1981 BMW R80 G/S - Feature

We didn’t yet know it, but the adventure bike had been born.

Photography by Joe Parkhurst

1981 BMW R80 G/S - Feature

1981 BMW R80 G/S - Feature

"I'm not sure what this bike is supposed to do," said Ron Griewe, Cycle World's Test Editor at the time.

He was not alone.

It was September of 1980, the place was Avignonin Southern France and the event was the international press introduction of the dual-purpose R80 G/S, BMW's first-ever "adventure bike"—a decade or so, of course, before that term ever became part of motorcycle parlance. Prior to riding the G/S, most of the motojournalists in attendance, including me (I was Editorial Director of Cycle Guide magazine), more or less shared Griewe's viewpoint: "I don't get it."

Understandable. In a world where dual-purpose motorcycles were dirtbike-ish machines weighing 300 pounds or less with 500cc-or-smaller single-cylinder engines, the G/S was a truck, a 420-lb., shaft-drive, 796cc Twin with its opposed cylinders hanging out in the wind like outriggers. Even one BMW engineer admitted he wasn’t quite sure where the bike fit into the big picture.

After a day's ride on the paved and graded dirt roads around Avignon, the R80 G/S started to make a little more sense. As a streetbike, it was agile and flickable, a genuine treat in tight twisties despite its semi-knobby tires. And on the dirt roads, it was reasonably capable, even when some decent-sized bumps, ruts and holes were thrown into the mix. No one went so far as to suggest entering an enduro on one, but everyone was surprised at how bad of an off-road bike it was not!

Our test of the G/S in the April, 1981, issue furthered that opinion. After we rode the bike on the freeways from our offices to the Mexican border and then roaming the dirt roads and poor pavement of the Baja peninsula for 2400 miles, our conclusion about the R80 G/S was clear: “It’s a bike for exploring.”

BMW evidently knew exactly what it was doing. For decades, specially built Boxer Twins had competed successfully in the International Six Days Trial, and in 1981, Hubert Auriol scored the first of four BMW victories in the Paris-Dakar race. By capitalizing on those accomplishments and continuing to refine the GS concept, BMW ultimately created a new segment—and later, even a GS model—named “Adventure.”

Before long, the GS grew to become the company’s most successful model and the motorcycle of choice for serious global adventurers. And perhaps more importantly, it has been a twin-cylinder ATM that often has kept the lights on in BMW’s Berlin factory.

1981 BMW R80 G/S - Feature

1981 BMW R80 G/S - Feature

From the January, 1971, issue, a full 10 years before the R80 G/S hit the market: German Herbert Schek jumps his “box-stock” R75/5 on his way to losing.