R1200GS Project Bike with Clearwater Lights. Photo: Angelica Rubalcaba.

BMW Triple Black Beauty, R1200GS Project Part 2: In Which I Decide the GS Is Ok after All

Let me explain. I’ve gushed about this long-termer, a standard (non-Adventure spec) 2016 Triple Black R1200GS, but I’ve also groused about the clutch. That goddamned clutch.

Look, I don’t have particularly presidential hands, which is to say they’re not tiny, or even medium-to-small (and they’re not attached to a megalomoronic madman). I wear XL Helimots, thank you very much, and you know what they say about large-ish, or even extra large-ish hands: they generally don’t have trouble controlling your typical motorcycle clutch.

If you missed my opinion of the clutch from the first installment of this series (CityBike Project Bike: The Return Of Triple Black Beauty” – February 2017), I’ll quote: “I fucking hate the clutch lever.”

Why? First, it’s binary—pretty much engaged, or disengaged. No in-between. Second, even with the lever adjusted to its hypothetically most Trumplestiltskin-esque minimum reach from the bar, it was still too far out for proper control, especially with that lightswitch-y action.

So despite pretty much everything else about the bike being top notch (except the buzziness of the liquid-cooled Boxer) I was starting to hate it. In my decades of riding, on countless bikes, I’ve never encountered a still-functional clutch that pissed me off so bad. I started thinking, “Man, we shoulda done an Africa Twin long term project bike.”

I’m not alone. Various BMW-specific forums, ADV Rider, and other websites are rife with frustration over the wethead clutch. But multiple mechanics at multiple dealerships said it felt normal, that there wasn’t any adjustment other than the lever adjustment. “They’re all like that. It’s in spec. Nothing wrong.”

So I’d hardly been riding the bike in Dynamic mode—it was just too jackalope-y off the line, thanks to the instant-on, too-far-out engagement zone. Even in regular old Road mode, launching was a matter of overly-gentle, slow starts, then riding fast and taking chances.

Fortunately, the AMA saved the day, specifically Western States rep Nick Haris, who grew weary enough of my incessant complaining to take a break from listening to Slayer on his Gold Wing for some research. He pointed me to a typically pedantic, prodigiously overly-documented post on a BMW board, where it was revealed that there’s a threaded pushrod between the lever and the master cylinder, which can be adjusted.

I would have eventually discovered this, as I’d already ordered some Pazzo levers—more on those in a sec—in hopes that their adjustment range might be a bit more realistic than the stockers. But the Pazzos didn’t solve the problem, so I went ahead with the pushrod adjustment.

Hot damn! Despite there being “no way to fix this,” it was fixed. I’m still figuring out exactly where I want the engagement point, but now the reach from the grip is reasonable. The bike was instantly transformed from “fucking overpriced piece of shit” to “fuck yeah!”

I guess that Africa Twin project will have to wait.


Those Pazzos I mentioned? They’re folding, adjustable levers; black, with red adjusters.

The stock levers work well—apart from the aforementioned, stupid-far-out engagement point. They’re ergonomically comfy, and you can get enough two-finger action from the front brake lever to brake hard without scrooching down on your remaining two digits still wrapped around the throttle grip. But like I said, I was hoping for additional adjustment, and it didn’t hurt that the Pazzos are worthy of a spot on the ramp at the Guggenheim.

Yeah, they’re sexy levers, but this purchase was more about function. Although they look decidedly street bike-y, the hinge in the lever means that if the bike gets tossed on its side, on pavement or off, and the handguards get twisted around or busted clean off, the levers have a chance of surviving intact instead of joining the remains of the handguards in whatever afterlife busted-ass moto-parts go to when the fun’s over.

The adjusters are easier to work on the fly, too. The star wheels on the stock Beemer bits were tricky to turn while underway, but the simple indexed adjustment lever of the Pazzos makes it easy to change the range of travel in a jiffy. Now that the clutch’s engagement point is reasonably close to the bar, I can flip the little red lever to give myself a little more to work with in tight stuff, and finger it back to position two for normal riding.

Even though I didn’t need a shorty on the front brake, I got one, to match the asymmetry of the bike. The clutch lever is normal length. They’re made of machined billet 6061 T6 aluminum, and run $119.99 each as ordered. Installation was easy, and took just a few minutes for each side.

Control Freak

In addition to complaining about the clutch, I also mentioned last time that the stock pegs—simple, narrow steel jobbies with rubber toppers—were worthless for anything other than making me wish for bigger, grippier pegs. I say were because those pegs are now just filler in a box of parts in the garage here at CityBike World Headquarters.

My size thirteens now perch atop a set of black Fastway Adventure pegs by Pro Moto Billet. They’re huge, with so much support that standing on the pegs feels about like standing on the ground. It’s amazing and confidence-inspiring—not to mention comfortable and stable.

It took me about a month to decide on these pegs. They have adventure in the name, ferchrissake—might as well buy a(nother) Ducati if I’m gonna go all Full Metal Douchebag. But try as I might, I couldn’t find any others as compelling as the snowshoe-sized Adventures. The only contenders were Black Dog Cycle Works’ Traction and Platform footpegs, and SW-Motech’s On-Road / Off-Road footpegs, which feature a removable rubber topper for long street drones—desirable, given the unfortunate buzziness of the liquid-cooled vibrator, err… Boxer.

I wanted big, so I sucked it up and accepted the adv-ness of the Fastways’ moniker, and I’m glad I did. We all love the Fastway Evolution III pegs on our really long-term CRF250L project bike, and the Adventures are even better. At 4.75” long and 2.25” wide, they offer an unmatched platform for standing.

They’re adjustable, too. The angle of the pegs can be changed using spacers under the position stopper, and they can be installed at stock height, or lower. They also come with two cleat lengths and tips on various configurations of those cleats for different types of grip. I opted for longer cleats at the back of the peg, and shorter ones up front and in the middle, for easier shifting and braking.

Like the Pazzo levers, installation was easy-peasy, even with the required installation of the million or so cleats in each peg. They’re not cheap, at $274.95 with the required fitment kit, but the amount of grip offered is just superb, and they’re available in colors to match most bikes, including pink. Huh?

While I was down on my knees installing the Fastways, I also installed AltRider’s Dual Control brake system, essentially a two-level rear brake pedal extension designed to accommodate easy braking whether seated or standing.

AltRider says: “When in a seated position, a rider’s bent knee naturally puts the angle of the foot pointed down 90 degrees from the lower leg, while a standing position creates a straighter leg and raises the angle of your foot to a more horizontal position.”

In practice, the concept is pretty legit. It accommodates easy braking with the extended lower platform, and the riser-mounted upper platform is well-placed when standing, if a bit inboard for my taste.

I started with the 22 mm riser, reserving the taller, 33 mm riser for potential off-road oriented use. AltRider includes instructions for adjusting pedal height, for optional optimization of both platforms’ positions. I left it in the stock position for now, and it feels pretty right.

Installation of the Dual Control was super easy, even with extensive time spent threadlocking and screwing in another million cleats. The included brake snake adds a level of dirt cred beyond gnarly pegs and a brake pedal extension. I’ve already had a couple conversations about it, and they both ended with, “Wow, hardcore.”

Damn straight, son.

The Dual Control setup, with both risers and the snake, is $119.97, and is available in black or silver.

Let There Be Light

Clearwaters on our 2016 R1200GS project bike. Photo: Surj Gish.
Photo: Surj Gish.

The GS’s stock headlight ain’t bad. But what kind of adventure bike project with this be if we didn’t add overly bright, outrageously expensive LED lights?

Also, Fish hates the false sense of security that eye-burning LEDs give the conspicuity crowd, and I’ve been giggling at the possibility of lighting his ass up from behind with a brazillion lumens for months now. See, I won a coupon for 50% off a set of Clearwater lights at the RKA Food Drive ride last Thanksgiving weekend, and couldn’t resist.

You may be saying, “But Surj, even at 50% off, Clearwaters are expensive!” True, and there’s no way around it. This setup, an asymmetrical Erica + Sevina hybrid set with a Billy brake light, mounting bar and CANopener, came in at a pre-discount $1,358 before tax and shipping.

Ouch. Sure, you can save on shipping by riding up to Sac to get your lights, but that still ain’t gonna make a set of Clearwaters cheap enough to slap on your rusty XL350. These things are premium.

Like the Fastway pegs, I went big. Fuckin’ huge, in terms of lumens. The big Sevina, on the throttle side, is designed to throw a long beam of light way down the road. It puts 80% of its light in a narrow, 8 degree “pencil” beam, and Clearwater says it puts out 7,500+ lumens.

That’s right. Seven thousand, five hundred lumens.

The Erica, on the clutch side, employs a more typical pattern, with 75% of the light in a 15 degree cone. It puts out a comparatively moderate 6,000 lumens.

The hybrid setup gets you a broad beam for the near stuff, and a long beam to light your way well into the future. It works: riding back from Sac late one night, I left 80 for the 680 straight that goes past Cycle Gear corporate, and with the Erica and Sevina on 100%, I could see all the way to Carnegie SVRA.

I’m not exaggerating… much. The distance of visibility enabled by these lights is overwhelming, like that scene from the Rambo reboot from a few years ago, where there’s so much blood and people just being vaporized, all you can do is laugh.

It’s amazing, and incredibly useful at night—if no one else is around—but also pretty much the definition of overkill. Squared, maybe cubed.

The lights are wired up using Clearwater’s CANopener, a plug-n-play module that (on modern BMWs) enables control of the lights without additional switchgear, and lets the lights work with the bike’s onboard systems, by interfacing with the CANbus. For example, if I honk the horn, anyone looking my way is now blind—Erica and her friend Sevina wink at 100% with the horn.

The CANopener also controls the Billy brake light. I’ve been a longtime fan of Skene’s supplemental LED brake lights, but opted for Clearwater’s Billy license plate frame-mounted arrangement this time, because the CANbus integration enables an active mode that flashes faster the harder you brake.

Installation of all this stuff is hypothetically easy, but time-consuming—nearly all the bodywork must be removed, and I was mindful of wire routing in hopes of avoiding the need to track down a chafed wire in the future.

Once installed, setup of the lights, from brightness to rate of flashing, is controlled by a combination of button presses and twists of the wonder wheel on the left grip. I settled on 10% of light with the low beam, and 100% with the brights, reserved for late night boonies with no one else around. I set the Billy at 40%—I wanted to go 100%, but that basically turned the road behind me into a burning red hell upon braking, and even my love for overkill couldn’t justify it.

What Next?

Our GS project is a pretty sweet street bike at this point, from the commuter-style Givi topcase to the upgraded controls, from the mobile daylight Clearwaters all the way down to the GS-branded valve stem caps that Fish snuck on when I wasn’t looking. I replaced the worn-out stock tires with a set of Michelin’s wonderful PR4s, for more confidence and grip on this winter’s wet streets. The PR4s improved the handling of the bike, too—they feel rounder when heeling the bike into corners.

Next steps will be about more off-road-oriented capabilities. After all, this thing is going to Colorado come summer, for some rockin’ and rollin’ in the Rockies, and may even get ridden on the upcoming 10th Anniversary Bungee Brent’s Backroad Bash. Stay tuned for the dirt our GS’s dirty behavior.

Surj puts “Editor” in front of his name to remind him he can’t just ride and wrench, and that someone has to pull all this shit together in time for the printer to spin up the big rolls of paper that turn into CityBike. He still loves the Boxers, even though this GS project has tested his patience.