Their essentials are identical. Two fuel-injected, catalyzed, 16-valve, liquid-cooled inline-fours arranged al fresco under sensible fairings. Both are blessed with the miracle of anti-lock brakes and can commute from Monday to Friday or from L.A. to Laconia with some degree of ease. Beyond that, BMW's latest K-four and the recently renovated Bandit come from opposite ends of the sport-standard field.
The Sport is essentially BMW's naked K1200R wearing an effective windbreaker that adds 9 pounds and bumps the price by $550. It's a bit more civilized than the stripped-down version that was our Motorcycle of the Year in '05, but still flaunts more juicy technology than a Caltech science fair, drawing well-heeled pocket-protector types like a Romulan Tractor Beam. Priced at $17,260 with a full payload of options-ABS II brakes, 6-inch Sport rear wheel, an on-board computer that monitors fuel mileage, ambient temperature, average speed and even checks the oil for you, heated grips and push-button electronically adjustable suspension-it's only slightly less expensive.
Meanwhile, the Suzuki's more acces- sible price tag enforces a more practical approach. Using the beloved Bandit 1200 as an outline, Hamamatsu R&D came up with a 1255cc, twin-cam six-speed four that does just about everything the old 1157cc air/oil-cooled lump couldn't. Tighten up the handling with a fresh steel-tube skeleton and a longer aluminum swingarm, tidy up the lines a bit, adapt an optional ABS system from the Burgman 650 scooter and voila: a modern big-bore sport-standard for $8799, effectively half the price of a K1200R Sport. Is the BMW twice the bike? That, boys and girls, is the (nearly) $9000 question.
Physical dimensions tell part of the story. The BMW looks longer and lower because it is, but at 553 lbs. soaking wet, it's also 12 lbs. lighter than the Suzuki. Balanced between a broad, flat bar and higher pegs with less motorcycle betwixt the knees, the Sport positions the average human form perfectly for inhaling blacktop in a hurry. The seat is an inch and change taller, but BMW offers a lower version as a no-cost option, provided buyers specify that at the time of purchase. Average-sized riders will be happy with the Bandit's sensibly upright ergos, with the notable exception of an awkward upward kink in the relatively narrow handlebar we grew to hate. Tall types may wish for more room between the seat and said handlebar. Adjusting the seat to its upper position helps. The owner's manual doesn't tell you how, so ask the dealer or block out an extra 30 minutes for gnashing of teeth and foul language.
Never mind what the scales say, in gear and moving, the Bandit feels 30 lbs. lighter. Thanks to an even flow of power from 2000 rpm, it blurs the urban landscape with less effort, especially when the Bavarian 1200 trips over its own technology. Coaxing BMW's Duolever front end through traffic demands more effort than it should-especially when you're busy keeping slack out of a sloppy driveline with the sensitive throttle and clutch. Choose the softest of three solo settings and the K12's optional Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) smoothes out most of what the L.A. Bureau of Street Services hasn't, but hyperactive high-speed compression damping at both ends sends the big ones straight up your spinal column.
Despite their humble engineering pedigree, the Bandit's suspension bits deliver a taut, reasonably compliant ride all the way up the next freeway on-ramp. Optically incorrect mirrors on our bike made getting over to the fast lane interesting, but a little right wrist and four or five quick shifts expedite the process. Longer gearing, an internal balance shaft and rubber engine mounts make the Suzuki significantly smoother on the freeway. Pushing less weight with 37 more ponies, the BMW is capable of covering the same ground in less time, but you have to dial up at least another 3000 rpm and deal with a fair amount of the solid-mounted engine's endemic buzz beyond 4000 rpm.
Disregard that little lapse of serenity, and the BMW's acceleration is genuinely fierce above 6000 rpm. Give it a steady supply of open, unpatrolled pavement and the Bandit shrinks to a tiny spec in those bar-mounted rear-view mirrors. Should sanity or the California Highway Patrol suggest a return to more rational velocities, the BMW is more comfortable and a bit easier on the super unleaded at socially acceptable speeds. A prudent throttle hand can coax 200 miles out of either bike's 5-gallon fuel supply, but marginally tighter cockpit dimensions and less effective wind protection had us aiming the Bandit at an off-ramp half an hour earlier.
If more sporting pursuits are next on the itinerary, the BMW is a whole lot happier carving up the sort of fast curves that let it stretch those 134-horse legs. But in deference to the otherwise stable chassis's jarring, then skittish behavior over bumps, can we make those curves fast and smooth? Going fast on this one means playing by its rules, which are less than instinctual until you've spent a few hundred miles between the Duolever front and Paralever rear suspensions.