BMW is worried about you. The German firm has spent a lederhosen-load of deutschmarks in the last few years to make its motorcycles lighter and faster-think K1200R and S-and to advertise its subsequent higher-performance image. But apparently you aren't getting the message; you're just not buying enough BMW motorcycles.
So consider these three bikes-the reborn R1200S and all-new F800S (sport) and ST (sport-touring), which BMW hauled our editorial carcass halfway around the world to South Africa to ride-Part II of that lighter, faster effort.
Those adjectives are especially true of the sportiest production boxer-twin ever, the R1200S. BMW says this latest model tapes in at 419 pounds dry-a whopping 111 pounds lighter than the R1100S it replaces. And with a claimed peak power of 122 bhp at 8250 rpm, the R1200S is decidedly fast; in fact, it's the fastest, most powerful boxer ever to roll out of a BMW showroom.
Yet despite those stellar (for a Deutscher boxer) figures, BMW insists the new S is not a supersport bike, and shouldn't be compared to, say, Ducati's 999 or Suzuki's GSX-R1000. Instead, it's a Character-Sport motorcycle, with the implication we should all lower our expectations accordingly.
Of course, then BMW had us ride the R1200S over fast, swooping mountain roads and highways to ... a racetrack. The Killarney Motor Racing Circuit, to be precise, a 2-mile, nine-turn, medium-fast track in the Western Cape, where we gathered the majority of our riding impressions. And the majority of those were extremely positive. You should know, however, the bikes had options galore: Ohlins shocks for the Telelever front and Paralever rear ends, a 6.0-inch-wide rear wheel with 190mm tire, plus ABS and heated grips. Along with the extra-cost two-tone paint, our bike had $2465 in options, raising the $14,700 base price to $17,165.
Despite all that, and even with hotter cams, 2mm-bigger-diameter valves, forged pistons, 7mm-larger throttle bodies (52mm) and way-high-for-a-boxer 12.5:1 compression ratio, there was no mistaking the GS-based engine for anything but the latest BMW flat-twin, from the classic exhaust note, to the slight feint to the right when you blip the throttle, to the mile-wide powerband. Still, this is a boxer with some 'tude, as evidenced by the way the R1200S launched hard out of Killarney's corners. Wind open the manually progressive throttle to the stop and you'll get another surprise-a manic, second stage of acceleration from 7000 rpm to the 8800-rpm redline.
The R1200S' handling also reflected traditional BMW values, with stability being the order of the day. Steering felt neutral, even if you played with the throttle mid-corner, but it did take a bit of muscle to get the S cranked over in a turn. With its steering damper, none-too-radical chassis geometry and rangy dimensions, making fast, full-lean left-right transitions requires the rider to plan ahead. Brakes were plenty powerful, but some might want more initial bite and more overall feel at the lever.
All of which helps explain the R1200S' Character-Sport appellation. What we have is the most focused, performance-driven BMW flat-twin ever to come off the Berlin assembly line. Even so, it never tries to deny its nature, its BMW-ness, if you will. It's still defined by that torquey (and slightly quirky) boxer motor and a chassis that emphasizes stability over the light-footed agility of a Japanese supersport motor- cycle. You'll likely know if the two of you are a match before you even ride it.
By comparison, the F800S and ST are just as unmistakably scions of BMW parentage in certain ways, but for the most part they're far more conventional. They have to be, because they're BMW's first entries into the hyper-competitive middle-displacement market segment.
These might be the most important models for BMW in a generation. Where the German firm used to focus on its domestic sales, it's now most concerned with the entire European motorcycle market. And, just as in the U.S.A., the middleweight sector is the hottest. With no middleweight to offer-especially to the vast potential number of re-entry riders, people who have a motorcycle license but no bike-BMW saw a gap that needed to be plugged.
Those needs were the driving forces behind the birth of the F800s, motorcycles BMW sees being bought by new and re-entry riders. Typically enough, the intended audience drove the bikes' design. To begin with, the S is the sportier of the two, while the ST is aimed at the, yes, sport-touring segment. Differences between the two amount to little more than a higher, conventional handlebar, fairing lowers, a taller windscreen, a luggage rack in place of passenger grab rails, painted front fender and R1200ST wheels for the ST. Those pieces account for an 11-pound weight increase; claimed dry weight for the S is 401 pounds, 412 for the ST.
Otherwise, the two are virtually identical, with the same aluminum frame welded up from extrusions and castings, conventional suspension and a brand-new DOHC, eight-valve, fuel-injected 360-degree parallel-twin engine designed by BMW and built by Austrian firm Bombardier-Rotax. They're also, from the first time you twist open the throttle, instantly identifiable as BMWs, from the intake honk, to the classic flat-twin-style thudding exhaust note, to the broad, predictable spread of power that comes from an equally broad and near-flat torque curve.