So it was, less than 7 weeks after my last trip to the heart of Bavaria (see Alps Tour), I find myself once again rustling up my pitiful high-school Deutsche, drinking fine beer out of unfeasibly large one-litre glasses and crouched down behind a plexi-screen – throttle pinned – in the fast lane of the German autobahn (although not all three at once).
However, riding time on this excursion is significantly shorter, with only one day allotted to actually riding the K1200S along a route through Bavaria supplied by BMW.
After an early breakfast, the Canadian press are shuttled from the lavish Kempinski Hotel to a parking lot, where a line of shiny new K1200S’s await. Equipped with a route map and a tank bag, we’re given the choice of either a blue and white or yellow and black bike and told to go and have fun. Hmhhh, okay.
After five minutes of navigating from parking-lot to autobahn, I take one last glance at my comprehensive – but somewhat complex – BMW guide book, note that I have 43.2 Kms until the required turn off, stuff it between nuts and gas tank, and pin it!
The K1200S stumbles slightly but then starts to pull and pulls hard. The tach swings up and down like a police officer’s wagging finger, as I change clutchlessly from first, to second, to third …
As the wagging slows, a glance down at the speedo shows 230, 240, 250, 260 … I’m passing cars cruising in the middle lane as if they were parked – no, in reverse. The mirrors are starting to flutter and my heart is beating fast, eyes wide and breath short and sharp. Fingers nervously twitch over the brake lever, eyes scanning each speck in the distance as it grows, becomes a car for a brief moment and then is gone into the safety of the passed.
I look down at the odometer and the tenths of a Km click away like the seconds of a slow clock – but at this speed you don’t let your eyes off the road for long. As I look back up I see a swarm of brake lights as the traffic bunches up ahead. I apply the brakes slowly at first and then with more urgency, as my approach comes faster than expected, releasing a shot of adrenaline in the process and giving the updated servo-assisted brakes their first true test.
In a little more than 10 minutes I see my turn-off sign and with some relief leave the madness of the autobahn for the more minor country roads of Bavaria where I can explore some of the more sensible qualities of the new K in less demanding circumstances.
Welcome to the world launch of the sportiest BMW to date; the K1200S.
A BIG YEAR FOR THE BIG B
It’s a big year for BMW. First they launch their updated flagship bike – the R1200GS – and now they launch a whole new bike, one aimed at a hitherto unexplored superbike market – the K1200S.
It’s an unusual but welcome step for the Bavarian firm, as they finally use some of their expertise garnered from many years in the Formula 1 racing world to make a bike using previously unfamiliar design briefs such as “light weight” and “exceptional power”.
And on paper they seem to have done a pretty good job. Claimed output is a very respectable 167bhp – not that far off the likes of the Hayabusa and ZX12R that it’s aimed at (171 and 170bhp respectively) – with a wet weight (including fuel) of 248Kg (547lbs).
According to the press launch speech, the K1200S is the cornerstone of a more dynamic and agile range of motorcycles coming out of BMW, as they officially pull the plug on their cruiser line and aim their sights squarely at the sporty end of the market. Exactly what this will entail is not clear, but you can expect a whole range of new models based around the new motor. It’s what BMW do.
But don’t expect a supersport 600 from BMW any time soon, if ever. They’re looking at getting the sport rider who wants to be able to go the distance, and in comfort too.
As you would expect from a firm like BMW, the new bike is host to a whole bevy of new technical innovations, including a new Duolever front-end. But this space is for the ride impressions, all the technical bits getting their own article that can be found here.
I’m not a big fan of trying to ascertain the be-all and end-all of a motorcycle in a one-day time frame, especially such an important one as this. However, this is just a first impression piece, so here are my (limited) impressions:
MOTOR (tech link)
Okay, the biggest surprise with the motor was a fuel injection glitch from idle to about 3,500 rpm. It was noticeable at first by a tendency to not want to hold a steady throttle or to feel rough if accelerating through this zone. As the day went on, the problem seemed to get worse, making it difficult to ride through corners, unless the revs were kept above 3,500 rpm.
Although it wasn’t found on all the test bikes, about half of them seemed to be affected. The BMW techies present at lunch admitted that there was a problem and that they would have it fixed before the bikes public launch in the fall. Still, I am somewhat amazed that BMW allowed this to happen on such an important model with the whole of the world’s press in attendance.
However, once above 3,500 rpm and the motor’s power delivery is clean and very strong, getting an apparent extra kick around the 7,500 mark and surging forth to 10,000. From here it flattens off till the ignition finally starts to cut-out just above the 11,000 redline. Of note, it’ll also pull top gear from almost off-idle speeds (glitch allowing).
Despite the twin balance shafts there was some vibration present from the motor, oddly more noticeable on the over-run. Although always present, it was relatively low frequency and did not cause any finger-numbing – by the afternoon I didn’t really notice it anymore.
Although the exhaust is huge, it gives good growl, and when combined with the snarl from the ram-air intake system, the result is addictive.
The gearbox is not Suzuki-slick, but it’s definitely the best to come out of BMW to date. Although I did manage to hit one false neutral in-between 5th and 6th, the action is slick enough to enable clutchless shifts (both up and down) with amazing ease. In fact, at the end of the day I tried going from first up to sixth and back again without the clutch at all, which it did quite happily.
Oh, and apparently it’s the first big BMW with a gear lever that can be easily reversed for a race set-up.
Talking of the clutch, it’s not the lightest one out there, but it’s not the heaviest either. That would be a medium then. Although by the end of the day, both mine and Steve Bond’s – my riding companion for the day – left hands were getting a bit sore.
SUSPENSION (tech link)
As a bit of a technophile, I was particularly interested in how the Duolever front-end and Electronic Suspension Adjustment would fare. Well, to be honest, I’m not much the wiser. The roads that I found myself on were generally so smooth, that switching between the ESA options (Comfort, Normal, Sport) didn’t really make much difference.
Some journos reckoned that the sport mode was a bit too hard, but all I can truly report is that changing between the options using the button was easy (similar to resetting a trip odometer).
The Duolever front-end was very compliant in said conditions, but I’d have to be able to jump onto a conventional telescopic equipped bike in the same session, and on some good old Quebec ‘roads’ to be able to really analyze the differences.
The long wheelbase and steady suspension meant that the bike generally felt very stable. It also meant that you could accelerate quite hard, without always popping a wheelie, although a certain Oliver Jervis (Canadian Biker) seemed to be able to break this trend on a regular basis.
Although they’ve been slow to admit it, BMW have been quietly working away in the background on making their servo-assisted braking system more user-friendly. It’s not enough to just have fierce brakes, they have to be progressive and offer the rider good feedback.
The K1200S comes with the more versatile semi-integrated system and they’re noticeably easier to use, with the brakes not only gaining more feel and linearity, but a reasonable amount of retardation force with the ignition off too (i.e. servo not activated).
On a quiet bit of back road I conducted a series of full-on front lever grabs at varying speeds to see just how they reacted. I managed about three hard stops before my eyes started to feel weird from the bulging effect and my stomach nauseous. I was actually seeing spots! Suffice to say the brakes are coming close to – if not already – the ones to beat.
The ABS also worked really well, although hard braking and limited front-end dive could quickly get into rolling stoppie territory, distorted vision and nausea allowing.
Wow, what a comfortable bike! The K1200S has done what I think the Hayabusa should have done from the start – combine a sporty bike with mile-eating ergonomics. For a start, my 6’4” of god-like blubber fits, and fits with some room to spare – the only constriction being a tightish bend at the knees, but then I felt no real discomfort there at the end of the day’s ride.
The position is a slight forward lean but it’s not one that puts any amount of weight on the wrists. The screen does a good job at deflecting the headwind to such an extent that there was no need to duck down and hug the tank until speeds went above 180 km/h. Even tucked in at 260 km/h, there was no buffeting.
The seat is rather lavish for not just a sportbike, but any bike. It’s relatively firm but has good support. Unfortunately I spent much of the ride sitting on my guidebook (a lost book would have made it rather difficult to have found lunch), so I remember the sensation of spiral binding more than absolute comfort.
The ergos allow the rider to putter along quite happily in touring mode, and yet slide a cheek off, poke a knee out and crank it over around a tight, fast corner. I particularly loved the way my opposing knee fit snugly into the side of the tank, perfectly holding my body weight and allowing me to put all my concentration into the task ahead.
If you're interested in the styling side of the new K, check out Mr. Seck's 'Arty eye for the ignorant guy'.
Over the mix of autobahn and country roads (at a relatively fast pace) of the day, I got an average of 11.88 Km/L or 8.42 L/100Km (28.2 US mpg). This gives a rather low range of 226 Km, with the K hitting the 4 litre reserve as soon as 178 Km. However – unless you live near an autobahn – this is likely a worse-case scenario.
The K1200S should be available in Canada towards the end of October, which should hopefully also give them enough time to get the low-end fuel-injection glitches finally sorted. Although options have not been confirmed, it is expected to come in three packages; fully loaded, sans the ESA, and sans ABS … I think.
The MSRP for the sans-ESA, but with ABS, is expected to be C$22,500. That's a chunky $7,400 up on the Hayabusa (which I think is probably it's closest rival), although you do get more technology, better warranty and the BMW logo ...
Options include heated grips, a lower seat, immobilzer, ESA system, main stand, GPS unit and tank & saddlebag system (with interesting expansion capabilities).
I'm sure there'll be a flood of comparisons hitting the magazines in the next few months (I've already seen one in a German magazine), and it'll be interesting to see just how the K1200S fares against its competition. It'll also be interesting to see how the competition responds, with Honda expected to bring out a replacement for the Blackbird as soon as next year.
A much needed kick in the big-bore sports market aside, the new K1200S represents a new direction for BMW, and one that finally capitalizes on their sporting automotive technology.
The K range suddenly got a whole load more interesting (low-end glitches aside)