Point/Counterpoint: 2021 BMW R 1250 R Review

After 70-years and more than half a million units were sold, production of the classic two-valve “airhead” boxers, came to an end in the mid-90s with the advent of the four-valve R 1100 series. BMW had spawned multiple variations of the big R100s, some with racy bubble fairings, others set up for highway touring, and of course, there was the legendary GS enduros. They all showcased the versatility of Motorrad’s horizontally-opposed engine design.

Today the big Wasserboxer can be found in one form or another in everything from rugged dual sports, to sport touring machines, cruisers, and this roadster (as BMW calls it), the R 1250 R. If the RnineT is the spiritual successor to the classic BMW R90, then this new naked bike is, well, the latest version in the short lineage of R 1100 R, R 1150 R and R 1200 R. And if that leaves you wondering just where this naked bike fits within BMW’s line up, and indeed within the motorcycling realm as a whole, well, that was the same head-scratcher that CMG Editor Dustin Woods and Contributor, Jeff Wilson faced, and tried to sort out with some time in the saddle.

Dustin and Jeff – in deep discussion over the 2021 BMW R 1250 R, or exchanging cornbread recipes?

Styling

Jeff:
It’s tough to really define the style of this thing. It’s pretty distinctive – there’s nothing else that looks quite like the R 1250 R. Most defining are the boxer’s laterally protruding cylinder heads, but it’s got those beefy gold forks up front, too, suggesting some handling prowess to accompany the promise of the engine’s torquey power delivery. The sexiness of the single-sided swing arm in the rear is mostly obscured by the enormous muffler. And what’s with the chrome finish on that thing when all the other metallic finishes are matte or black-painted?

The optional racks for the top case and panniers look like stretched out bits of the trellis frame, making for a busy back-end, too. It isn’t a pretty bike, that’s for sure, but it’s relative rarity, plus the cachet of the boxer engine and the BMW roundel, at least gives it some sort of street cred.

“Is my knee touching yet?” Jeff leans the BMW R 1250 R over into a turn.

Dustin:
The combination of colours, materials, angles, and shapes may be appealing to some, but certainly not to others. I actually don’t mind the styling, aside from the giant gaping radiator mouth, gargantuan protruding cylinder heads, and comically oversized chrome muffler of course. I would most certainly swap the stock pipe for an aftermarket option before I ever took delivery if I was to buy this bike. I do like the placement and layout of the 6.5-inch TFT screen, as well as the materials used on the bike which feel robust and high in quality.

Thoughts on styling were divided.

Comfort and Convenience

Jeff:
The R 1250 R is a wide and relatively heavy bike, but it’s also one that’s loaded up with technology in the interest of making the rider’s life easier out on the road. BMW’s fitted the R 1250 R with electronically adjustable dampers that can take the ride from cloud-like to just soft when set in its sportiest mode. Couple that creamy ride with a seat that’s as soft and squishy as a middle-aged bike editor’s mid-section and it’s pretty easy to spend a long day out riding.

The cruise control works well to give the right hand a breather on long trips, which was welcome because I found the width and sweep of the bars to put my wrists at an awkward angle, causing fatigue sooner than expected. The test bike was also optioned with the navigation mount (but not the navigation unit), but I wish BMW took advantage of that bright TFT screen and simply incorporated CarPlay the way, Honda has done. That said, if you use BMW’s app, you can sling rudimentary navigation directions (no mapping) to the display from your phone.

Dustin:
The proportions of the motorcycle suited my six-foot frame well for the most part. A low seat 760 mm and a sport seat (840 mm) are also available. The stock seat was comfortable, while the riding position was upright and relaxed. The inward angle of the handlebars required my arms to be in an awkward position like a T-Rex, placing an unnecessary strain on my wrists. Cruise control is always appreciated, and the wide spongey seat would be comfortable on longer rides.

The multi-controller wheel makes it easy to navigate menus and make selections on the fly. Bluetooth connectivity allows connectivity through your smartphone through the BMW app, but as Jeff said, other manufacturers have ways of doing it better.

Menu scrolling and selection is done through the multi-controller wheel on the left hand grip.

Handling:

Jeff:
While the R 1250 R is a competent handler, it’s not all that rewarding to ride fast. The combo of the bike’s 527-lb (239 kg) mass, plus the supple suspension mean that there’s some reluctance by the R 1250 R to be treated like a sports machine when the road twists become tight. BMW’s got the S 1000 R for riders looking to really slice up the pavement with their naked bike, but the R 1250 R seems better-suited for cruising along the back-roads or highways. The R 1250 RS and RT models should offer the same handling with better wind protection.

Dustin:
The aforementioned shape of the handlebars wasn’t conducive to spirited riding. As with every boxer model I’ve ridden (with the exception of the GS), I consistently banged my shins on the cylinder heads anytime I tried to set myself up to take a more aggressive riding position through a turn.

The front forks and rear suspension can be adjusted for a very soft ride, or tightened up for slightly more sporting activity. Braking was adequate under normal circumstances but felt a bit ungainly when being pushed due to the bike’s size and stature.

The R 1250 R’s handlebars are angled in towards the tank in a manner that neither rider found conducive to spirited riding, or comfort.

Engine / Power

Jeff:
I do love how the boxer engine rocks the R 1250 R gently side-to-side when idling. Crack that throttle while at a stop light and the bike characteristically spasms as if its 177 lb-ft of torque would rather be twisting the prop-shaft rather than just sitting there. A surprising amount of throttle twist is needed to get the big Beamer hustling with any real gusto away from a stop. Even fiddling with the different ride modes resulted in a more laidback nature than I’d have liked. When rolling, there’s ample thrust on tap, but it never feels like the R 1250 R snaps to attention, nor rockets the bike forward the way that much torque and 136 hp were expected to. BMW also employs its Shift Cam variable timing system that I found could be heard more than felt around its 5,000 rpm actuation.

The six-speed transmission shifts deliberately and finding neutral was never an issue. Our bike’s $1,100 Dynamic Package option included the addition of a quick shifter that was so clunky between first and second gear that it had me cringing, finding it far better to simply shift for myself.

The 6.5-inch TFT screen is well laid out, making it easy to read at speed.

Dustin:

The 2020 model year saw a bump in displacement from 1,170 to 1,254 cc for the liquid-cooled opposed twin engine, as well as variable valve timing which BMW called Shift Cam. Not only does it improve power delivery and widen the powerband but is also improves fuel economy.

I first experienced BMW’s Shift Cam engine while testing the 2020 BMW R 1250 RS last year in California. I was equally impressed with its use in the R 1250 R. Perhaps Jeff was riding like a little old lady, or maybe I’ve just become accustomed to riding slower motorcycles and am impressed easier, but I thought that there was more than enough power for the application given its weight and suspension setup. It’s a large, heavy motor that takes up a lot of space, but the R 1250 R is the lightest in the R 1250 lineup. Torque is robust in every gear and acceleration ranges from ample to abundant as you rise through the rev range.

The gear shift lever also felt a bit janky on a motorcycle that otherwise felt substantial and high in quality. I legitimately thought Jeff was being his usual prima donna self when he lamented how bad the Beemer’s quick shifter (named Shift Assistant Pro) was, until I tried it for myself. The shift from first to second in particular resulted in a “thunk” pronounced enough to jolt the bike. We were both surprised that a company known for such refined engineering would let something like this slide through to production.

As with most boxer applications, the giant protruding cylinder heads keep weight low, but get in the way.

Practicality & Cost:

Jeff:
The R 1250 R starts at $17,400, which isn’t too bad for a big-bore, premium brand naked bike. However, add the luggage rack, the Mineral Grey paint, Comfort, Touring, and Dynamic Packages and the price climbs to nearly $22-grand. Yes, it’s got a lot of features, but that’s a serious bit of coin, too. If I were buying, I’d also spring for the optional Akropovic exhaust so I wouldn’t have to look at all that chrome, and to hear that gruff, if muted, boxer growl a little louder.

Dustin:
There are lots of naked bikes on the market, however this particular one would be capable of doing extended distances more comfortably when optioned up. Its 18 L fuel capacity would let you ride further than most naked bikes on longer hauls. If that’s what you’re looking for, of course.

The starting MSRP of $17,400 gets you standard equipment such as ABS, ASC (Automatic Stability Control), HSC (Hill Start Control), adjustable riding modes (Rain and Road), and heated grips, but not cruise control or advanced riding modes. You have to pay for the whole Touring and Dynamic Packages to get those.

Start checking option boxes and the price climbs quickly. The $2,275 Touring Package includes keyless ride, a GPS mount, cruise control, a centre stand, and luggage side case brackets, while the Dynamic Package ($1,100) adds the quick shifter, and additional riding modes which also allow for various levels of traction and stability intervention. Want a colour other than Black? You’re going to have to pay for that. Want to switch up the wheels? That’ll cost you.

Heated hand grips and adjustable ride modes come standard.

Conclusion:

Jeff:
You’d have to really want a naked BMW boxer to go for the R 1250 R, which seems like a very niche segment of the market. Otherwise, the R 1250 RS offers a bit more wind protection with its fairings, or the R 1250 RT offers more comfort and the hard case luggage with the same mechanical experience. An R nine T offers much more style, and an S 1000 XR offers more a more engaging ride and arguably even better touring comfort. All this is to say, even after spending a week with the R 1250 R, I really don’t get it.

Dustin:
Even if I’m not immediately over the moon about a particular motorcycle personally, I can generally put myself into the potential buyer’s boots pretty easily, but I’ll admit – I simply don’t know who this motorcycle is aimed at. It’s not light and agile enough to be my top choice for corner carving or riding around the city, and on long stretches of highway riding I’d definitely want more wind protection.

The R 1250 R may fill a niche within a niche for some, however off the top of my head I can think of a handful of motorcycles that would be better suited for luxurious long-distance riding and also be way more fun when the roads get interesting. Such bikes are already offered within BMW’s existing lineup, so I don’t understand the rationale for the R 1250 R.

The R 1250 R would be a good choice for something who doesn’t mind spending a bit more for a touring naked bike, but it seems that both Jeff and Dustin would opt for something else in the BMW lineup if they were spending their own money.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I had 2 R1200RT’s, they were amazing bikes. In order to extend our already short Canadian riding season I need wind protection and heat. The RT’s had heated grips and seats, perfect wind/rain protection and so much adjustability. Screen up or down on the fly, change suspension settings on the fly. Most of my riding was in BC and I have gone through heavy rain and 5 degrees in the summer. If I want a short range canyon carver, I want something small and light. Can’t see them selling many of these in Canada, a Yamaha R7 would be better, probably 1/2 the price with much better reliability and lower running costs.

  2. I’ve ridden this bike over more than a few passes in the Alps and love it. With normal front telescopic forks you get front end feedback that’s missing from the GS and a not to sporty sitting position that’s a good compromise for corners and getting to the corners. That torque is so satisfying blasting out of hairpins also.
    That said I don’t think I’d want one in NA, in Europe sure, which is probably why naked sport bikes are so popular there.

  3. “177 ft lbs of torque”? Is that accurate? If so a new boxer BMW might be in my future.

    Great article and look forward to more of the same .

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