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So Is the New BMW GSA Better Off-Road Than the Old One?

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Eric Hall

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Is the new liquid cooled GS Adventure better off road than the older oil-cooled one?

Yes, it is!

No, it’s not!

Who is right?

I can’t seem to find a decent answer. I could just buy a new one and judge for myself, but that day hasn’t come yet.

On road, I think there’s no doubt the new bike is an entire new generation of all around road performance. It’s clear they mean to compete more with the street touring segment.

For me, the answer is that it may be a better bike off road, but there are a few features that make it worse off road.

The best comparison I’ve seen was this video Touratech USA did with the new LC GS vs. the old GS (Adventure model hadn’t come out yet).

And then more recently there is this article from ADVMoto, which I found a bit disappointing. They showed the two bikes with different tires (street vs knobby), compared the new GSA to the new LC GS on an inclined hill on loose terrain when the article was supposed to compare to the old GSA and made mention of the new wider wheels making it better on-road but not addressing whether that made things better or worse off-road (I think worse).

Let’s not forget the psychology going on here either. Some might say I’m skeptical because I own an ’11 GSA and want to protect my resale value by not acknowledging the new GSA is better. But I think there’s an opposing psychology with new LS GS/GSA owners to justify their expenditure by denying the possibility it may not in fact be better off-road.

Let’s take a look at what some of the advantages off-road of the new GS might be:

  • Higher snorkel that is better for deep water crossings
  • Better oem suspension quality, as well as a longer swing arm that allows the suspension to operate more efficiently
  • Retaining front wheel ABS off road makes for more confident cornering
  • Active ESA keeps wheels planted when applying brakes (goes into soft mode)
  • Narrower at the seat makes it easier to grip with the knees and contributes to a lighter feel
  • Wet clutch better suited to high temps seen in off-road conditions
  • Some sort of vague point about how the new frame geometry makes the bike handle better off-road (not sure why that is)

And the disadvantages:

  • Taller gearing. Even with heavier mass on flywheel to aid in the low end, it’s still more prone to stalling at slow speed maneuvering and uphill starts. And it’s not the wet clutch; it’s that you have to use the clutch so much more.
  • Wider wheels. The front is more likely to deflect, which is probably why it comes standard with a damper. It’s likely more difficult to handle in deep sand because of that. Wider rear tire spreads out force over wider area making cornering on loose surfaces more difficult (prone to skip rather than bite more so than a 150 width tire).
  • Radiators are one more thing that can break off-road leaving you stranded.
  • (Edit 5/10/17) First year and a half models had front tubes prone to cracking.  They fixed for latter half of '14 models.
  • (Edit 5/10/17) Now issues surfacing since at least Nov '16 of fork stanchion separation.
  • (Edit 5/10/17) Other issues with transmissions failing.

What would have really excited me was if BMW had gone a bit bolder with the GSA (as KTM was with their 1190 R) and had made it with 21”/18” wheels and kept the lower enduro gearing.

What do you think?


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You may want to add Endure Pro Mode to the LC GSA. ABS disabled like you said to the rear wheel, but the ability to use the front brake and not wash out is amazing. I feel the ability to control the bike while standing and maneuvering is a lot better than fumbling with the back brake foot lever.

I actually don't have stalling issues with this motor. Putting around, doing ensane technical riding on the side of a mountain, I don't even have the clutch pulled in a smidge. Hasn't been a problem for me.

I do agree on the radiators being vulnerable. Something else to worry about when taking a tight single track.

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Eric:I get the feeling that you're afraid to ride the new adventure because you probably understand that once you did- either on or off road- you'll want it.  My 'old' '12 GSA was, and still is, a great bike.  Just, as I wrote, the new one (a '14 GSA-LC) is better.  The offroad handling is better - noticeably better- due in no small part to the the longer swing arm. ( Back in the day, the first thing we did to the 70's Huskys was to take them to a shop and have the swing arm lengthened an inch to make them into desert bikes instead of twitchy European motocross machines).  The slightly higher gearing on the LC was a concern ito me at first, but the additional torque and heavier rotating mass more than compensates. (The '13 GS has a lightweight flywheel that I found did, indeed, stall easily; the newer GSs have the heavier unit.)  I actually like the newer GSA gearing better now than the Enduro gearing after 18,000 miles of use including some pretty  technical stuff.  On tight fireroads with ruts and switchbacks, the higher first gear keeps me from having to hunt between first and second and I did on the '12.  As for your gripe about different tires on the two bikes, the pavement, fire roads and single track we did the photos on were firm enough that tires would not be significant enough the the professional riders couldn't differentiate.  But had we tested in mud, we'd probably find what I learned in sand:  The Enduro mode adjusts the traction control (and ABS) sensitivity to work to your advantage; you don't spin rooster tails digging yourself in nor does the front wheel lock up descending steep grades.  On the old bike, those features are either all on or all off.  The new bike allows that on/off mode in Enduro Pro mode.  As for radiator vulnerability: I can attest that the stock bars do a fine job in a the couple of 'naps' that I've given the bike.  I guess if you hit a projecting rock hard enough you could do some damage, but if it were that hard a hit, you'd have plenty of other issues to deal with other than a radiator.  Finally, as for the wider wheels and sand... I don't know about you, but to me, a slightly wider footprint reduces the propensity for digging in during my experiences with sand. (However, too big a tire/wheel combo and the bike won't want to go around corners well because of gyroscopic forces.)  In summary, note that the R1200 GS and GSAs are not dedicated dirt bikes. I've ridden them back to back with the KTM 1190 and when the going get really tough, both the KTM and the GSA will get through, but you'll be happier getting there on the BMW.  If you only are riding fireroads, sand, single track, etc; use a smaller bike.  I've ridden the GS through the toughest parts of Death Valley.  It made it. But I also did the same routes on my DR-Z 400 and the little bike was more fun in the tough dirt.... but I did trailer it out there!  I suspect you'll find some more nits to pick to keep this tread going and your site growing. but I'll end by saying my comments are based on actual evalluations by me and some riders much better than me, and not by guessing or suppositions.

 

Let the responses begin in 3....2....1....

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Thanks for reading and responding.  This is exactly why I wrote the piece; to get riders talking about it.  I found the various write ups out there not very enlightening on the topic.  I think Touratech's comparison was probably the best but that was for the GS, not the GSA and that was prior to the new heavier flywheel.

 

No one, except for you, has really addressed why a longer swing arm would function better off road.  That's good to know.

 

BMW's shift in marketing focus was also driving my skepticism.  Aside from the GS Trophy, it just seemed the GS brand was becoming more "gS."

 

KTM's 1190 R gave it a 21/18 option and with the new GS/GSA still limited to 19/17 and then on top of that making the wheel wider, I was just left a bit disappointed.

 

I have ridden the new GSA, but not off road and not really set up for my height with proper risers and foot pegs.  I will probably end up replacing mine with a new GSA eventually, but would probably be happier on a smaller bike off road, like you said.  Perhaps a 990 R is in my future.

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