Review: BMW GS Adventure Motorcycle: A 30-Year Catalog

BMW GS Adventure Motorcycle: A 30-Year Catalog
Hans-Jugen Schneider

GS stands for Gelande (“off-road” in German motorcycle parlance) and Strasse (German for “street”). With its introduction in 1980, the BMW GS created a new class of motorcycle, now commonly referred to as “Adventure Tourer.” The idea of a go-anywhere, do-anything motorcycle isn’t new, but BMW re-defined the concept in a confidence-inspiring way. It was as though the bike itself proclaimed “Go ahead . . . ride me around the world. I won’t let you down.” Enthusiasm for the GS has been a strong force in making the Adventure Tourer an important segment of the motorcycling market that it is today.

The birth of the GS series can be attributed to the major downturn in U.S. sales– BMW’s largest export market–that took place during the 1977-1978 model year. Although the GS concept was considered risky at the time, this crisis provided BMW upper management with the motivation to take the plunge. Thousands of GS models sold and millions of miles ridden over the past three decades demonstrate that they made the correct choice.

Having ridden a test model at the 1980 press launch of the GS, author Hans-Jürgen Schneider has been an eyewitness to GS development from the very beginning. Co-author Koenigsbeck brings similar perspective to the book, also working as a cycle journalist and riding BMWs during the same era. The inclusion of what appear to be BMW-supplied technical drawings and photographs suggest the closeness of the authors’ relationship with the factory and contribute to the richness of the book’s content.

BMW marque history, racing lore, and technical development are mixed in proportions that should appeal to the general reader and the technophile alike. Those chapters devoted to the technical evolution of GS and F series contain clear, concise explanations with supporting diagrams.

BMW GS tells a number of stories, beginning with the early history of BMW off-road use. The focus turns to adaptation of standard street models into off-road racing bikes and how those specials ultimately led to the development of the GS line. Then the book takes an interesting turn, doubling back to pick up the early history of single cylinder BMWs and their evolution into modern F and G series singles.

For the competition-minded, there are sections devoted to the early years of BMW’s competition history, starting in the 1920s, to the four Paris-Dakar Rally wins by GS riders in the 1980s and continuing with the BMW factory’s return to rally competition with the F series in the 1990s. Finally, there’s a passing nod to the BMW-Rotax powered F series parallel twins.

Street riders with little or no interest in dirt for purposes other than gardening should still find BMW GS to be enjoyable reading. As the book covers each generation of dual purpose BMW, it also covers the street-only variants built on the same platform.

BMW GS is the fifth edition of author Hans-Jurgen Schneider’s Fascination BMW GS, first published in 1982. However, the authors haven’t simply recycled old material but have kept the book up to date with each new edition. This edition, which is updated through the 2009 model year, sees the book renamed and published in English for the first time.

There’s much to recommend this book and almost nothing to criticize about it, apart from a sparse index. BMW GS Adventure Motorcycle: A 30 Year Catalog does its subject proud in many ways: It’s a history, a technical reference and a coffee table book, thanks to the fine quality of the paper, binding, and the abundance of drawings and photographs..

Anyone interested in motorcycle history should find something that interests them. It should also be considered mandatory reading for riders of all modern BMWs.

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