A Winner [Updated]

I decided to go with the BMW R1200GS. As it was the end of the season I was going to put a deposit on a 2017 model but my dealer contacted me to say they had a 2016 available thanks to another buyer who backed out of a deal. The bike was still in its crate, was the colour I wanted, with all the factory options including factory lowering, and it can be ready for me in a week or two!

2016 BMW R1200GS

I Ride

I earned my motorcycle license in the Fall of 2011. I also bought my first and, until now, only motorcycle at the same time: a previously enjoyed 2006 Yamaha FZ6 sport touring bike in blazingly fast red. Seriously, the particular shade of red on this bike is gorgeous.

The previous owner(s) didn’t do much with it. Only 9,030kms on it at the time of purchase. Since then I’ve added about 40,000kms to the odo. I commute to work by motorcycle most days from March until well into December, do occasional joy rides on the weekends, and I love long distance motorcycle touring. I even rode it to Charlottetown and back.

The FZ6 is a blast to ride. However, while it is a sport touring bike, it lacks certain creature comforts for the long road, like cruise control and power outlets. And the slightly forward riding position is just not conducive to long distance riding. Maybe if I was 20 years younger! The after-market saddle I bought is good for 1 to 1.5 hours of riding at a time but cummulative discomfort by the end of a full day is pretty intense.

Some of the missing features on the FZ6 can be added (power, heated grips) but I want to upgrade to something with modern technology and touring features as stock.

I’ve been shopping new bikes for a year or more now and recently narrowed the field of options to a single mid-size bike, the Triumph Tiger 800 XRT, and four heavyweights:

  • Yamaha FJR1300
  • Triumph Tiger Explorer 1200
  • BMW R1200RT
  • BMW R1200GS

Triumph Tiger 800

I was able to ride a Tiger 800 demo bike for a good 5 hours and it is just fantastic. If you like the adventure style of bike, you’d be hard pressed to find something else that offers everything the 800 offers. It is a blast to ride and the higher trim lines have both cruise control and heated seats, the later being a first in mid-sized bikes as far as I know.

I actually put a deposit down on a 2017 Tiger 800, before deciding to go with the R1200GS.

I had looked at Yamaha’s FJ-09 as well, but it lacks cruise control, which is a deal breaker for me. I suspect Yamaha will add cruise for 2017 or 2018 as it is on the new 2017 FZ-10. One nice feature of the FJ-09 over the Tiger: adjustable suspension.

Yamaha FJR1300

My experiences with the FZ6 have made me somewhat of a Yamaha fanboi. I really want to love the FJR. It is drop-dead gorgeous, and a fantastic ride by all accounts (I haven’t ridden it myself). But it is old. The basic platform was introduced in 2001. Yamaha has made incremental changes to the bike over the years, including some very cool changes to the gearbox for 2016, but it still shows its age in features like the very basic ride mode technology.

Needs a full platform reboot to bring up to modern standards.

The Beemers

I took advantage of BMW’s demo roadshow on multiple occasions this year to ride the K1600GT, the R1200RT (twice), and the R1200GS (twice). The K was great, but just too much power for my liking. With about 160hp and torque for days, it’s a race bike in full touring rig. Honestly, it’s a bit alarming, at least for this less experienced rider! Most recently I rode the RT and the GS back to back, and without any doubt I found the GS to be both more comfortable and more rideable for me.

I had some specific issues with the RT. The front end seemed to waver at low speeds (30 - 50kph). I don’t remember that happening the first time I rode the RT, but it was a consistent issue the second time around. And there is a decent amount of vibration in handlebars at 4500 - 5000RPM, which is a rev range you frequently find yourself in on the highway.

The GS had neither of these problems. Its only issue is its height. It is super-tall in its stock setup, and I am not! I did the demo rides with the low seat and that was manageable, but I am going with the lowering kit option which.

There is one very annoying issue with all the BMWs: The switch gear on the handlebars has little to no tactile feedback, in particular the turn signal switch. With gloves on you cannot feel the switch moving and there is no affirative ‘click’ when the signal is engaged. You actually have to look at your hand to see if you are pushing the switch properly, or actively check the display to confirm the signal is on. I’ve played with the switch gear on almost every BMW bike model and they are all the same.

Triumph Tiger Explorer 1200

Unfortunately Triumph does not offer any sort of demo program for the Explorer in Canada. While I am sure the Explorer is a very good bike (generally very positive reviews all around) and despite a strong personal affinity for the Triumph brand, not to mention 3-cylinder engines, the inability to demo the bike was a major factor in my decision to go with the BMW. I was actually considering footing the bill for a flight to London, as there is a Triumph dealer just north of London where I could have tested the bike. A worthwhile investment considering the machine costs about $35,000CAD.

I emailed Triumph Canada about the lack of demo programs and the role that played in my decision. It turns out:

  1. The contact email address on the Triump Canada web site actually goes to Triumph USA, and

  2. Triumph USA didn’t much care about my story, telling me they “gave up the demo trucks in 2006”, downloading responsibility for demos to the dealers and that I should “contact [my] local Triumph dealer”.

It was one of my “local” (about and hour and a half away) Triumph dealers that made the Tiger 800 demo ride mentioned above possible, as they had two Tiger 800 demo bikes in their inventory. They did not have any 1200 demo bikes available.