Test Ride: BMW Rockster

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Words: Editor ‘Arris   Photos: Mr. Seck

“Bahhh”

There’s something quite charming about BMW’s R1150R ‘Roadster’. I quickly fell for it when it was in still in its buggy-look state back in the 1100 motor days. When it got a big stylistic make over and the improved 1150 motor back in 2002, it was looking—and performing—even better.

When BMW released their latest variant of the 1150 Roadster as a prototype at last year’s Intermot show, the public reaction was favourable enough for it to make the leap from styling exercise to showroom floor with the odd, but appropriate, name of Rockster.

The result is less-friendly looking R, thanks to twin beams off the GS, a fatter rear wheel from the sporty S, as well as its fork tubes and faux carbon-fibre front fender. The latter is a welcome alternative to the standard R’s wedge-shaped piece and—along with a blacked out motor and more aggressive paint job—make the Rockster the black-sheep of the otherwise civil BMW family.

Ed finds the halfway point between normal and “Speedster” positioning.

However, looking like the type that would not only kick you when you were down, but lift your wallet and steal your girlfriend to boot, is only image if you don’t have the muscle to back it up. Now we’re talking a BMW air/oil cooled twin here, and even though the motor’s one of the first to have the twin plug heads fitted—which is more of an emissions issue than a performance one—it’s not going to beat many other similar capacity bikes in a dust-up.

THE SPEEDSTER POSITION

But where the Rockster doesn’t have that elastic band/catapult sensation of a well-engineered Japanese four, there’s a grunt that appears shortly after idle and doesn’t go away till the ignition cutoff just short of the 7,500 rpm redline. This makes the Rockster wheeliable—as regularly proven by the psychotic Mr. Seck— with a further kick at 5,000rpm, carrying it through to redline.

This in turn gives a reasonable top speed, allowing me on one particularly flat and open stretch to see an indicated 200 km/h, albeit with feet on the rear pegs, chest flat on the tank and chin on the upper triple clamp. Although this “Speedster” position sounds a tad unreasonable, a slightly less extreme one still enables an effective air-bubble in which to sit in and results in being able to hold a steady 160 on deserted highways for longer than expected.

‘arris and Ed ponder what we would do without Flossy.

Of course this is not to the taste of all, so in a upright, with a slight forward lean position, the small wind-deflector in front of the clocks is efficient enough to keep the neck stresses low enough for a steady 120km/h. Oh, and although the seat looks quite luscious, it will numb the arse eventually, although Flossy the sheepskin helped extend the range a good 20%, as well as add a ‘je ne c’est pas’ to the overall style. What would we do without Flossy?

With a maximum horsepower of 85hp—which is no greater than the standard R—by coming it at 6750rpm it allows enough time for a mild drop-off before hitting the rev-limiter, giving a more intuitive feel to the rider as to when it’s time to upshift.  Talking of gears, the Rockster’s are smoother than I remember of most other boxer motors, but still not up to the level of BMW’s own K series of bikes and most of the competition. Still, it was quite acceptable and was hardly noticed, which is generally a good thing in a motorcycle test.

The Rockster motor is ‘aggressivied’ by the paint job.

With an additional 35mm in seat height over the standard R (now 835mm) the position is pretty good for my 6’4” chassis (although a 795mm seat is available as an option). Unfortunately the pegs feel quite high and left me and Mr. Seck both feeling a little cramped up, helped only by the adopting of the “Speedster” position where the feet went back to the rear pegs and the legs could stretch out a little. The old 1100R used to have the clever BMW three-position height adjustment, which I still miss and would have been a handy way to alter the seat-to-peg distance. 

Although it comes in at a hefty 239 Kg wet, the weight is held down low and a taught chassis means that the low-down grunt can be utilized best when the road alternates between tight curves and short straight sprints. In fact it somewhat reminded me of Triumph’s glorious Speed Triple—the king of hooligan— helped by its low flat bars and rock-steady feel, giving that “Get outta my way” feeling.

Suspension worked well even on the worst of eastern roads …

You know the feeling, when you’re almost wishing that some fool in an old Buick will drift across into your lane just so that you can give it a thump on the roof, a kick to the door and a notable salute as you power off ahead. Ah yes, the actions of the righteous ….

Suspension is typical BMW with the tried and tested Paralever rear and Telelever front. However, we all found that the rear was on the hard side and only really got comfortable when backing off the preload—aided by a handy knob that meant that it could be adjusted on the fly—to its minimal setting.

Evo brakes with servo-assist.

Still, it proved to be rock solid and very confidence inspiring in all the ridiculously harsh combinations of rough road, sharp corners and high speed that we threw at it. Add to that the wide flat bars and the Rockster was an easy turner whether you be scuttling across downtown or blasting through the twisties.

SERVO-ASSISTED STOPPIES

But high speeds around sharp bends also require good brakes and the Rockster has the happiest compromise of the BMW servo-assisted, being the Partial Integration, where the front also operates a piston in the rear, but the rear operates the rear alone.

I read somewhere that after initial complaints of the harshness of their new uber-braking system, they modified it this year to give a more progressive feel. I hope that’s true because they certainly felt it. Although still somewhat lacking in intuitive feel, the Rockster’s front brakes allowed for more gentle braking control, yet still with the throwing-the-anchor-overboard sensation that a full, hard squeeze induces.

This is the first time I’ve managed to do this on a Boxer …

In fact, while Mr. Seck was setting up his gear for a photo shoot, I used the intervening time to take a leap of faith of both brakes and the fitted ABS, by accelerating hard up to 40Km/h and then squeezing the front brake as hard as I possibly could. As simple as that sounds, if you’ve ever folded in a front end from overusing the front brake and subsequently locking up the front wheel, you’ll understand the faith quotient required to do this.

To my surprise, apart from giving my arm muscles a good work out, the Rockster promptly came to a very rapid halt with the back wheel a good distance up in the air as I pulled to a standstill. With the ABS seemingly doing a fine job at the front I at first figured that I’d discovered a glitch in its working, only to discover—upon trying to get a photo of the event—that the stoppie was a rolling one and so the front wheel wasn’t actually locking up at all.

Whatever you think of the downsides regarding the feel of BMW’s servo assist, you can’t argue with its strength at bringing a 232Kg bike and 100Kg rider to a rolling stoppie .. but you can enjoy it.

Servo rear. Why?

I even went on to try an all-on braking maneuver from 160Km/h, the bike pulling to a fierce but controlled stop. I think we might be at the point that someone deficient in the arm muscle camp—and I’m the first to admit that I’m not particularly well developed there myself—could face the reality that they collapse over the bike if they persist in using 100% braking capacity.

While turning around for the back and forth that is every photo-shoot, I tried out the use of the rear brake to help control the slow-speed u-turn. Although it’s still too fierce to get right all the time, very gentle usage would help with overall control, although I’m still not convinced there needs to be any servo-assist on the rear at all.

Interestingly, one of the few times I decided to turn the bike sans rear brake was when I dropped it, revealing that that blue finish on the cylinder head covers is some kind of plastic coating, rather than in the actually metal—revealed by the fall-induced scratches. I only hope that BMW understands that all we do is in the name of a full reader test and not because we’re idiots.

THE BIT AT THE END

Them’s the gauges

This seems a good point to pint out a couple of the niggly problems; one being a rather recessed tube in the gas tank that, if you weren’t paying attention, and angled the gas filler from the pump wrong, would result in a sudden cloud of gas spray engulfing rider and bike.

The second was the choice of Metzeler Sport Tech M1 tires. Although we had no problems with the tires in use, their ultra-sticky compound meant that the rear was bald after a mere 4,000 km. This rapid decline in tread went unnoticed till we found ourselves along way from a replacement, which, by the time we’d got it, left the original with a few cords showing in the middle! Okay, it’s a relatively sporty machine, but not that sporty!

What we won’t do to fully test a bike …

There was one quality flaw in an otherwise faultless machine; a welded bracket—that helps direct the rear brake line—broke, and although it was still secure would probably involve either a messy reweld or the complete replacement of the sub-frame.

Overall you’ve probably guessed that the Rockster was quite the hit with the CMG staff. With hindsight that shouldn’t have really been a surprise as the R has always gone down well with us, but this time it was part of our eastern tour—along with the long-term K1200GT and a R1200CL—and as such was the one that no-one really wanted to ride due to it’s lack of protection.

Its grunty motor, ability to be slapped and hold its line around corners and all-round hooligan soul, meant that it was oft the one that was fought over whenever it came time to swap steeds around. Okay, unless it was raining or 500 miles of straight highway ahead …

But at $15,990—up a $1000 on the standard R—it’s one of the cheapest BMW Boxer’s available, and even though it’s riding without any amount of wind protection, it’s still one of the most fun Beemers out there.

FUEL ECONOMY?

Nice shot Mr. Seck!

BMW claim that you should be getting as good as 4.6l/100km (@ 90km/h) to as little as 5.7 l/100km (@ 120 km/h). Over a 2180 km period with anything from babying the bike (bald tire) to thrashing the living daylights out of it, we saw an average of only 6.84 l/100km. The worst economy figure we got was a mere 8.12l/100km, with a best of 6.03l/100km.

With a tank capacity of 20.5 litres, those figures would give an average range of about 300km, and with a 4 litre reserve the light shouldn’t come on till the 240 km mark—although we saw as low as 160 km—giving about 60km before you’re stranded.

In BMW’s favour the bike was pretty new and (theoretically) was still in the running-in period, so those figures could have gotten better with time. However, this brings up one final niggle and that being the inaccurate odometer. Whenever we stopped for gas the CL and GT would concur to within a Km of the distance we had just traveled. The Rockster—maybe in keeping with its anti-social spirit—was about 7% too low (adjusted for in our calculations).

 

 

Bike

BMW R1150R ROCKSTER

MSL

$15,990.00

Displacement

1130 cc

Engine type

Horizontally opposed twin, air/oil cooled

Carburetion

Fuel Injection

Final drive

Six speed, shaft drive

Tires, front

120 / 70 ZR 17

Tires, rear

180 / 55 ZR 17

Brakes, front

Dual 4-piston calipers with 320 mm discs
Optional BMW (Partial) Integral ABS

Brakes, rear

Twin piston caliper with single 276 mm disc
Optional BMW (Partial) Integral ABS

Seat height

835mm (optional low seat: 795mm)

Wheelbase

1486 mm

Dry weight

219 Kg (claimed)

Canadian colours

Orange metallic/Black, Green metallic/Black

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