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BMW GS Experience: Going Off-Road with the F 850 GS

BMW GS Experience: Going Off-Road with the F 850 GS

BMW Motorrad’s GS series of motorcycles have established a name for themselves as some of the best value for money motorcycles in the world. So when BMW Motorrad announced that they will be bringing their famed ‘GS Experience’ to India, it was a reason to rejoice.

The Adventure Motorcycle segment, or ADVs in short, have some of the most versatile motorcycles in the world. Gone are the days when off-roading was all about having really small motorcycles that you could throw around and they would have a bare minimum of everything. Don’t get me wrong, they still have their own charm and they aren’t extinct or anything, but instead, now when you think of having a motorcycle which can go off-road, you would end up wanting a lot more from it than just off-road capabilities. Now, you would want to have a motorcycle that allows you to travel hundreds of kilometres without breaking a sweat and when the time comes, when you finally hit that trail, you can push yourself and the motorcycle to the maximum and have the time of your life. Hence, Adventure-Touring.

And when it comes to that, BMW Motorrad’s GS series of motorcycles have established a name for themselves as some of the best value for money motorcycles in the world. So when BMW Motorrad announced that they will be bringing their famed ‘GS Experience’ to India, it was a reason to rejoice.

And, we got to be a part of it! While there were several motorcycles to choose from, we decided to stick to the BMW F 850 GS to understand what makes it so popular all around the world.

BMW-GS-ExperienceWe took part in level 1 and 2 of the BMW GS Experience. (Photo: BMW Motorrad India)

The day started with a classroom session where our trainers Shahnawaz Karim and Ajit Bhardwaj told us about how the day is going to be and also about what the GS range of motorcycles is all about. This also included details about each of their motorcycle and the kinds of uses they are meant for. Once we got up to speed with the motorcycles it was time to gear up and start off with the second part of the classroom session which was actually outside the classroom and around a BMW R 1250 GS.

BMW-GS-Experience-2The classroom session during the BMW GS Experience. (Photo: BMW Motorrad India)

The moment we reached there, all of us had to pick our jaws up from the ground courtesy the BMW R 1250 GS that was there. We have all heard about how well-balanced BMW’s GS motorcycles are, especially the R 1250 GS, but seeing this feat up close was surreal.

The 1250 on which we were going to be taught body positioning, was actually standing all by itself, without the stand down! If that’s not an absolute masterclass in terms of weight distribution then I don’t know what is!

Anyway, once all of had come to terms with the outstanding balance of the 1250, it was time to learn body positioning. Shahnawaz told us in great detail about how to place yourself in several different scenarios and how to take care of yourself and prevent injury in case the rider feels that they are about to lose control of the motorcycle. Then, we were also told about the correct way to pick up an ADV, especially the larger ones like the 1250, in case it falls down. Here, we also got to know that the R 1250, thanks to its Boxer engine layout, never really falls down flat and hence requires lesser effort to pick it up, which was demonstrated by Shahnawaz as he picked the motorcycle by just leveraging on the handlebar.

BMW-GS-Experience-3Our instructor Shahnawaz Karim telling us the correct way to pick up a motorcycle. (Photo: BMW Motorrad India)

Once all of the theories were done, it was to time to learn by practice. There was the entire range of motorcycles to choose from, and I started off with the BMW F 850 GS – a motorcycle that has managed to create an identity for itself as one of the best ADV motorcycles that you can buy in the world.

The first session consisted of us just going around the track which had several different kinds of traction zones and let us get a feel of the motorcycle – a step that is hugely helpful in building confidence and helps in getting an idea of the motorcycle’s behaviour and throttle response. And it is this sense of familiarity that you develop during this session that helps you rest of the day to alter your riding behaviour and improve in the areas where you feel the need.

BMW-F-850-GSBMW GS Experience allows you the time to build up confidence on the motorcycle. (Photo: BMW Motorrad India)

This was followed by a Slalom course where we familiarized ourselves with how to do proper direction changes without unsettling the motorcycle. What was focused on was the position of the head, having our focus where it should be with correct vision and be able to be comfortable with throwing the motorcycle left and right without losing our balance on the motorcycle.

This was then followed by a full lock turning exercise where we had to turn these motorcycles with a full lock, creating the shortest turning radius as possible. While this sounds simple, modulating the throttle and clutch which having the motorcycle leaned in, looking at the centre of the turn and not where your bike is going and maintaining minimum speed while the bike is leaned over, and having the correct body posture while standing on the footpegs – well, doing all of that at the same time is quite demanding. This, however, showed us just how capable these motorcycles are and they require such a small space to turn around which is something you wouldn’t expect given their size and weight.

Next up, was riding through a rut. I know, that’s a very short description of a challenge and that may perhaps make you think that it could be easy. But, again, it simply wasn’t. The rut’s width was the size of the rear tyre of the R 1250 GS and we had to maintain a good momentum through it, not giving any panicky inputs to the motorcycle in case it hit the walls of the rut or a bump in the middle. In order to make it through without falling down, we were trained to look far ahead to the exit of the rut, maintain good vision and simply gas ourselves out of it! After several tries, all of the riders gained confidence and were free to take several tries if they needed to.

Then, we had an exercise which taught us about how to bring the motorcycle down a slope if it happens to stall while on an incline. The idea is to put it in gear and modulate the clutch, not the brakes, to bring the motorcycle down using engine braking. Something that would be extremely helpful whenever someone hits a trail and stalls a bike, say, while on a mountain climb.

BMW-F-850-GS-5A challenge durin the BMW GS Experience taught us how to bring the motorcycle down in case of a stall during a climb. (Photo: BMW Motorrad India)

After this, we had to learn how to ‘Braap’ the motorcycle correctly when you are supposed to make a climb with loose gravel as the surface. This was then followed by a couple of more inclines and declines and here we improved our body position when the motorcycle is going upwards and when it is coming downwards. This also helped further boost our confidence and made us learn about the correct way of braking when the bike is going down a decline and on a loose surface.

BMW-F-850-GS-4We also got to work on our body position during inclines and declines. (Photo: BMW Motorrad India)

Now you cannot learn how to ride a motorcycle off-road without having a fall. I did too, while ‘brapping’ the motorcycle a bit too hard while climbing the incline, hitting a wrong approach angle and losing control of the motorcycle while being right at the top since I had almost no place to keep my foot. Thankfully, it was nothing major and Shahnawaz helped us out on how to recover a motorcycle when it is lying down on its side right next to a steep decline.

BMW-F-850-GS-1What do you do when a bike falls right at top and has no space to plant your foot at? (Photo: BMW Motorrad India)

Lastly, once all of this was done, the riders were to free to roam around the specially carved out track and also, could try their hands on different motorcycles to see just how much they differ from each other and which one suits them the best. And yes, this also included the mighty R 1250 GS as well.

BMW-F-850-GS-2The BMW GS Experience is a great learning experience. (Photo: BMW Motorrad India)

But since I had started my day with the F 850 GS, I decided to stick to just that and work on honing my skills and have a better understanding of how to tackle loose surfaces.

And I have to say, the BMW F 850 GS managed to make just so comfortable while off-roading that I managed to gain confidence by the hour! And having ridden a lot of ADVs in a lot of challenging riding conditions, there is no other motorcycle that made me feel so comfortable and so quickly. Remember the part where I mentioned the 850s identity worldwide? Well, every bit of it is true. The motorcycle feels, in short, magical in such conditions and is a great tool for those who want to get a taste of off-roading on bigger motorcycles and for those who already have experience but want to improve their skills even further as well.

On top of that, the sheer time that we get to spend on the motorcycle and the freedom to choose whichever motorcycle you want – for example, you want a smaller one if you don’t feel confident or perhaps go for a bigger one if you do feel confident – makes the GS Experience stand out from other off-roading experiences that are conducted in India. That’s not it, the freedom to tackle the same obstacle again and again until you build up the confidence to move on to the next one makes it a great opportunity to take your time and learn. So if you’re someone who wants to experience the might GS range of motorcycles and wants to hit the dirt, the GS Experience cannot be missed.