Test Ride: BMW R1200S

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INTRO

“I’m svelte and sexy”.

BMW has been cooking up some interesting recipes in the last couple of years, and CMG has pigged out on several of them. This newest morsel on the menu is an update of the flat twin R1100S – the predictably-named R1200S, which follows BMW’s current doctrine of less weight and more power … a kind of inverted Editor ‘arris if you will.

This one somehow missed out on the halfway house 1,150 cc upgrade that all the other Boxer twin models received, and as such has waited eight years to receive its much-needed revamp. In absolute terms, it’s a country mile closer to the other European and Japanese high-performance models than its predecessor – and it’s the owners of those more traditional sportbikes that BMW insist the 1200S is aimed squarely at.

POWER-UP

It’s the most powerful* Boxer ever!

*Muhammad Ali might disagree.

The latest version of their flat twin is comprehensively modified to produce a substantial 122 hp – 24 up on the old 1100. That’s pretty good for a twin but as is always the case, the torque tells the tale with an impressive 80 Nm kicking in at a lowly 2,500 rpm and peaking at 112 Nm / 83 ft-lb (@ 6,800 rpm). That’s up 15 Nm over its predecessor.

Mr. Seck originally coined the term “fat power” to describe the R1200ST that we tested on our Fall Colour Tour last year, and never a truer word has been spoken. With the ‘S’, it’s even chubbier with a bulking-up of that pounding mid-range, with a frantic burst of top-end power for the last 2,000 rpm before the limiter calls it a day at 8,800 rpm.

These characteristics made the S a perfect bike for day at Shannonville’s Long Track. On exiting the hairpin, I found that I could actually keep the litre sportbikes within spitting distance, front tire kissing the tarmac and gear-changes a frenzy of foot and finger flicks – so much fun it gave me cause to doubt this really is a BMW twin.

I once knew this girl …

The combination of the high-level silencer and a pleasingly-pronounced induction noise give the R1200S a most un-BMW like soundtrack – it makes a pleasant change to actually be able to hear the bike.

That fast and furious transmission is the previously updated six-speed unit with a pleasantly light (dry) clutch and a startling gear-change – light, delicate and precise, it’s the antithesis of most (all?) of the Boxers I’ve ridden previously and although supposedly identical, was noticeably better than the R1200ST. BMW have definitely got their shit together here!

Tying the whole thing together is a trademark exquisitely-crafter steel trellis main frame, though with the motor acting as a stressed member, there’s not a whole lot of it. The rear sub-frame is a box-section aluminum affair and has been pared down to the bone.

FANCY FORKS & OTHER BITS

Brakes shed the servo system but can still shed the speed very effectively.

Front suspension is handled by the Telelever system – a telescopic fork and wishbone combo – which separates braking from suspension forces to minimize dive under braking, and uses a conventional coil and damper unit. Our test bike was fitted with the optional Ohlins suspension units at either end, offering much adjustability – and at $1,200.00 not as expensive as you would expect. A steering damper is also fitted to keep things calm.

The R’s 17” wheels first saw light of day on the K1200S and R models and while looking spanking gorgeous, are a pain to clean (yes, we do occasionally wash bikes – well, Mr. Seck and I do anyway). A six-inch wide rear wheel is another option (a 5.5 incher is standard) and comes fitted with a 190 section tire: our test bike was thus equipped.

In keeping with its sportbike credentials, braking is undertaken by (a 15mm bigger) disc and four-pot duo up front with a solo performer at the rear. Hydraulics are wisely unlinked, come without the servo assistance of previous BMWs and fitted with braided hoses – and are available optionally with BMW’s updated and disengage-able ABS system (present on our test bike).

Just how well the 1200S brakes perform was demonstrated to me when a hard-of-thinking Grand-Am driver attempted to wipe me out of existence with the most optimistic overtake I’ve ever witnessed – coming right at me, causing me to nail the brakes and veer off to the edge of the road as he howled past me … in my lane.

Minimal.

Despite the lack of the usual servo-assistance, the brakes felt supremely powerful and, particularly on the track, allowed you to visualize the available grip through the lever. No unwanted ABS intervention was experienced during our test and you do have the option of switching it out should the desire grab you. Does this mean the end of the servo in 2007?

SWINGING TO ONE SIDE

Moving swiftly on to its well-proportioned, delicate derriere, the usual Paralever shaft drive is fitted, neatly packaging the suspension and driveshaft on the one side. The (optional) Ohlins strut supports the linkage-less arm – with full adjustment, including ride height and the added bonus of travel-dependant damping. Groovy.

What all this boils down to is a stiff chassis, high-quality damping, ample tire width, and (although more radical than previous models with a one degree reduction in rake and 13mms of trail) still fairly conservative geometry. This translates to a firm ride and precise steering, but with a fat dollop of reassuring stability.

Spirited use of the throttle exiting a corner could get the rear wheel to slide a tad.

It still requires a reasonable amount of muscle to turn in, but follows your chosen line impeccably. There were never any moments of doubt with the Telelever front but both the Editor and I found that if we were a touch too aggressive on the throttle (surely not?) exiting a bumpy corner, the rear would lose adhesion and slide – albeit a gentle, just-ease-off-a-tad variety. Adjusting the suspension and/or the Metzeler M1 Sportec tire pressures may have cured this tendency but:

A) It wasn’t severe,
B) It was getting late, and
C) By this time we were both too toasted and probably would have made a balls of it, so we didn’t.

Back on the public road, you would have to be running at crazy speeds to show up this minor (and probably fixable) shortcoming and for the duration of the test, we had only praise for the handling, even when two-up.

Ground clearance was excellent (always a worry with those chunky cylinders sticking out), and only one hero-blob ever touched down – much less a worry if you hung-off, but then that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?

Vibes were only present when running the motor under moderate to heavy load – a balancer shaft is fitted and does its job unless those fat pistons are really bangin’. Either way you skin it, if you’re riding hard enough for vibes to be a big problem, you’re likely to need a lawyer on your next license-shredding court appearance.

THE FINER DETAILS

Compared to the Ducati 999 (rear), the new 1200S isn’t that dissimilar.

Up top, most noticeable is the bulk of the ‘S’ … or lack of. With neat sculptured bodywork from top to tail, BMW’s design boffins have certainly made this one work aesthetically – drawing high praise from all who took time to look it over. The fairing/screen/tank combine together to protect the rider from the windblast and sprout a pair of combined blinker/mirror stalks – which give a good view, adjust easily, and remain largely blur-free.

The oil cooler is tucked neatly away behind two intakes just below the headlamp (powerful enough on low, excellent on high), leaving the motor looking clean and uncluttered (but still a PITA to clean). Skimpy sidepanels cover almost nothing on this skeletal bike, merely serving to provide a coloured continuation ‘twixt tank and tail. An underseat silencer (with two vertically-stacked outlets) is tucked neatly away, doubly protected by reflective insulation and a funky heatshield. Several hundred km of soft luggage use left said luggage untoasted and free of undesirable crispiness – making the 1200S a useful tourer.

The rider’s view is dominated by the analogue speedo and tacho, with a groovy backlit LCD screen supplying the other info – oil temp, gear indicator, and all the other trip and odometers. Strangely, there was no fuel gauge … A nice additional feature is a bar-mounted button, which allows you to select and zero the trip meters without releasing your grip and proved to be very useful on the Ottawa Magical Mystery Tour, which I attended after the track day.

The optional electronic immobilizer was fitted to our test bike – handy if you park in the dodgier side of town – which should get you some insurance discount, but knowing Canadian insurance companies, likely won’t.

I’m not going to rant-on about the BMW blinker switches – suffice to say that I did get used to them but for my ape-like hands, I still found them unnecessarily awkward to use. Okay, I’ll shut up about them now [I still hate them with a passion – Larry].

ERGOS

He’s lanky and getting old. Editor ‘arris controls the S despite failing parts (‘im, not the S).

The riding position, for my carefully-maintained (ahem) 5’9”, 165 lb frame, kept me comfy and untroubled by aches and pains – the flat saddle is pretty hard but is big enough to allow some shuffling, and was tolerable for a good 150 km without doing so.

Handlebars are mounted in the top clamp, putting significant weight through your wrists – wind blast assistance means no problem above 80 km/h but it would get tedious fast were your daily ride to include big city rush hour. Footpegs are reasonably high and rear-set, but not uncomfortably so for someone of average stature.

The foot positioning is one of the reasons I’m writing this report rather than Editor ‘arris – he wasn’t particularly comfortable on this bike, but then he does have dodgy knees, a dicky bladder, and what can only be described as freakishly long legs.

Dicky bladder??? Actually, I found the R1200S to be really quite spacious. My main issue was the torturously hard seat which limited me to about half a day before I had to stop and adopt a downward facing dog position until my arse reinflated itself – ‘arris

Form AND function.

Speaking from a “Joe Average” POV, it was all just dandy.

Oh, and we actually tested the pillion seat – Mr. Seck and my wife volunteering their services. Bearing in mind their relative stature (6’2” Vs 5’1”) and weight (no comment there), both remarked that it was actually not bad. Admittedly Mr. Seck, the big wuss, was only onboard for 15 km, but 100 or so posed no problem for her indoors (that would be English for the missus, SWMBO, better ‘alf, wife – ‘arris).

THE FINISH IS FIT

In my year and a bit of working for CMG, I’ve seen a few bikes where the overall quality wasn’t up to much – badly moulded, sharp-edged plastics that didn’t fit together, horrible water-trapping gas tank seams and frames that seemed to have been welded by applying the arse end of a bird to them. Not so with the BMW. Welds are flawless, as is the paint finish, switches work with characteristic precision, and all the components seem to have been designed to fit together. Coupled with better than average residuals, for my money it makes the whole ownership experience more appealing.

Heated grips and a BMW auxiliary power socket are standard equipment, but the list of other options is relatively small. Two-tone paint (shown) is $400.00, the Ohlins front and rear suspension $1200.00, the 6″ rimmed rear wheel will set you back $300.00, the ABS $1,500.00, and the anti-theft warning system a miserly $300.00 extra.

Sadly – and the only reason we tested the bike with soft luggage – hard cases are unavailable. I’m presuming the minimalist rear sub frame can withstand a passenger but not much else. BMW does offer a soft luggage system (tank and tailbag) but our ancient throw-overs – once the tailpiece paintwork had been protected by lashings of sticky tape – worked fine. A seat hump, tinted screen and various other carbon-fibre accessories are available to enhance (bling-up?) your ‘S”, should you feel the necessity.

The R1200S has a lot to recommend it – punchy motor with some added zing, precise handling, excellent braking, versatility, and a chunk of brand cachet. In my eyes, it has evolved from the 1100S, which was BMWs own interpretation of a sportbike, to the real thing.

I found my happy place to be along a local stretch of road known as Mountain Road – a mixture of 80-130 km/h, variably-surfaced bends and short straights, light of traffic but heavy of delightful scenery – ideal ‘S’ territory and that “fat” power delivery. Its handling was particularly inspiring – and gave me the confidence to it push harder than I had any other bike, knowing it would give me the nod if things got out of hand.

If we were to nominate our favourite bike of the year (and why shouldn’t we?), so far, the R1200S gets my vote.


SPECIFICATIONS

Bike

R1200S

MSL

$19,000.00

Displacement

1,170 cc

Engine type

Horizontally-opposed twin, air cooled

Carburetion

BMS-K EFI, 52 mm throttle diameter

Avg. Fuel Cons

19.2 km/L (5.2 L/100 km)

Avg. Range

327 Km (res @250 km, cap = 17 L)

Final drive

6-speed, shaft drive

Tires, front

120/70 ZR17

Tires, rear

180/55 ZR17 (optional 190/50ZR17)

Brakes, front

Dual 320 mm discs with 4-piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 265X mm disc with 1-piston caliper

Seat height

830 mm (32.7″)

Wheelbase

1,487 mm (58.54″)

Dry weight

213 Kg (469 lb) (claimed)

Colours

Black, Yellow, Red/Silver, Metallic White

Warranty

36 months (unlimited mileage)

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