Motorcycles

2021 BMW R1250 GS/GSA vs Honda Gold Wing DCT Tour

2021 BMW R1250 GS (normal suspension, low saddle)
2018-2020 Honda Gold Wing DCT Tour (author’s ’19 in Darkness Black shown)

Right on schedule, my 2-year itch kicked in. It only takes about 24 months or so for my eyes to begin scanning the news on the latest, newest, hottest 2-wheelers to satiate the never ending quest for motorcycle satisfaction.

By late summer 2021, I’d had my ’19 Honda Gold Wing DCT Tour barely more than 24 months, and after news from Ottawa friend Denis, a long time BMW R1200RT owner, that he’d taken possession of a 2021 BMW R1250RT, it re-ignited my recent departure from BMWs.

I have to admit, I’m something of a BMW boxer-engine fanboy. I’ve owned 3 of them, an ’81 R100RS, ’04 R1150RT and ’14 R1200RT, and adored each one. There’s something about the flat-twin drone of a BMW boxer that speaks to me; it’s a different sound, slightly gutteral, and pleasing to my ear.

That got me thinking about a long time infatuation I’ve had with BMW GS Adventures, the monster fuel tank GSs. The trouble is, I’m short, 5’8″ on a tall day with a 29-in. inseam; too short to comfortably ride most adventure-travel motorcycles.

But BMW came to the rescue for us ‘shorties’ a few years ago by offering a factory original low suspension option.

A friend Richard has a last generation R1200GSA with factory low suspension, and I can comfortably (almost) flat-foot the bike, so the new R1250GSA with low suspension becomes a viable option.

2021 BMW R1250 GSA 40th Anniversary Edition shown with available factory Low Suspension – the new bike I almost ordered, but didn’t.

BMW R1250 GS/GSA’s appeal

There’s plenty to like about the BMW R1250 GS/GSA. You don’t have to look hard on YouTube or any of the established moto journals to see the GS/GSA is widely praised, and often acclaimed as “the world’s best all-’rounder.”

I’m attracted to the GSA. I like it’s rugged looks, I really like the idea of it’s massive 30-litre fuel tank for exceptional long distance touring range, and BMW’s sophisticated electronically-adjustable suspension. (I’m looking for that ultra-plush ride to insulate me from the decrepit pavement we put up with in Alberta.) Plus the myriad of different hard and soft OEM and aftermarket pannier fitments available. GSs and GSAs are among the most highly customizable motorcycle available. Cool.

Also, the R1250 GSA is ‘droppable’. With its factory standard engine guards, it can be dropped without damaging anything. Finally, re-sale is very good, and it’s comforting to know when the the next “2-year itch” hits, the bike’s value remains better than most.

One day, while tire kicking at my BMW dealer, Glenn, the salesperson who sold me my ’14 R1200RT, said they had a demo R1250GS on the floor, and I could take it out any time; he said he’d plop a low saddle on it and let me take it for a ride.

So I did.

2021 BMW R1250 GS/GSA – the world’s best all-’round motorcycle

The 2021 BMW R1250 GS demo bike I test rode was fully equipped with all the major option packages (typical of the majority of BMWs imported to Canada.)

To be sure I was testing the GS ‘correctly’ (that is, with the electronically-adjustable suspension set appropriately), we set the suspension in Low, 1-rider no luggage, and Road.

I set off from the dealership and headed directly to my benchmark test road, Alberta’s QE2 highway southbound from Edmonton to the airport. Heavy truck traffic on this road has beaten the pavement into a nauseating, teeth rattling, bone-jarring short piece of highway best avoided by stiffly sprung, sporting vehicles.

Overall, the 2021 BMW R1250 GS was pretty much what I’d expected. The 1250 cc shift-cam engine fueling was perfect with no snatchiness, torque at low rpm was plentiful and pick up the revs to 5,000 rpm and beyond and the GS accelerates hard enough for the majority of touring riders.

Handling is light, agile, and accurate (compared to the Gold Wing), but it was the BMW’s hi-tech, electronically-adjustable suspension that had me puzzled. The GS’s normal (not low, on this demo bike) suspension was surprisingly normal compared to what I’m used to on the Gold Wing.

Wait. What? The GS’s suspension feels “normal??” On really broken pavement?

Numerous YouTube BMW R1250 reviewers have exclaimed the GS/GSA “rides like a Cadillac!” Clearly, these reviewers have never ridden in a Cadillac, or a Gold Wing for that matter.

It’s true, the GS/|GSA BMW does ride well, but I was expecting with my demo unit’s long (normal) suspension travel would give a better ride than my Wing, and it doesn’t. The GS’s suspension is very good and very comparable to the Wing’s. My best observation is the GS and Wing’s suspensions soak up bumps and broken pavement with aplomb, but the Wing still felt slightly better. In hindsight, I attribute the Wing’s slightly better ride to the the big Honda’s significantly higher mass, 835 lbs. compared to the GS’s 549 lbs.

6 Reasons I didn’t buy the 2021 BMW R1250 GSA

In the end, I decided the 2021 BMW R1250 GSA with factory low suspension was not the bike for me. Today.

  1. Riding position. The GS/GSA’s rider’s triangle is tighter than the Wing’s. Specifically, the footpeg position is placed more underneath the rider, causing one’s legs to be bent more than on the Wing’s. I have trouble with right hip pain, made painfully clear on my RT. The GS’s pegs are farther forward than the RT, but don’t give the almost 90-degree thigh-to-ankle/foot position of the Honda.
  2. Suspension. The Wing’s suspension is ultimately better than the GS’s for long distance touring on pavement. The Honda’s mass simply helps smooth out the ride better than the lighter GS can.
  3. GPS/audio system. If you want GPS on the BMW, it’s an optional extra. If you want audio, it’s simply not available. I rather like having FM stereo radio in urban riding, and it’s standard equipment on the Gold Wing.
  4. Maintenance. It’s no secret owning any BMW will cost more to maintain than any Honda. With big miles, the Honda will be less expensive to maintain. That’s no secret.
  5. Weather protection. My friend Richard owns a GSA and an RT. He says the GSA provides 95-percent of the weather protection of his RT. While I consider the new Wing to provide about 95-percent of the weather protection of my previous RT (and would be therefore comparable to the new GSA), my gut tells me the Wing offers slightly better protection from the elements than the GSA does.
  6. Dealership availability. Honda dealerships are pretty much everywhere. BMW dealerships are few and far between. Not that I’ve ever been stranded with a BMW, but it is reassuring to know Honda dealerships are likely within a couple hours of anywhere.

Conclusion

I really got close to ordering a new 2021 BMW GSA with factory low suspension, but in the end, I voted with my wallet.

The 2021 BMW R1250 GS/GSA are undoubtedly the best all-’round motorcycles on the market today. They’re jack-of-all-trades motorcycles and can tour or go off-road very well. But as an all-’rounder, it can’t beat the DCT Tour Honda Gold Wing which is the ultimate premium luxury touring motorcycle.

So, for now, I’m sticking with the big, luxurious, and reliable Honda Gold Wing.

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