BMW R1250GS Shift Cam Test

By Zenon Krafft, Bob Mack and Steve Moxey, Oxford Section

BMW Motorrad have recently updated their R1200 boxer range with the new R1250 upgraded engine offering the promise of more power, torque, better fuel consumption and improved refinement; it sounds too good to be true – read on to find out more!

R1250GS HP Enduro

Over the years Oxford Section members have contributed a number of test rides to the journal: K1600, R1200RT, R1200GS etc and this time we thought we could do something different: this is a ‘group Test’. Traditionally a small number of members has met at one of our local dealers, Bahnstormer or North Oxford Garage and ridden the new machines. For this test we have three experienced owners (1) a KTM 1290 Super Adventure S owner (who has owned an R1200 GSA Single/Twin Cam and R1200 GSA LC, K1600 GTLE and S1000RR Sport), (2) a long-term owner of a heavily improved single-cam oil cooled R1200 GSA and (3) an owner of the current R1200 GSA LC who has covered more than 40,000 miles on the water cooled engines. In addition we also announced the group test on Facebook and by email, and invited as many members as possible to try the new R1250GS and to complete a short survey so we could find out what a larger group thought about the new bike. Bahnstormer and North Oxford Garage Motorrad offered some -shirts as raffle prizes for completed tests. So the test results should be comprehensive!

KTM 1290 ADV S Owner
I tested the R1250GS Exclusive finished in Black (supplied by Bahnstormer Maidenhead) which looks most attractive in the flesh, although a bigger styling change might have enhanced the overall look?

R1250GS Exclusive

When compared to the now superseded R1200GS the new R1250GS engine is quieter, smoother and more refined. As hard as you try to feel the Shift Cam operating and changing from one cam lobe to the other, you can’t, the system is seamless. Increased torque is the most noticeable enhancement on the new R1250GS, compared to the R1200GS engine, due to the increased capacity up from 1170cc to 1254cc with a longer stroke. The welcomed horsepower increase adds to the additional riding enjoyment and is a step forward in the right direction but not life changing. (Don’t expect the new model to accelerate away and disappear into the distance from the old R1200GS or you will be disappointed). I always felt the R1200 engines were a bit wheezy at the top end for me and slightly underpowered, but not anymore.

As a complete package when you bring all the elements together, as BMW have with this new R1250GS, it gels and just feels more complete and refined. The drivetrain is very much business as usual and the gearing is the same on the new R1250GS as it is on the outgoing R1200GS/GSA. Most other aspects of the new R1250GS are the same as the 2018 Model Year R1200GS.

The header pipes are of a larger diameter on the new 1250 engine to aid with better gas flow (in part also due to the increase in capacity), which in turn helps improve the overall efficiency and breathing of the engine. The motor has a very linear powerband, and the new system is also quieter.

The new R1250GS has increased in weight by 5 Kilos over the R1200GS, which is a shame really, I would have liked to have seen a weight reduction and I feel sure BMW could have achieved this if they really wanted to. So why didn’t they? In this sector of the market, as the existing customer base gets older, the weight of the motorcycle is an important consideration for many potential buyers/owners! Comfort is very much the same on the new bike as it was on the old model with the added bonus that your pillion may also feel more comfy due to the smoother running of the R1250GS.

Hayes brake calipers

The front brake calipers are all new 2-piece items supplied by Hayes Performance, an American manufacture, and replace the very capable Brembo Mono Block 1-piece design, these should flex less than 2-piece calipers, so why the change, I hear you ask? My assumptions is that this is another bean counter cost cutting exercise. The rear caliper is still supplied by Brembo. Despite the change I felt that braking performance was no different between the R1250GS and an R1200GS.

On the suspension side I found Road mode to be too soft and Dynamic mode not firm enough for spirited riding: the overall range of adjustment falls short in my opinion.

I rode solo the new R1250GS back to back with a 2018 R1200GS. On both bikes the Quickshifter was very stiff, particularly on the R1200GS. The force I had to use to engage the operation was excessive, both in up and down shifts. Perhaps a recalibration would cure the issue? I also rode a second R1250GS (supplied by North Oxford Garage Motorrad) to see how it performed with a pillion. My passenger noticed how smooth the ride was and quite liked the comfort level overall, as did I.

BMW are normally front runners when it comes to technology but on this occasion they have opted for a modest, mid-life, upgrade compared to some of the current competition in this segment of the market. KTM offer cornering headlight function, angle adjustable TFT screen, illuminated switch gear, and waterproof telephone compartment with USB port for example. Service intervals remain unchanged: every 6000 miles or 12 months, whichever is sooner. Other manufactures have now extended the service intervals to every 9000 miles which has reduced the overall running costs. BMW could consider a similar approach?

In summary the new R1250GS is a step forward when compared to the outgoing R1200GS in terms of performance, and it is also smoother and quieter. This makes the whole riding experience more enjoyable, and pillions will benefit from the overall smoothness of the ride. The main reason you will want to upgrade to this model is because you want the very latest technology as the R1200 is still a very good motorcycle. The R1250GS now comes with a 3-year warranty and breakdown recovery, which is well worth having.

The R1250GS is the latest and best incarnation of the Boxer Twin to date, so book a test ride and decide for yourself, you are unlikely to be disappointed … but remember to take your cheque book with you. You have been warned!!

R1200 GSA Single Cam Owner
I always make a point of trying to avoid forming any preconceived ideas about a motorcycle I am about to test but the is was difficult as advance information on the R1250GS has been available for ages. I didn’t expect to notice any real differences between the outgoing 1200 and the new 1250 except perhaps in the engine and its characteristics.

The test R1250GS only had 94 miles on the clock and was kindly lent to me by Bahnstormer Maidenhead. At a glance the old and new bikes look similar but side by side it’s obvious there are loads of subtle changes to body work and trims. Nothing that makes a huge difference, but the new version looks different. Styling wise I was happy with both. I also inspected an HP version of the R1250GS but didn’t like the gold/yellow wheels, although the colour did make the angled tyre valves easy to spot! Sitting on the 1250 everything seemed to be familiar BMW fixtures and fittings with all the controls in comfortable positions. That’s my first impressions out of the way, then I started the engine!

On start up the engine sounded like any other BMW R1200 and looks similar to previous LC models except for the extra bits of plastic associated with the Shift Cam System. I would imagine that the cylinder heads are physically larger but that would not create any problems. The various videos showing the operation of the Shift Cam valve system are worth a watch.

Driving across the Bahnstormer forecourt I discovered the strangest thing: the engine was so smooth I thought for a moment I’d hopped on a current RT. I have never driven a really smooth GS/GSA until now. I am not sure which changes have contributed to the engine smoothness; usually a hike in capacity causes harshness and the shift cam wouldn’t necessarily create extra smoothness.

Once on the road I didn’t feel that the R1250 engine was giving a huge increase in power or torque and chasing an R1200GS around the same route, confirmed that fact. The new engine does have more power and torque, and the real benefits could be seen at moderate speeds and during overtaking. I didn’t have the opportunity to test with a passenger, on board, but felt that the benefits of the engine would probably show up more clearly when the bike was fully loaded. I still can’t get over how smooth the R1250GS was. I find that engine modes are not particularly useful for me but a rain button would help on those really slippery days.

The latest version of the GS has a more refined feel than its predecessor: riding the very similar R1200GS back to back with the new R1250GS showed this up well. The main difference is the smoothness and additional characteristics of the engine, of course. Most of the other features such as self-levelling suspension and TFT were common to both. Although the self-levelling suspension is good and does what it says on the tin, I would be quite happy with the previous Dynamic ESA and adjusting the ride height myself.

Apparently the R1250GS is heavier than the R1200GS, due, I suppose to the Shift Cam system and some of the accessories fitted as standard? The extra weight is not apparent when riding the motorcycle and doesn’t affect the balance or handling in any obvious way.

Unfortunately, smooth clutchless downshifts were not possible on the test R1250GS as the Gear Shift Assist Pro system wasn’t working properly and needed adjustment.

Fortunately, BMW haven’t had to resort to huge car type exhaust strapped the side of the motorcycle, and the exhaust is definitely slightly quieter than the R1200GS with a different sort of sound. This could have been caused by the Shift Cam and or the bigger header pipes which all helps performance/economy.

R1250GS Headers

The new brakes worked absolutely fine during this test. It appears from BMW photographs that in common with the future RT the front brakes are no longer one-piece Brembos. Perhaps a cost saving measure?

This was the first time I have ridden a BMW with the TFT screen. Great for seeing the digital speedo and I could read all the info without reading glasses. I did get a bit of a shock when in traffic with the sun behind me I couldn’t see anything on the screen! Further research suggests that Gorilla type glass will act as a mirror under some circumstances and so an simple tilting facility to re-angle the screen, slightly would be very useful.

Overall, the R1250GS is a very good and more complete package, as they say, even better than before. The test was most enjoyable I immediately felt at home on the motorcycle and was able to get a move on, with confidence, straight away.

I’ve ridden most of the incarnations of the R1200GS/GSA since they were introduced. The first LC engines didn’t impress me, although BMW improved the engine with the heavy crank/flywheel version. Variable valve timing systems used by most car manufacturers have a definite step in the powerband which is not always so comfortable on a motorcycle. The R1250 engine with the BMW Shift Cam variable valve timing is very good and undetectable, the extra Power and Torque, even in relatively small amounts, do help the motorcycle shove itself through the air more quickly. The rest of the R1250GS is much as before with no significant changes that I could see.

Would I personally buy an R1250? Well yes, if was in the market for a new motorcycle of that type. Would I buy one of the first R1250’s? No not a chance since I find it difficult to accept a machine, of that price, which doesn’t work perfectly in all departments – I guess I am not the proverbial early adopter! BMW perhaps need to improve delivery checks as the clutchless gear shifter, for example, should work straight out of the box. The dealers do correct faults but it’s better to fix them at the factory!

If I was already a 2018/2017 R1200GS owner would I rush out and buy a 1250 based on the benefits? I doubt it unless the cost to change was attractive. PCP contracts are bringing many nearly new machines on to the market which could start to damage residual values? The 3-year warranty may persuade some owners. BMW claim that the Boxer engine is good for 200,000 miles so why change your R1200 at 20,000 unless you have problems? Fortunately, I’m not at the point where I need to make that decision but the R1250GS is a lovely bike to ride.

R1200 GSA LC Owner
As an owner of the current R1200 GSA LC and having covered more than 44,000 miles on bikes with the LC engine, I was interested to see how much the R1250 could improve over a successful formula. The black and gold R1200GS Exclusive model I tested was certainly very smart and brought back memories of the R100GS ‘Bumblebee’. The HP Enduro model looks striking, but the gold wheels may be a bit much for some! Looking at the R1250GS the shape of the new cylinder head is a little different from the R1200GS, more rectangular, but the spark plug covers, with the Shift Cam lettering are distinctive. The exhaust downpipes are wider and don’t protrude as far forward as on the R1200.

Once started the R1250 engine ticks over at a slightly lower RPM than the R1200, and with its longer stroke the R1250 has a slight rocking motion at the handlebars – not unpleasant and reminiscent of an air-cooled boxer.

Riding the R1250GS the engine feels very like the R1200, which is a good thing from my perspective as an R1200 owner. However, you do notice the stronger drive at low revs and the top end is definitely more urgent – harder. Comparing the R1250 performance to an R1200, the feeling is similar to what you get when moving from a K1300GT to a K1600GT: the K1300 could go just as quickly as the K1600 but the rider would have to work much harder; with the K1600 it was effortless. The new R1250 engine is supposed to be 4% more economical than the R1200, which would be valuable on a GS, RS or R, but not essential for a GSA or RT with their larger fuel tanks.

The R1250GS is a very refined motorcycle, and the gearbox and drivetrain is possibly slightly smoother than my 2018 GSA with 7,000 miles completed. The valve-train may be slightly quieter, but overall the feeling of refinement is similar between the R1250 and the R1200.

The R1250 has gained a slight weight increase of about 5 Kg, which is barely noticeable. In fact, 25% of the weight increase is accounted for by the standard LED light and TFT – which most owners ordered on their R1200s anyway!

The brakes on the R1250GS use new Hayes calipers at the front which felt more ‘direct’ than the Brembos on the R1200. There seems to be slightly less lever travel now before engagement and a faster action. No doubt owners would adjust very quickly to the R1250 brakes.

The R1250GS is equipped with 90-degree valve stems, which makes checking the tyre pressures much easier than on the old machine – a small but useful improvement. The TFT screen is now standard on the R1250GS, having been well received on the R1200GS/GSA it is a sensible move for BMW to standardise and should make it easier to add new function without replacing hardware. The rest of the R1250GS is unchanged from the R1200GS so rider and pillion comfort will be similar to before.

R1250GS Valve Stems

With the R1250 it’s a case of ‘the King is dead – Long Live the King!’ the new engine is a worthy successor to the R1200 and if I was looking to replace my R1200 I would have no hesitation in purchasing the new R1250. The shorter product development cycles endemic in modern life often forces manufacturers to launch products before testing is really finished and customers become the last part of the development cycle. Providing BMW deals effectively with any problems, as they did with the R1200RT LC suspension then there is no problem: if you like risk then jump in, if you are a cautious soul then you may want to see the Shift Cam system proven in the field, which won’t take long as the R1200GS/GSA is the UK’s most popular motorcycle! The new 3-year warranty may also help to reassure customers.

It will be interesting to test the R1250RT as with the extra weight of the RT the extra performance from the R1250 engine may be more noticeable?

Results of the Tester Survey
The results from the survey of members, who have tried the R1250GS, show that every aspect of the new bike is the better than the R1200GS (with a range from +5.0 = better to -5.0 = worse). The new engine was the most improved feature, along with the TFT, clutch/gear shift, brakes and exhaust sound. The R1250GS continues the process of continual improvement which BMW has been following with the R1200GS LC for some time. Testers did note that the self-levelling suspension system only gives you TWO damping options (Road, Dynamic) as opposed to the three damping options of the previous generation (Soft, Normal, Hard).

A0088-07-SM-Photo-6.-BMW-R1250GS-Tester-Survey-Results

R1250GS Tester Survey Results

Test Conclusions
The most important conclusion from the test is that the R1250 engine is an improvement over the previous R1200 version. None of the testers had anything negative to say about the engine performance and characteristics. So if you are looking for the latest boxer twin then there is everything to recommend the new R1250.

The actual gains over the R1200 engine are useful, but not earth shattering and in reality, the R1200 is an excellent engine. Unless you really need the very latest technology it may be hard to make a case to upgrade to the R1250.

So BMW has implemented a successful mid-life upgrade with the R1250 engine: there is nothing to put off the existing customer base and there may be a few converts from other manufacturers who feel that the extra performance is useful. Overall one would expect the R1250 to sell just as well as the R1200 which means BMW is set to retain its firm grip on the adventure and touring markets.

We are very grateful to Bahnstormer Motorrad and North Oxford Garage Motorrad for providing the test bikes, and the raffle t-shirts!

As we finished the test article BMW completed the announcement of the rest of the 2019 R1250 models at EICMA so the range is now complete with R, RS, GS, GSA and RT models for 2019.

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Author: drdrsteve

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