The motorcycle (My trusty steed)

In the beginning

The 2015 BMW R1200 GS Adventure is a very capable bike that comes outfitted for adventure riding pretty well from the factory.  However, for the serious rider (Am I suggesting that I’m a serious rider?  Don’t take me too seriously on this…) the bike is not properly outfitted to take on the punishment that can come when spending a good deal of time riding off-road.  So, it’s pretty common to make modifications to the bike, in order to get the bike to fit the rider properly; To improve the bike’s safety and durability, and to make it look “better”.  I think I’m guilty of all three of these objectives.  But, before we look at what I’ve done to the bike, let’s take a look at where it started.

The naked bike

It turns out that when I purchased the bike in June of 2015, I was so excited to start making changes to it, that I never really took any pictures of the bike when it was naked.  So, this picture will have to suffice as an illustration of the bike, in it’s raw, “unimproved” form.  Notice that there are no tank graphics, and that it simply looks plain in every sense of the word.

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The bike – Fully prepared for the trip

It’s been a year since I purchased the bike, and I’ve been making modifications throughout that 12 month period.  Those of you that know me will testify that I’m seemingly never satisfied with the way that a product is designed.  I tend to look at the world, and all of the products that we purchase on a daily basis, as a series of things that we can buy, and then we can set out to improve them.  Of course, I’m not alone in this kind of thinking, and I know that many of you reading this are also addicted to this process of improvement mindset.

The bike – Thought of as a living breathing organism

As we look at the front of the bike, we can see that I’ve done several things.  The crash-bars have been improved, using Touratech Crash Bar add-on bars, which can bee seen attached to the frame on one end, and then attached to the original crash bars on the other.  The purpose of these bars is to protect the motorcycle’s heads, which are seen here extending out horizontally, on both sides of the bike.  If you want to keep the bike alive (note: reference to the living/breathing organism point made just moments ago), then you’ve got to protect the heart and muscles of the bike.  On the GS, the heart and muscles are the cylinder heads, which are vulnerable, but which product the bike’s power.

Damn, this thing can get uncomfortable on long rides

Riding one of these big bikes for hours on end can cause my muscles to cramp, so it’s important to make it as comfortable as possible.  So, I’ve replaced the seat with a Sargent Gel Seat, with special piping on the seat, that makes it look a little more like it was delivered by BMW.  Notice the red piping on the seat?  Yep, I selected that color all by myself.

I’ve also purchased a set of Highway foot-pegs from Adventure Designs.  Finding the right place to mount them was quite a challenge, but after talking to Chad of ADV Designs, I determined that the best location would be to mount them on the top of the crash bars, and to rotate them so that the stand straight up when not in use.  When needed, these pegs can be folded down quickly, which allows me to extend my legs so that I place my foot on the pegs, or rest the back of my boot onto the pegs, allowing me to fully extend my lets.

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The caboose and the carry

Looking at the back of the bike, you can see numerous changes that I’ve made to it from it’s naked configuration.  First of all, the bike came delivered with a 3 piece set of luggage.  The side cases are called Panniers, and a top case, which sits where the red and white jugs sit now.

Never having been on a trip this long, and never having done a trip of any real length where I would need to carry all of my own gear, I had some questions about what would be the optimal way to carry luggage, spare parts, tools, gear, etc.  So, I wrote into ADVRider (an online forum) to ask for opinions and advice about what the best configuration might be, and why.

After looking at feedback for a week or so, I settled my mind that I was going to need to make several changes to the bike.  I was going to need to remove the top case, add the ability to carry fuel and water, and give myself a little more room for gear.  In addition, in order to address emergency situations, without having to unload my panniers, or dig through them, I was going to need to add a secure/lockable storage container on the bike.

The net result?  I removed the BMW back luggage rack, and also the Top Case.  I’ve installed a new back luggage rack from Alt Rider, and onto that rack, I’ve installed a set of RotoPax storage containers (1 Gallon each), with a lock that keeps them secure on the bike.  I’ve also removed the rear seat, and installed a matching Alt Rider pillion rack, which can be easily installed and removed (in seconds) by simply inserting and turning the key into the seat lock.  A 90 degree turn of the key, allows for complete removal of the pillion rack.

I then purchased a lockable case from Pelican Cases, which is as big as can be installed onto the rack.  I mounted the case to the rack with rubber bushings and washers, so that I don’t get any noise or vibration.

Always thinking about safety

Also visible on the rear of the bike are a few safety features.  Looking at the license plate, you’ll see a small light bar located at the bottom of the license plate. This LED light bar is “state of the art” and supplied by Clearwater Lights, a California manufacturer of LED lighting for race tracks, and also motorcycles.  Those of you that are track rats may have seen the Clearwater systems running at tracks like Spring Mountain, where the flag stations are fully automated, and remotely controlled.  Those of you with motorcycles know that by adding Clearwater lights to the front of your bike, you’ll often be asked to “turn those damn things down”.  By the way, the expression “turn those damn things down” is something that I often heard my mother scream at me when I would work on my music craft in our basement.  Sure, I was working on the music craft on a drum kit, Which can be kind of loud, but suffice it to say that it’s not the first time I’ve heard people to tell me to turn it down.  It’s just kindof who I am.

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Let’s reflect on safety for a moment

You’ll also notice the red & white striped reflective tape that I’ve installed onto the mounting brackets for the Panniers.  This 3M product is very reactive to light, and by installing it, I’m able to alert automobiles that I’m here, and that they should back off so that I can live to tell this story to you.  And lastly, you’ll notice a piece of “snake skin” on the rear of the gas tank.  This stuff is a rubber like material, which will keep the tank protected from scratches, as I lean forward when negotiating obstacles in the wilderness, or when leaning on the tank for the look of a MotoGP driver.

This trip has been suspended

Did I catch your attention?  To be honest, the trip has not been suspended, but the bike has.  You see, I’m a pretty big guy, and while riding the bike in stock form, I was having some strange handling problems.  The front end always seemed to be a bit light, and I couldn’t get confidence through the turns, as it always felt like the front end might come loose.  So, I starting talking to friends, and experts about the problem and came upon Ted Porter, from Ted’s Beemer Shop in Scott’s Valley, CA.  Ted is one of America’s leading experts on suspension for motorcycles, especially BMWs.  So, I had a talk with Ted to see what he thought.

Ted was really great on the phone.  He offered scientific narratives about why I was feeling the front end washing out, and he offered a solution.  As is the case with most good solutions, it costs a few thousand dollars, but nevertheless, we expected it to work.

Ted’s suggestion was to replace the rear shock and spring with a completely different model from Touratech, which also came with a thicker and stronger spring.  The net result is a suspension that is more sophisticated, handles the bumps better, will last longer, and because of the thicker spring, it changes the rake of the bike, preventing the rear of the bike from sagging when a rider and luggage are present.

The new system worked wonders, and the bike now handles much, much better.

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All eyes ahead

Looking at the front of the bike you’ll see what amounts to the most expensive modification that I’ve made to the bike. In addition to the stock headlamp, I’ve added a pair of Erica lights, and a pair of Darla lights from Clearwater lights.  Glenn, the CEO of Clearwater Lights gave me a fantastic deal on the lights, and his folks installed them for me at their shop in Rancho Cordova, CA.  These things are really bright, but let me put it in perspective for you.

The stock lights from BMW are about 2500 lumins or so.  Each of the Erica lights are 6000 lumins, and the Darla lights are 2000 lumins each.  So, I’ve added 16000 lumins to the lighting system on this bike.  It’s putting it mildly when I say that hitting the high beams turns night into day.

Let’s eat – I’ll have two sliders please…

Sure, we all love burgers, and those little mini-burgers called sliders have become more and more popular.  But, did you know that there’s another kind of slider, which doesn’t taste good, costs 25 times as much, and can only be used on a motorcycle?  Heck, of course you did, right?

Even if you didn’t know about these new, tasty sliders, you can see them on the front of my bike.  The sliders are hard plastic knobs which are mounted to the axle of the front wheel, and which protect the front forks in the event of a fall or collision.

GSA-Front-Above

Really, is that all?

No, of course not.  I’ve done a number of other modifications to the bike, all of which make it more reliable, safer to ride, and more masculine.  You can read all about the other changes I’ve made by vising the post here.

Ain’t she beautiful?

Finally, let’s all take a minute to take it all in.  The bike has gone through a number of modifications which amount to about $6000 or so.  The bike cost about $20K new, so the modifications amount to more than 25% of the cost of the bike.  You may recall that for my S4, I’ve done the same kind of thing.  Purchase the car for $55K, and then spend $25K on modifications and improvements.

To some of you, this probably sounds insane.  But, to those of us that are tinkerers, this is simply part of the process.  So, to all of you tinkerers out there, enjoy the process, and make your toy better, faster, safer, and better handling.

About the Author

Cliff Musante

Cliff Musante is a technologist, business leader, motorcycle enthusiast, father, grandfather, and more. In June, 2013 his passion for motorcycles was revitalized, and he set out to ride across Patagonia. This ‘Blog is the story of all of his adventures.

Comments

  1. Some friends of mine that live in Boise, Sun Valley and Denver travel in a group and rides the fire roads and trails through Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico. If you are looking for some routes that they might have journeyed on and sites to see, or not miss, I can put you in touch. BTW, all their bikes are similarly modded up as well as they look like knights in armor with all the body protective gear. Zeke

    1. Hi Zeke,
      It sounds like these are folks that I should know. At this point, the trip is already planned (to 90%) and I’m going to be riding fire roads in UT, but probably not CO. That said, if you send me a private email with contact information, I would love to pick their collective brains on the sections of fire-road that I’ve selected. Thanks for offering.

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