If you spend even the slightest fraction of your life paying attention to motorcycles, then you probably know of the BMW GS. They’re everywhere and have spread like herpes in a whorehouse in the past two decades. According to a Motorcycle News report, the 500,000th BMW GS rolled out of the factory in May of 2009. That’s a lot of damn GSes.
When most people think of a BMW GS, they think of the more modern 1100, 1150, and 1200 varieties that are frequently ridden to Starbucks by overweight accountants. Middle aged lawyers. Alton Brown. Ewan and Charlie. That guy who is engaged to Jennifer Aniston and rides around Manhattan in cuffed skinny jeans and a half helmet that looks like it’s wrapped in toilet paper. But, the GS came to be long before the suburban adventurers and celebrity explorers adopted it as theirs.
The GS line was born with BMW’s R80G/S in 1980. (G stood for “Gelände,” the German word for offroad, and S stood for “Strasse,” German for street.) Sturdy and steady, it was immediately popular with long distance riders. Modified R80s won the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1981, 1983, 1984, and 1985, increasing the model’s all-terrain credentials and prompting BMW to produce a special edition with nearly twice the fuel capacity. From there, its influence grew exponentially.
Although its 797cc air-cooled boxer engine and blazing 50hp are paltry compared to today’s GS models, the R80G/S was the first big dual sport tourer of its kind and managed to kick off what has become a hugely lucrative adventure touring market. At the time, it was really quite revolutionary, and enthusiasts caught on quickly. It wasn’t just a bike that crossed the onroad/offroad boundaries. This was a bike that could effectively cross continents.
The original R80G/S was produced until 1987, and BMW’s GS line has seen at least ten different models—not including its single cylinder versions—since its inception 33 years ago. Today, they are more popular than ever. In fact, the R1200GS is the highest selling motorcycle ever produced by BMW. Drum brakes and carburetors have been replaced by electronic everything, and the current crop retains its predecessor’s intent but seems to have lost a bit of its soul in the mix.