BMW’s GS series, including the BMW R100GS, created the adventure/touring sportbike
Photo by Robert Smith
Years produced: 1987-1996
Total production: 34,007
Claimed power: 60 bhp @ 6,500 rpm
Top speed: 112 mph
Engine type: 980cc, two-valve, horizontally opposed twin
Weight: (dry) 207kg (455lb)
Price then: $7,794 (1991)
Price now: $3,500-$4,500
"The real difficulty in changing the course of any enterprise lies not in developing new ideas," wrote economist John Maynard Keynes, "but in escaping from old ones."
Every so often a motorcycle comes along that successfully escapes the old ideas, changing the course not only of the enterprise, but of the motorcycle industry as a whole. Edward Turner "escaped" the idea that performance motorcycles were big singles when he created the 1937 Triumph Speed Twin — and in the process he defined the sporting motorcycle for the next 30 years. Honda’s 1969 750 pioneered the four-cylinder, overhead cam layout that became the "Universal Japanese Motorcycle."
In the late Seventies, conventional wisdom said that any motorcycle with off-road aspirations was small, light and had one cylinder: But just 25 years ago, BMW "escaped" this idea and launched a bike, the R80G/S, that created a whole new category — the large adventure/touring sportbike.
Often emulated, never quite rivaled, BMW’s GS series remains the benchmark for "big trailies": bikes inspired by the GS range since 1980 include the Cagiva Elefant, Triumph Tiger, Moto Guzzi Quota, Aprilia Caponord, KTM Adventure, Suzuki V-Strom, and (outside the U.S.) Honda’s trio of twin-cylinder trailies; the Transalp, Africa Twin and Varadero. But how did the GS come about?
International Six Days Trial and Paris-Dakar
In the late 1960s, BMW almost quit motorcycle production. Its cars were selling well, its aging R60 and R69 range badly needed updating, and competition in the motorcycle market was fierce. But motorcycles were associated with performance, a trait BMW wanted to nurture in its cars, so BMW made the decision to stay in the motorcycle industry. The company lured Hans-Gunther von der Marwitz from Porsche and gave him the job of re-inventing the boxer twins. Thus was born the "slash" series of BMW boxers, the /5, /6 and /7s. Von der Marwitz’s basic design was so good it was still found in the last "airhead" BMW’s sold as late as 1996.
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