We review the BMW R1100GS and BMW R1150GS series and give advice on buying used BMW GS bikes.
The BMW GS series is the motorcycle that refuses to be pigeon-holed. It's neither strictly a road bike nor a dirt bike and, in many circumstances, that would be enough to ensure that it was no good in either department. But the crazy looking BMW is actually brilliant on any surface. The flat-twin engine provides moderate power but oodles of grunt and the long-travel suspension means it'll tackle a dirt road with plenty in reserve. Okay, so it's too heavy to be a true off-road bike, but it's amazing where a BMW GS will get you if you know what you're doing. And even on the bitumen, if the surface isn't smooth, a well-ridden GS will show a stiffly-sprung sportsbike the door. The first of the four-valve BMW GS series was the 1100, while the 1150 followed a few years later with some important upgrades. But either version is a brilliant tool in the right hands.
BMW R1100GS & R1150GS specifications
Years: 1994 - 2004
Engine Size: 1100cc/1150cc
Fuel System: Fuel-injection
Standard Transmission: 5/6-speed
BMW R1100GS & BMW R1150GS – road test
The BMW GS is a big, heavy, tall bike so it suits lankier folk best. But any sized rider will appreciate the supple suspension that is comfy for long rides. The front-end is a clever design that separates the steering and suspension chores inherent in conventional designs and it works well. The shaft drive is well sorted and virtually maintenance-free and the engine is relatively simple, so it's great for those who like to do their maintenance at home. The real magic of the GS is the way it all comes together. Hurl it at some corners, go charging into the bush, the GS will do it all and do it easily. It's easy to ride fast and takes very little acclimatisation despite looking like some kind of a cross between a piece of industrial machinery and a weird Bavarian joke.
What to look for when buying a used BMW R1100GS or BMW R1150GS
The big advantage the later 1150 has over the 1100 is its six-speed gearbox (the 1100 has five). The engines are very similar although the 1150 does have a bit more performance. Look for one with the optional anti-lock brakes (which can be switched off for dirt riding). The other option worth waiting for is the factory hard luggage which works well and consists of panniers that don't fall off on bumps and don't leak dust or water. The gearbox on the 1100 is probably the only weak link but even then, it will cover big distances before needing a rebuild. The engine can last for 200,000km or more, so don't be put off by big mileages. Most have been maintained properly and even if they look a bit scruffy, they're mechanically very tough.
BMW R1100GS & BMW R1150GS – our verdict
+ The ultimate all-rounder
+ Two bikes in one, so good value
+ Well-made and should last well
- Five-speed in 1100 is the weak link
- Pricey thanks to demand