L.A. to Laguna

By The Motorcyclist Staff, Photography by Joe Bonello, Todd Westover

BMW R1200RT
The Goldilocks Effect: Not too big, not too small, just right
Words: Tim Carrithers

It's Tuesday, bearing down hard on 9 a.m., but time is mercifully irrelevant under this perfectly calibrated azure sky. According to Mr. GPS, I'm sitting 35 degrees and 16.88 seconds north by 120 degrees and 39.58 seconds west and 220 feet above sea level--aka 1065 Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo, California. Uptown Espresso & Bakery, "Home of the Velvet Foam." Gainful employment is still a safe distance away--197 miles south in Los Angeles. To the north, seared into the Editorial Cortex, are Laguna Seca, the 2005 USGP and 1135 miles of the sort of slithering two-lane pavement my R1200RT was made for. No need to rush. Let it all sink in. Have the barista draw another Caf Americano and ease into the whole reality thing.

Looking like some Teutonic heavy in a Japanese anime film, BMW's latest RT is a pleasant sort of optical delusion. It seems larger at the curb than it feels on the road, admirably so for a 600-plus-pound motorcycle packing 7.1 gallons of super unleaded. After a stint on Everitt's Gold Wing it feels like a Hodaka Ace 100 despite wearing BMW's entire options list: heated seat and grips, AM/FM radio and CD player, cruise control, trip computer and ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment). No extra charge for the electrically adjustable windscreen, commodious 32-liter hard bags or ABS. Welcome to better living through gadgetry.

As Goldilocks said after having her way with the Bear family's furnishings, it's neither too small nor too large--but all things considered, a fitting compromise. That's the sort of thing that bounces around in my head at 78 mph on California 99, watching exits for Weed Patch and Pumpkin Center go by. It could be worse. I could be exiting.

Punch the cruise control up a notch, thumb the adjustable windscreen to a comfortable angle of attack and all is well. One helmet and a suitcase and Comfort on the ESA display mean the rear shock is set for one rider with luggage in need of minimal damping: a bit soft, but aptly named for freeway work. The 1170cc boxer is admirably smooth below 85 mph. Sound from the AM/FM CD is literally blown away above 45, so check the trip computer; we're 223 miles from empty, averaging 46 mpg and 52 mph since leaving Boss Angeles. Ambient temperature is 91 degrees, but hey, it's a dry heat.

Threading through lunchtime traffic in picturesque Bakersfield--City of Many Smells--the RT seat is either mercifully or maddeningly tall depending on your personal dimensions; it's perfect for my 34-inch inseam. Keep its saddlebags clear of yonder Kenworth and the RT moves easily through the sweltering clots of 18-wheel behemoths and Cowboy Up stickers. The only real glitch in the powertrain is an overabundance of driveline slack that thwacks and clunks every time you're on or off the gas around town. Thankfully, town gives way to cooler temperatures and greener pastures as SR178 traces the route of an angry-looking Kern River toward Lake Isabella.

Watching the sun drop over my shoulder into Lake Kaweah, various things have become clear. I could have rolled into the Best Western lot on a YZF-R1 or GSX-R1000. There's probably a nice, clean jail and expert chiropractic help in the greater Three Rivers area too, but on the RT, I won't need either. Slipping off the world's best standard luggage en route to a hot shower, the most pressing question of the evening is who's buying the beer? Like I said, life is good. I wouldn't tape up these lights for a track day; it'd take too much tape. But Das Boot has more than enough steam to keep Bonnello and Catterson in its sights. Even pushing 631 pounds soaking wet, Munich's steamiest boxer hammers out an impressive stream of smooth, useable thrust from 4000 to 8000 rpm.

Thumb the ESA to Sport mode and the chassis acquits itself quite well, as long as the Caltrans repair crews have smoothed things out ahead of you. Wicking it up where they haven't--especially with a week's worth of gear in the bags--serves up a ride that professional bull riders will enjoy. I'd opt for the standard dial-adjustable shock instead and spend the difference on new leathers, at least until BMW provides a broader range of electronic adjustment. Slow down until things smooth out and it covers ground better than 631 pounds of anything else on the road. Cornering clearance is abundant. The new chassis is long and tall enough to require a premeditated cornering style, and the Beemer needs more steering input than the average sportbike. Still, as long as I'm mindful of its mass, the RT covers these 90 miles between Lake Isabella and Springville--some of the most magnificently twisted pavement on this or any planet--as fast as I'll ever need to go.

Note to self: commission a suitably grandiose bronze medallion--suitable for framing--for C. Tuna Everitt's exemplary valor while grinding away the GL undercarriage against said pavement. Thankfully, there are more civilized ways to slow down. Luddites, narcissists and other professional swellheads auto-inflate at the mention of ABS and linked brakes. That's cute, but when the only landmarks are Elephant Knob and Mule Peak, I'll take all the electro-hydraulic enhancement I can get. BMW's power-assisted system generates more power than feel, but it never gets in the way of a good time. It also hauls Das Boot to a drama-free stop from 75 mph on crappy, gravel-strewn pavement, well short of an inopportune '51 Studebaker pickup ... with one finger.

Here's the deal. I don't know how it is where you live, but these days the only certifiably great roads around here that haven't been discovered by infidels and the CHP are two or three or five hundred miles away and wrapped around lonely hunks of rock. That means you need a motorcycle comfortable enough to make the trip without inflicting musculoskeletal torment and sporty enough to have some fun when you get there.

Catterson's Sprint ST is probably more fun through the twisty bits. It also slow-roasts your right side with engine heat and comes with a seat like a plywood picnic bench and mirrors that shake so badly you can't tell a CHP cruiser from the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. I'll let him tell you about the saddlebags.

Meanwhile, back at the Home of the Velvet Foam, life is good. Call it touring or traveling or just going for a good long ride. This game is about the details. There is an inverse ratio between miles from home and the amount of irritation necessary to ruin your day. In that equation, the Sprint and I encounter irreconcilable differences in the first 20 minutes. And as good as it is at what it does, like a 46-foot motor home or a 72-ounce steak from The Big Texan, Honda's Wing is more than I need.

Meanwhile, there are untold thousands of great roads in California, waiting, and 49 more states after that. The best way to get there isn't too big or too small. It's an R1200RT.

By The Motorcyclist Staff
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