By Rob Beach
Daily we speak with North American riders about touring in Europe. The conversation naturally comes around to the motorcycles themselves, and what type of machine is desired on tour. The sort of things we hear regularly are:
For most North American riders, a ride in the European Alps is a dream tour.
For a dream tour the general thought is that one should have a dream motorcycle: a big, comfortable bike for you and your passenger, a grand ride for a grand trip.
Europe in general, and the Alps in particular, will be the most challenging motorcycle ride many riders ever take. The challenges particular to the Alps may be summed up with two words: tight, and narrow.
There are few roads in the United States that can be used as a comparison to Alpine roads. Deal's Gap? A great piece of road to be sure, but a bit (no, make that significantly) wider than some of the neatest Alpine roads.
Do you ride many roads without shoulders (paved, or unpaved)? Few roads in the Alps have shoulders, and those that do are almost all in Switzerland. Often there isn't space for two individual lanes, much less a shoulder.
Imagine taking every turn on "the Gap" (they keep telling me that is one of America's premier roads) and decreasing the radius by 60% or so. Its' getting rather tight, no? With that modification, it is getting closer to a road in the Alps!
Here is a photo of a hairpin - a nice, tight corner of the type encountered in the Alps. Imagine crossing 3 or 4 mountain passes daily, and encountering between 15 and 40 of this type of turn on each side of each pass.
There are other routes available in some places. Often, however, the only way from A to B is over a pass, a road with 10, 15 or even 21% grades and heaps of this sort of corner. One of the remarkable aspects of riding in the Alps (in contrast to say, the Rockies) is that you don't ride down a valley looking at the mountains, but you crawl all over the mountain, spending lots of time looking down at the valley!
Opps - did I actually caption that photo as "hairpin"? You could park a tour bus on the inside of that turn. My apologies... that is not a hairpin, but (by European standards) a simple 180� corner. A real hairpin turns around a radius about that of a coke can, and throws serious elevation change into the equation. You may have noted that there is a radius difference of about 15 feet between these two corners.
The road depicted in the 2nd image is also a two way road. There can be, and often is, traffic coming in the other direction. You may have noted that there is a radius difference of about 20 feet between these two corners.
This comment is normally followed by a request for an R1200RT, or a K1600GT. While putting together the specifications for the various bikes on these pages I was quite surprised to discover that the wheelbase of the RT, (one of the largest bikes in our fleet), and the F650 (the smallest fleet bike) differ by only one-tenth of an inch! The RT is a larger bike than the F650, to be sure. But the differences are in width, bulk, and length over the back end of the bike, not in the wheelbase.
In short, the RT is not inherently more comfortable because it is bigger, as the "size" is largely a matter of perception (and expensive plastic). It is heavier and offers less ground clearance than either the R or GS. Both of these differences are liabilities in the Alps.
In 2011 BMW introduced a new flagship - the K1600GT. It is an impressive motorcycle packed with fascinating technology. Note how much larger it is than the different models of BMW twins. It handles brilliantly - for a large touring motorcycle. Even so, it is a 700 pound motorcycle.
On ultra-twisty Alpine roads each extra pound means more work for the rider. In the mountains, in parking lots, on tiny, slow roads the GT will loose the luster of a flagship machine.
|Overall length (inches)||91.5||87.5||84.4||87||84.5|
|Wet weight (lbs)||732||604||491||525||438|
When this was originally written (in 2007) the F800 series was newborn with BMW's introduction of the F800S, a bike we don't offer in our lineup. Since then BMW has introduced other F series models that are wonderful machines for Alpine riding. I have had the opportunity to complete a number of tours on both the F800R and the F800GS. These bikes have enough power to make you smile (or grimace in fear!), yet are light enough to be a mostly effortless joy to ride in the mountains. In short, the F800 series are highly recommended bikes for European touring, and one will be my next bike whenever the "Red Devil" finally turns into a pile of aluminum dust.
In 2013 the F700GS was introduced. With a lower seat than the F800GS, it has become one of the most appealing bikes in the fleet - especially for solo riders.
Ponder your average ride at home. Is it an hour or more at a reasonably steady speed, say between 45 and 65 mph? Under those circumstances, a fairing and windscreen add considerable comfort to the ride. Sitting upright in even a 50 mph windblast shortly becomes very tiring.
Fact: Your average moving speed over the course of an Alpine Adventure will be under 35 mph. That will be true even if you are riding solo and briskly all day long. Simply puttering along, your average speed, over 2000 miles and two weeks of riding, will be under 30 mph. These speeds are imposed by the roads traveled, not by us as guides or tour operators.
On a Beach tour you will be encouraged to ride at your own pace, on your own choice of itinerary. Yet even without knowing you or how you ride, I stand by that speed estimate.
A series of hairpins
At speeds as low as these, the fairing offers little, if any, advantage. Rarely will you be traveling at speeds high enough to take advantage of the excellent BMW aerodynamics.
When traveling on the German Autobahn or the Italian Autostrade, the RT is the bike of choice. It is quite comfortable on the highway, and at those higher speeds the fairing makes the ride effortless. Even more fun is the K1600GT, which simply howls down the autobahn.
On tour (in the mountains) my last choice of a mount is the GT, second last choice the RT. On the smaller roads the weight and bulk of the RT means it must be horsed around corners and it takes more effort to accelerate and decelerate. Riding it takes quite a bit more effort than the R or GS.
You will find the roads themselves require substantially more riding effort than you normally expend. Don't compound the work by adding weight and bulk on the motorcycle. Small and light is much easier to handle.
Another series of hairpins
There are very few backrests seen on European bikes in the mountains, in contrast to the states, where few touring machines are without them. Many American riders are used to motorcycles so large that there is room for a backrest between the rider and passenger!
A passenger leaning on a backrest is a pendulum pivoting on the seat of the bike, reacting to directional and speed changes after the fact. A passenger in the proper position (close in behind the rider, holding on to him/her) participates at the moment.
This participation makes HUGE differences in the way the bike handles, and also in the passenger comfort (really). But it is also very different than the riding style we have become accustom in the states, with huge bikes, backrests for the passenger AND rider, and a zillion miles of droning on the highway.
Alpine riding is pure, active, you (and passenger) got-to-pay-attention sort of riding. Backrests simply don't fit into that equation, as they promote a much lazier form of passengering.
Often the passenger feels uncomfortable because movements of the bike surprise them. The rider's responsibility is to offer notice of changes (via consistency in machine operation). In reality, riders always send lots of signals that something is about to happen. But with the passenger removed from the rider those signals don't "jump the gap", and that equals a surprised passenger.
Riders often use a backrest as a crutch. "My passenger feels more secure with a backrest" too often means "I am not a smooth rider able to instill confidence in my passenger, but the addition of a backrest makes her feel better."
2 up on a big bike or a small bike, the proper riding position is identical.
A bit of a different approach to riding two-up will pay off handsomely in the Alps. Having your passenger up close is romantic, and, more importantly, allows the bike to handle properly in the zillions of corners you will encounter.
Becoming a more refined, smoother rider will also add to your passenger's comfort.
Examine the two photos (Togetherness) of BMWs being ridden two up.
Notice that the rider/passenger combination on the RT ("big bike") are "as one" as the couple on the F650 ("small bike").
Toss the backrest and, after a day of adjustment, you, as rider, will be MUCH happier. I guarantee it will seem as though your riding skill has increased 25% - instantly - an active passenger makes that much of a difference.
After all that is said, we are able to equip your machine with a backrest - but do think long and hard about it before having this crutch installed. The bike will handle much better without it!
I'll level with you - there is no place level in the Alps. With parking lots built at an angle, roads cambered in all sorts of directions, and elevation differences everywhere, rarely is a rider able to stop with both feet on the ground on anything but the very shortest bike. Short bikes have ground clearance problems, and ground clearance is critical on twisty Alpine roads. That is why you don't see cruisers in our fleet - they are simply too low for twisty back-road riding.
Learn to balance - really balance, in a way we rarely have to here. Don't depend on having both feet on the ground at one time. Motorcycling is about balance, and over 85% of the "accidents" we have on tour are simple tipovers, caused by riders who don't have confidence in properly balancing a bike, and who have come to depend on short bikes, and both feet on the ground as their "landing gear."
Learn to stop - every time - with only one foot on the ground. Passenger or no passenger, regardless of the road surface, irrespective of the terrain - only one foot on the ground. Then, you not only will be unfazed by the seat height of the BMWs, but you will go home without paying me (or another tour operator) a damage invoice for that silly tip over.
Notice that my son Jake's left foot is about 18" off the ground. He actually can't even reach the left footpeg in this position. Ahh, a kid's confidence, eh?
Can't do it, you say? Yes you can - Jake can, and he is only 9 years old in this photo. You can too. Believe in yourself! (Update 2012 - the young man is now 18 and 6'6" tall.... yike. Now he is flatfooted at every stop, regardless of what he is riding!)
Riders above 5'10" tall should look at the R1200GS or the F800GS - they are the most versatile of BMW's line, and perfect for the Alpine roads. Shorter riders should consider the R1200R or the F800R, as the GSs are rather tall machines.
Competent, confident, well-balanced riders of shorter stature will also find the GS to be enjoyable, albeit a bit more work in the parking lot than the R.
Solo, or inseam challenged, riders should look at the F800R as an ideal ride. The power to weight ratio is very favorable, the bike is quite narrow, and it is very easy to handle on the Alpine roads. Repeat tour members riding solo often ask for the F650 or F800 on their second trip. It took them 2 weeks of exposure to understand Alpine roads, and the next time around they realize that smaller & lighter really is better!
You are interested in a European tour because it is different, it is challenging, and it is magical. Consider that the differences encountered may be so big that different thinking, and changes in habit may (will) be required. Ideas such as "my space" on the road will be challenged. Habits such as big bikes, backrests and big windscreens, nice or necessary here, are not important there.
Now let's get out and ride - really ride, as one cannot in the States!
The new C 600 Sport is perfect for anyone who is looking for an intelligent mobility solution combined with BMW Motorrad riding experience. The C 600 Sport offers excellent handling and performance. The striking design in characteristic BMW style, is a definite attention grabber. A world full of possibilities, adventures and challenges.
Conquer the city, or get away from it all, with the new BMW C 650 GT Maxi-Scooter, you can put your plans into practice in high style. The C 650 GT's powerful 60 hp engine will handle long distances with ease. C 650 GT is also a great handling scooter that offers exceptional comfort too. This C 650 GT touring scooter will give you a whole new sense of freedom and independence.
The BMW G 310 R is the essence of riding pleasure. It was built for pulsing cities and for all those who simply love riding motorcycles. It is maneuverable, easy to handle and sporty at the same time. Whether you're a tall or small rider – you’ll immediately feel at home on the BMW G 310 R!
Be spontaneous, break with the routine, make everyday life into your experience. Everyday, the adventure is right outside your front door – make it yours with the G 310 GS. It carries you through the urban jungle, confident and carefree. Whether it's your daily commute to work in the city or a trip through the countryside, forest trails and rough roads – the G 310 GS promises pure riding joy for everyone. In a relaxed and slightly raised sitting position, every challenge can be surveyed perfectly and handled with precision .
The fun, do-everything F 700 GS is a real all-rounder, with real power. Compact and lightweight, practical and well-balanced, it is equally at home around town, on gravel trails, or for a weekend away with a passenger on the back.
Everything about this bike is Unstoppable. Its state-of-the-art twin-cylinder engine delivers awesome off-road power and incredible responsiveness. Its weight-optimized construction makes it unbelievably agile and easy to handle. And its outstanding chassis performs superbly both on and off-road.
The F 800 GS is an Enduro bike like no other BMW Motorrad has made before; an 800cc machine with a full 85hp and torque of 83 Nm; all this while having a fully fuelled, road-ready weight of only 438 pounds.
No matter where you travel, no matter what the terrain – with the F 800 GS you can master any adventure. This travel enduro has been created for true globetrotters for whom no destination is too remote and who want to conquer the world off the beaten track. The F 800 GS Adventure: the reliable and robust companion for unbounded adventure.
BMW's R1200GS is the continuing evolution of the venerable twin. To meet ever tightening emissions and noise regulations, BMW has redesigned the flat-twin engine. In the process they were able to find even more power!
The new version has updated electronics, liquid cooling, and a host of other changes.
The new F 800 R is radically different, and yet every inch a BMW. The state-of-the-art parallel twin engine with electronic fuel injection develops 87hp from its 798cc, not to mention a mighty 86Nm of torque. And its sound is every bit as impressive as its performance.
The R 1200 R Roadster features an integrated, flowing look that is timeless in its modernity. This is the basic, engine-and-two-wheels motorcycle beloved by many for years and now more fashionable as more riders discover the attractions of a "naked bike". It is also perfect for Alpine touring - light, nimble and powerful. The new generation ABS assure the rider of controlled stops no matter the circumstances.
This is what a sports touring bike looks like - combining touring fun and comfort with an impressive sporty touch: elegant, functional trim with superb wind and weather protection. A powerful, highly sophisticated 2-cylinder in-line engine with 85 bhp which fulfils the toughest environmental standards and is right up there when it comes to torque levels.
The chassis gives you dynamic and stress-free pleasure on winding country roads, you enjoy uncomplicated handling in the city and can cover lengthier distances including swift spells on the motorway with a high degree of ride stability.
For years, the Adventure versions of the large-displacement BMW GS boxer have been synonymous with traveling to distant lands, whether on tarmac roads, gravel tracks or unsurfaced trails. With the latest R 1200 GS Adventure bike, BMW Motorrad is taking this model line to the next level by offering the big GS in a version specially built for long-distance travel, increased off-road riding and harsh operating conditions.
Riding dynamics coupled with touring suitability - at the very highest level: that's the R 1200 RS. With its potent engine and stable suspension, the sports touring bike offers more than just a huge amount of riding pleasure. Thanks to its relaxed, sporty seating position and its perfect wind and weather protection, the bike offers an entirely new ride feel when travelling fast and riding along country roads in sporty style.
A motorcycle that defined the classic touring bike segment has now reached the next stage of evolution: the new BMW R 1200 RT. With its light handling, the R 1200 RT makes it possible to enjoy what is most important: riding through the landscape. Whether on your own or with a passenger: the new R 1200 RT is all about comfortable, relaxed riding on every tour.
Gran Turismo. Travel in big style. That means combining dynamic performance and comfort - and transforming distance into free space. BMW Motorrad's vision was the essence of this philosophy - the pure sense of Gran Turismo. This vision has now taken shape in the new K 1600 GT.
When luxury is freed of all ballast, it moves to a new level. At the very top of this evolution is the new K 1600 GTL – a high-class touring bike like none before it. With the most compact and efficient in-line 6-cylinder engine ever installed in a series production motorcycle.
The GTL makes luxury light-footed. This is because its unique chassis provides excellent handling. With a totally direct ride feel due to the ground-breaking Duolever front suspension. At the rear, it is the Paralever that put's the power of the engine onto the road, The optional ESA II (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) ensures that the GTL always glides completely smoothly since the systems allows the damping and suspension to be adapted according to situation and preference at the press of a button.
When BMW built a superbike, they took no prisoners. Presenting the very latest in racing power, the 2012 S 1000 RR. With an aluminum bridge-type frame, radial brakes, a super sporty tail-up nose-down design, hot colors and the ultimate combination of electronic rider assistance. The RR includes four riding modes that adjust power delivery, throttle response, Race ABS action and even Dynamic Traction Control (optional equipment).
Never before has it been so easy to keep so much power under control. This is as true on public roads as it is on the racetrack. The RR is a full-blooded racing bike, even though it can be ridden with a number plate attached. A race proven sport bike for the road.
Here's the perfect BMW motorcycle for those who want the dynamic performance of a sport machine, the versatility of an adventure bike and the comfort of a touring motorcycle. The new S 1000 XR combines the very best of these worlds to create something completely new: the first ever adventure-sport bike made by BMW Motorrad; perfect for everyone in search of a sporty ride that knows no bounds.
A roadster, reduced to the essentials: maximum performance. 160 bhp/118 kW, 112 Nm torque and a power-to-weight ratio of 1.29 kilograms per bhp - and the competition disappears in the rear mirror. Like its superbike predecessor, the S 1000 R sets the benchmark in its segment.
Beach's has been touring the globe since 1972, racking up many, many miles across 4 continents.
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