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The BMW GS series of dual purpose off-road/on-road BMW motorcycles have been produced from 1980 to the present day. The GS refers to either Gelände/Straße (German: off-road/road) or Gelände Sport. GS motorcycles can be distinguished from other BMW models by their longer travel suspension, an upright riding position, and larger front wheels – typically 19–21 inch.

GS models

The GS has been available with a range of different engines including single cylinder, twin cylinder water-cooled and twin cylinder air ("Airheads") and air/oil cooled ("Oilheads" and "Hexheads").


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1989 BMW R 80 GS
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BMW R 100 GS

The first shaft driven GS model was the R 80 G/S with a 797 cc flat-twin, air-cooled boxer engine. The BMW 247 engine, which was also fitted to many other bikes in the BMW range, is known as an airhead. The most valued version was the R 80 G/S-PD "Paris-Dakar" model featuring a larger tank. In certain markets a 649 cc R 65 GS version was also available. These early machines used a combined rear suspension / drive swingarm called a Monolever.

In 1987 the G/S name was changed to GS with the S meaning "Sport" rather than "Straße" and the Monolever was replaced with the Paralever swingarm, which included a torque arm intended to lessen shaft effect and strengthen the swingarm-to-final drive connection. The new bikes were produced with engines of 797 cc (R 80 GS) or 980 cc (R 100 GS).

Production of the standard machines stopped in 1995 with the R 100 GS-PD (unofficially Paris Dakar), but special "Kalahari" and "Basic" editions were made available in 1996 and 1997, which ended GS production.

Airhead models still have a following among adventure motorcyclists and often sell at a premium price when compared with bikes of a similar age.

Airhead production history

  • Monolever
    • R 80 G/S 1980–1986
    • R 80 G/S-PD 1984–1987
    • R 65 GS 1987–1990
  • Paralever
    • R 80 GS 1987–1994
    • R 100 GS 1987–1994
    • R 100 GS-PD 1988–1995
    • R 80 GS Basic 1996–1997
    • R 80 GS Kalahari 1996–1997


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BMW R 1100 GS
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BMW R 1150 GS
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BMW R 1200 GS

In 1995, the introduction of the next generation R-259 or Oilhead engine signalled BMW's entry into modern adventure models, with a succession of larger displacement models including the R 850 GS, R 1100 GS, R 1150 GS and the R 1200 GS. Later models have electronic engine management, ABS braking, twin spark plugs, and more power than airhead models. The current R 1200 GS, sometimes referred to as a hexhead because of the revised cylinder head shape, is 30 kg (66 lb) lighter and, with 105 horsepower (78 kW), more powerful than the R 1150 GS. Electronic fuel injection systems provided more even overall riding performance for the great range of altitudes commonly ridden with these motorcycles.

The R 1150 GS and R 1200 GS are available in an Adventure version which adds a larger fuel tank, lower gearing, upgraded suspension, and optional offroad tires to make the Adventure more suitable for arduous off-road trips with a heavy load of gear and supplies. The horizontally-opposed two-cylinder "boxer" engine provides a comparatively low centre of gravity compared to motorcycles with inline-4 or V-twin engines. This strongly contributes to the ability of these supra-liter class machines to travel on dirt roads and trails. The distribution of torque over a broad RPM range coupled with the relatively wide power pulses inherent in a long-stroke two cylinder motor provides consistent and predictable traction on loose surfaces.

As with the airheads, all oilhead GS models are shaft driven. However, the front suspension was changed from conventional forks to the Telelever, developed by British company Saxon Motodd, which uses a control arm, called an A-arm by BMW to eliminate dive under braking.

Oilhead production history

From the start of oilhead production in 1994 until 27 July 2007, a total of 219,468 oilhead GS bikes were produced.[1] Oilhead GS models are listed below together with production figures where known:

Model Dates Production
R 1100 GS 1994–1999 39,842
R 850 GS 1996–2001 2,242
R 1150 GS 1999–2004 58,023
R 1150 GS Adventure 2001–2005 17,828
R 1200 GS (hexhead) 2004–present 84,373 up to 27 July 2007
R 1200 GS Adventure (hexhead) 2006–present 15,627 up to 27 July 2007

Although not strictly a GS, the following closely related models were also introduced by BMW:

  • HP2 Enduro 2005 - present date
  • HP2 Megamoto 2007 - present date

Single cylinder chain drive

Main article: BMW F650 single
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BMW F 650 ST Strada
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BMW F 650 GS Dakar

In 1993 BMW introduced GS models powered by a single cylinder 4-valve 652 cc Rotax engine, also known as a thumper, and chain drive. The off road-capable F 650 Funduro had a 19 inch front wheel, long travel suspension, bash plate and a high seat. The more road biased F 650 ST Strada had a smaller diameter 18 inch front wheel, narrower handlebars and smaller screen. The bikes were manufactured alongside the virtually identical 5-valve Aprilia Pegaso.

Following BMW's win in the 1999 (and subsequently the 2000) Dakar Rally with a heavily modified F 650 RR ridden by Richard Sainct, BMW introduced the fuel injected F 650 GS in 2000. A taller, more off-road biased Dakar version was introduced which included a taller screen, 21 inch front wheel and longer suspension travel. Following the launch of the twin-cylinder models in 2008, BMW re-branded the single cylinder bike as the G650GS in some markets.

The single cylinder bikes have a strong following and are thought by many of their riders to be better off roaders than the heavier boxer engined bikes. Like the larger two-cylinder models, they offer significant capacity to carry gear and supplies over long distances. Their versatility is attractive to riders who intend to spend weeks, months, even years travelling on two wheels. There is a large aftermarket of suppliers catering to riders of these motorcycles.

Parallel-twin chain drive

Main article: BMW GS parallel-twin
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2008 BMW F 800 GS in Sunset Yellow

In 2007 BMW launched two new chain driven GS models using a 798 cc parallel-twin engine, the F 800 GS and F 650 GS.

The F 800 GS produces a power output of 63 kW (84 hp) and torque of 81 N·m (60 lb·ft) allowing it to achieve a 0-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds. It has twin 300 mm discs at the front with optional ABS. It has a seat height of 880 mm (34.6 in).

Though it is made with the same engine as the F 800 GS, the F 650 GS produces a lower power output of 52 kW (70 hp) and torque of 75 N·m (55 lb·ft). This detuned engine can be further restricted to satisfy European regulations involving stepped licenses. It has a single 300 mm disc at the front with optional ABS. It has a lower seat height of 820 mm (32.3 in).

Both models feature chain drive, but the other F-series motorcycles now use a reinforced kevlar belt drive which requires less maintenance.


The GS is a popular choice with adventure motorcyclists and travellers. There are also numerous owners clubs dedicated to the bike. There is a strong aftermarket of accessories for the GS range which includes aluminium luggage, saddles, shock absorbers, screens, lights and GPS mountings.

In 2004 the R 1150 GS Adventure was made more popular after being used by actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman in their journey Long Way Round,[2] which involved riding from London to New York by going east across Europe, central Asia, Alaska, Canada and the USA. They continued their association with the GS when Boorman used an F650RR during his 2006 Dakar Rally attempt,[2] which was documented in the book and TV series Race To Dakar, and again in 2007 when both used the R 1200 GS Adventure in their journey Long Way Down, in which they rode from John O'Groats at the northern tip of Scotland, to Cape Town at the southern tip of Africa.

Both the R 1200 GS and the F 650 GS were featured in the BBC TV series The Hairy Bikers' Cookbook, ridden by chefs Dave Myers and Si King.[3][4]

Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart used an R 1100 GS for a 14 month long 55,000 mile self-healing trip, documented in the book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road,[5] that he made in the late 90's following the tragic deaths of his only daughter and wife.[6] Peart also used the R 1200 GS with an 1150 GS as a backup on his 2004 motorcycle trip between gigs on Rush's 30th Anniversary tour, a trip he documented in the book Roadshow: Landscape with Drums, A Concert Tour By Motorcycle.[7]

On 27 July 2007, the BMW R 1200 GS and R 1200 GS Adventure reached a production record of 100,000 units since its launch in 2004, making it the most popular BMW motorcycle.[1]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "BMW's 100,000th R 1200 GS". webBikeWorld (from BMW press release). 3 August 2007. Retrieved on 2007-09-26. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "McGregor opts out of Boorman's Dakar Rally challenge". The Daily Telegraph. 24 December 2005. Retrieved on 2008-08-24. 
  3. "Two Hairy Bikers and one lucky winner". World of BMW. 31 May 2006. Retrieved on 2008-08-24. 
  4. Welch, Andy (18 August 2008). "Crumbs - more hairy moments". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved on 2008-08-24. 
  5. Peart, Neil (2002). Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. ECW Press. ISBN 1550225464. 
  6. Catterson, Brian (February 2003). "Rush's Neil Peart: Rockin' and Rollin'... Rollin'... Rollin'". Cycle World. 
  7. Peart, Neil (25 October 2006). Roadshow: Landscape With Drums: A Concert Tour by Motorcycle. Rounder Records. ISBN 1579401422. 

External links

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