I have a love/hate relationship with England. I love the people, the pubs, the humour, the history and most of all the roads. There's a lot to be said for roads that were laid down hundreds of years ago when the best way past an obstacle was around it. Ancient engineering consisted of a ramshackle bridge only when absolutely needed. Thus every bog, rocky outcrop or hole meant an extra turn in the road to get around it. These routes became established and improved over the years, eventually getting a coating of asphalt in the twentieth century to make it ready for one of modern life's great inventions, the motorcycle!
But alas, Im not here to tell you tales of warm beer and friendly sheep. It's all well and dandy to have a twisty paradise, but it's also very sad when you're missing the all important two wheels. That gap was dandily filled by BMW's sport touring K1200RS.
Introduced a couple of years ago, the K1200RS signified a major revamp to the BMW in-line four engined series of bikes. The previous K1100RS models received a so-so reception from the BMW faithful with a boxy, squarish styling, equipped with a competent but somewhat buzzy motor. The revamp not only saw a total restyling job, but a mechanical one too.
The engine got a good going over, and was duly punched out to 1200cc, producing a very respectable 130bhp. Combined with a new six speed box, top speed is now in the license killing 245 Km/h zone. To neutralise any buzzing, the new sizeable cast aluminum frame now also retains the motor via rubber mounts, to give a vibe free ride.
Styling is curvaceous, moulded ... dare I say... blobby? Yes I do .. I just did. Into this the rider almost slots in place behind the large fuel tank, legs finding their allotted cut outs just aft of the two radiator vents.
The position is upright with a slight lean forward - ideal compromise for distance riding. In fact the three main anchor points (the arse, the hands and the feet) are all adjustable to ensure a happy posture. The seat can be either positioned high or low, the bars can be brought back and up for touring mode, or low and forward for those sportier moments. Hell, even the foot pegs are adjustable. This is real world motorcycling for the real world rider.
Having said all that, what about it's abilities on the sport side of sports-touring? A tuck-in-and-gun-it test saw 220Km/h on the speedo before my self preservation instinct kicked back in. BMW claim a top speed of 245Km/h and I see no reason to doubt that. However, through the curves the RS cannot really hide its 285Kgs, putting it into the Concours/ST1100 category as opposed to the nimbler Sprint ST and VFR800's. The result means that it's a lot harder to flick from one peg to the other than one would find with a pure sports bike, but the chassis and suspension hold the line at all times, enabling a surprising amount of hero like manoeuvres and steep lean angles.
Living with the RS for two weeks was easy. Cold starts are immediate and choke free, thanks to a well thought out fuel injection system. Throttle response is also immediate and without glitches, with a steady delivery of power (except for a rather nice pronounced surge at 7000rpm) all the way to the ignition cut out at 9000rpm. 5,000 rpm in sixth saw 90 mph (145 Km/h), but I often found myself cruising in third (revs up and in the power), without any uncomfortable feedback from the motor.
Oddly, at idle the engine sounds like a bag o' nails, but smoothes out as soon as the throttle is applied. Rubber mounting means that no vibration gets through to the rider. I did find it rather prone to pre-ignition going up hills, even with the super expensive gas (80+ Pence per litre = approx. $2+ /litre). Dropping it down a gear and raising the revs usually helped but then took away that lazy cruising feel.
Since most of my time was spent touring England in search of long lost friends and ageing relatives, the bike was left with the screen up and bars back. I once tried setting everything to sporty mode, but lost a lot of the comfort level without gaining any noticeable prowess. Oddly, however, this did seem to reduce the amount of wind noise coming off the screen, at the expense of extra wind buffeting (use ear plugs). The screen is adjustable only manually, not electronically, by the way, which unfortunately doesn't allow for fine adjustment while riding.
Oh yeah, and the seat was a real pain to slot into its upper position. The slot wouldnt go into the groove, and the knob didnt line up with the recess, which got in the way of the latch ... you get the picture. Once having managed to change the height, it did prove to be pretty comfortable on the long haul. Generally a day in the saddle would leave me feeling a tad numb but not in pain. My passenger had nothing but good things to say about her half either.
The touring also meant that the optional hard bags were on more than not. Again, good design enables quick and easy removal and installation - once you've gotten used to the red latch meaning don't try to lock! When the bags are removed the rear end of the bike has a very clean look, unlike a bike such as the Honda ST1100 which looks like there's definitely something missing when it's sans bags.
Bag capacity is a bit limited, and not quite big enough if youre thinking of a passenger and a two week hike across the continent. Especially the left hand side one, which is substantially reduced to allow for the upswept exhaust pipe and associated heat shield - which partially works. Just keep the chilled drinks and the pet Chihuahua in the other side - otherwise you'll be arriving with warm beer and a mini roast.
While Im on the subject of faults (however few and small they be) I thought the brakes could be a bit better. Having ABS (anti-lock) as standard is a real plus, but I found the front a tad spongy, which caused a few heart pausing moments when I quickly tried a two finger emergency stop - only to pull the lever to a premature halt against my two other fingers, still wrapped around the grip! Setting the adjustable span levers to maximum solved this pant soiling dilemma. Oh, and the back is way too weak. Normally Im a fan of weak back brakes, otherwise they lock up way too easily and become unusable. But if youve got ABS as standard, then why not make a keen rear and then just let the anti lock system do its job?
Alas, it would be unfair of me to finish this piece on a bad note. With all my time as a test rider, and all the bikes Ive ridden to date, the K1200RS has to be one of the sweetest, most all round usable bikes. Sure, other bikes can beat it on power, sporty handling and cool dude looks, but they all let themselves down when it comes to using a bike for more than just one sole purpose.
Of course, maybe a few kilos could be shaved off and the luggage capacity increased, but if I had to limit myself to one bike that I could commute to work, take out for the occasional track day or across the country, then this is the one.