BMW K1200R - ART & THE MOTORCYCLE
If you read, re-read and then read again the tale of the 2005 Mad Bastard Rally, then the name Greg Vosper may be familiar to you. Greg – a Toronto Firefighter – was a competitor in the MBS Rally, riding a vintage Vespa scooter which unfortunately broke down at the furthest-most point of the rally.
Greg’s misfortune was our delight, as he ended up writing an excellent tale of woe that caught our attention and ultimately ended up with the invitation to have a go at a CMG test ride.
The result is this article, which is followed by a second opinion by Editor ‘arris to ensure that we’ve covered all the bases as best as can be expected. As always, we appreciate any feedback that you may have so that we can also gauge the thickness of Greg’s skin (thick and leathery being an important asset at CMG)!
IDENTITY CRISIS OR WORK OF ART?
By Greg Vosper
Swing your leg over the saddle of the new BMW K1200R, jab the start button and one thing is immediately evident: This ain’t your Grandad’s BMW! This is further reinforced by the deep rumbling exhaust note from the potent 1,157 cc inline four and aggressive positioning of the footpegs – a hint of the adrenaline rush to come.
In fact, had there not been the familiar blue and white propeller logo on the functionally stylish fuel tank, most observers would have a hard time believing that they were looking at a BMW at all.
BEAUTY IS IN THE ASYMMETRICAL EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
The K1200R is a drastic departure from traditional oil-head boxers, in its style, appearance, technical innovation and sheer performance. If the last BMW you rode was your Grandad's R65, the K1200R with 0 to 100 km/h in the range of 2.9 seconds and a maximum torque of 94 Ib-ft will be something of a shock.
Resembling some kind of Borg spaceship or top-secret experimental military vehicle – with its flat silver paint job, sculptured wheels and asymmetrical headlight – the 1200R is nothing if not eye-catching. This bike literally stops people in their tracks and draws a crowd wherever it is parked.
On the first day of my test ride, I rode it around downtown Toronto, subtly trying to gauge peoples reactions out of the corner of my eye and I was in fact surprised to see people pointing, smiling and doing the Scooby-Doo double take (Huh?!).
What some may have been unaware of was the ass-crunching power lurking within the compact Formula 1-inspired engine. With a claimed 163 bhp (four horsepower less than its big brother K1200S, due to restricted induction geometry) BMW bills this bike as 'The Most Powerful Production Naked Bike in the World'.
When asked the inevitable question “how do you like it?” more often than not I would just grin stupidly and simply say “fast” and point to the little ass-grabbing step in the seat and mutter “good!” Upon further reflection though, I must say that riding the 1200R is more than just simply about “fast”. It is a very well refined, luxury sport vehicle.
(Note – we wrote a whole article about all the technical bits that grace BMW’s K1200S. Since the R is basically a naked version of the S, the same technology still applies. Rather than go over how it all works again here, simply click on the link and read to your heart’s content.)
Riding the thing is another chapter of the same story. It is smooth and predictable over most road imperfections and proved extremely competent. Damping can be adjusted on the fly to either normal, sport or comfort mode from the (optional) handlebar-mounted ESA system. Preload can be adjusted from a standstill with two pushes of the ESA button, with choices of rider-only, rider-and-gear, or rider-passenger-and-gear.
I love toys!
The suspension does work well without being too choppy and the front Duolever forks feel particularly solid. This system is both functional and radical to look at with its large body-coloured vertical elements. Shiny telescopic fork tubes are noticeably absent.
This patented single-shock suspension system in partnership with the four-piston, servo-assisted, linked brakes (with optional ABS) help bring the big Beemer to a easily controlled stop every time. These brakes are amongst the most powerful that I have ever experienced on a motorcycle – with true one finger panic stopping capability.
This bike is a bit of a status symbol no doubt, with a price tag that would leave little left over from twenty grand, with that being said though; more than one admirer commented that the 1200R is the first BMW that they would seriously consider buying. I could tell that several R6-riding street squids even wanted one, judging from the angle of their jaw drop when I left a pack of them at a stop light with the front wheel in the air and the back tire on fire … almost.
Which brings up the point… keeping your license on the K1200R might be a bit of a trick. Since it does stand out from the crowd, and since it is so much damn fun to ride, keeping speeds below supersonic and attitude below “hooligan” can and will be a challenge for the less restrained rider.
In short, this bike is a cop-magnet. Highway speeds can be attained in first and second gear if desired or if careful attention is not paid to the instruments … you have been warned.
Speaking of instruments, they are basic, but plenty cool. With white backgrounds (including a K1200R logo, in case you forget), the speedo and smaller, centrally-mounted tach may be analog but are almost as accurate as a Swiss (German?) watch – as verified by my trusty GPS. A small LCD display shows time, coolant temperature, fuel level, suspension setup and gear position.
Unfortunately, this bike had a broken fuel gauge, which prompted more fuel stops than necessary to keep it on the safe side. Thankfully, fuel consumption turned out to be reasonable for a large-displacement bike – more so if ridden conservatively – costing me eighty bucks to go about 1,400 hard-driven km.
With my initial test jaunts in urban and suburban GTA complete, I decided that a little open throttle – I mean highway – was in order to get the feel of the big roadster on a long(er) journey.
After a brief stop at a local biker hang-out for the requisite show and tell, bench racing and greasy breakfast, it was off to find some twisty little roads and escape from the city. Here the K really starts to shine and it almost begs you to turn it up in the corners.
Handling is surprisingly crisp for a bike with a longer than average wheelbase. I found no bad manners even in left to right transitions on some fairly tight S-turns. Large bumps and non-flush manhole covers in the middle of high speed sweepers produced no surprises or noticeable ill effects either.
Even though the K’s wheelbase is considered long at 1,580 mm and its weight not exactly featherweight at 237 kg (ready to ride), the K1200R feels like a much smaller bike. With the optional shorter seat, the seat height can be reduced from 820 to 790 mm, making it easy for most riders to manoeuvre it around the garage or parking lot with both feet flat on the ground.
Top gear roll-on acceleration is substantial from about 2,000 rpm up to about 6,000, where the engine REALLY starts to pull, right up to the 11,000 rpm rev limiter.
I found myself cutting my rest stops short in order to get back on the bike and ride. I was really enjoying this bike – I just hoped that it didn’t spoil me forever from my much-loved (but rather ancient) Yamaha RZ350.
As I headed north through small towns and two-lane secondary highways, the bike performed flawlessly and was reasonably comfortable. The screen doesn’t seem to do much more than keep the bugs off of the instruments … but that’s what a naked bike is all about, isn’t it?
I was thankful for the heated grips as the temperature dropped with the gaining latitude, although I found that the high setting could only be used for a few minutes at a time before becoming uncomfortably hot. It’s amazing how much warm hands can make you feel so much more comfortable on a long ride. Chicken soup for the hands?
All in all, I have to say that I really enjoyed my test ride of the BMW K1200R. Some may argue that it is a bike with an identity crisis, some might say it’s impractical. Many will see it for what it is – a true fun machine that combines finesse with some real get up and go and never fails to put a smile on your face.
It’s also a crowd pleaser. I even ran into one guy who was at the moment riding a K1200S who absolutely raved about the new BMW fours. He went on to rhyme off a laundry list of extremely exotic and expensive rides that he had owned at one time or another and professed the K1200R and K1200S to be among his all-time favourites.
But hey, that’s just one guy! Okay, two counting me.
by Editor ‘arris
I was really looking forward to getting onto the K1200R. It has Rob Harris written all over it – although in German they seem to spell it as B–M–W for Rob and K–1–2–0–0–R for Harris. If there were Internet dating for bikes and riders, then we would have been given a five-star rating.
We’d pass cute e-mails back and forth, get each other’s jokes, and take the plunge for a first date. Friends would be instantly jealous – she’s tall, taut, sculptured, and can even not take herself too seriously by slapping on a pair of funky glasses. And you’d know that when you inevitably end up between the sheets, you’re going to be in for one of hell of a ride!
Just as imagined, I instantly fell in love with the attention to detail of every part and when we went out everyone ohh’d and arr’d. I felt special to be with her. I’d even arranged for a date at the race track. This was going to be great!
Things started off just fine; The motor delivers huge linear power and simply exudes torque. Power comes in strong shortly after idle, gets a boost around 6k, howls at 7 1/2k (where there’s also a slight vibey patch), at which point it lets loose up to around the 10k mark. Here it starts to drop off subtly, giving the rider plenty of warning that it might be good time to change up.
But there’s some niggles in there. First off the fuel injection tended to ‘chug’ slightly off idle (although it was fine after that). Then there’s the gearbox that ‘clunks’ through the first three gears – odd because I had found the fully-faired K1200S gearbox to be very smooth (and it’s the same box).
The upright seating position should have fit me to a ‘T’, but the high, rearward pegs (for a generous ground clearance and to emphasize the R’s sporty pedigree) cramped up my lanky legs and became the limiting factor for how long I could stay onboard before stopping to unfold. Even the way that the seat wrapped itself to the tank became an issue as it would catch on the inside of my legs, creating noticeable sore spots in relatively short order.
There was no denying it – it was the age-old problem rearing its ugly head – I was simply too big for her.
Oh well, we still had a date at the track to do …
There’s something very different about spending time with a bike on the track as opposed to the road. In the dating scenario it’s the difference between a drunken night out on the town and the very different reality of a quiet half at your local.
True to my comparison, our time on the track was a blast. The K1200R is similar to the new Yamaha FZ1 – it’s a stripped down sportbike, not a tuned-down sportbike motor in a more friendly and spacious chassis. On the road it may not be particularly lanky-friendly, but put it on the track and longer-term comfort is no longer an issue.
The masses of torque and low-down power mean that you can focus more on the lines than on the gearbox (and even that seemed to be a lot smoother now), with the option to keep it friendly (and thus below 6,000 rpm) or go for the wilder side and let that post 6k madness loose.
The long wheelbase results in a very steady ride but it does make cornering into a bit of a commitment, as once you’ve chosen your line, like many a fair maiden, it doesn’t want you to change the course. It’s also a bit reluctant when it comes to flipping from one side to the other in the esses, but this is not out of line for a bigger bike.
The servo-assist brakes are super strong and will happily pull things back into line at the end of a long straight in no time. Although with each generation, BMW makes them more and more refined, there’s still a lack of instinctive feedback, which can prove to be a bit unnerving if you like to brake late into the corner.
The ESA suspension adjustment system is noticeable on the track (sport mode please), but then not as much of a difference as I would have expected, and to be honest, on the road I didn’t notice any differences in modes at all.
My only track-beef was the interference of the passenger pegs with my heels, preventing me from being able to get my toes up on the pegs. They’re not easily unboltable, so you have to try and work around them, but once again I’m freakishly large in that department.
THE BREAK UP
Shortly after the track session, and with only 3,000 km on the clock, the clutch decided to start slipping – prematurely ending the party. Granted, those would likely have been 3,000 journalist km (i.e. very unforgiving), but seeing the tach swing up wildly just as the power began to really take off – with no associated lunge in momentum – was a distinct downward spiral in our blossoming relationship. We had no choice but to say our goodbyes.
It had been an interesting date, but ultimately it ended in disappointment. I guess you never know how well you’ll actually match until you get a good test ride. Still, after a trip to the BMW clutch department she was soon back on the dating scene and it seems that a subsequent date with the more compact Mr. Vosper went very well, which I’m very happy about. Really. I wish them the best of luck … a happy life …
Maybe they could call one of their kids Rob?