By Rob Harris
When we used to publish "the print magazine" (OMG), it was all deadlines - with prearranging test rides, write ups, photographers, etc.
However, CMG and its web format has kinda released us of those requirements, and for now, as long as at least one article makes it up every Monday, everybody's happy, (or maybe more accurately, nobody complains). This attitude has also migrated to the planning and execution of test rides.
Instead of planning around bimonthly deadlines, we now have the luxury of randomly calling manufacturers and asking for what's available. Sometimes, however, we might neglect to call a manufacturer for a while and then when we do finally make that call, we're left with the pleasurably odd situation of being able to get a whole bevy of bikes to test - but in a relatively short time. This seems to be the case with BMW, from whom we will have got five bikes within the time period of a couple of months.
One of these was the R1100S, which we published a quick test about last year after the press intro and the other is the R1100R, which we had not yet ridden to date. Getting both bikes back to back raised the obvious solution of combining them into a single test - Sporty Boxer versus Posh Boxer. It's like the Spice Girls only it's not - 'cause we're talking about bikes here, not a bunch of overrated tarts. But then if you're not a BMW fan, you could still call the comparison ... I digress.
For those unfamiliar with the Boxer range of Beemers, they're the opposed twin range (cylinders sticking out to the side), with variations including a Cruiser (R1200C), Dual Purpose (R1150GS), Tourer (R1100RT), R1100S (Sports) and finally the R1100R (Roadster, which seems to mean a basic striped down naked version).
Ideally we should have got them all and done a "Boxer Blowout Super Comparo Battle of the Titans Bollocks" type of test. But that would involve actual organisation and planning - two attributes that we simply haven't yet perfected ... or more accurately, even understood. For now, enough of the rambling intros, let's get down to the R1100S versus the R1100R.
Introduced last year (an early 99 model) as the most powerful and sporting Boxer ever, the S model boasted output around the 100bhp mark with close to 100ft.lbs of torque to boot. The only Boxer to come with a six speed box (all the others only get five) and also the lightest, weighing in at at still relatively lardy 229Kg wet (most of the Japanese Sports bikes come in around 180Kg). Styling is quite radical for BMW with Ducatiesque twin mufflers exiting under the rear seat hump, leaving an exposed (and sexy, baby) derriere. The riding position is the forward lean that one would expect from a sports bike, and, with a tuck behind the fairing on a long stretch of straight stuff, should see about 225Km/h.
Photo Credit: Wilfred Gaube
This one's being around for a while and fits in an odd Boxer category that seems to be defined by a more retro opinion of what a motorcycle should be; clean, fairing free and fun (that's what BMW claim anyway). Claimed power is around the 80bhp mark, with max torque output being the same as the S, but interestingly at 500rpm's lower down the range. Wet weight is up 6Kg from the S at 235Kg. Styling is ... hmmhh .. a bit odd. A large humpy tank, squeezed up by a semi wrap around seat and assorted plastic bits. The lack of other plastic coverings, various finned castings and opposing bolt-on oil coolers help to give it an almost industrial look. Riding position is relatively upright, and a tuck behind the non existent fairing should see a rather wind battered 195Km/h.
Okay, I have to admit to being somewhat more enamored by the S during last years press launch flirtation than during my recent live-with experience. A bit like waking up after a glitzy night of passion, finding yourself beside a farty, burpy creature and duly reacquainting yourself with the ability of alcohol to beautify and attract. I'm being a bit harsh here, but the direct comparison of the S to the R model did help to emphasise a lot of these imperfections.
Let me justify my statements. First, the motor. It just didn't feel that powerful. Buell claim about the same figures from their tuned up 1200 Sporty V-twin motor, but that feels substantially more powerful and torquey (unfortunately it also just feels like it's about to blow all the time). I'm not sure whether I got a bad 'un, but it just wasn't quite 'there' enough for the claims of Sport class. It would also vibrate (rubber mounting here?) and had an obtrusive torque reaction when downshifting. Both elements that you ultimately got used to, but after some time with the R, I realised that I didn't have to. Maybe that's why the harsher analysis now.
In comparison the R, although lower in bhp than the S, felt more responsive. It also felt lighter (although it isn't), more flick-able and it didn't vibrate or torque react anywhere near to what the S did. In fact the R proved to be a lot more fun in most applications, which was a bit of a surprise.
Around town the R was quite happy to behave like a much smaller bike. Willingly shooting through the urban chaos, weaving around gridlocked cages and even showing it's survivability when pushed over by a parking cager who promptly left without leaving any notice of responsibility (bastard). Only some minor engine scuffs, resulting in only a loose mirror, bent clutch lever, and a tear of engine oil.
The motor is near identical to the on/off road R1100GS model, along with the same gearing, which probably explains why it feels so much better at the lower speeds of city driving. It also has a much steeper and smoother torque curve from idle up to 5000rpm than the S model for that fun inducing traffic light take off.
Both models have essentially the same gearbox, which (unlike the slick unit of the K series) tend to be a bit clunky with a few false neutrals if the rider doesn't change with determination. The S's extra gear allows for closer ratio spacing, but at higher ratios across the range than the R.
Carburation is by fuel injection, with fast idle for warm up. Both models are glitch free.
Suspension is by means of BMW's (now standard) Paralever single sided swingarm at the rear and the Telelever wishbone suspension up front. Both are not the same however, with the S saving a Kilogram of weight up front with infinitely adjustable damping via a knob located just in front of the gas tank filler. Unfortunately, it has no marker system so you can only adjust it to greater or lesser damping, not to one setting that you may have found favourable under certain conditions. Still, I guess you can always play with your little knob while on the move, until you find what suits. Similarly, the rear has infinite spring tension control, again by a knob and again with no marker system, but this time a bit out of the riders reach. Although I suppose now your passenger has a knob to play with as well, which is also bigger than the riders.
Ergonomically, the R beats out the S as well. The S has an unadjustable low cut seat that induces bum ache within a couple of hours. In comparison, the R has a three height adjustment (760/780/800mm) and padding to suit even the boniest of arse. However, on the highway the forward slant positioning of the S comes into play. A reasonable amount of speed creates an air cushion on the riders chest and off the wrists. Unfortunately, the screen does create a fair amount of noise, but deflects the main blast. An upright R with no screen gets tiresome at 100km/h plus as the rider gets the full buffeting - consider a screen compulsory here (available as an optional extra for $495).
ABS braking is optional on both bikes and works so well that it's a definitely worth trying to budget for (although it's a tad steep at an additional $1760). Otherwise, the twin 4 piston Brembo calipers (front) and 2 piston (rear) are not superb, but do the stopping job well enough.
Anesthetically, the S finally gets the prize. It's a sleek, purposeful looking bike. The under-the-seat pipes, industrial looking exposed motor, topped with a sculptured, single coloured fairing/tank/seat set up is sporty to the max and gets a lot of admiring glances. Conversely the R looks like a bit like a deformed bug. Ugly yet unique. Spastic yet elastic .... hmhh, let's just say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, whatever that means. Actually, that kind of leads me to a good final summation of the two (P.C.er's please bear with me on this one). If I could use a way over used bike-to-human comparison, the S would be a model: sleek, curvaceous, in a tight designer dress, as opposed to the R's plain Jane, dowdy, jeans and t-shirt. Interestingly, much like real life, the model doesn't really deliver and Jane? Well, frankly, she just gives a much better ride (sorry).
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