For those of us that love old iron, there's a tendency to dismiss the new. We tend to make comments like "Oh that's been done before in the 1964 VelociMobile", or, " That's really not much better than my bike". And we are of course both right and wrong. The new machines is certainly evolutionary, building upon prior foundations and in some cases trying not to depart too far from them. However, they are also revolutionary, breaking new ground and doing things that could not possibly have been conceived of when the older models were built.
Which brings me to a direct comparison that I experienced recently between two BMWs built just 20 years apart. The comparison came about because a writing buddy of mine had just purchased a new BMW. It was an R1200RT, and it was his first BMW after many many motorcycles. Late last year, I sold my 1980 R100RT, but that was not the basis for the comparison. We went for an initial ride with me on my R100GS from 1990. Visually of course, the two bikes look nothing like each other. But then again, neither did an R100GS and R100 RT from the same year. The engine configuration, with those two cylinders sticking out in the breeze are the main point in common. But not to be forgotten, is the general sense of form following function that is common to most BMW motorcycles. They are usually not included in the 10 most beautiful motorcycles of the decade, and have a face only their designer could love. However, in motion and function, they are brilliant (IMHO). The engineers still defeat the stylists every time at BMW Motorrad.
The R12RT looks big and sleek and shiny next to the GS. It looks elegant and comfortable, with sculpted bodywork, and protective electronically adjustable windshield. The 5-series autobahn cruiser, firm, taut. Even the luggage blends into the lines of the bike. The older GS by comparison is a big dirt bike, all angles and flexible fenders and exposed motor, and fixed mini windscreen and non-aero luggage. In many ways, it is the antithesis. The other contrast is the way the motor runs. The GS is probably not in the perfect state of tune, but even if it was, it would seem coarse and gruff compared to the R12RT which neither barks, nor vibrates upon startup. It is probably as smooth as a K bike was 10 years ago. Underway, the GS is perfectly capable on the B roads that we were traveling, and is even fine on the highway as evidenced by my trip to the MOA national rally a few years ago. It is geared a little tall in 5th though, and it is happier at a more relaxed at 70 than at 80+mph. By contrast, the R12RT is made to comfortably consume large numbers of miles at highway speeds. Even 2-Up. And, it features cruise control !
So, is new better? Yes. You can go faster and farther in greater comfort. You have more power, and you can stop better. It has ABS and Traction Control. You also have better suspension and gas mileage. On almost every single point of comparison, the new bike is superior. So, would I trade bikes? No. Others have said this, but part of this boils down to the fact that while the new bike needs nothing, the GS needs me. Cables need to be lubed and valves on an airhead need adjusting and there is a certain sequence to starting it. It likes Shell gasoline, and you need to apply the brakes in a certain way due to the softly sprung front end (particularly if you are near full on gas). The heated grips only work on the high setting (after a while), and half the headlight output lights the inside of the upper fairing. The suspension is perfect off-road. You have to know these things. And you need many miles with the motorcycle to know them. Now the R12RT is a BMW, so perhaps in 50K or 100K miles it will teach its owner what it needs and how best to ride it.