Cast your mind back to all of the motorcycles that you’ve owned and/or, imagine all of the motorcycles that you wished you had owned, and identify the best ‘all-rounder’. Don’t over-think this question. It is easy really. It is the best ‘all-rounder’. Not the sexiest shape. Not the best sounding or fastest. Not the cheapest or read as ‘the best value for money’, which is complete crap, because no motorcycle is really great value for money. It’s also not your first moto either, just because it was your first moto. It has to be the one that does every job, really well. It has to be reliable, comfortable, good on the the big, long distance highway rides, the twisty alpine roads with 42 hairpin bends, the run down to the chip shop or pub, and importantly, fun! Got your answer yet? I have. Let me introduce you to my ‘oil-head’, 2011 BMW R1200GS, which has all of the BMW options on it as well (because it was the dealer demo’ moto), so it is not the base model. I agree, it is not the sexiest looking beast, nor does it sound like it is going to eat someone, nor will it hassle a MotoGP moto either. But it does do everything, and really well. This is obviously my opinion and I’m happy to be challenged on this by anyone, but talk to other GS owners and you’ll get a similar view. I agree that it is like getting on a big horse, especially when the ESA suspension (more on this soon) is set at its highest setting, but it has got a sense of ‘wheelie in second gear’ urgency about it, as well as being super-smooth in town. It keeps me warm and dry-ish on a long blast across Europe. The panniers don’t leak. The array of lights let me see and be seen. Anyway, enough said.
Let me tell you how my best all-round moto let me down. My BMW has never seen a winter, partly because I live in Switzerland, which is largely under snow for quite some time. Secondly, it is always serviced, regularly bathed and used. This year it went if for its 40,000 kms (25,000 miles) service. This is a big one and not cheap, but hey, it’s got to be done. I drop off a perfectly working bike off at the dealer in the morning and they give me a new 1000cc Suzuki sports bike as an alternative for the day. This to get to me to work and back before picking up my moto at the end of the day. Ever seen anyone riding a 1000cc sports moto dressed in an adventure jacket? It is not cool, at best. Casting a glance at myself in a shop window proved this. Apart from that, the Suzuki was really fast, but would never be in contention for the ‘best all-rounder’ I have ever owned. I arrive back at the BMW dealer to pick up my favourite moto, am offered a Nespresso coffee whilst I wait for it to be returned from its road test by the mechanic. My BMW returns with the mechanic, and then there is much computer inputting going on to add in all of the gaskets, oil etc etc, which all magically ends up in a piece of paper in front of me with a big number at the bottom. I was expecting this, so no surprises.
The mechanic takes me through the long list to go some way to justifying the big number at the bottom. At the end, he tells me that the ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) rear shock absorber does not work anymore. Hmmm, that’s weird. It was perfect this morning when I handed it over. Apparently, this is a common issue with BMWs, unknown to me up to this point. He explained that as the bike was plugged into the computer, which simulates everything, including the ESA suspension, it locked out in its stiffest position. For those who are not sure what the ‘stiffest position’ actually is, it is when the rear shock absorber is adjusted to take the weight of two adults and 3 heavy pannier boxes. If there is just one 75 kilo person sitting on top of it (literally), and with no panniers or boxes, it doesn’t handle anything like it should do. He explains that this in not uncommon and that the ESA suspension can just fail when out on the road as well, so I should be lucky that it happened at the dealer, apparently.
This is a good point to introduce the ‘change curve’. The change curve is something that humans go through when some form of change in their lives takes place. It starts with anger, then drops down into deep denial and ‘the pit of doom’, then there is some exploring of solutions and finally to acceptance and moving on. So up to now, my ‘change curve journey’ has got me well into anger, especially as the mechanic explains unemotionally, that the cost of a new ESA shock absorber works out, fitted, to about 10% of the cost of the moto when it was new. Ouch! The mechanic sees a storm ahead in me, especially when I ask to talk to the boss., NOW! The boss explains what the mechanic explained. I’ve now hit the ‘denial’ (this cannot be happening to me) phase in the journey. Another Nespresso is offered to temper the situation, which it doesn’t. They decide to show me the test in the BMW service routine to show me how it happened. Great! It doesn’t make it any better. After some time, we get into ‘exploring’ options. They can get me a new shock tomorrow apparently and will fit it for me especially. I ask how much. They tell me the cost and I quickly slip back into the ‘anger phase’ again. The boss and mechanic work hard to get me back into the exploring phase, which they do, and quite well, because before I know it, I’m shifting into acceptance and moving on. They’ve agreed to get it all fixed in the next 24 hours AND give me a discount, which is unusually small versus my expectations. The boss and mechanic both see a shift in my facial expressions and the keys for the fast Suzuki are handed over quickly. The deal is done and I feel a bit like I’ve ‘been done’ too.
The Suzuki flies me home and I explain what has happened to my wife. She hands me a glass of wine, which prevents me from slipping back into the depths of the change curve. I Google ‘BMW ESA’ and it turns out I am not alone in this situation. In fact, some people have had the same problem, but in much worse scenarios. This should make me sleep better, but it doesn’t.
24 hours later sees me back at the BMW dealer, swapping the Suzuki key for my BMW key, handing over more money and grateful to get back on the best ‘all-round’ bike I have ever had. Fact!
Oh yeah, and just to prove my point, Lego would not have made a model of the GS if it wasn’t a) iconic and b) the best all-rounder-ever!
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All photos by the author