A very deep and detailed look into the history of the mighty “GS” thanks to BMW Motorrad.
Wayne Gerdes - CleanMPG
- Sept. 10, 2010
The bike that started it all – 1980 BMW R 80 G/S "Paris-Dakar"
In September 1980, BMW presented the R 80 G/S to the press. At the time, off-road motorcycles were rarely much larger than 500 cc. BMW’s radical machine forced the birth of a versatile new genre – the R 80 G/S could tackle anything from urban and long-distance riding to off-road enduros. Three decades later, the GS has been much copied and the big all-terrain machines have created one of motorcycling’s most popular classes. The all-inclusive Adventure bike.
The BMW G/S model was conceived in 1978 during a period of declining sales, following nearly a decade of growth. In January of 1979, a new management team aimed put the BMW motorcycle business back on track. The first model presented to them by the development department, was a large-capacity off-road prototype.
The prototype was built without a formal development brief and was immediately used by the test department to accompany the works team in cross-country motor sport events.
Cross-country Traditions new and old
Cross-country racing had become familiar territory to BMW. In the Twenties and Thirties the company had been successful in six-day events and in the Fifties and Sixties BMW won a series of titles. From 1970 to 1972 Herbert Schek claimed three cross-country championships on a modified BMW R 75/5 road bike. In 1978, the rules again allowed 4-stroke motorcycles to compete in championship events. Laszlo Peres from the BMW test department came second in the German Championship on a self-built 800cc machine that weighed only 312 pounds.
Building a successful sports model is one thing, developing an economically viable production machine presents a far-reaching challenge. The new machine had to be suitable for everyday use and the selling price had to be competitive.
The Brutally Tough Marketplace
A concept of a high performance machine with on-road ride comfort and all-terrain capability gradually emerged. A market study of enduro riding revealed that a mere two percent of miles ridden were across really difficult terrain while the rest was ridden on normal roads, un surfaced tracks or single track. The idea of a comfortable, large-capacity enduro/street machine was born. Its concept was reflected in the G/S model designation – G for Gelände (terrain) and S for Strasse (road). It created a new market and a demand that has so far proved virtually inexhaustible.
G/S is a Go
BMW management gave the go-ahead for series production and Rüdiger Gutsche, head of chassis development, was put in charge of the project. The focus of development was on new single-arm rear wheel suspension. This feature was new technical territory and the question was whether such a design would be able to withstand heavy stress.
Initial trials were promising and in January 1980 BMW press spokesman Kalli Hufstadt and journalist Hans Peter Leicht set off on two pre-production machines for a 1,250-mile ride through Ecuador. During the trip the motorcycles had to combat extreme weather and atrocious road conditions but the men and their machines emerged with no more than a few slight injuries. The development work of the BMW engineers had paid off and the backroom staff were finally able to start fine-tuning the new, and now proven, G/S machine.
Journalists make or break the bike
In September of 1980, everything was ready. The BMW R 80 G/S was introduced to the international press in the French city of Avignon. Less than 21 months had elapsed since the project was launched and BMW was certainly anxious to see the reaction. With a dry weight of just 367 pounds, the G/S was the lightest 800cc motorcycle available. It had a ground clearance of 8.6” – and its spring travel of 7.87” at the front and 6.7” at the rear, far more than enough to satisfy off-road riders of the era.
The enthusiasm among journalists at the launch was universal. One magazine described it with tongue in cheek as ‘the best road motorcycle from BMW’, so impressed were they by its handling qualities. A summary of all the G/S test rides indicated that the new BMW concept had produced ‘A motorcycle for all terrain’. The 800cc BMW R 80 G/S was not only the largest capacity of any enduro machine with road capability, but with a maximum speed of 104 mph, by far the fastest.
G/S meets the customer
In mid-September when it was shown to the public, there was a huge crowd around the BMW stand. The public was anxious to see the ‘Bavarian all-rounder’, which had already received so many compliments in the press.
Enthusiasm on the stand was converted into orders and by the end of 1981 a total of 6,631 machines – more than twice the number originally planned – had left the assembly line in Berlin. One in every five BMW motorcycles sold was a G/S. It meant that the Enduro Tourer was making a decisive contribution to BMW’s steadily rising sales figures – and to this day, 30 years after the launch – the market segment has maintained its enormous importance for BMW.
Success in the Desert
BMW set its sights on the toughest and most prestigious off-road event in the world, the Paris-Dakar Rally. First staged in 1979, the race distance was 5,890 miles with just 30 percent of the route on paved roads. In 1979 Fenouil, the only BMW rider, retired with a technical fault. In 1980, Frenchman Hubert Auriol signed on as the second BMW rider alongside Fenouil and was in the lead after 11 stages. It was in the 12th when he was disqualified for unauthorized assistance. By finishing in fifth, Fenouil gave the BMW R 80 G/S a reputation of success.
The following year BMW went to the start with three motorcycles prepared by HPN. Auriol was the first to reach Dakar and he was to repeat BMW’s overall victory in 1983. In 1984 and 1985 the Belgian Gaston Rahier also won the Paris-Dakar. With four victories in the Paris-Dakar, BMW had provided impressive proof of the off-road capability of the G/S.
Riding the G/S over the long haul
While BMW offered a substantial range of accessories for the G/S, a second market established itself, specifically designed to meet the demands of long-distance travel. In 1984 BMW brought out a special ‘Paris-Dakar’ model. A 8.45 gallon tank with the striking Paris-Dakar logo, a single seat and generous luggage rack gave it the appearance of a competition machine.
The G/S sold surprisingly well and success attracted not only admirers, but also imitators. It was clear that BMW could not rest on its laurels and would have to defend its position as market leader.
The GS comes of age
The result of further development was presented to the public for the first time in Florence on 24 August 1987. The successor models were called the R 80 GS and R 100 GS – the oblique stroke in the designation had been dropped. With the 1000cc R 100 GS, BMW was once again able to offer the largest engine enduro machine on the market. However, it was not the engine – already sufficiently well known from the road models – that attracted attention. Once again it was the rear suspension and frame that had seen substantial modifications.
In addition to the new rear suspension called ‘Paralever’, there was numerous detail improvements incorporated in the new GS. For example, the frame and rear end were given additional reinforcement and a new Marzocchi telescopic fork was fitted to the front wheel. The front brake disc was enlarged and a larger Brembo brake caliper fitted. The wheels were of the new cross-spoke type and enabled the use of tubeless tires. The tank capacity was increased to 6.86 gallons and the longer and wider saddle promised more comfort – as did a small windscreen, which was introduced as standard on the R 100 GS and available as an accessory for the R 80 GS.
Alongside the two big machines, and specifically for the German market, BMW introduced a 27 HP entry-level model, the R 65 GS. However, the bike was only granted a brief production life. In three years no more than 1,727 units sold and the R 65 GS was removed from the range in 1990. In 1990, on the 10th anniversary of the GS series, extensively redesigned versions of the R 80 GS and R 100 GS were presented at IFMA in Cologne. The basic models now had a fixed cockpit fairing with external tubular frame. Also new was an adjustable wind deflector and suspension strut, a rectangular headlamp, and instruments borrowed from the K series.
The R 1100 GS made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1993. With its audacious styling and impressive size – compared with the R 100 GS – the new model was 2.5” taller curb weight had increased by 50 pounds The R 1100 GS hit the enduro market like a bombshell. Many observers openly expressed doubts as to whether a motorcycle of such dimensions would be at all suitable for adventure touring but public demand for the new ‘Über-Enduro’ was enormous – by the end of 1994, the production line at BMW’s Spandau plant had built over 9,500 units.
At high speeds, the height and aerodynamics of the R 1100 GS might have made it difficult to ride. The problem was solved by a chassis design taken from the R 1100 RS where the frame had been constructed in three sections – with the engine and gearbox housing forming a single, stressed unit. The rear wheel was fitted with an improved Paralever single swing-arm and the front with BMW’s new Telelever. The latter, which had also been introduced a year previously on the R 1100 RS, was a combination of telescopic fork and a leading link between the bridge of the fork and the frame. In conjunction with an anti-dive feature this technical solution guaranteed outstanding responsiveness and a high degree of rigidity, thereby preventing a hardening of the suspension when the brakes were applied.
The twin-valve boxer gets updated
The end of the air-cooled, twin-cylinder horizontally-opposed engine was imminent. This engine design, which since 1923 had been inseparably linked with BMW motorcycles, was no longer able to meet the severe restrictions on noise and exhaust emissions. Thus at IFMA in 1994, BMW introduced a Classic Edition of the successful twin-valve engine. The GS Special continued to be manufactured until January 1996. At that point, the era of BMW’s twin-valve enduro models appeared to have finally come to an end.
Despite this, BMW went back to work and produced the R 80 GS Basic. With its 5.1 gallon tank and white paintwork it was outwardly reminiscent of the original G/S of 1980, albeit fitted with second generation Paralever technology. In a few months over 3,000 units had been produced. The last R 80 GS Basic and thus the last BMW twin-valve boxer engine machines came off the line in December of 1996.
In September 1998, at INTERMOT in Munich, the R 850 GS was launched as the little brother to the 1100. The engine (from the R 850 R Roadster) was introduced in 1994 and developed 70 HP but was also available in a downgraded 34 HP version. The R 850 GS was only produced for three years and in 2000 a single-cylinder model, the F 650 GS, replaced it.
Yet another triumph in the desert
In 1998 BMW celebrated a comeback in cross-country sport when, after a gap of 13 years, it again entered a works team in the Paris-Dakar Rally. This time, the four-man team was not riding big boxer machines but single-cylinder motorcycles based on the F 650 GS. Their expectations were deliberately modest and the main objective was to finish the course. Results proved disappointing and a mediocre 35th place and three retirements were added to the record.
The major competition the following year came from Austria: 75 riders, nine of them in the works team, were riding KTMs. No less than 12 trucks provided servicing facilities. However, the small BMW team held their own against superior forces. Richard Sainct, who had only joined the team in 1999, won the motorcycle category, repeating the success of Auriol and Rahier in the 1980s, to give BMW its fifth victory in the event. The fact that all four BMW starters completed the course was proof of the reliability of the single-cylinder enduro bike – and the excellence of the riders.
In 2000, BMW entered six motorcycles. In addition to four single-cylinder models there were once again two boxers on the starting line. The two R 900 RRs had been built by HPN and their high-revving 900cc power unit developed 90 HP at 8,200rpm. BMW once again celebrated a historic triumph in the Dakar when Richard Sainct repeated his success and BMW also took 2nd, 3rd and 4th places. Between the three single-cylinder models, Jimmy Lewis had ridden his boxer into third position.
The F 650 GS
When BMW introduced the F 650 GS in January 2000, under the fairing was a completely reworked F 650 Enduro. For the first time on any single-cylinder motorcycle BMW had fitted digital electronics to control the ignition and fuel injection. The F 650 GS was also the first single-cylinder motorcycle to employ a three-way catalyst as standard equipment. This meant that BMW was once again a pioneer in environmental protection and in 2000 was the only manufacturer whose entire range was fitted with the most effective form of emissions control.
The F 650 GS was introduced in two variants to include a F 650 Dakar model for more intensive off-road use. The concept of the ‘small’ enduro caught on quickly and by the end of 2000 BMW had manufactured over 18,000 F 650 GS machines.
The boxer comes alive in the GS
After six years, and over 40,000 sales, the R 1100 GS was replaced by the R 1150 GS. Output was increased by 5 HP between 3,000 and 6,500rpm and torque was consistently in excess of 66 lb-ft., which gave the R 1150 GS excellent acceleration under all riding conditions. The chassis and frame were subject to numerous detailed modifications, beginning with the improved Telelever fork, through a shorter Paralever suspension arm, to an optimized rear-end frame. In addition there was a reworking of the design, which set the R 1150 GS apart from its predecessors in terms of appearance. With the R 1150 GS, BMW asserted its lead in big enduro Tourers and was able to stay ahead of competitors who were also crowding into the lucrative market segment.
The ultimate GS for adventure and global touring
For global travelers, BMW brought out a new model in the spring of 2002, which was named the R 1150 GS Adventure. In doing so, BMW not only offered a comprehensive range of special equipment and accessories but also modified the standard GS features. Suspension play was enlarged by almost an inch on each wheel to 8.26” at the front and 8.66” at the rear. On the rear wheel a Showa suspension strut with travel-dependent damping was used. The front wheel was fitted with the EVO brake and as an option BMW offered Integral ABS anti-lock braking system.
Further modifications were principally designed to enhance the comfort of the rider; for example, the windscreen and front mudguard were lengthened and widened. This gave better protection from wind, weather, spray and mud. Hand protection and protection from handlebar jolting were standard features and under-the-engine protection was also strengthened. In place of the 5.8 gallon fuel tank, customers could opt for a 7.9 gallon tank. Adequate stowage space was provided by a set of aluminum cases specially designed for the Adventure – the two side cases and a top box provided 3.7 cu. ft. of space. There was even a large cylinder protection bracket, protective grille for the headlamp, and a fog lamp also with protective grille.
With these special accessories BMW could once again claim to be a system provider and offer the globetrotting community ‘one-stop shopping’ as a complete solution.
The R 1200 GS
In summer 2004, BMW presented a new generation of its classic enduro model. Rather than facelift the existing R 1150 GS, the company decided to create a new motorcycle, the R 1200 GS, which would offer all the advantages of the predecessor models but in a far more dynamic form.
The new model was an industry surprise as it weighed in at 437 pounds dry – a reduction of 66 pounds compared with its predecessor, the R 1150 GS. The low weight was not achieved through compromise as the all-new R 1200 GS surpassed its famous predecessor in every respect and set new standards of agility, handling and reliability.
With the 1200cc the boxer engine, the 1200 GS had an output of 100 HP and a maximum torque of 85 lb-ft. guaranteeing a smooth yet powerful acceleration at any engine speed and over any terrain. Thanks to the first-time use of a counterbalanced crankshaft in a boxer, the engine generated less vibration than its predecessors despite being larger in cylinder capacity.
An important factor for long-distance travelers was that the engine, although tuned for super-grade unleaded petrol, would happily run on normal fuel without any manual adjustment. Fuel consumption was been improved by eight percent compared with earlier models, and power output and torque were increased by nearly 18 percent.
The R 1200 GS had an unmistakable appearance and every detail of the new bike underwent modification and weight optimization. All these improvements were also featured just over a year later on the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure, which now replaced the BMW R 1150 Adventure. With all this going for it, the R 1200 GS couldn’t fail to be a success, and after just three years, sales of the two large BMW Enduros had already topped the 100,000 unit mark.
The F 800 GS – Just as much at home on the road as it is on the trail
In 2008, the F 650 GS and its sister model the F 650 Dakar, were replaced by a brand new F 800 GS twin-cylinder model. The new models are powered by a parallel twin-cylinder engine taken from the F 800 S and F 800 ST street models, which were launched in 2006.
The F 800 GS enduro is not only equipped with the same engine as the 800 series street machines but also with the same tubular space frame. With a 21-inch front wheel, large ground clearance and more than 7.9” of front travel, it can take on any type of terrain, while on the road its agile, 85 HP engine powers it vigorously up to the 125 mph mark.
With the parallel twin-cylinder engine, liquid cooling and chain drive to the rear wheel, this was a completely different technical concept from that of the tried-and-tested boxer models. The particular strengths of the twin-cylinder 800 model are its compact and robust design, outstanding fuel economy and agile performance.
In 2008, the company then brought out a new version of the F 650 GS with the same engine as the F 800 GS. The only difference was that it was a little more softly tuned than in the F 800 GS version, making it more suitable for less experienced riders or those with a more leisurely riding style. The single-cylinder F 650 GS predecessor is still in production in Brazil, but only for specific markets.
The 30-Years of GS - 1200 GS Special Edition
The GS models keep improving
In 2007 the R 1200 GS underwent a facelift that introduced a large number of detail improvements. It became more agile with the incorporation of the six-speed transmission from the HP2 Sport street bike. The GS now shared its pistons and camshaft with the R 1200 R and RT, raising maximum output to 105 HP at 7,500rpm. Seat and handlebar comfort was further improved and visually, the revised GS can be identified by the striking light-alloy side covers on the fuel tank and LED rear light.
The GS at 30
To mark its 30th birthday, the evergreen GS boxer engine was given a sporty makeover, with the 2010 models inheriting the high-tech cylinder heads of the meteoric HP2 Sport. Since an all-out focus on maximum power would have conflicted with the versatility that continues to be the hallmark of the boxer engine, the increase in output is relatively moderate, to 110 HP at 7,750rpm. A more important priority was to ensure a further increase in torque over a wide rpm range. The increased compression ratio allows the GS to achieve outstanding fuel efficiency.
The GS and its sister model, the Adventure, have for many years been not only the most popular BMW motorcycles, but in some countries the best-selling motorcycles overall.
Thirty years have passed since the launch of the BMW R 80 G/S. In those three decades, the segment of the world market has grown tremendously and BMW, as a pioneer with each new model, has set the standard for on/off-road bikes with superior on-road qualities. BMW still sets the benchmark in this segment even after 30-years. With more than 500,000 customers around the world, the supreme utility of the GS models and their incomparable boxer engines have been proven beyond a doubt to be reliable and ready for any adventure you can throw at them…
Thank you BMW for a wonderful 30-years of the mighty GS.