by Costa Mouzouris. Photos by Jonathan Beck/Kevin Wing/BMW
BMW’s R1200GS got a complete overhaul last year, receiving an all-new frame, and it was the first bike to use the firm’s latest liquid-cooled boxer engine.
Wait, did I confuse you? Why am I discussing BMW’s adventure tourer when I should be all over the new RT? Because, once stripped of their bodywork (which is all-new on the RT), it would be difficult to distinguish the latest generation RT from the latest GS.
They share the same engine and frame, as well as other components. Without their bodywork, the two machines look almost identical. And there’s good reason to use similar chassis; the latest GS is a solid-handling machine capable of carrying a heavy load with ease. From the saddle, however, they are unique machines, entirely different from one another.
Aside from the styling changes, the 2014 R1200RT receives a new one-piece tubular steel frame and the 125-hp, liquid-cooled boxer twin. It’s the same engine used in the R1200 GS Adventure, the one with a heavier flywheel (.9 kg heavier), which boosts low-end torque, and the more powerful (and heavier by .6 kg), 540-watt alternator.
Because it is more compact, this new boxer allowed engineers to make the bike narrower between the legs, as well as making the seat 30 mm longer overall while dropping seat height by 20 mm.
The previous R1200RT fairing offered the best weather protection of any motorcycle on the market. For 2014, the fairing has been redesigned and is more angular and aggressive-looking, and it works even better than before. Inside the fairing, there’s a car-like instrument panel with round gauges mounted on either side of a high-definition TFT screen. The info displayed on the screen includes suspension settings (if the optional ESA is selected), ride mode settings, handgrip heat level and trip info.
Opting for the $1,530 Touring package adds cruise control, seat heating, Dynamic ESA and an in-dash GPS. The GPS is integrated well into the bike’s computer, and any warnings or error messages that might pop up are displayed in the GPS screen (a small warning triangle light grabs your attention), allowing you to read a description of the problem on the GPS screen. If you choose the RT without the GPS, there’s a different visor on the dash, so you’re not left with a gaping hole or a tacky cover to conceal it.
One BMW option I highly recommend is the ESA suspension. This electrically adjustable suspension not only works great at absorbing bumps, it is also a breeze to operate. My only complaint is that BMW neglected to use a dedicated suspension button to make adjustments, and you have to scroll through the menus on the central screen to make your selection. The R1200GS Adventure equipped with ESA has an easy-to-use suspension button, so I’m not sure why BMW didn’t do the same on the RT.
ABS is standard, as it is on all BMWs.
Leaving the Enchantment Resort, a lavish, outdoorsy getaway just a few miles north of Sedona, AZ, the clear morning sky belied the actual weather forecast, which called for snow later in the day. It was a cool morning, the bike’s thermometer reading 8 degrees Celsius, so after adjusting the seat to its higher of two positions for more legroom, the next item on my checklist was to turn on the standard heated grips, done via the right-hand mode switch and display screen. I’d forgotten to pack warm gloves and would have to make do with summer gloves on this ride, which was shortened to about 240 km from the original 320 km due to the forecast snow.
The menu system is easy to navigate but one annoyance is that you can only scroll down through the menu, and not back up unless you hit a button that takes you back to the top of the menu. If I wanted to adjust the grip heat, I would have to scroll through the entire list to get back to the suspension page, which I had chosen as my default page display since that’s the function I used the most frequently.
The upright riding position is very relaxed, though it feels like you’re sitting high atop the RT rather than in it. With the standard seat set to the higher position (there’s also a 25 mm higher or 25 mm lower seat available as a no-cost option), legroom was just adequate for me, enough that I wouldn’t sacrifice reach to the ground by opting for the taller seat. If you’re of Editor ’Arris’ proportions, you should opt for the taller seat.
The windscreen is still electrically adjustable; you can fine tune it to find the ideal spot—which will probably vary depending on rider height—where turbulence drops to almost dead; raising it higher than optimum creates a mild reverse draft, pushing you slightly forward. The fairing-mounted mirrors are also set wider apart than before, which not only provides a better rear view, but also protects your hands from the windblast. It is the combination of dead air and heated grips that allowed me to continue through the entire ride, in temperatures that dropped to freezing, while wearing lightweight summer gloves—and, yes, there was snow.
Picking up the pace along a wonderfully smooth stretch of pavement that clung to the contours of the mountains surrounding Jerome, the RT proved its handling prowess with neutral steering, exceptional stability and enough cornering clearance to make a track day rider smile. Selecting Dynamic ride mode (there are three: Rain, Road and Dynamic) provided sharp yet easily manageable acceleration and set traction control to minimum. With the ESA set to hard for a solo rider, the bike carved through corners with precision impressive for a large touring bike.
One feature BMW has included as standard equipment, but that’s not really necessary, is an electric quick shifter. More commonly used on sport bikes, it’s meant to be used at high speeds with the throttle open, to reduce shift times and to drop lap times. It’s uniquely designed to work when upshifting and downshifting on the RT, but its operation was clunky at lower speeds, and it raised the effort at the shift lever. I used it a few times and resorted to old school, clutch assisted shifting. It did work exceptionally well at high speeds, though.
The new chassis is particularly rigid and provides assured rider feedback. The only thing lacking on the RT, or any telelever-equipped BMW, is the ability to tighten up a turning line while trail braking. It doesn’t take long to adapt to the lack of brake dive though, and you quickly learn to do all of your braking, which can be quite hard on this bike, in a straight line.
After lunch in Flagstaff, the temperature dropped to freezing and the forecast came true; it began to snow. Having been caught in unexpected snowfalls twice at previous press launches and forced to abandon the press bikes along the route on both those occasions, I well understood our hosts’ urgency to make a safe yet speedy return to Enchantment Resort.
It was during this hasty retreat the RT exhibited its true versatility. Although it was snowing hard enough that snow accumulated on the windscreen as I rode, the RT soldiered on, with me encased in a comfortable cocoon of almost still air. In these conditions I had set the ride mode to Rain (which provides the maximum level of traction control and softens throttle response) and the suspension to soft, and rode on worry free. Had the weather turned any worse, however, it would have been foolish to continue. By this time I’d also switched on the seat heat and was warm from head to toe (even your feet are protected by the protruding cylinders).
As we rode towards lower elevations, the snow turned to rain, though we were in no less a hurry to return, as the foul weather followed close behind. Speeds remained high, and journalist David Booth took it upon himself to demonstrate just how forgiving the new RT chassis is. Superdave Osbooth, as he’s since been nicknamed, had accelerated to just over 140 km/h to get by some slower bikes, when he hit a large rock that was resting on the centreline. He hit the errant object (about twice the size of a softball) head on, destroying the wheels and blowing out both tires instantly. To everyone’s surprise Booth remained upright and maintained control until he came to a stop on the shoulder.
Now, this is definitely a testament to the bike’s stability, but Booth is also a skilled rider (really, he is), so he didn’t panic or make sudden movements, and his elevated speed also helped in this instance, as his momentum kept the bike moving in a straight line. Despite this remarkable feat, you shouldn’t try this at home, kids, though it’s sure nice to know that the RT won’t break in two or pitch you to the ground should you try.
We returned to the lavish resort, safe and sound (minus one crippled RT), and despite the wintry weather, no one was complaining about being cold. I was still amazed that I’d completed the ride with summer gloves on and shiver free, a true testament to how much effort BMW put into keeping the RT rider cosy over long distances in inclement weather.
At $20,850, the R1200RT costs several thousands less than larger bikes in the class while offering big-bike comfort. Aside from the aforementioned Touring package, there’s also an available Comfort package that includes central locking (one button locks the saddlebags and optional top case), alarm system, tire pressure monitor, accessory socket and chrome exhaust for $935, and a Dynamic package that includes Riding Mode Pro (which retains mode settings if bike is shut off), hill start control (keeps bike from rolling on an incline) and LED headlights.
There’s simply no other bike on the market that combines luxury-touring bike comfort with sport bike handling the way the R1200RT does. But what really sets this bike apart from others it its exceptional weather protection, and the way this riding season seems to be kicking off (read cold and wet), it should be a popular choice.
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