Want to be like Bond, James Bond? If you’ve got $7,200, you can buy this 2003 BMW R1200C and get a start on your 007 impersonation.
Famously ridden by Pierce Brosnan’s version of the secret agent in the 1997 film Tomorrow Never Dies, the R1200C is a bike that elicits strong reactions. You either love them, or hate them (sort of like George Lazenby’s 007 performance in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service).
The R1200C was obviously a ploy by the German manufacturer to reshape one of its existing platforms into a cruiser that would grab sales from Harley-Davidson, and that makes sense. The odd part is that BMW waited until 1997 to do so.
The Japanese started building their own cruiser models as far back as the 1970s, and so did Moto Guzzi. Ducati even got in on the act in the 1980s, with the short-lived Indiana. Perhaps the Indiana’s commercial failure scared off BMW, but by the 1990s, there was just too much money on the table to ignore. With Harley-Davidson sales booming and talk of waiting lists for new bikes from Milwaukee, the Germans decided to release their own take on the cruiser, but a leaner and better-handling version.
And it was a weird one.
BMW’s bikes might have some design quirks, but the brand isn’t really known for making machines that are outright oddballs. However, the R1200C definitely fits that description. Cruiseratti were already shocked by the idea of a boxer-engined bike with feet-forward riding position, but when you looked at the rest of the bike, there was even more to gawk at. A Telelever front end? What sorcery was this? Monolever rear suspension? Madness! Fuel injectors, instead of carburetors? It’s the stuff of science fiction! Optional ABS? What space-age technology could they think of next?
In reality, it was a pretty similar idea to what the Japanese did in the 1970s. Instead of building a new V-twin, when those companies made their first cruisers, they just dropped existing engines into a raked-out chassis. Still, it would be an uphill battle to sell this to traditionally-minded buyers, so along with the product placement in the ’97 Bond film, BMW also had the following marketing campaign, which told you the bike was just a natural progression of decades of BMW engineering.
The marketeers’ implied promise of a career as a high-paid executive with an attractive partner (“Men want to be him, women want to be with him”) was not enough to put a huge dent in the market, and 007’s endorsement wasn’t enough over the long run either. Although it lasted in the lineup until 2004, it never gained the popularity of other long-running lines like BMW’s GS or RT series.
In some years, the C model did see decent sales in some countries, but ultimately, cruiser buyers wanted more muscle. The oil-cooled 1170 cc engine just didn’t make enough power (rated around 61 hp), even if the bike did handle very well for a cruiser — some riders reckon the best-handling cruiser ever.
But even though it was only available for seven years, the bike did come in several different sub-models, including a fully-dressed touring variant, and this version of the bike, dubbed the Independent. It’s set apart from the standard model by its three-spoke cast wheels and windshield.
More interestingly, the bike here has very low mileage, with the seller claiming an odometer reading of 8,500 km. For an old oilhead engine like this, that’s barely broken in. Dig around online, and you’ll find many, many tales of Beemerphiles going well over 100,000 miles (miles! not kilometres!) on these old cabbage crates. Change the oil, keep on top of maintenance, and a crash will probably destroy your bike before old age does. Since this is an ’03 model, you’d definitely want to go over all the fluids and seals to keep long-term reliability, and make sure to check the final drive carefully, but otherwise, this machine could just be getting started on a long life of big mileage.
As for features, the seller says the bike has an auxiliary power plug (good, if you wear a heated vest), heated grips and driving lights, but alas, no ABS. Although some Neanderthal riders still prefer to ride without ABS, any sensible street rider wants it, and it’s a bummer this bike doesn’t have it.
Still, it looks pretty clean, and while it’s not too difficult to find one of these with a bit of searching around, they’re rare, especially with low mileage like this. Is it worth $7,200? If it isn’t today, it will be someday, as they aren’t making any more of these. [One of the actual bikes used for filming the Bond movie sold at a charity auction a few years ago for $30,000, but it had Pierce Brosnan’s butt on its seat, unlike this one. – Ed.] And considering the price of an Aston Martin, and the fact that a Walther PPK is a prohibited firearm in Canada, it’s maybe the best way to get into James Bond cosplay. Just don’t mix shaken (not stirred) martinis with motorcycling.