Review: 2024 BMW R 1300 GS

Review: 2024 BMW R 1300 GS

In 2004, the Yamaha FJR still had that new car smell, the Honda VFR was still a contender, and the Ducati Multistrada 1000S DS had bodywork from the future. Then, like a meteor, Ewan-Wan Kenobi and his pal Charley took the long way around on a pair of BMW R 1150 GS Adventures and sport touring bikes turned into Oldsmobiles overnight.

The BMW GS became the motorcycle of choice for touring and has dominated sales charts in the category ever since. It was the perfect storm of sorts. As the 20th century ended, a wave of boomers suddenly found themselves not only with empty nests and some expendable income, but also with sedentary middle-manager/middle-aged backs and free time. For them (and even aging Gen Xers like myself), the sit-up-and-beg seating position of the GS fit their dad bods while the bike’s “go anywhere in the world” ethos fed their Walter Mitty souls.

The success of the GS inspired a cargo ship full of imitators, and a battle for one of the most lucrative segments in the motorcycle world has raged for the better part of the last two decades. “Bigger, faster, stronger!” was the rallying cry, and we’re now at a point where adventure bikes make as much horsepower as the original Yamaha YZF-R1. Even Harley-freakin’-Davidson, frequently the slayer of new ideas (see V-Rod, Buell), has joined the fray.

The venerable GS is still the yardstick, though, and the #ADV boom shows no signs of bust. But change is afoot, as some riders have had enough of the “more is more” approach and have stepped down from the uber large displacement adventure bikes to the “this used to be a big bike but now it’s a middleweight” 800s and 900s.

The R 1300 GS retains its predecessors' basic overall shape and flyline, but the general look is smoother and more integrated. Note the smaller exhaust, thanks to the drivetrain's more compact packaging.

A New Direction

The BMW team responsible for the new 2024 BMW R 1300 GS recognized this trend when they started working on it in 2016. According to Christian Hahn-Wörnle, one of the lead designers of the new GS, BMW was pleased with the evolution of the GS into an amazing multi-tool, but they also recognized that the bike was getting bigger and more complex with each iteration. The team sought to distill the GS spirit into a smaller, lighter package.

The desire to make the new GS smaller opened up a Pandora’s box of opportunities and challenges. If there were two words to describe the design process, they would be “integration” and “modularity.” Hahn-Wörnle described the previous generation GS as a “conglomerate of devices” where each component—the frame, the motor, the tank—is a discrete element. The integration of the new GS means that all of these elements are designed to fit (literally and figuratively) close together like a complex puzzle.

The result is a revelation. At 523 pounds, the new R 1300 GS is 26 pounds lighter than its predecessor, the R 1250 GS, and is as light as the 1994 R 1100 GS while being loaded with features that didn’t even exist 30 years ago. It also produces 65 more horsepower than the 1994 model and nine more than the 1250. It looks smaller from a distance and feels smaller in the seat. Only four part numbers carry over from the R 1250 GS. But this revamp from the contact patches up has claimed a couple of ostensibly sacred cows. The trellis-style frame and Erector set looks that have become synonymous not only with the GS but the entire ADV category are gone. Also gone is the asymmetrical headlight that defined a part of the GS look since 1999. The front illuminator has been replaced with a distinctive X design that’s caught a lot of flak online.

All of this is just talk, though. How does the new GS ride?

The new Vario top case features touring-style amenities, like an interior light and USB-A charging. You can expand the capacity from 28 to 36 liters.

Behind-the-Bar Impressions

If you’ve ridden a late-model R 1250 GS, it doesn’t take much saddle time on the new GS to feel at home. The wide bar and commanding seating position are still there. The small but purposeful windscreen is still there. The well-finished controls and TFT display are still there. The Wonder Wheel is still there. And—most importantly—the thrum of the boxer twin (now punched out to an even 650cc per cylinder and producing 145 hp and 110 lb-ft of torque) is still there. This new GS feels new and familiar all at once, perhaps just a tad more compact and refined.

Look down and you’ll see that the cylinder heads are symmetrical, unlike all prior boxers where the heads are offset by the crank. The pistons are still offset, but in an inspired piece of engineering, the ShiftCam valve train is situated behind the cylinder on the left head and in front of the cylinder on the right head. Clever!

Thanks to the X-shaped headlight, the new GS will be easy to identify from a distance.

Once on the move, the unexpected agility, the muscular engine, and the unflappable handling are still there, too. Does it feel more “integrated” than its predecessor(s)? I don’t have one on hand for direct comparison, but the new GS felt tight and precise. It made quick work of the gnarly tourist traffic around Malaga, Spain. The seating position, wide bar, and good mirrors provided superior control and situational awareness. The new motor was comfortable and smooth when the revs were low, and with great torque for passing without downshifting.

The GS seat is still relatively high at 33.5 inches but the new optional adaptive vehicle height control can bring the seat down to an earthly 32.3 inches at a stop. When paired with the Comfort Rider low seat, the height control can bring the seat down even further to 31.5 inches when stopped.

The Lane Change Warning option—enabled by a radar unit in the tail—seemed to work pretty well, illuminating a small icon embedded in the mirrors when a vehicle was in my blind spot. It did take time to get used to looking for the indicator, though, and there were a couple of times when the system seemed to fail to detect a vehicle. I would need more testing before I would trust the system 100%.

The electronically adjustable windscreen (part of the Comfort Package) includes winglets for additional coverage.

The road opened up and mountains loomed in the distance. Our small group was strung out in a line, passing buses, trucks, and cars on a sweeping two-lane. The GS revved freely for a big twin (the larger bore and shorter stroke likely contributing to its revvier nature) and the flashing dash alerted me to the redline more than once as we picked our way through traffic.

As part of the $575 Comfort Package, you can get the electronically adjustable windscreen that offers more coverage than the stock screen and is easy to adjust via the new “Hamburger” button on the left grip. That’s not the official name, but the symbol resembles the common website icon of three horizontal lines that usually brings up the menu—if you squint real hard, it resembles a hamburger. The wind protection was good at mountain road speeds, although we did not spend enough time on the highway to evaluate it there.

Once the road tilted seriously upward and tightened into second and third-gear bends, the new GS slayed. Fueling was spotless, steering was precise, and riding was synaptic. BMW has now tucked the transmission beneath the engine to centralize the mass and free up space for the exhaust system. All told, the powertrain has lost a whopping 14.3 pounds. While the mountain of torque is fantastic, the new GS wasn’t afraid of revving. It was easy to hold the revs up in second gear after exiting a bend if the next one was imminent. You can tackle a mountain road with either revs or torque—it’s up to you.

The new 1300cc engine is a meaningful evolution and upgrade of the BMW boxer design.

The Shift Assistant Pro clutchless shifter has been revised, now using a torsion magnet to sense when the rider wants to shift. When it worked, it was brilliant: much faster than I am and even with a little rev match on downshifts. But it still wasn’t brilliant 100% of the time.

BMW’s Telelever front end has taken a big step forward as well with the R 1300 GS, utilizing a flex plate to connect the fork tubes to the handlebar assembly. The update improves the feel of the front end, a long-held criticism of the Telelever. The 6.5-inch TFT display continues to be the best that I’ve experienced, with clear graphics on a bright screen. The only distractions I experienced were getting used to the aforementioned Hamburger button when adjusting the windscreen position and grip and seat heating. This will likely become second nature with more miles.

Just weeks before, I was strafing apexes in West Virginia on a 2023 R 1250 RS. It’s a fantastic bike, but the new GS shows why sport-tourers have been driven to the edge of extinction. The GS steers more quickly than the RS and the wider bar allows fine-tuned control. On long, wide sweepers—the kind you’re likely to see out West—the RS may show its hand and eke out an aerodynamic advantage, but on tighter mountain roads, the GS reigns supreme.

On the twisting mountain roads of Andalusia, the new GS' road manners continued to be impeccable.

A couple of times during the ride, I asked myself, “Is there any other bike I’d rather be on right now?” My mind drew a blank. You could bench race until the cows come home—this bike has more horsepower, that bike has this thingamabob—but the new GS worked so well and felt cohesive on Andalucian roads that I cannot imagine any other bike being significantly better.

Already by the end of the morning, I had reached a level of comfort with the bike on gravel. That’s another part of the GS magic—inspiring confidence. That said, don’t opt for the Metzeler Karoo 4 road-legal knobbies unless you really mean to spend time in the dirt. In my limited time on the road with the Karoo 4s, they felt fine but exhibited a distinct non-linear behavior on turn-in with the GS.

Dress Up

The base GS can be dressed up in one of three optional Style packages: the off-road-oriented GS Trophy, the touring-oriented Triple Black, and the bling-oriented Option 719 Tramuntana. The latter can be further outfitted with additional farkles like fog lights, forged enduro wheels, adaptive height control, and more. Finally, the Vario concept is back—the panniers can be expanded and contracted from 24 to 32 liters and the top case from 28 to 36 liters.

Now, let’s get to the elephant in the room: the new GS’ looks.

The Erector set/toolbox aesthetic I mentioned earlier is gone. A more discreet sheet metal main frame (shaped to fit precisely around the engine and other components) and a stout-looking cast aluminum subframe have replaced the tube frame. The panniers no longer look like munitions cases. And, although the new X-shaped headlight (not to be confused with the website formerly known as Twitter) may be shocking at first, we live in an age where KTMs’ front ends resemble bugs and MotoGP bikes look like spaceships.

The new R 1300 GS Trophy will remain the platform for adventure and off-road riding.

After acquainting myself with the bike for just a short time, the X doesn’t seem so radical anymore. I imagine that some current GS riders, enamored with their bikes, will pass on this one. And that’s fine—the new GS doesn’t suddenly make the older ones bad bikes. But it is simply better. Only time will tell if the new aesthetic becomes as iconic as the last.

The First Date

Following our first date, the 2024 R 1300 GS left a great impression that makes me want a second get-together. It looks, feels, and rides like a big step forward in the GS line. I will certainly need more seat time to get to know the bike more, understand the myriad available options, and test it in different riding conditions and terrain. The market is significantly more crowded now, but the new GS will continue to be the standard by which all adventure bikes are measured.

At the end of the day, I applaud BMW for not taking the easy road and simply revising an already great motorcycle. They chose the more interesting and harder route, which, when you really think about it, is very GS.

Technical Specs

+ more horsepower and torque, exemplary fit and finish, impeccable handling, EVO Telelever suspension is precise and
communicative, you’re going to need to buy new farkles
– better but still not great for the inseam challenged, Shift Assistant Pro isn’t great 100% of the time, you’re going to need to
buy new farkles

Distributor: BMW Motorrad USA
MSRP: $19,890
Engine: air/liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 4-valve, DOHC boxer twin
Displacement: 1300cc
Power: 145hp @7,750rpm; 110lb-ft @6,500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulic slipper clutch
Rake/Trail: 26.2°/4.4in
Weight (wet): 523lbs
Seat Height: 33.5in
Fuel Capacity: 5gal, 1gal reserve
Fuel grade: premium
Colors: White, GS Trophy (white/blue/red), Triple Black, Option 719 Tramuntana (green)