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Living up to International Bike of the Year award


"Never seen it so dry up here," I say and we discuss the drought and the price of cattle before going inside for a cup of tea.

BMW provided me with a 2006 R 1200 GS for a couple of weeks which was a good enough reason to head up to the South Burnett to visit the in-laws and check out the dirt credentials of 2004's International Bike of the Year.

For 2006, the GS gets a few minor cosmetic changes such as a silver exhaust cap instead of black and clear indicator lenses. There are also handy self-cancelling indicators that actually work.

But largely it is still the same award-winning go-anywhere bike that is perfectly suited to Australia's varying road conditions, as well as some open, off-road adventures.

Even with Tourance dual-purpose rubber fitted and road-going 40psi pressures, the GS acquits itself well on the dusty, hard-packed gravel roads around Jimna, (about 140km north of Brisbane, inland from the Sunshine Coast) although the sharp rocks chew chunks out of the tread.

Since the R 1200 GS was released in 2004, many motoring journalists have claimed it is now a better road bike but some suggest it is not as good off road as the R 1150 GS.

Yes, it's a far better road bike. In fact, it is a real boot-scraping blast through the twisty mountain passes.

But it is also definitely a better off-road bike.

At 225kg, it weighs 30kg less for a start; and weight is perhaps the most important aspect of off-road and dirt riding.

I own a R 1150 GS and can instantly feel the difference in weight. Even wheeling the 1200 out of the garage, it feels easier to manoeuvre.

Then saddle up and get going. It wheelies in first and second and the bars flick easily from side to side as the bike turns in faster and handles lighter.

It's still light enough to stamp your foot down and pick it up as the front road-oriented tyres run wide on corrugations and loose surfaces.

The comparisons with my bike are unavoidable. And the new bike scores a 99 per cent approval rating.

Both bikes still have a tendency to be recalcitrant about finding first gear on start-up without letting the clutch bite slightly.

On the plus side, the 1200 has more power right across the range but particularly the top end, fuel economy is marginally better (about 5l/100km), the gears are swifter and smoother changing, the handling is more precise and faster, and it looks way prettier.

On the negative side, the 1200 gearbox finds false neutrals either side of fifth, the fuel gauge doesn't move until it is down to halfway, the seat is not as comfortable and it is perhaps a little too pretty; there is something very macho about the ugly old 1150.

With a riding companion on a 2005 red 1200 and me on the new model in blue, both of us dressed in BMW corporate Rallye 2 uniforms, we look a bit like Long Way Round Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman wannabes as we pull into the Linville Hotel at the parched headwaters of the Brisbane River.

The advantage of these bikes is that they will comfortably and swiftly haul you long distances over tarmac twisties to where the roads turn to dirt and the bush gets closer.

Here you stop briefly, turn off the ignition, hold the ABS button, turn the ignition back on, wait a couple of seconds for the disconcerting "brake failure" light to stop blinking and stay on, then you fire it up again.

This process turns off the ABS. It's a nuisance that you can't switch it off on the fly, but it's a safety precaution.

Then the real fun begins.

Here on the dirt, there are few concerns about traffic or speed cameras, just cow dung and roos.

The kilometres and rocks fly past in a blur, beckoning you to chase the setting sun.

It's a big land with millions of kilometres of unsealed roads. Get yourself a GS and a set of Hema maps, then start probing those dotted red lines.

Or book into an Overlanders Motorcycle Adventure.

There is a big bike tour coming up on May 27-28 which would suit the GS.

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