R1150 R & RT
It's hard to argue that the life of a motorcycle journalist is a tough one when you're riding a brand spanker through Texas, still digesting the 5 star dinner from the night before. Of course, this is a relatively rare experience. With only one day to try and appraise two new machines, it is on the tight side, but I'm not here to do a Cycle Canada, no I'm here to spin tales of big hair, large cowboy hats, the open road and ... oh yes, what we thought of BMW's revamped R1150R & RT.
Stumbling out of the Four Seasons hotel in Austin early Saturday morning welcomed us with a rather chilly and rain clouded day. The hangover was not as bad as I deserved, and the line up of R and RT motorcycles testified of the riding pleasure to come, especially considering that most of Canada was still under a blanket of that white stuff.
The previous evening BMW had sat us down and covered all the technical changes that they'd made to these models. These consist mainly of a change from 18 inch to 17 inch rear wheels (for better tire selection), the upgrade from the 1100 to 1150 motor (more power), the new 6 speed transmission (instead of 5, and smoother also) and the latest EVO brake system & Integral ABS (optional on the R, standard on the RT). Of course, there are numerous other modifications as well, such as a cosmetic makeover (significant on the R model, but mainly confined to the upper fairing on the RT).
Interestingly, power and torque output graphs show that the new motor develops almost identical curves as the 1100 unit did, they're just higher up (up 5 hp and 1 lb-ft respectively). This is a good thing as one of the major pleasures of the 1100R was the fun way it delivered it's power, something that it thankfully retains in this makeover - pulling hard and fast all the way up the rev band.
The motor is apparently identical to the one used on the R1150GS although I did notice a certain amount of buzzy vibration that I can't remember from the GS or the old 1100R model. Initially I thought that it might be sufficient to ruin an otherwise excellent bike, but strangely, after a few hours in the saddle it seemed to be much less of a factor. Keep the motor below 3,500 rpm and the vibes are totally absent, which is fine if you don't plan on going any faster than 110 Km/h.
I managed to get it up to about 190 Km/h (7 Km/h off what BMW claim as the maximum), which caused extreme neck bending and the condition feared by all - licence-absentcia. However, at more respectable speeds (below 115 Km/h) the instrument cluster does a surprisingly good job at protecting the rider, although there are a range of screens available which would seem like a good investment.
BMW have opted for lower (and further forward) steel tubular bars, along with lower pegs, which could be a bad thing but personally I didn't notice any significant difference, the rider positioning being close to ideal. However, I think they screwed up on the seat. The three position option has been dropped in favour of a standard 800 mm jobbie, or a 770 mm lower option. I couldn't get comfortable, Scot Magnish (my riding buddy for the day) couldn't get comfortable, with the result being a compulsory arse flexing session after 30 minutes. Shame really.
Handling wise, although there is a bit of weight being hauled around (238Kg wet), it holds its own in corners and is still very manoeuvrable in traffic. The only time I reached the limits of its suspension was scooting down some magnificently twisty and hilly backroads a few hours out of Austin. The bridges are low and flat, giving a sharp angle as the curve of the hill suddenly flattens out at its base. At 130 plus, this will compress just about any system, the R being no different, but amazingly it didn't err off-line whatsoever. Unfortunately my spine didn't appreciate the sudden compression, leaving me only 4 foot tall for the rest of the day.
Aesthetically, the R has seen significant improvements over its previous "demented bug look". Oil coolers have been integrated into the side of the tank (no longer looking like a bolt-on afterthought), the front fender has been modified (to create a line through the length of the bike), the front telelever arm is now made up of several pieces of steel tube (fancy, and no more steering damper) and the 5 spoke wheels have been lifted from the S model (which also happen to be lighter).
The net effect is an altogether taught and sleeker package.
Although the RT also gets the 1150 motor and six speed tranny, it's version is at a slightly higher state of tune, as a result of a higher compression ratio, giving a max output of 95 hp and 74 ft-lbs of torque (up 5 hp and 4 ft-lbs respectively). However, it doesn't feel as nippy as the R, thanks to the additional 40 Kgs it has to haul around.
While it still has some vibration above the 3,500 rpm mark, it's not as buzzy as the R, and so does not seem to make itself noticed as much. Also, the sixth gear is noticeably taller which means that the RT lends itself well to more relaxed high speed cruising, although it's a tad feeble in the acceleration department when in top.
The two other main changes address the two main problems I had with the old model.
Firstly, BMW have finally dumped that 'orrible little square light up front, which made the bike look like it can't decide whether it's a slim thing or a fat bastard. Bit like the managers at your local McDonalds - relatively normal up top, but then a noticeable 6 inch step at the waist, to accommodate an unfeasibly large arse (all dressed up in skin hugging pants for maximum effect). The new lamp (apparently taken from the LT) with twin fog lights now fills out the front, firmly putting it into a tour-sports-tour look.
The light is part of an upper fairing makeover, which thankfully still retains the infinitely adjustable electric screen - great for getting just the right height on the move, but unfortunately not quite doing it when fully up, resulting in some buffeting and a chunk of noise at faster speeds.
The old seat used to create a weird kind of shearing action against my buttocks, as it tried to make me slide forward, when I wanted to be further back. The new seat is softer and plusher with an even wider version as an option. The bike I rode had the wide version, which proved much more comfortable although still a tad (just a tad) sheary. I guess it's a 6' 4" problem. It's still adjustable in three heights from 805 to 845 mm (which is tall!), with a lower 780 to 820 mm version available as an option.
Like the R, the RT comes with the new EVO brake system up front but also offers integrated ABS as standard instead of as an $1,800 option, as is the case with the R (see below).
EVO BRAKES WITH INTEGRAL ABS
Both the R and RT feature the newly developed BMW EVO brake on the front wheel, which BMW claim boosts brake power more than 20 per cent, while reducing the forces required for operating the hand lever by 15 per cent (for the same standard of brake power). They also claim that the system is lighter and the pads last 50% longer than the old version. Smashing (or not, as we hope the case would be).
They have also updated their excellent ABS system (optional on the R and standard on the RT), which now uses an electro-hydraulic brake servo (and sounds like a dentist drill - shudder) for increased braking effect and can also adjust the distribution of the braking force between the front and the rear, depending on current conditions.
The Integral ABS is available in two different versions: On the fully integral version, the hand and foot levers act simultaneously on the front and rear wheel brakes, whilst on the semi-integral version (designed for the sportier models), the hand lever acts simultaneously on the front and rear while, as before, the foot lever acts only on the rear wheel brake.
The bikes that I rode came equipped with both upgrades and I was more impressed than that annoying woman (and creepy Roots guy) on that fabric 'relaxant' T.V. ad.
Without the motor running, it feels horribly spongy, but stiffens up well once the motor's fired up. Coincidentally, the brake system does the same thing (sorry, cheap joke, but we don't have much of a budget for jokes these days).
On the road there's not much lever travel between off and fully on, but there is still good feel for gradual easy braking, the stoppers feeling more like a one ton anchor's being dropped overboard when given a firm squeezing. With the ABS, there's no fear of lock up either, although if brake technology keeps progressing like this they'll have to start compensating for rolling stoppies.
Interestingly, since the system is linked, it's supposed to be impossible to do burn outs (well the clutch will oblige) as the front brake will also clamp the rear wheel. Of course, Bertrand from Quebec's Motomag still managed to do it (albeit briefly) much to the bewilderment of the BMW staff. Never say never guys!
Overall the updates to both models seem to have hit their respective nails on their respective heads.
The R has managed to shed most of its bug like aesthetics (hey, even Mr Magnish in his fancy leathers didn't look out of place on it!) while still retaining it's best asset - character. The larger motor, slicker box and EVO front brake all add to the bikes functionality, although I'd like to get a bit more time with it to see if that buzzy vibe really does pose a problem.
Overall, I hope that the changes will get more people to consider this, the cheapest Boxer (at $14,950), which just so happens to be the one with the highest fun factor (excluding the king of fun - the 1150GS of course).
The RT, while getting a less extensive makeover than the R, also seems to benefit well from all of the changes that were offered to it - such as the much welcomed addition to derriere comfort , the more apt styling change (thanks to the larger light), and the impressive integral ABS as standard.
At $21,600 it's still more than I could ever afford, but five grand cheaper than both BMW's LT and Honda's new Wing ... and a bit more manageable to boot.