Is the BMW R1200 GSA too big for London?

The BMW R1200 GS Adventure is one of the biggest motorbikes on the market, that’s for certain, but is it too big to be nimble around the streets of London?

I feel it’s time to dispel the rumours about the size of the bike and how this could hinder it when filtering through traffic.

A few days ago I met a chap who works for the BBC. He is a rapid response cameraman and rides a BMW R1200. The motorbike belongs to the BBC! Anyway, I digress, the point being I talked to him about the bike, if he enjoyed riding it etc, his response was he loved it on the motorway, but wasn’t to keen on riding it in London, as it was a bit tricky to filter through traffic, because of the size of the bike.

This is a view that I have heard echoed from many bikers [mainly bikers that do not ride a GSA….and some that do] for some time now, and I feel I should write something about it from my own experience.

I’ve been riding since I was sixteen.

My first real motorbike memory is being 15 years old on the back of my older brothers Yamaha FS1-E going around the left hand bend of Bitterne Triangle at an incredibly low angle, and I remember thinking that the tires won’t be able to hold the road, two up, but they did, and I was hooked.

I inherited that bike a year later. It broke down every other day & week, I was constantly fixing it!!

I remember my CBT & and part two training over 23 years ago, the Bike Safe training from the Met Police a few years ago and I remember what I have read and watched to advance my riding, and everyday I put that and 23 years of riding experience into practice on the road when I ride.

I recall my instructor telling me to get up to road speed quickly, be decisive, keep the field of vision far ahead and work your way, back but never forget your foreground, the list goes on, the point is I was taught well and with continuous riding over the years it’s held me in good stead.

It’s what keeps me alive. There is something about your head being only a few feet away from the ground that makes you very aware of your own surroundings and how quickly it can all go wrong.

If you hit the road, it hurts. If you hit a car, it hurts. To BE hit by something YOU should have seen hurts you & your wallet too!!

Now……I ride a BMW R1200 GS Adventure with full panniers EVERYDAY in London.

I have a set route to work, which I take to and from work and hardly ever deviate from it.

Occasionally on the way home I may go a different way but on the whole I have a route [which has options within it should one road be closed etc].


Now from my observations there are 6 kinds of motorbike rider in London.

  1. The Knowledge scooters:

All London. They are like the plague, but their presence on the road serves a purpose in the long run.

They are most likely to stop dead in the road, turn left or right at any given moment without notice…just like when they become fully fledged black cab drivers!!!

  1. Delivery motorcycles – Couriers – Pizza – Deliveroo

With knowledge of a local area these guys tend to know where they are going, how the traffic flows in that part of town.

They will stop at nothing to get to the front of the white line. You’ll see them duck in and out of all the nooks and crannies that you can’t get through. You can learn from these guys.

  1. Commuters on scooters

Gnats, pests, annoying. Occasionally a rare one will surprise you with their riding skills, but generally they don’t look and wear suits and dresses. How anyone could ride a bike with children’s size wheels or a tricycle with a blanket is beyond me.

Use the tube instead. It’s full of wet blankets.

  1. Harley’s and Cafe Racers

Buy a decent bike. Stop making so much needless noise.

  1. Commuters on big bikes

A wide variety of great riders on a whole spectrum of bikes, from the Bandit to the Ninja, the Hornet to the Monster, the Fireblade to the VMax, Speed triples & Street fighters and so on….

Some filter well, others not so, but on the whole the core guys on the road every day.

  1. [GSA} Riders like me, who know the roads, know the gaps, have knowledge of London traffic signals, have lived in London long enough to know where we are going without a satnav and don’t dilly dally when we ride.

We astonish you at how we get such a big bike loaded with panniers through the gaps and lead the way.

I’ve met a few like me in my 16 years in London.

So with these 6 types of bikers I’ve described, you a have a huge mix of personalities, mind sets and reasons to be on the road, then add the cars, buses, lorries, bicycles, and pedestrians into the mix and it’s bound to be chaotic.

So, is the GSA too big for London? In my opinion, NO! 

It’s perfect for the streets of London!

It has amazing road presence, such great height and field of vision, amazing suspension that takes in all the shit bumps and dents in the roads, super fast quick acceleration that can nip you out of trouble if it arises, the width of the bike even with the panniers on is the same as the handle bars, so if your bars go through the gap, the rest of the bike will too! 

It all depends if you like looking for the openings and gaps in the road, if you want to get to the front of the line….or be stuck at the back breathing in more fumes from the road.

If you fall in to the later category, then it doesn’t matter what you ride, if you do want to filter and be in front and you want a BMW R1200 GSA, then there is nothing stopping you riding it daily in London, nothing stopping you you finding the gaps, finding the openings and making the most of them to get you on your way!

I ride my GSA every day, I like to make my ride flow like water, I try not to make any waves as I pass through the traffic, I look for openings, spaces and gaps to appear.

I have found that overtaking on the right is ALWAYS more fruitful (and the only legal way to filter/overtake) than on the inside. Riding in bus lanes is legal if you use TFL red route ones, but sometimes you get cars crossing into them without looking, sometimes it’s safer not to use them at all.

However ALWAYS expected the unexpected! I still get people pulling out on me, talking on their mobile phones with no regard for other road users but themselves. No matter how careful you are there is always some clown in a car not paying attention, which is why as a biker you have to pay DOUBLE attention to the road, look in wing mirrors of cars to see if the drivers are aware of you, watch for tyre movements on cars front wheels, predict if a black cab or worse an Uber driver in their Toyota Prius or Honda Hybrid is about to turn without warning, and be ready for it.

No matter how fast you are in London or how quickly you get to the front of the queue, a traffic light will always slow you down and make you stop. The only time you get a green wave in this city is between 4-6 a.m.

So it’s not about speed or getting there quicker, as in London you will only ever save 4 minutes speeding across the WHOLE of the city. It’s about being agile, aware, focused and comfortable with the streets and the cars around you, sliding in and out and making good progress.

As one judge said to me before he handed me an 18 month driving ban at 19 years old…. “Young man, it is better to be late in this world than early in the next.”

I would say to conclude as my stepfather told me years ago, “It’s not the bike it’s the person riding it.”

Happy, safe riding to you all.


8 thoughts on “Is the BMW R1200 GSA too big for London?

  1. Sure mate, its possible to navigate a GS through London traffic, but its not really fair (on the bike), nor is it enjoyable for the rider.

    The chronic stop-start-stop-start is not the type of usage this ultimate adventure travel bike was designed for. It saddens me every time i use my GS in London, creating a real longing to find a next w/end away ride in search of open (traffic light free) roads. .


  2. Totally agree….as a truck driver and driving in London I get to see far ahead of me in the traffic.
    I am always amazed that many sorts of riders I find there it’s like someone has thrown them all together into a bag then dumped the bag all around your truck.
    I see GSA riders pass me now and again and wonder hoow on earth they manage to filter through.
    I find the best thing to do is be blinkered and just look straight ahead and let everyone else do their thing.
    Good post Jools keep it up.


    1. Thanks Dom! I see cyclist and scooters squeeze in between gaps I wouldn’t even attempt.
      I I ever pass a truck or lorry I always make sure he’s seen my eyes first before pulling out!


  3. “4. Harley’s and Cafe Racers
    Buy a decent bike. Stop making so much needless noise.”

    I ride a GS and a Jap Sport, almost as far from London as you can get – each to their own. Harleys aren’t my thing, but we’re all bikers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great read. I have ridden London a few times now. The first was just after my test on my Triumph Tiger 800xc. I absolutely shat myself. I didn’t think it was possible to sweat that much and survive having lost that amount of fluid lol. After I finally saw sense, I purchased a GS1200 Adventure and, despite the size difference, I preferred the GS with its superior presence and rider viewpoint. I have also ridden London on my current 1250 Adventure and feel even more comfortable on this. Nowhere is too big for the BEAST!!!!


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