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Bargain bruisers

Living with BMW's R1150GS

BMW's now two-decade-old R1150GS series proves the terms cheap and capable are not mutually exclusive

(Jan 2024, Guy 'Guido' Allen)


There was never a plan to have two giant adventure tourers cluttering up the driveway – it kind of happened by osmosis. Now they're here, they're the go-to-solution for all kinds of situations which is both great and hugely annoying. Allow me to explain – or try to.

Having been lucky enough to play with all sorts of demo bikes over the years, I ended up having a weird arms-length relationship with adventure tourers. Back when this started, let's say the mid-1980s, Australians didn't buy the things. Importers kept trying all sorts of bait, but it took close to 10 years before buyers took any notice, and another five-plus to open their wallets. Oh the joys of being a motorcycle importer!

Along the way, yours truly played with a lot of these things and ended up being impressed by several. There was that ongoing question of why in hell wasn't there one in the shed?

Here's the thing: I either couldn't afford them at the time, or later struggled to commit to the concept of selling off my existing toys (mostly street bikes with the odd trail bike thrown in) to pay for a big hairy continent-crosser.

bmw r100gs paris dakar

Move on a decade or two, and I've bought a BMW R100GS Paris-Dakar out of Alice Springs and ridden it home to Melbourne. It was a great trip and confirmed much of what I thought of adventure tourers. See the story here.

This was on the cusp of becoming a collectible model, but I nevertheless decided to move it on as I wasn't enamored with the ageing dynamics.

bmw r1100gs

Of course the itch to own another of the type soon took over. Next up the development path was the R1100GS. As much as I enjoyed riding the demo when it was new, again I had some questions over its performance in the here and now.

bmw r1150gs

That inevitably led to where we are: R1150GS. I bought the first one, with 78,000km (48,000 miles) on the odometer, in late 2021 for a princely Au$5300 (US$3500, GB£2750). That compares with the 2001 dealer invoice showing Au$20,000 (US$13,000, GB£10,000) when new.

It was a solid runner, in need of tyres and one or two other little things sorted for a roadworthy certificate. The cosmetics rated as presentable, though far from perfect.

There was a pretty decent set of documents and a few spares such as oil filters. While the servicing history was patchy, the motorcycle itself was just fine.

bmw r1150gs

The aftermarket screen it came with was adjustable for height and was one of those situations where I couldn't find a setting that worked. In the end, I ditched it for a  ZTechnik product, the Z2240 which is the tallest offering. It cost Au$419 (US$270, GB£220). The pic above shows it at left, compared to the stock GS screen at right.

Does it work? For my 188cm (6' 2"), yes, but this is an individual thing. There is a fair bit of wind noise (that's what ear plugs are for), but no buffeting.

Move on to mid-2023 and I've walked away from my real full-time job (there are people who argue I never had one...) into semi-retired freelancing, which means I have a bit more time on my hands. Or so the theory goes, though the reality so far raises some questions.

Anyway, for reasons I no longer care to explain, I'm on the bikesales website looking for something relatively cheap that I've never clapped eyes on before, 4000km (2500 miles) away in Darwin, that I can ride home to Melbourne. What could possibly go wrong?

bmw r1150gs

That's when what I now fondly refer to as the Darwin bike appeared on the scene.

The owner at the other end of the country clearly knew his BMWs and explained he bought it as a runabout for the few years he and his partner were working up there. Now they were moving out and the bike, which had a month or so of rego left on it, had to go.

The price? A mere Au$4000 (US$2600, GB£2100) for the 2002 model with 90,000km (56,000 miles) on the clock. Perfect.

From day one, the whole idea was to treat this as a holiday: fly in, cruise home on the Bimmer and then sell it. Some of it went to plan.


The motorcycle performed flawlessly, in part thanks to a knowledgeable seller who checked it out before I picked it up. Oh and thanks to a (these days) relatively simple and robust design that benefited from several development lessons learned with the R1100GS predecessor. See the story on the trip.

And here's where the plan went a little awry: when I put the Darwin bike on the market, the offers were low to the point of ridiculous. As a result, Muggins got grumpy and decided to keep it.

For the time being, I'm pretty happy with that decision, even if it has cost more than planned. The second GS finds itself being employed fairly regularly. It's also there as the bike I might ship somewhere and ride home, as the mood arrives (Cairns in winter is looking good). There's little money tied up in it, and we know it's reliable, which is a great combination.

bmw r1150gs

One of the appeals of this series is it is owner-service-able. Engine and transmission fluids take time and are simple. There are four drain points: engine, a spin-on filter, transmission and shaft.

Valve adjustment is screw and locknut, for which there are several instructional videos online.

The only other issue worth mentioning is the alternator belt hidden behind the front cover of the powerplant. It's rare for one to let go, though I had it happen years ago on an RT that was ridden flat-out for a magazine test and I now carry a spare on both bikes.

bmw r1150gs

Since we're on that general theme, longevity seems to be pretty good. These days a lifespan of 200,000km (125,000 miles) would be considered okay, while half that again is achievable, though you could expect even more. Much will depend on regular use and good care.

bmw r1150gs

Something we indulged in recently was fitting engine or crash bars to both bikes. This isn't something I'd normally do as I'm ambivalent about their usefulness.

Plus, I had a set that came with the silver bike which was crap. It attached to the sump bash plate bolts, which are too fragile to take that sort of force, and prevented access to any sort of servicing without removal. Spectacularly bad.

After that experience, I didn't bother looking for alternatives. Then young mate Blackbourn alerted me to a local retailer which had sets available for about a third to a quarter of usual prices as part of a clearing sale. Too good to be true? (They're now sold out.)

While the retailer was obtuse about the brand, I picked it up from a photo and then went searching. Called RDMoto, it's Czech and employs the same pick-up points used by BMW for the bars on the R1150GS Adventure. That was worth a punt.

Fitting was straight-forward, once I'd nutted out a problem where I misinterpreted the minimalist instructions. If you find a set at a decent price, grab it.

bmw r1150gs fuel connector

Wrestling with the crashbars led to the only breakdown I've had with either machine. That was when one of the snap-on connectors for the high-pressure fuel lines on the Darwin bike cracked as I was messing around with the fuel tank. Munich Motorcycles in WA, which I've used several times, came through with a replacement in a few days.

bmw r1150gs

Both bikes are running ABS (not all of them did) and version two is a big improvement over its predecessor when it comes to long-term reliability.

bmw r1150gs

The BMW pannier system of the era is very good, with one of the easiest mount/dismount systems you will ever come across. One warning, though, beware snapping the handles shut when the red locking tabs are showing. If you break one, fixing it is a royal pain in the arse.

bmw r1150gs

Something I really like about this model is its ability to turn its wheel to anything. That assumes you have the physical size and/or confidence to deal with it.

While it looks like some giant praying mantis with an attitude problem, it works as a low-speed runabout or shopping cart, and responds surprisingly well when you nail it through a set of tight corners.

The performance is adequate rather than stunning – the stats of 85 horses for 250-ish kilos confirm that.

Braking is strong without being sensational, and you have the ABS safety net.

(Note: Both these machines run conventional brakes rather than the later EVO power-assisted system. The latter arrived part-way through 2002-on – it varies with market. It's best avoided due to a known reliability issue that is costly to fix.)

Fuel consumption averages around 16km/lt, improving to 18km/lt on the highway. The claimed 22lt tank capacity is closer to 20, in my experience.

By far the biggest asset on your average stretch of country tarmac is the long-travel suspension combined with a well-sorted and communicative Telelever up front and the neutral Paralever rear. For a road bike in the boondocks, that is a killer app.

Peter Navin, who worked on this series as a technician when they were new, had this to say: "I was servicing these at Tom Byrne Motorcycles at St Peters, NSW, back in early 2000s. Still remember first time riding one and thinking, wow, how easy they were to ride when compared to the size. They actually felt nimble – it was like an oversized BMX bike to flick around.

"Super easy to service, and yes stay right away from the EVO brakes, as we had no end of trouble with them.

"Also check for twisted centre stands as I randomly had one fall on me while while I was underneath it, and they are not light!

"Definitely not a pretty or even mildly attractive bike, but hey you don’t care when you’re on it and they go beyond your expectations. They’re a good thing!"

The result is, when you own a fleet of toys that ranges from sports bikes through to big-arsed tourers, the R1150GS is hugely annoying because it covers all that territory pretty well. It makes the rest of them look redundant. Sell the other 18-ish bikes and keep this two?

Yes and no. I have motorcycles which are infinitely better sports bikes, or tourers, or serious performance hounds. Or are far more stylish. They satisfy other needs.

The Bimmer twins, meanwhile, are the workhorses that save the stars in the shed from a lot of wear and tear. On that basis alone, they're worth having.


bmw r1150gs


Not so good
Resale value
Big and fairly heavy
Not exactly pretty

bmw r1150gs

BMW R1150GS 2001-2002 model years


TYPE: four-stroke air/oil-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, boxer twin
CAPACITY: 1130cc

BORE & STROKE: 101 x 70.5mm




TYPE: Six-speed, constant-mesh


FRAME TYPE: cast steel main member with tubular rear sub-frame
FRONT SUSPENSION: Telelever with 5-way adjustable preload, 190mm travel
REAR SUSPENSION: Paralever with adjustable preload and rebound, 200mm travel
FRONT BRAKE: 320mm discs, 4-piston calipers, ABS-II optional.
REAR BRAKE: 276mm disc with two-piston caliper


DRY/WET WEIGHT: 228/249kg

SEAT HEIGHT: 840/860mm

FRONT: 110/80-19
REAR: 150/70-17


POWER: 62.5kW (85hp) @ 6750rpm
TORQUE: 98Nm @ 5250rpm

PRICE NEW: circa Au$20,000 (US$13,000, GB£10,500) on the road, depending on spec


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