Last year I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of saddle time straddling a number of great bikes. With so much exciting new machinery hitting the North American marketplace over the past two dozen months, no matter what your riding style or preference, there’s bound to be an all-new machine perfect for you.
Two of the new rides that impressed me the most last year came from those clever bike-building Bavarians. The BMW S1000R – a sensational naked version of the all-conquering S1000RR superbike, and the stunning RnineT “roadster” embody so much of what’s great about modern motorcycling that they should each be on any rider’s “must try” list at least once. They’re both capable performers, easy to ride and reasonably comfortable for long days of racking up many miles.
So when BMW announced the R1200R for 2015, it quickly became one of the most hotly anticipated rides of this season. The way I saw it, the new R1200R would slot perfectly between the S1000R on the frenetic performance side of things, and the RnineT’s slight lean toward fashion over function. It’s not just wishful thinking, either. Before even slinging a leg over the saddle, the appearance of this new 2015 BMW R1200R makes strong suggestions of a sporting nature, especially dressed in Light White with the crimson accents and trestle frame. The sight of the robust, inverted fork (instead of BMW’s traditional Telelever front end) looks the business, and having been pillaged from the S1000R, is the real deal.
The small fly screen and white belly pan also help set the sporting tone that seems a bit at odds with the accessory luggage rack, windshield and pannier brackets, but also relate back to the do-it-all attitude for this bike. Want to bend it into some corners out on your favourite country roads? No problem. Want to zip out for some errands in town? Check. How about loading it up and heading out for a long weekend away? You betcha; pack up, set the cruise control and away you go. The versatile R1200R manages each role brilliantly.
Being a BMW, the R1200R does it all feeling like the engineers have sweated the details to make it a solid, well built and premium machine. The gauges, for instance, are a tidy, asymmetrical design that houses a classic analogue speedometer next to a digital output that provides information on everything from engine speed, to fuel level, to efficiency, and of course the myriad of electronic settings enabling the rider to customize the type of ride the bike will give.
The throttle fuelling is brilliantly smooth and precisely measured with a ride-by-wire system that doesn’t feel as overly light and twitchy as some of the competitors’ set ups. The clutch offers a smooth pull without being too stiffly sprung and the six-speed transmission shifts with authoritative engagement, never posing a problem for finding neutral. Of course all of this, as important as it is, is still secondary to the engine – that big, beautiful boxer that defines the character of this motorcycle. Those familiar with BMWs will likely recognize this engine as the same revered 125 horsepower unit found in the R1200GS adventure bike. While the power rating is nothing to sneeze at, it’s the seamless torque delivery (92 lb-ft here) that boxer lovers cherish in these motors.
From off-idle up through the midrange and on into the upper reaches of the tach, this wasserboxer pulls the 231 kg (wet) R1200R effortlessly. Still, it’s not as frenetic (nor nearly as powerful) as BMW’s racier 4-cylinder found in the S1000R, but then that also enables a more relaxed highway gait and fewer revs at speed. The riding position of the R1200R is also more neutral and comfortable than that of the S1000R, plus with no fewer than four seat options from BMW, if you can’t get this Roadster to suit your butt’s needs, you may need to check if your physiology is human. This riding position, combined with the greater dimensions in length, width and height, make the R more relaxed in the handling department than the S1000R, as one would expect.
There’s stability to the R1200R, regardless of whether leaned over in a turn, or at elevated highway speeds, that instills confidence in the rider. This sense of security is furthered by BMW’s addition of ABS and Automatic Stability Control. Plus, with engine mapping modes that include a “Rain” setting that measures out the power more gently, the R is ready to do its part to get you through the inevitable rough weather encounters.
While on the topic of the electronic niceties BMW fits here, it should be noted that the optional Keyless Ride makes starting and refueling a convenient affair without ever fishing a key out of your pocket. That said, getting the fuel cap and headstock to actually lock is a complex enough process to warrant a read of the owner’s manual. With all that said, is the new R1200R the perfect blend of the best of the S1000R and RnineT? Yes and no. There’s a purity and relative simplicity – not to mention genuine style – to the RnineT that is lacking in this new bike. Likewise, the S1000R is, not surprisingly, a much more exhilarating and racy experience.
So where does that leave the R1200R? Right in the middle, as expected, but seeming like a bit of a compromise on all fronts and never quite endearing itself to me as BMW’s other two big roadsters have done. The R1200R is unquestionably the best of the three if your riding has you doing more touring than city jaunts or canyon blasting. Nobody is doing the naked / roadster theme of bikes more thoroughly now than BMW, and one thing is for sure: no matter which way your tastes and needs lean, those Bavarians surely have a bike to meet your needs. And you can bet it is a well executed one at that.