Let's face it, there's little that beats German engineering. For reliability, efficiency, value, sheer robustness, you know that straddling a 1200GS you can't go wrong. You can scramble across deserts, bash through forests, and climb mountains. When you want to cross a continent, or circle the globe, the GS is the poster machine. Helped more than a little by Charlie Boorman and Ewen McGregor, this machine has spawned a lucrative middle-aged market. (KTM are still kicking themselves)
And believe me, I love the GS. I had the 650 for 9 months, and have about 20,000 kms on the 1200 traversing the USA. Down the PCH, along Interstates, through Death Valley, and over Yosemite to name a few.
But words like passion, excitement, and innovation are not those that come to mind when you look at the “Hummer” of motorbikes. And in recent years other European marques: Ducati, KTM, even Triumph, have been creating, or re-creating entirely new markets.
And BMW is pissed.
They don't want to lose marketshare to the Italians, Austrians, and definitely not the Brits.
Since 2010, Ducati has built an entirely new genre, now called the Adenture Tourer, with the Multistrada. (Translated: Many Roads – sounds better in Italian). This ultimate versatile, '4-in-1', has captured the heart of that middle aged, lucrative market. Those riders who know that, frankly, they're unlikely to be riding the “Road of Bones” any time soon. In fact most of their riding is in the city, so lightness is key. On the week-end they're likely to crank it through the twisties. Occasionally they'll load up the panniers and tour for a week-end or a week. And very rarely they'll negotiate a graded dirt road in a National Park.
The Multi (like most bikes) is perfectly fine in the dirt. Put decent tyres on it, switch off the ABS, and you can consistently win the Pikes Peak race that until recently was half dirt, half tar. 156 turns on a 20km course up to 14,000'. And people have used it to scale high mountains, and traverse continents.
So successful is this bike that BMW have responded, with the S1000XR. This is an inline-4 (same as the S1000R), with a chain final drive, and it even looks like the Multi, especially with the panniers on. By all reports the BMW is faster, has better handling, and some reviewers found it more comfortable than the Ducati. But every single review (and I found this myself) on the XR finds a handlebar buzz at motorway speeds. Which is kind've a killer for touring, or long commutes.
Also every review but one reckoned they'd buy the Ducati over the BMW. I'm sure BMW will get there, but they still have a little way to go.
And this at a time when Ducati is threatening the almighty GS with the Multistrada Enduro
Last year Ducati came out with the ultimate hipster bike, the Scrambler
And now, not to be outdone, BMW have come out with their version of the Scrambler. To my eye this has more of a cafe racer look than a scrambler, but hey, what do I know. What I do know is that this is no longer about trail riding (now subsumed by the Dual Sport bikes). These Scramblers are all about looking hip, with retro gear on, riding about town.
Admittedly, both the Multi Enduro, and the Ducati Scrambler are hardly novel ideas. More evolution than revolution.
They are also all very expensive. These bikes are about status, an identity, a pretension.
The worst reason to every buy a bike imho. Although the worst reason to buy a bike is still a great reason to buy a bike.
But yeah, in the derivative space that is 21st century Product Design, BMW is now officially a “me too” company. Watch this space, I reckon they'll be copying the Diavel next 🙂