How to Turn a GS1200 or GS1250 Into a Real Adventure Bike – Part 2
If you haven’t read part 1 of turning a GS into a capable off-road machine, you can check that out here.
We’ve already covered some basics that deal with off-road reliability and immobiliser issues, and in this part 2 we’re covering tyres. Once wheels are sorted, we’ve got a pretty good base to then make handling modifications such as suspension and steering, which we’ll look at in part 3.
DISCLAIMER: A lot of this may violate regulations where you live or may compromise safety features of the bike that the manufacturer or relevant authorities have deemed essential. Check your local laws first and don’t do it if you’re not a good rider. This is purely informational and not a recommendation.
Tubeless to Tube Conversion – Is It Worthwhile?
The internet’s abound with differing opinions on the pros and cons of tubes vs tubeless. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, of course, but it seems that most on this topic aren’t worth sharing. Nowhere is this worse than on a forum full of GS riders. It’s not the fault of the bike, but if you take any bike that’s become a beacon for those without riding skills, then it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually end up with a whole bunch of unqualified people assuming that their conclusions should be emphatically proclaimed alongside and equal to those who know what they’re doing.
Despite what you might read on a forum, if you want to do real off-road riding, then tubes are the way to go. Here’s just a few reasons why:
A Tube CAN Fix a Tubeless Tyre That’s Beyond Repair
There’s a thought going around that carrying a spare tube is useless when using a tubeless tyre, because if you damage the tyre beyond being able to repair it with a plug kit, you won’t be able to use a tube.
Keyboard warriors claiming that any amount of damage that’s enough to make a tubeless tyre unrepairable will leave it unusable with a tube, are just downright wrong. If you’ve never smashed your front tyre so hard that it’s become triangular, put a new tube in it and then ridden that shaky bastard out from the desert, that’s fine, but don’t extrapolate from your testosterone lacking life into what can and can’t be done by the rest of us.
I’ve replaced tubes on enduro bikes where the rims are all but square, with sections of the tyres bead completely visible, and ridden back to camp with no real dramas. I’ve also had to put tubes into tubeless tyres on a GS1200, because the rim was damaged and wouldn’t form an airtight bead. I’m not hypothesising here, I know for a fact that this whole notion is stupid.
Tube Tyres Are Better Off-Road
The problem isn’t so much the tyres, as much as the rims. A good tubeless tyre will usually let you run lower pressures than what you can in a tube without getting a pinch flat. That should mean better performance off-road. A few of the guys I ride with that I know from racing enduro, used a Tubliss to convert to tubeless for exactly this reason, with great performance effects. They’ve all since swapped back as it creates more points of failure and it’s just easier to go back to tubes or use mousse on an enduro bike.
The problem is that at these pressures, you enter the territory where rim damage is inevitable. As we’re doing these upgrades for better off-road capabilities, I’m assuming a certain type of riding.
Damaging a rim for tube type tyres is no big problem. Even with Tubliss, the bladder that goes around the rim to make it airtight and hold the bead, can usually compensate for a certain amount of rim damage. The problem with genuine tubeless tyres is that as soon as you damage the rim to where it leaks or doesn’t form an airtight seal, you have to use a tube. You may as well start at that point.
Basically, the primary reason for converting to tubes is because it lets you run lower pressures without leaving you at risk of being stuck due to having a problem that a tubeless repair kit can’t fix.
Better Range of Tyres
This isn’t the biggest factor, and it is probably less true for big bikes like a GS1200 which use 170 wide tyres. However if you’ve got a smaller adventure bike that runs tubeless tyres in 140 or narrower, particularly with an 18” rear, there’s a heap more options for tube type tyres with the level of off-road capability we’re after.
As we’re talking about making the GS more capable off-road, we’re looking at options for off-road tyres. 25/75 (75% off-road) or even more aggressive is what we’re looking at here and while tubeless options have come a long way, there’s still a lot more options for tubed tyres in this range.
Converting From Tubeless to Tube
I think I know what some of you are thinking. How can you keep the TPMS when converting to a tube? You can’t and you shouldn’t anyway.
The TPMS sensors are bulky, horrible things that do not belong in a bike tyre and if you can’t tell when you’re riding on a flat tyre, you’re going to have a steep learning curve with this off-road stuff. That’s fine, we never criticise novices here. The only people we criticise are the ones who throw out too many cautious warnings that scare novices into not trying the types of riding that bring the most fun.
Anyway, once you’re riding the bike hard and giving it shit off-road, you’ll probably do as I did and smash the tyre into rocks and break the TPMS sensor in half. I was running about 23psi at the time because I was off-road.
Once the sensor breaks, it becomes unbalanced with an eccentric weight while spinning fast. It will rattle and wobble until it strips the thread on the nut holding the valve stem in. This was within the first hour of the first ride and fortunately I was carrying tubes with me, knowing it was only a matter of time before the tubeless became a problem for that type of riding.
The inside of the GS’ tubeless rims are pretty smooth and not much of a problem. The only thing is that the recessed part in the middle has a pretty dramatic drop compared to a tube type rim, which creates a friction point with the tube. What I find the easiest is to just buy a roll of gaffa tape and run it around a bunch of times until the edge/corner has a smoother radius on it.
Then, you can add a rubber rim tape to it, like this one. These are designed for tube type spoked rims to prevent the tube rubbing on the spoke nipple but work fine for this use case. You can definitely get away without it, it just adds that bit of protection from the fibres of the gaffa tape as it slowly wears through the tape.
If this is your first foray into tube type tyres, then a rim lock is one of these things. I don’t actually know where you’d get one wide enough for a GS rim, so I’ve gone with a standard sized rim lock, but I accept that I might have more tube replacements in my future because of it.
The rim lock just holds the tyre in place, relative to the rim, so that it doesn’t slip due to torque. When a tube tyre spins on a rim, it rips the valve stem from the tube.
Decide if you really want to go down the tube route, because you’ll have to drill a hole in your previously airtight rim. The best spot is opposite where the valve stem comes through. My recommendation is to drill the same size hole as what you can put a tubeless valve through, so that if you change your mind, you can use a valve to plug the whole.
Getting Rims Made, Instead of Converting the Existing Rim
The reason conversions are made much more often than someone getting tube-type rims for a GS, is because of the hub that has to connect to the driveshaft, which is expensive and uncommon for this type of application.
Instead of going to the expense of trying to find different wheels to fit the GS, you can take your existing hubs to someone that can re-lace spoked wheels and get a different rim laced to your hubs. If you’re going to do this, I suggest converting to an 18”rear while you’re at it. All the best off-road tyres come in 18”, but only some come in 17”.
60/40 Tyres are for Suckers
Right up there with the grass clippings debate, the question of “what’s the best 60/40 adventure tyre” gets a stupid amount of airtime on forums and Facebook groups.
Highly divisive, the only things people can agree upon is the fact that it gets asked too often and people should use the search function more instead of re-asking the same question. Then, in a brilliant display of cognitive dissonance, they then proceed to debate the topic anyway.
Sadly, the point has been missed.
There’s no such thing as a 60/40 adventure tyre. That’s a tyre for a road rider who’s going to hit a couple of gravel roads, not an adventure rider.
Tyres for adventure riding start at 25/75.
I can’t gatekeep the whole concept of what adventure riding is and isn’t, but I will just point out that if you’re using 60/40 tyres, you probably don’t need any of the advice in this GS series and can leave the bike in stock condition.
Good Adventure Tyres for a GS
I wish Dunlop made the D606 in sizes wider than a 140, because I think they’re the best value adventure tyre going, but sadly they don’t.
This list is not exhaustive, but here’s a few tyres we’ve played around with on adventure bikes that are worth considering.
Pirelli Scorpion Rally – Rally Racing
The Scorpion Rally comes in a 170/60 17 and is a good tyre for the job. Nice and aggressive with a big wide footprint that handles the grunt of the big girl.
There’s also a different variation of the scorpion rally that uses the same carcass, the Adventouring. It’s a less aggressive, slightly more road-oriented tyre, but still quite capable despite the stupid name.
Motoz Tractionator Adventure vs Motoz Rallz
The Motoz Rallz is our preferred choice over the Tractionator Adventure, however it is not as long lasting. While we usually prefer to err on the side of traction over durability, the soft compound of the Rallz combined with the endless torque of a GS1200 or 1250, makes for an expensive ride if you’re doing a lot of bitumen.
The Tractionator Adventure does make for a very capable adventure tyre that doesn’t wear too fast, while providing good grip. However, if you’re avoiding the bitumen wherever possible, the Rallz is the way to go.
Michelin Desert Race
The greatest adventure tyre known to man.
The Desert front, which no longer seems to be available is nothing spectacular, but the Desert rear is a work of art.
Sadly, this brilliant tyre only comes in one size (140/80 18), which rules it out on a lot of adventure bikes. If you’re opting to change your wheels completely, instead of running tubes in your stock tubeless rims, it’s worth going to an 18” rear just to run these tyres.
My first experience with these tyres was when my Dad raced the Australasian Safari and these were the tyres he ran. That was more than 15 years ago and I’ve still never seen another tyre that’s impressed me more.
Should You Bypass the ABS?
DISCLAIMER: This is probably illegal in most places and could get a novice hurt or killed. This is only for closed circuit competition for good riders that can control a bike with both wheels locked up.
ABS sucks in a really big way and does way more harm off-road than it ever does good. Motorbikes are the last place ABS should have ever been introduced. Aside from the fact that it could kill you off-road, it’s a crutch on-road that helps instil a false sense of confidence in amateurs that may be inclined to outride their abilities. Even something as simple as pulling over on a gravel shoulder becomes a hazard when you’re expecting your brakes to work.
A GS1200 actually has such a stable rear end that you can easily lock it up sideways and skid for days without losing it.
Off-road with ABS on, the GS essentially has no rear brake at all. The last place you want to find out you’ve got no brakes, is just as you need to use them.
The biggest risk I find with the ABS settings is that even though it’s easy enough to turn-off, it resets every time you turn the bike off. When I’ve been riding with a group of guys on enduro bikes, we ride hard and pull up about once every hour or so. You go to take off again, still in the mindset of riding hard and it would be easy to forget to deactivate the ABS again. Fortunately I trained myself to be in the habit of locking-up the back brake as a test every time I took off, but it’s easy to see how it could become a huge problem.
For me, knowing I can control a locked-up GS on-road and off, I’d rather have the ABS permanently disabled on my bike. That’s just me and my bike and I’m not recommending it to anyone. If I was involved in some sort of crash on the road, even if it wasn’t my fault and had nothing to with disabled ABS, any prosecutor or lawyer with half a clue would jump straight on the fact that that a “safety feature” had been disabled and would weave a story about an irresponsible hoon that recklessly endangered others.
How To Bypass the ABS
Here’s how I would bypass the ABS on a GS that’s unregistered and only going to be used for closed circuit competition and never be sold in that condition.
There’s a few ways of doing it, with different amounts of parts removal depending on how permanent you want it to be.
I’m not going to put a whole guide here as it depends a bit on model and year, but will link to where you can get some of the parts. You can bypass the unit with something like this. Or you can do something a bit more elegant and also remove a decent amount of weight using one of these.
motorworks.co.uk, has a whole suite of parts that can be used for ABS removal on a GS1200 or GS1250.
There’s also a fair bit you can do to remove the warning lights that come on once this has been done, but I haven’t bothered. My display looks like a disco with the amount of ABS, TPMS and other warning lights that are on constant display.