It’s been said that in photographs, the camera adds ten pounds. Seeing photos online of the 2019 BMW R1250RT, I wondered how many cameras they had on this thing (badum tsss). Bulbous and top-heavy, it looked more like a big scooter than a regular motorcycle, with the giant front fairing and windscreen dwarfing the rear of the motorcycle.
Well, I owe the big BMW an apology, because in the flesh, the bike looked far better proportioned, especially with the optional top box, and was quite a handsome machine. However, I still had lingering doubts about the rest of the machine, beyond its aesthetics.
Would a big boxer twin be able to provide the smooth, refined power that a machine of this type demands? Could the Telelever FFE (Funny Front End) be a decent alternative to a conventional fork? Will the Paralever rear end be effective in controlling the negative effects of shaft drive when coupled to a powerful motor? Somehow, the answers didn’t come to me as I stood next to the motorcycle, looking it over carefully. I guess I would just have to ride the thing…
What is it?
The 2019 version of the RT features BMW’s newest boxer twin, featuring the ShiftCam technology that allows for the use of two different cam profiles that switch back and forth depending on engine load requirements. This is the same engine used in the new R1250GS, and produces a BMW-claimed output of 136 horsepower and 105 lbs.-ft. of torque from 1,254 cc.
Along with the new engine, the RT is equipped with the now typical suite of electronics found on most higher-end two-wheelers these days, including an IMU that looks after the riding modes, traction control, cornering ABS, and electronic suspension system. Keyless ignition, heated grips and seats, power locking saddle bags, and an audio system are all available to round out the long list of amenities.
None of this comes cheap, of course; this is a BMW, after all. The R1250RT starts at $22,050 and if you want those optional features, which are available with the “Select” package, then add another $5,220 to the base price before you even start figuring out the taxes. Another $2,000 will add the audio system and an LED auxiliary light. My tester was fitted with all of these, making it well over $30,000 out the door. Phew!
That heated seat was a wonderful place to perch one’s backside: big, cushy, well-shaped, and toasty on demand. The step up to the passenger seat served as a good place to brace against when accelerating hard. The seat to peg distance was slightly cramped but bearable, although my shins occasionally bumped against the cylinder heads of the boxer engine. The high bars sweep back towards the rider, held by one large aluminum casting that also holds the ignition button, tops of the Telelever forks, and steering stem.
Going keyless for the ignition means the button also does duty as the activator for an electric steering lock – turn the steering all the way left and then hold the ignition button for a second and the sound of the servo indicates the steering is locked. Do the same to unlock, all this assuming the key fob is nearby.
How is it to ride?
Although not as big as a Gold Wing (365 kg, or 805 lbs.), or BMW’s own K1600 GTL (350 kg or 771 lbs.), the RT is portly, at 279 kg (615 lbs.), and certainly felt it at parking lot speeds or when pushing the bike around for photos. Yet out on the road the bike felt nimble and quick to get up to speed. It is not what you would call “flickable,” but it bent into a corner eagerly without having to muscle the bars into submission, and then remained rock-solid mid-corner, if a bit wallowy with the riding mode set to “Road.”
In fact, I found the Road setting too soft in town, allowing the bike to bob considerably under braking, acceleration, and during shifts, like a rowboat in rough seas. In Dynamic mode, which is an option with the $5,520 “Select” package, the bike was still very comfortable, but the bobbing was gone, and cornering was more planted. With the exception of very bumpy roads, Dynamic was the way to go for a controlled ride and to prevent sea sickness.
There is no shortage of bumpy roads here in the True North, making bikes like Kawasaki’s Versys 1000 seem very attractive, with its adventure styling and long travel suspension. The BMW, however, gobbled up the harshest pavement with a plushness and composure equal to, or even better than the considerably less expensive Versys. My tester RT was equipped with “dynamic electronic suspension adjustment” as part of the Select package.
Credit both bikes’ electronic suspension systems for their pothole munching abilities, ensuring riders do not have to make a choice between comfort and sport. When I took a particularly pock-marked road home, the BMW floated quite effortlessly over rows of bumps and patches, impressively calm and comfortable. As it should, for $7,000 more than the fully-loaded Versys.
Out on the smooth highways, the big fairing made for a calm pocket of air for the rider, allowing for the sound system to do its thing without maxing out the volume. The windscreen is power adjustable, but I could not come up with a reason why someone would want to ride with it in the lower position, until a particularly hot day riding backroads: lowering the screen allowed for a nice breeze of airflow around the rider’s upper body, allowing for zippered jacket vents to do their job.
A firm twist of the wrist from a stop or out on the roads revealed that the boxer twin engine was plenty powerful and torque-rich for the big bike, although power off the very bottom was a bit lacking. In fact, I found the gearing for first and second gears a little out of sync with the motor, putting the bike either too high in the rev range in first, or too low in second, for your typical 90-degree right turns in town. The bike was either herky-jerky in first, or almost bogging down in second. Ultimately, keeping it in second was best for casual riding, but first was needed for a faster pace and a more authoritative squirt out of the corner.
Is it any good?
The fit and finish of the bike was quite good for the most part, with the exception of the flimsy doors on the two cubbies to the left and right of the handlebars, and the imprecise way that the saddlebags closed, requiring extra tries on most occasions to get the latch to engage properly. While I’m complaining, the dash was also a bit confusing, and the central digital display is too small. On a bike like this, a larger, full colour TFT display, like on BMW’s own S1000RR, would be much more apt. On the RT, the diminutive digital display is dominated by the menu choices, with the rest of the info relegated to the right side and across the bottom. It all seemed poorly laid out and outdated, and not really suitable for a bike of this price.
Those gripes aside, however, the RT was a willing dance partner, and a pleasure to ride cross-country, in town, commuting, or just to the store for groceries. The motor was plenty powerful and decently smooth, while the unconventional suspension front and rear was comfortable and inspired confidence.
Lots of storage space (even for two full-face helmets), a huge fuel tank (25 L), and a supremely comfortable seat, combined with a well-tuned chassis, made for a versatile bike able to fulfil numerous roles, for those looking for a do-it-all steed who can afford the price tag.