BMW K1200R

Extreme makeover? Reality TV's got nothin' on BMW, which stripped its nastiest autobahn-burner and ended up with a 160-mph, do-everything naked bike

"So what's it like?
"It's fast!"

The instinctive reply, spoken simultaneously by me and another rider in response to a PR guy's question immediately after our very first blast on the K1200R, summed up BMW's naked new four-cylinder roadster perfectly--and as accurately as a more involved response would have.

You could add plenty of other descriptors to BMW's wild new R-bike: aggressive, stable, unique, involving, direct, emotional and very, very powerful. But after a day on the road--and a racetrack--in Spain, and especially after that first ride when the bike's sensational performance caught all of us by complete surprise, the overriding impression was one of raw, pure, rip-your-arms-off speed. This is a BMW?

I certainly hadn't expected a naked bike wearing the blue-and-white propeller badge to be such an unashamed high-performance knockout. Despite BMW's attempted image transformation over the past few years and the fact that the K1200R's 163-horsepower (claimed) peak output makes it the world's most powerful roadster, the German marque still hasn't totally lost its reputation for practicality, common sense and caution.

But there's nothing sensible or cautious about the K1200R. This is an imaginatively styled, highly tuned and defiantly different motorcycle that takes BMW in a whole new direction, one designed to appeal to a new and younger audience. Want more descriptors? It's mad, bad, crazy, excessive, outrageous and fun--very definitely fun.

Essentially the K1200R is a stripped-down version of the K1200S supersport that caused such a stir last year. The S-bike, with its inclined transverse-four, aluminum-spar frame, radical Hossack-style front suspension and innovative electronically adjustable rear suspension, was a bold step for BMW, and it generated both positive and negative headlines.

The R-model looks totally different, not only relative to the 1200S but to every other streetbike on the road. Its broad and muscular front end sweeps back to a narrow rear end and offers up a truly burly image, all of which is enhanced by liquid-cooled cylinders canted a radical 55 degrees from vertical. The front end, with its different-size and -shape twin headlights, hints at previous BMWs, but the details remain fresh and visually arresting. This is not your father's BMW.

Mechanically the R is similar in most ways to the K1200S. The 1157cc, dohc, 16-valve engine is internally unchanged, with oversquare 79mm x 59mm dimensions, 13:1 compression and a dry-sump bottom end. The 4-into-2-into-1 exhaust system also comes straight from the S-model, complete with a large silencer exiting on the bike's right side.

The intake system is subtly different, though. BMW's use of a single duct on the right side (instead of the S's dual ducts) reduces peak output by 4 bhp to 163 horsepower at 10,250 rpm, and maximum torque by 2 pound-feet to 94 at 8250 rpm. The shaft-drive's overall gearing is slightly shorter, though the six-speed cassette-style gearbox remains untouched.

BMW retained the S-model's aluminum frame, with a slightly modified Hossack-style Duolever fork that places the legs a half-degree steeper, with 11mm less trail than the S for, BMW says, an improvement in maneuverability. Like the K1200S, the R comes with BMW's optional and innovative Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) and ABS for its triple-disc brake system.

This R-bike's riding position is slightly more upright than the S's thanks to higher and wider handlebars. Instruments are based on the R1200GS's, with an analog speedometer and a smaller tachometer that redlines at 11,000 rpm. The reasonably low and narrow dual seat will allow most riders to get both feet flat on the ground, and BMW offers a no-cost optional seat that reduces seat height from 820mm to 790mm for the vertically challenged.

Keen to emphasize the R-bike's sporty nature, BMW picked the perfect launch venue. Tucked away in the hills near Ronda in southern Spain is a little-known but amazingly entertaining private racetrack called the Ascari, built and owned by a motorsport-mad Dutchman who made a fortune in the oil industry. The smooth, undulating 3.3-mile circuit has a bewildering variety of turns and forms the centerpiece of an ultra-exclusive racetrack resort (www.ascari.net) with a 30-year membership price of roughly $200,000. Whoa.

Best of all, we had to ride there from Seville, some 80 miles away via the brilliant A-376 highway that sweeps and dips through the Spanish hills. The route began with a short stretch of back road, where the R-model's smooth low-rev performance showed without a doubt that BMW's engineers have done a much better job of fine-tuning its Motronic injection system than they had with the 1200S's at the time of its launch last year.

We then headed southeast on faster and swoopier roads, where the naked four immediately revealed its upper-end performance and rev-happy personality. The claimed 163-horse output is exceptional for a naked bike--35 ponies up on Triumph's latest Speed Triple and 50 horses more than the Ducati Monster S4R's. The power is enough to send the BMW storming forward with grin-inducing ferocity at every twist of the wrist.

Low- and midrange response is good enough to allow top-gear roll-ons from 2000 rpm or below. From there, the engine gets stronger and stronger as revs rise, and even kicks slightly between 8000 and the 11,000-rpm limit. The injection system felt crisp on the road and on the Ascari circuit, though one particular second-gear corner highlighted a slightly snatchy response as I wacked the throttle full-open at the apex.

Despite the R's horsepower and commendably smooth manners, there's a distinct difference between the way it works and other naked multis in the category. This is mostly due to the relatively high claimed weight of 522 pounds, which is heavier than many of the bikes in its class. It's also got a mammoth wheelbase of almost 62 inches, nearly 5.6 inches longer than the Speed Triple's. This makes the R a bit of a handful at slower speeds and not particularly keen on wheelies; it will lift its front wheel, but it needs a dab of clutch or a serious yank on the handlebars to help it. A first-gear crack of high-rpm throttle is more likely to send the bike screeching forward ahead of a black streak of rubber.

Almost ironically, the big Beemer comes into its own at higher speeds, a place where most naked bikes aren't overly happy due to their lack of wind protection and lower overall gearing. The bike's minimal wind protection enhances the sense of big speed, but not uncomfortably so. Our gang of six riders stormed down the A-376 completely reveling in the 1200R's reserve of acceleration, even at triple-digit speeds. I saw an indicated 150 mph on an uphill section, where despite the gradient the bike was still accelerating when I shut things down. But despite the bike's ability to produce insanely high speeds, the combination of a small but useful flyscreen and slightly leaned-forward ergonomics kept me comfortable much longer than I expected.

Most of the time the twin-balancer-equipped engine is pleasantly smooth, with just enough of a high-rev rasp to provide some character. As with the K1200S, though, there's a patch of intrusive vibration between 6000 and 7000 rpm, which equates to about 100 mph in top gear and tingles the pegs and blurs the otherwise good mirrors when rolling off the throttle. I didn't find the vibes a problem, but it would very likely become annoying cruising at a steady speed. But I wasn't the only rider to notice the vibration was more pronounced on the way back, after the bikes had been thrashed around the circuit all day. Hopefully this doesn't mean the R will feel like a bag of nails after 10,000 hard miles.

There were no such doubts about the chassis, which works excellently considering the bike's weight and length. If I had to find a one-word summary for the 1200R's handling, it would be stable. Even when I rode over a noticeable ridge in the middle of a sweeping, 100-mph-plus corner, the bars barely twitched and the bike remained perfectly on line.

Despite its mammoth wheelbase, the 1200 is respectably agile. The slight sharpening of front-end geometry has helped make the R fun to hustle through a set of corners, such as the ones the Ascari circuit offers, with its succession of tight first- and second-gear turns. Although steering feel is slightly heavy and deliberate, the wide bars give enough leverage to let me flick the bike rapidly and even change direction quickly in a slow-speed chicane.

A major factor in the bike's reasonably lithe handling is its quality suspension, especially the way the Duolever fork keeps the front end planted under hard braking. Ironically, the one place I found the R-bike difficult to turn was a fast left-hander immediately following a slower right. Because I didn't need to brake, the bike was reluctant to turn quickly enough to hit the apex. That's likely the bike's substantial weight and length talking.

The test bikes we rode were all fitted with BMW's optional ESA, which was a welcome addition. On the road, the standard softer settings were perfectly adequate even at high speed, and helped make the bike reasonably comfortable. When we reached the track both front and rear suspensions required firming up, which the ESA achieved with just a couple of jabs of the button on the left handlebar.

As with the 1200S, a press of the button varies damping between three positions, and can be done on the move. A longer button press (with the bike stationary) alters front and rear spring preload, also through three options. At the track, putting both preload and damping on the firmest settings makes the bike feel significantly tauter and substantially improves its cornering clearance, to the point where the pegs no longer touch down despite the excellent grip of the Bridgestone BT014s.

I was similarly impressed by the R-bike's brakes, which incorporate the optional ABS as well as BMW's familiar EVO servo-assisted system. The antilock system literally caused my downfall when braking hard downhill during the S-model's launch, causing a low-speed crash when the system cut in for too long. Here, the ABS works reliably and well, activating briefly at times but allowing the four-piston front calipers to provide seriously powerful and controlled stops.

Most other 1200R options offer enhanced practicality, including K1200S-style saddlebags, heated grips, the luggage rack worn by all the test bikes, and a larger windscreen, which was fitted to some of the machines. Along with the ESA and ABS, those substantially increase the price of a bike that's already plenty expensive for a naked roadster.

But as BMW might doubtless point out, and I would concur with enthusiastically, the K1200R is unlike any other motorcycle on the planet. It's a stunningly powerful, utterly unmistakable, improbably versatile and, most of all, highly entertaining machine that brings a new dimension to the world of unfaired motorcycling.

And it's fast!

BMW K1200R
PRICE MSRP$14,250
 
Engine
Typel-c inline-four
Valve arrangementdohc, 16v
Displacement1157cc
Transmission6-speed
 
Chassis
Weight522.5 lb. (claimed with fuel)
Fuel capacity5.0 gal. (19L)
Wheelbase61.8 in. (1571mm)
Seat height32.3 in. (820mm)


> By canting the K1200R's inline-four radically and positioning it forward in the chassis for optimum handling, BMW couldn't use a conventional or Telelever fork, so it adapted the Fior/Hossack wishbone design it had examined back in the 1980s for its original K-bike. Fior's design (which came a year before Hossack's) has the wheel carried between a tuning fork-shape structure pivoting on the R's twin-beam chassis via a pair of triangular links. The lower link operates the shock, which pivots on the main frame. Steering is effected by rotating the upright via a remotely mounted handlebar. The system offers several benefits, including the separation of steering and suspension (so the fork doesn't bottom while trail-braking into a corner), superior compliance (the shock eliminates the stiction of a telescopic fork), inherent antidive (which reduces weight transfer and maintains consistent steering geometry), zero fork deflection under braking (no risk of the front wheel touching the exhausts or engine), reduced unsprung weight (leading to enhanced compliance) and clean aesthetics.

> BMW's Electronic Suspension Adjustment system allows you to switch between nine different suspension modes by pressing a button on the left bar. Electric motors do the job, allowing you to set spring preload when stationary with the engine running (choosing between solo, solo with luggage, or rider, passenger and luggage) and also, once moving, between front and rear compression and rebound settings. The Comfort setting is softer than Normal, but it's good enough for most every situation except when you really push it on a twisty road, where the Sport setting comes into its own.

> The R's 1157cc liquid-cooled engine delivers 4 less horsepower than the full-fairing S-model thanks to having just a single forward-facing ram-air duct (and thus less airflow) compared with its sister bike's twin-entry design. Not that you'd notice; there's still a humongous amount of power and torque on tap. This is a seriously mighty muscle-rod. Twin counterbalancers driven off the crank keep most of the vibes at bay. Despite the engine's prodigious displacement, it's a relatively tiny engine, more like a 600 supersport mill than an open-classer.


The Robb Report
BMW's design director speaks about the K1200R

I'm often asked what item on a particular motorcycle we put special effort into, or which piece I'm most proud of. As with all BMW motorcycles, the bike as a whole is most important, though I think the point is made especially well with the K1200R. If the motorcycle's personality doesn't strike you or its character doesn't grab your attention, no amount of detailing or extra care is going to right that.

If the main message is strong, the details do their part in supporting that message. If the details aren't done correctly and they contradict the bike's personality, this can weaken even a good message and ultimately how much people understand it--or are attracted to it.

It's like music. Whether it's country, classical, film scores or any other type, the main theme is what it's all about. The vocals, or violins, or spoken parts, all of the singular components support the feeling of the music. They're all important, and you can pick them out individually and find beauty in the components. But how they support the main theme is what makes them good.

The K1200R is a gnarly streetbike. It's what a naked BMW should look like. In design language, it shows what it's got. It's related to the K1200S, but the S's smooth, aerodynamic constructions are nowhere to be seen. The R's bodywork is organic, taut, muscular and wrapped around BMW's exclusive forward-tilted inline-four. The tank invites you to lean over, grab the grips and hang on.

The long wheelbase is a trait we don't need to hide. But rather than accentuate that length, we've taken emphasis away from the visual stretch a painted and faired front fender would bring. In matte black the front fender is almost nonexistent. Then we accentuated that wild front end by giving the uprights body color, which gives the front end a businesslike, snub-nose look, all wrapped around that muscular torso (engine, tank and intake area), leading your eye to the stretched, single-sided swingarm.

When asked which bikes I've had a hand in, I always say, "The one with the unmistakable eyes."

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