In 1980, I was a kid touring the German Two-wheeled Museum in Neckarsulm, Baden-Wurttemberg. I remember staring at the new BMW GS 80 motorcycle, thinking it was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Imagine a bike that could take you almost anywhere you’d want to go off road, but still be comfortable enough to eat up highway mileage. Surely no one motorcycle could do both things with equal ability; until the BMW GS came along, that really was the case.
BMW didn’t invent the on / off road motorcycle, since manufacturers had been building scramblers and enduro bikes for years. BMW, instead, perfected the multi-discipline motorcycle and still dominates the market with their GS (for Gelaende / Strasse, or country / street) series, a perennial best seller worldwide. Even when the rest of their bikes weren’t moving from dealer showrooms, the BMW GS series always brought in customers. In many ways, the GS is the bike that saved BMW motorcycles.
It’s got the competition heritage, too. The factory backed, boxer-engined version of the GS has won Paris – Dakar four times, and the single cylinder version of the GS has won the event twice. Privateer teams continue to run with BMW GS models, and there probably isn’t an accessible corner of the globe that hasn’t been visited by a rider on a BMW GS.
Strangely enough, I’ve never owned one, although I’ve said for years it’ll be my next bike. The limitation of the big GS, now 1.2 liters and equipped with dual overhead cams on each cylinder, is rider inseam and courage. If you’ve got a 36” inseam, the GS will fit you like a glove. If you’ve got a 32” inseam, like me, you pray that you’ll never have to put both feet down at the same time. On the plus side, the big GS is accustomed to going over with minimal damage.
Want more detail on the GS series? Check out Autoevolution’s article on thier development and history.