BMW May Develop models deliberately and thoughtfully with an eye toward great parts commonality and a strong familial presence, but it does not stand still. All the proof you need is in the 2000 R1100RS Special Edition. Ride it against one of the latest Oilhead boxers-the R1150GS or the R1100S-and you'll be amazed how much the basic R259 architecture has been tweaked.
Making this direct comparison might almost have been impossible. For a while there, the future of the RS looked bleak. Although BMW never officially said it would kill the model, its availability was limited in the United States last year, and many dealers suggested that the RS was a tough sell against the more touring-oriented R1100RT and the sportier S. There were strong hints the model that brought you the R259 engine way back in 1993 would itself become a fossil.
Never discount BMW enthusiasts and their penchant for speaking up. As BMW was considering how to develop the R lineup, sport-touring types were making it clear that they were not being considered, saying pointedly that the RT was too much trademark sansabelt slacks and polyester shirt, while the S was too narrow-focus and, ah, distinctive looking. The bike they wanted was an in-betweener, reasonably sporty yet primed for continent crawling. They wanted a new RS.
Hence the trickle of brand-new, half-faired RSes, shined up in a coat of Special Edition silver-metallic paint and retailing for $15,100 including heated grips, antilock brakes and saddlebag mounts. Specifications remain exactly as before, after a slew of major and minor alterations were made through about 1996, when a revised transmission was installed and the Rider Information Display was made standard. The 1085cc engine makes a claimed 90 horsepower at the crank (the last version we had strapped to the Dynojet spun out 81.9 hp and 64.6 foot-pounds of torque) and is in a milder state of tune than the hopped-up S model. That iteration, which has less flywheel effect, more compression ratio and naughtier cams, produces an impressive 92.2 hp and 70.9 foot-pounds of torque.
More power is usually best, but we prefer the delivery of the RS's state of tune better. The greater flywheel mass makes it smoother, and you'll find more torque off the bottom of the range than on the S. This is the classic Oilhead powerband: The torque curve comes up smartly by 3000 rpm and bunts out approximately 55 foot-pounds until it takes a hike at 4700 rpm, reaching a peak of 64.6 foot-pounds at 5500 rpm. From the saddle, this kick is subtle, with the engine feeling fairly seamless and punchy through the midrange, running out of breath and becoming slightly coarse on the far side of 6000 rpm. To belabor the issue of the engine's adaptability, consider our long-term R1150GS. Its even more mildly tuned (but greater displacement) Oilhead gets more than 60 foot-pounds by 3000 rpm and stays there until 7700 rpm, hitting a peak of 69.8 foot-pounds at 5500 rpm.
Fitting its place in the center of the line, then, the RS has less peak power than the S, but not as much peak torque as the GS. It also lacks those bikes' new six-speed transmission. And it's here you most notice the development miles traveled by BMW engineers. Original Oilheads had clunky gearboxes that were phased out for modified versions of the five-speed, a crashbox the RS retains. Compared with the newer bikes, the RS needs a much more deliberate boot to toggle among the gears, unless you want false neutrals or hung variations-to say nothing of the mechanical cacophony that accompanies gear changes. After the RS, BMW changed to a hydraulic clutch for the Oilhead, which automatically maintains proper freeplay at the expense of higher lever effort. We'll take the grip-worker effort to be rid of fussing with the adjuster all the time.
In the latter models, BMW has tweaked its trademark Telelever front suspension to good effect. Next to the RS, the newer bikes' have less inherent brake dive (or, to put it directly, more antidive was dialed into the geometry) and are more compliant thanks to reduced unsprung weight. That's not to say the RS's suspension isn't perfectly fluid and surprisingly full of useful and consistent feedback, just that the GS and the S have it better.
But let's not insult the RS by heaping praise on its siblings. Even being a half-generation behind the times, there's much to like about the RS. Its ergonomic profile remains one of the best in motorcycling-the seat/peg/bar relationship fits everyone here-and perfectly balances the requirements for long hauls and short, or randy back-road blasts. With adjustable seat height and bar reach/angle, the RS introduced useful ergonomic personalization that, unfortunately, the S has abandoned. What's more, the RS's half fairing provides good weather protection without making the bike look like it's shrinkwrapped in plastic; a complaint from the not-yet-middleagers about the RT. The way the optional hard luggage integrates into the RS's rear bodywork should be required study for all motorcycle designers; it's so simple and elegant.