This past weekend, Laura and I met up in Amsterdam for a weekend of, well, basic R&R really. I was originally supposed to run the Amsterdam Marathon, but for several reasons, decided to give this one a miss and come out fighting next round. No matter, it was always going to be a fun weekend and simply put, I love Holland. For some reason, it always feels like going home. There’s something familiar about the place and the people (those scantily clad, behind crimson glowing glass doors notwithstanding). It’s almost as if some genetic memory, tucked deep away in the cortex, makes its way, tulip like, towards the surface and suddenly one is at peace, at home. Amsterdam is all charm. The canals, the squares, the quaint shops and restaurants, people on bicycles everywhere, it’s the sort of place that really feels like a vacation weeks later upon reflection. The Dutch are also really laid back and incredibly friendly. In most countries (viz USA) this would amount to annoying faux-friendliness, but in Holland there’s a kind of genuine generosity about the people which makes all the smiles and polite gestures fitting.
In any case, that really is enough ego stroking for the Dutch. This weekend was all about relaxation and relax we did. Apart from sleeping until 11am and meandering along the canals, we also watched a movie, in Russian, with Dutch subtitles (yeah, hmmm), checked out the Heineken Experience and cashed all those free beer tokens, watched some of the Amsterdam Marathon, took in a performance of Boom Chicago’s "Bite the bullet" (a must if you’re ever in Amsterdam) and generally made a point of avoiding expeditious activities. The key to surviving London is frequent escapes. For sheer practicality, Amsterdam rates right up there at only an hour flight time, an hour time zone change and on the whole great bang. Highly recommended and next visit eagerly anticipated!
Ok ok, so I know the last few blog entries have been all about bikes, but this one is entirely called for. After severe agonising and deep deliberation the likes of which cardinals electing a new pontiff would have been proud, I have finally made a decision on exactly what bike to buy… and the winner is, wait for it, waaaait for it, the BMW R1200GS, just the like the one you see pictured on the left side here, complete with heated grips, ABS brakes and of course, a top box.
After trying out both the Buell Lightning XB9SX and the BMW R1200GS, there was just no denying the fact that the BMW just plain made more sense. Let’s face it, the Buell gets the blood pumping, hard, but you really can’t take it anywhere, or with anybody for that matter. The BMW on the other hand gets the blood pumping, but not to the point where veins start to pop out of your forehead. As a friend of mine once put it, “it’ll blow your hair back, but it won’t take your rug off”, this is fine by me… and my mum!
Let the touring begin!
Eager to keep up the momentum of last weekends test ride on a Buell Lightning XB9SX CityX, I booked a test ride on a BMW R1200GS in a bid to end the showdown between these fierce competitors. I’ve always been a BMW type of guy. My first real bike, since motocross days, was a BMW F650GS Dakar, a single cylinder thumper that made me feel like a midget when stationary, but a giant on the move. The day I bought it, the salesman at the BMW dealership said I’d get bored quickly and that I’d be back soon. That all sounded like sales talk to me at the time, but no more than 6 months later I was back for more. More size, more power, more range, more luggage, more everything and I found it in the R1150GS. Friends of mine had purchased the same bike some years before and taken them round the world. One of them remarked it was the last bike I would ever buy and had it not been stolen from outside my house some months later, they might have been right. Fortunately the replacement was an even more appealing option in the form of the BMW R1150GS Adventure. The Adventure model was basically the same bike but came in much better colours along with a much larger fuel tank, engine protector bars, headlamps and a set of very cool aluminium luggage. Sadly I had to leave that beauty behind when I moved to the UK and some months later my good friend Phil purchased it from me. He had a similar crushing experience upon moving to the UK. Sometimes we get together and commiserate about those painful memories. The Adventure is still manufactured today, but it’s a wholly impractical bike for London, although I’ll admit I have nonetheless been tempted walking around the BMW showroom on Park Lane.
But I digress, quite massively, from the point of this post which is the test ride on the replacement to these great forerunners, the R1200GS. It was hailed as BMW’s most important bike and the designers must have known the loyalty of the BMW rider community was at stake, because they rewrote the book on this one. The bike scarcely resembles it’s predecessors with the exception of the massive beaked front of the BMW enduro class. It’s lighter, more powerful (by 30bhp no less) and on the whole a more refined machine in every way. When I mounted it this past weekend to begin my test ride, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was at once a strange and familiar feeling. The bike feels a bit like the 1150GS of old, but it’s far more nimble. The gears are positively impeccable compared to the 1150GS, which received a lot of criticism for it’s very long first gear and clunky changes. After two hours of riding I still hadn’t missed a gear. Acceleration is not to be toyed with lightly. The sales guy at the dealership had warned the front end had a tendency to remove its self quite easily from the tarmac and he was right, one need be only a tinsy bit over zealous on pull-off and you find the clocks a little closer to your nose than you might want. Still, nice to have that kind of power under the hood, or well, under your err, well… just under.
For now, my head swirls in turmoil, the Buell is definitely more city orientated but when you get right down to it, the BMW is on the whole a more refined machine and more importantly it has luggage. Even on my Vespa, the top box is invaluable. I guess there is always going to be a trade-off between size and speed, between practicality and manoeuvrability, between gentleman and hooligan. The Buell is as exciting as it is aggressive while being a practical city bike. The BMW is a gentleman’s ride but won’t slide right in there between those two red buses on the roundabout at Hyde Park Corner. It does however offer the possibility of embarking on an impromptu world tour at a moments notice, in style. You might say one really needs two bikes, or possibly even three. A scooter for the commute, a Buell for serious fun and a BMW for weekends away. I guess that’s something to aspire to.