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R1200GS Rallye: BMW’s Most Off-Road Capable Big-Bore ADV Bike?

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Dirt-loving GS Riders are a special breed. They relish the challenge of riding a large ADV Bike through technical terrain better suited for small-displacement dual sports. And Adventure Bike’s don’t come much larger than the BMW R1200GS ‘Adventure’ at 573 pounds. Even so, with its rugged build and long-travel suspension, the GSA is capable of handling some of the toughest trails.

The standard R1200GS is no slouch in the dirt either. While it does have about an inch less suspension travel than the GSA, it’s 35 pounds lighter and less bulky. Some would argue it has a slight advantage off-road. But what if you could get the best of both worlds? The lighter, more-nimble package of the standard GS with the longer-travel suspension from the GSA? That’s exactly what BMW did last year when they released the R1200GS Rallye model.

Even better, the Rallye model features dirt-oriented components like cross-spoke tubeless wheels, wide serrated footpegs and stainless-steel radiator guards. The Bavarians also removed the center stand, added a flat one-piece seat and swapped the touring windscreen for a shorty enduro screen to further emphasize the bike’s no-nonsense off-road intentions. But the key component for serious off-road riders is the ‘Sport Suspension’ – an option only available on the R1200GS Rallye. The Sport Suspension (make sure the build sheet lists option #547) has 0.8 inches more suspension travel than the standard GS, along with stiffer springs to handle rougher terrain.

BMW R1200GS Rallye Adventure Motorcycle

BMW R1200GS Rallye Adventure Motorcycle

BMW matched the Rallye’s athletic profile with a striking new color scheme – lupine blue metallic paintwork, motorsports fuel tank graphics and a cordoba blue frame. With its eye-catching graphics, combined with an aggressive off-road stance, the Rallye was an instant hit with GS fans when it was first announced in late 2016. But the Rallye is more than just a giant roost machine, it’s also one of the most technologically sophisticated Adventure Motorcycles on the market.

Core Technology

Our R1200GS Rallye test bike was delivered with all the bells, whistles, and then some. Convenience features included heated grips, manual-adjustable windscreen, a tire pressure monitoring system, cruise control, the BMW Navigator V GPS and a ‘key fob’ keyless ignition.

BMW R1200GS Rallye Adventure Motorcycle

Electronic rider aids consisted of “Shift Assistant Pro,” which gives you clutchless upshifts and downshifts; Hill Start Control applies the brakes when stopped on a hill, allowing you to pull away smoothly without rolling backward; Four ride modes (Road, Rain, Enduro, Dynamic) set the suspension damping, ABS and fuel mappings to match the terrain; And for those that want to unlock the full off-road potential of the bike, the red plug under the seat enables “Enduro Pro” mode.

Our 2017 BMW R1200GS Rallye came equipped with the Sport Suspension and Dynamic ESA, which constantly adjusts damping settings based on road feedback and rider inputs. New since 2017 is “ABS Pro,” which senses current lean angle to determine the optimal brake pressure to apply. Dynamic ESA is also now “self-leveling” (as of 2017), meaning it detects the current payload and automatically selects the perfect ride h for the rear shock (no more selecting helmets and luggage icons).

First Look

BMW R1200GS Rallye Adventure Motorcycle

Having clocked thousands of miles on both the R1200GS and R1200GS Adventure, we were eager to throw a leg over the Rallye to see how it matched up in the dirt. The bike has the same familiar ergonomics as the standard R1200GS, but the taller stance of the Sport Suspension is immediately noticed. We also noticed the Rallye’s wide flat seat splays the legs a bit more, increasing the reach to the ground. The seat shape, combined with its 1 inch taller h (low 34.6″ / high 35.4″) makes this bike a tall perch for the inseam challenged.

We got a chance to explore the Rallye’s range of capabilities on two separate adventure rides: One in Utah’s Manti-La Sal National Forest, and another ride in Northern California’s Sierra Mountains. Read on to find out how it performed.

On the Highway

Few adventure bikes are as adept at eating up highway miles like the R1200GS, and the Rallye preserves many of those long-range attributes. It has a spacious cockpit that taller riders will appreciate and there’s those protruding cylinder heads that offer a great place to stretch out your legs. The smooth motor hardly breaks a sweat when cruising at 90 mph and there’s always power on tap to make a pass. Navigating the menus on the digital dash is intuitive, and niceties like cruise control, heated grips and integrated GPS all work flawlessly on the road. Yet some of the Rallye’s special equipment isn’t all that highway friendly.

BMW R1200GS Rallye Adventure Motorcycle

Starting with the shorty windscreen, it’s way too small to block the wind for longer journeys. The Rallye screen is just tall enough to divert the wind to about chin level in the high position. After riding hundreds of highway miles to Salt Lake City, we arrived fatigued and wind battered. In theory, the shorter windscreen prevents you from hitting your helmet while riding through aggressive off-road terrain. But in reality, when the windscreen is cranked all the way down, a standard-sized screen would give you ample room.

The new flat “dirtbike-style” seat on the Rallye is also not as comfortable as the contoured seats that come standard on the GS and GSA. While its long-flat design maximizes the riders ability to slide forward or rearward, it also feels a bit like sitting on a plank after a few hours in the saddle. Not that it was particularly uncomfortable for the class, but it wasn’t as plush as other GS seats we’ve tested. For many though, the performance advantages of being able to shift your weight off-road will outweigh any reduced comfort.

Riding in the Twisties

We had several opportunities to explore the sporty side of the R1200GS Rallye while riding twisty mountain roads in both Utah and California’s Sierras. Our Rallye came equipped with road oriented Michelin Anakee III tires which gave excellent grip when leaned deep into turns. We later swapped these for a set of Continental TKC 80s, which still offer good asphalt grip and much improved performance in the dirt.

BMW R1200GS Rallye Adventure Motorcycle

Configured in the “Dynamic Pro” Mode, the rider gets the most aggressive throttle response and less traction control intervention. This allows a skilled riders to perform light power drifts out of turns – all with a safety net to catch you if you misjudge a turn or hit a slick patch. The Rallye feels equally sporty to the standard R1200GS in the twisties, but its taller suspension makes it less likely to drag toes when riding aggressively.

BMW’s updated Dynamic ESA suspension works even better than on previous models. It keeps everything feeling stable, despite the taller suspension, and it has less buck and wallow than previous GSA models we’ve tested. The new self-leveling system ensures you always have the right chassis attitude and there is very little dive under hard braking, or squat when accelerating out of turns. Dynamic ESA is also constantly adjusting damping rates, based on the road and rider inputs, to give the tires maximum grip. The sensation is about as close as you can get to hovering on air, and you can enjoy riding at a brisk pace with far less effort.

In the Dirt

BMW R1200GS Rallye Adventure Motorcycle

In the forests of Utah, we tested the capabilities of the R1200GS Rallye on everything from wooded single track, to rough fire roads and double-track ATV trails. It handled all the trails we threw at it with sure-footed confidence. In the Sierras, the improved bump absorption of the long-travel suspension was greatly appreciated in the rocky terrain, and our faith in the capabilities of the bike grew. It continued to grow to the point where we were taking the big Rallye on trails marked “black diamond.”

Then a navigation error led us down a “double black diamond” trail (unbeknownst to us), which was a bit more than we bargained for. This 16-mile rocky hell called the “Swamp Trail” usually takes high-clearance jeeps two days to complete. It was a formidable challenge for the Rallye and unusually slick dirt offered little traction.

The R1200GS Rallye takes on the triple black diamond Swap Trail in the Sierra Mountains.

The other riders in our group where on a 690 Enduro, an 1190 ADV R, an F800GS and a pair of Africa Twins – all lighter, smaller bikes and with 21” front wheels. But that didn’t stop the Rallye from picking its way, foot-by-foot, and sometimes inch-by-inch, up the rocky trail. It was a baptism of fire, but a sense of satisfaction grew with each obstacle overcome on the big daddy.

The clutch action on the Rallye was a bit abrupt for these extreme enduro-like conditions, and the slippery soil made it hard to grab traction without resorting to brute force power. This was definitely a “TC off” situation. And once the tire got spinning, the Rallye would just motorboat its way through the slick stuff. And everyone behind the big GS had to run for cover from fist-sized boulders during each new challenge attempted.

The R1200GS Rallye showed us it was pretty capable on tough hill climbs but the protruding cylinder heads did limit our line choices. At one point, we had a tip over on the Rallye and a rock managed to get in between the AltRider crash bars to put a hairline crack in the cylinder head cover. A small oil drip was concerning but not enough to cause a problem any time soon, so we persisted on.

BMW R1200GS Rallye Adventure Motorcycle

Exhausted at the end of a tough day, the weight of the bike became even more noticeable, especially when going downhill in the rocky terrain. Just holding on as it bounced down rock ledges was getting to be a challenge. And if you aren’t used to riding a GS, those big cylinder heads often end up in the way of where you typically dab a foot. Even so, the increased bump absorption and the new flat seat made it easier to get your weight back and just ride out the bumps.

Overall, the R1200GS Rallye proved to be a significant improvement over the standard GS or GSA in tough terrain. We cleared several large rock shelves that would have been impassable for a standard R1200GS, and the greater weight and bulk of a GSA would have had our lungs ready to burst in these high elevations (9,000 feet). It’s no surprise BMW now uses the R1200GS Rallye for their GS Trophy competition.

Final Thoughts

While some GS Riders love the thrill of taking a Big Bike to places they probably shouldn’t, the Swamp Trail is clearly outside of what BMW’s engineers designed the bike for. But at least it’s good to know that it can manage this type of extreme terrain if you ever do make a wrong turn, or are forced to take a rougher route than expected to get to your destination.

BMW R1200GS Rallye Adventure Motorcycle

While we were impressed with the Rallye’s rock climbing capabilities in the Sierras, its sweet spot is more along the lines of flowing double track where it can stretch its legs and use its suspension travel. It would make an awesome Baja Bike – ride off-road for several days, then take a straight shot home on the highway in comfort. Just make sure you upgrade to a taller windscreen (an easy fix) and mentally prepare for a taller seat h.

The Rallye combines the best off-road characteristics of the standard R1200GS and GSA, but it’s still a comfortable touring bike when it needs to be. For those skilled GS riders who enjoy the challenge of the toughest trails, this is the bike that can take you to new places with greater confidence and control.

The last challenge to conquer is the price. At roughly $24k, it’s at the upper spectrum of liter-class adventure bikes. But for this level of sophistication, comfort, safety and performance, the top shelf price tag is to be expected. And from what we’ve heard, BMW isn’t having any trouble finding homes for these beautiful machines.

Photos: Alfonse Palaima & Spencer Hill

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