It’s been a couple years since we lost Steve Bond to cancer. Bondo’s absence has no doubt been felt by everyone who knew him, or followed his motorcycle reviews in Wheels or here on CMG. He was an interesting, talented and capable man who had a gift for crafting stories that were both educational and engaging. BMW recently launched an updated version of the R1250RT that we’re looking forward to riding soon, but Bondo reviewed its predecessor back in 2016. We miss him, and are glad that he lives on through his writing. – DW
The term “touring bike” used to generate images of grotesque land barges, leisurely oozing along our nation’s highways, deliberately avoiding corners lest the rider be subjected to the two-wheeled equivalent of wrestling a reluctant hippo up a spiral staircase. And while there are still motorcycles masquerading as three-bedroom townhouses, many others lean towards the sporty end of the bagger spectrum. BMW’s R1200RT is one of the latter and, other than a recall in 2014 that actually stopped sales till a potential suspension failure issue was rectified, year after year, it’s been one of the more popular examples of the genre.
The RT (base price $21,250) starts with the venerable opposed-twin boxer engine, BMW’s claim to fame since the 1930s. If you’ve seen the latest GS engine, you’ve also seen the RT’s, although a heavier flywheel slows the response slightly and taller overall gearing makes for better highway cruising. A U.S. magazine got 113 horsepower with 82 lbs.-ft. of torque at the back wheel on the dyno – not too shabby. Most significant was that the Boxer makes almost 70 lbs.-ft. of torque at 2,000 rpm and the curve is flat as a dead skunk on the Trans-Canada highway. Nothing says fun like a dead skunk torque curve.
SUSPENSION JUST AS YOU LIKE IT BMW has refined the Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) so that it works really well and the differences between settings are quite noticeable. Around town or wherever the pavement is sketchy, dial in soft, but when the going gets twisty, or you’re loaded down with a passenger and/or luggage, firm it up. And these changes are easily made on the fly. Electronic management allows for three power modes and there’s a pronounced difference between them. “Road” is normal, with good throttle response and adequate power. “Rain” feels like the airbox is stuffed with dead raccoons and the RT barely gets out of its own way. “Active” really perks things up – throttle response is instant and the RT seems to shed 100 kg.
In reality, two power modes are all you need. I found “Active” a little too responsive and abrupt for in-town and heavy traffic situations, but great on the open road. The RT has traction control, so there’s really no need for a “Rain” mode. Also, when you pop into “Active,” it automatically adjusts the suspension to “Sport,” which is fine for smooth western roads but those on Ontario’s rutted cart paths might not like that particular feature. The 25-litre fuel tank gives a range of well over 400 kilometres before you have to look for a petroleum extortion facility, as I averaged better than 5L/100 km with several tanksfull over a variety of conditions, including strafing some pretty impressive mountain roads.
Wind and weather protection is first-rate and enhanced by an electrically adjustable screen that fits even those above six feet tall. The seat height is adjustable over two positions (805 or 825mm for the standard seat), but “low” and “tall” seats are also available, giving a total available range from 760 to 850mm. Both rider and passenger seats are heated and of course, heated grips are fitted. The factory colour-matched hard bags and topbox hold lots of stuff (the topbox alone is 49 litres) and other manufacturers take note – these are the way bags should be, so everyone just copy BMW. They’re easy to open, easy to remove and install on the bike, lockable, good looking and one key fits all – nothing else required.
NO SOGGY BUNS ON THE BEEMER BMW claims a wet weight of 274 kg, no featherweight for sure but much less than the full-dress touring barges, and once underway, it feels much lighter. Rumbling along at a B.C. freeway-legal 120 km/h (nope, I’m not rubbing it in, not me), the RT is quiet and so comfortable, you feel as if it’s “Next stop, Halifax.”
It’s no soggy bun once the road gets twisty, either. The boxer’s low centre of gravity makes the RT feel very light and non-intimidating. It’s not exactly “flickable,” and the Telelever front suspension doesn’t react well to trail-braking, but once you adapt to what’s under you, you can really hustle the RT around the bends. My press unit felt a little squirrely at first and for the life of me, I don’t know why. I checked tire pressures (which were fine), looked at the rubber and there was no cupping or anything obvious, but for the first few days, I just didn’t feel confident at anything above a rather sedate and leisurely pace. Halfway through my first day trip, the handling suddenly came in, the RT felt secure and planted and I could rail through the twisties like on previous RTs. I’ve no idea what changed to make this happen. Weird for sure. HEADING OUT ON THE HIGHWAY, LOOKING FOR ADVENTURE My first major jaunt was up the Fraser Canyon to our lunch stop in Spence’s Bridge at a place that must be the local biker bar at night, judging from the Easy Rider decor and the black, streaky residue from numerous burnouts in the entranceway. Good cheeseburgers though. The ride from Hope to Spence’s Bridge shows the diversity of British Columbia as you traverse from coastal rain forest to high desert terrain that’s reminiscent of California with rolling brown hills. From there it was down the wonderful Nicola Highway, to Merrit, a short blast down the 120 km/h (this is me not rubbing it in again) Coquihalla Highway, then the 5A to Princeton, west to Hope and then home. A few days later, I crossed into the US of A at Sumas, just south of Abbotsford, B.C., and wended my way through various backroads to the oddly named town of Sedro-Wooley (which used to be named “Bugs” because of the mosquitoes, and no I wasn’t in Winnipeg), where I picked up 20 or the North Cascades Highway.
I’ve had the pleasure to ride a lot of great roads around the world and the 200 kilometres of the 20 from Bugs to Winthrop ranks right up there with any of them. The scenery is spectacular, and the curves are many and varied with lots of passing zones. It’s the law in Washington that if a someone is holding up more than four vehicles, they must pull over and let others pass. Harley riders take note. Not that you’ll be stuck behind lumbering motorhomes or RVs for very long on the RT. The ample torque allows you to zip by quickly and safely and most times, a downshift isn’t even required. After lunch in Winthrop, a quaint western-styled town complete with wooden sidewalks, I steered the ship for home and got to do it all over again in reverse.
At the end of both 700-km-plus days, I wasn’t fatigued in the least. The upright, comfortable seating position, well-engineered seat-to-pegs-to-bars relationship, and exceptional wind and weather protection allowed me to arrive home, cheerful and well-rested, rather than grumpy and sullen as on some motorcycles. The RT has successfully enshrined its place as not only one of the best BMWs available, it’s one of the best sport-touring motorcycles on the market.