the same height.
Dropping it into first gear was a chore for me because it is too easy. I could not tell that it shifted from neutral to first because it is so smooth. There is no sound and no feel that it happened. The clutch feels a little stiffer than the R3 is but not bad. I eased forward and was immediately hit with how lite this bike feels. It has nowhere near the power to weight ratio of the R3, but it does have plenty giddy-up. I quickly learned where it feels strong and was scooting through traffic in no time at all. Engine breaking is better I think than the R3 as it does slow down quite nicely without needing to brake.
Six gears is a nice thing too, something I know lots of folks want on the Rocket. Shifting is so smooth that I almost don’t like it. However, one gets accustomed to it quickly and it becomes second nature like any other bike.
The temperature was nice and around 30°F. I know this because of the flashing temperature display on the gauge panel. I learned that it flashes when it is below freezing. The heated grips are nice and with the hand guards, make it bearable to ride. Even though this bike has so many electrical outlets, none of them fit my Tourmaster heated gear. Luckily for me, it is a warm afternoon.
As I ride along, I decide to take a semi-twisty road home. I can see Pretty Pillion roll her eyes following me knowing that I am being a kid again, but she follows along. I begin to really enjoy how maneuverable this GS is. The lean angle is tremendously low and the most of any machine I’ve ridden on the pavement. Keeping it in the appropriate gear makes strafing the corners a true blast. I remember the bike I hit the deer on a few years ago, an FZ1, and I suddenly feel like I am on a sport touring rig and not a GS. I also notice that cars get out of my way with the bright white light up front; maybe I need an upgrade on Brahma.
An hour and half later, I get home and the temp has dropped a degree. I feel great and still happy with the heated grips. Pretty Pillion asks if this is going to be my next bike and I say most likely not, but I will say after this first ride that I do like the bike a lot. Getting off of it caused my left hip to cramp-up, that’s no fun. It must be a combination of cold, age and unfamiliarity with the dismount procedure. My only other complaint is the seat causes me to slide forward which upsets the boys a tad. Evidently the seat can be set higher in front and lower in back thus changing the slant. I would definitely do this if I owned the bike.
On Brahma, I have the HippoHands to block all the wind while riding. Like I said before, this GS has some fairly big hand guards but they are nowhere near as good as the HippoHands are. I head out for work at 12°F and the bike is slow to start, but it does finally get going. I put the heated grips on high and ride out. I find that the love I had for the heated grips previously may have been premature. Long before I get to the freeway, I discover that my fingers are getting pretty cold. The tire pressure indicator is flashing and the tire pressure is about 15 PSI lower than the ride home. However, the pressure rises has the tires heat up. By the time I get to work, the temp has dropped to 10 and my fingers are quite upset with me. I miss my HippoHands and heated gloves for sure. However, I am sure that adding heated grips on Brahma would be a bonus. (I know, I’ve been saying that for two years now. I’ll get around to it some day).
The ride at sub freezing temps on this bike is pretty good for handling. It has new tires but I forgot to see what they are, just that they give great feedback and are nicely sticky. Maybe someone can identify them in the pictures. The bike feels very comfortable at my normal freeway speeds and doesn’t labor to maintain that pace. The suspension soaks up the bumps much nicer than many other bikes. Hitting speed bumps in the parking lot is actually nice with this set-up.
Riding home that afternoon had temps back up near freezing where the heated grips come into their own. I admit that riding closer to freezing is more fun than the morning temps, especially when I don’t have my normal heated apparel available. I am getting accustomed to the seat but not sure I want to ride across country on its setup. Mounting and dismounting the bike are my only real issues so far; it’s a darn tall bike.
On Wednesday after work, MOD calls me to say Brahma is finally ready. I cannot get there before they close though so I have the GS for another day. So far, I have added about 400 fun miles to it. I plan to swap out bikes Thursday morning but 30 minutes after hanging up with them, it begins to snow outside. When I get up the next day, I can hardly walk outside without busting my butt so I decided not to ride that morning. I call MOD to let them know I would come by that afternoon and for some reason, they had already figured that out.
After work, I took another twisty road to MOD. This GS really does love curvy pavement. I find that I am riding much faster than normal due to its ability to lean low. I am riding about 15 to 20 MPH faster than Brahma on these same routes simply because of the suspension and lean angle. I do appreciate that aspect, it just doesn’t power out of the curves as nicely.
Once at MOD, I bid farewell to the GS and successfully fended off the guys trying to get me to take it home as well. I find that Brahma missed me tremendously and couldn’t wait to try out his new shoes. When I sat in Brahma’s saddle, a very familiar smile spread across my face. He started up and the smile got bigger. I found that riding home to be very uplifting despite the fact I enjoyed the GS so much. I guess I like the Rocket even better and must say it is very comfortable to ride. The heated gear had to be turned down as it seemed to be too hot for the 32°F temperature. It took me 2.5 hours to get home as I had to break in the new Exedra maxes properly.
So, over all, I will give the GS adventure high marks across the board and say that its pavement manners are very good. This bike has 80,000 miles on it and I could not tell it wasn’t new; a testament to both its manufacturer and the previous owner’s ability to keep it in top shape. Yes, I would own one. But I am sure a smaller Ural Gear-up will be my first addition to the stable. We have 18 inches of snow outside today and neither the Rocket nor the GS would do well there, but the Gear-up would play in it all day…