BMW Roadster Review: R1200R vs S1000R vs RnineT

Three Engines, Three Roadsters, One Company

BMW's R1200R is a fine machine, a motorcycle that any other manufacturer would surely be heady and proud over. It's smooth and calm while being wholly utilitarian and just sporty enough to get your blood pumping. In an age where micro categories spring up every year, the R12R doesn't try to redefine a class or break new ground in any direction. The R1200R simply represents the most obvious evolution of a BMW—think of it as the R75/5 nearly 50 years later—and it is the center point for this comparison for exactly that reason.

The two cultural and stylistic offshoots, in the S1000R and RnineT, have grown in completely different directions. The S1000R is the company's recognition that in order to create a truly high-performance machine it had to abandon the opposed twin. And, to BMW's credit, the company used a conventional configuration and raised the bar for what's possible from a 999cc inline-four. While BMW clearly has intentions of showing the world just how powerful a force it is, it hasn't forgotten the past. Cynics might whine that the RnineT is merely a last-ditch, parts-bin effort to give the outgoing boxer motor one last revenue stream and monetize the retro craze. Maybe we're being emotional, but to us the RnineT has a whiff of history about it.

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bmw naked bikes
R1200R vs S1000R vs RnineTJustin Kosman

This is all brochure talk though. It’s easy to label the three siblings as the nerdy one (R1200R), the stylish one (RnineT), and the athletic one (S1000R), but, hey, each bike has its own virtues to offer. We were intrigued enough at the familial notion of three roadsters (call them naked or standard, if you prefer) with three different engines coming from the same company at roughly the same price that we gathered them in one place and went on a ride.

As the stem of the roadster blossom in BMW’s lineup it’s easy to see where the R1200R sits among its siblings. How about the rest of the motorcycling world though? The combination of high-tech amenities and minimalistic appearance place it far away on the naked-bike spectrum from any direct competitors. Oddly, its closest rival might be Ducati’s Monster 1200 S, which is slowly leaning in the direction of BMW roadsters with a long wheelbase and broad, but not overwhelming, power.

R1200R vs S1000R vs RnineT
The two twins share configuration as well as bore and stroke, but aside from that they are completely different. The waterboxer’s cylinders have been rotated 90 degrees, taking in air on top while the exhaust exits out the bottom. A wet, multi-plate clutch replaced the dry, single-plate unit and the driveshaft now connects on the opposite side, a design facet initially conceived for the R1200GS, which received the water-cooled engine first.Justin Kosman

In fact, “broad but not overwhelming” is how you might describe the R12R’s appeal. It’s a bike designed for any number of seasoned customers—people who know what they want and why they want it—not a casual, budget-conscious shopper. The opposite could be said about the R1200R’s fraternal twin, the RnineT. The nineT was initially shown to the world as a 90th birthday gift that BMW presented itself, but that wasn’t the whole story. Recalling the shape and style of yesteryear is all the rage these days, and every enthusiast saw clearly the allure that designers were aiming to display.

bmw motorcycles
The dash is the R1200R’s only specific low point, with data crammed onto a small screen and not enough contrast during the day to quickly interpret information. GPS is an optional addition.Justin Kosman

Riding the nineT alongside its more sophisticated boxer sibling will expose either charm or inadequacies, depending on your point of view. The R1200R’s riding position is upright and welcoming, with a modest reach to the handlebar and a surprisingly low seat that is both wide and comfortable. Over on the nineT, the rider feels a slightly longer stretch to a wide, bullhorn bar and a much taller, narrower, and stiffer seat. It’s plenty comfortable but certainly not as gracious in its accommodation.

Once riding, the two machines begin to feel like siblings. The nasal growl from the pipes, sharp bite in the brakes, and light, intuitive handling are among BMW’s current trademarks. It’s refinement that separates them. We’ve become familiar with the waterboxer’s quick-revving character and precise gearbox, but nothing shows just how massive a step forward BMW took like riding the old powertrain alongside. The nineT twists theatrically when revved, jacks up under acceleration, and takes deliberate throws of the ankle to change gears. All the while the R12R rider, thanks to a two-way quickshifter, pops cleanly through the gears, up and down, without ever even touching the clutch lever.

bmw S1000R
The S1000R setup is performance defined; a huge analog tachometer paired with a crisp, simple digital display.Justin Kosman

That’s not to say the RnineT isn’t without quality. For every letter we receive lamenting the electronic revolution and longing for the days of analog yore, we gesture gently toward the nineT. There is no traction control, no electro-suspension, no cruise control, and nothing to focus on other than riding a motorcycle. Some of us took to leaving it one gear too high just to feel it shudder and snort through its brawny torque curve on the way to the next corner. It doesn’t shift as well or handle mid-corner bumps as completely as the R12R, or have as many amenities, but is it less fun? Not necessarily. It’s just more flair and style than technical efficiency.

In any case, the R1200R can’t bask for very long in any type of performance superiority before the third sibling barges in to the conversation with a demonic howl. The S1000R’s four inline cylinders are suspiciously similar to the milkman’s, but it’s a sibling nevertheless. Darting vigorously up a twisty road is where the jock pushes the other two around; as you would expect, the S1000 is endlessly athletic.

Engine dynamic is as different in feel as it is in sound. Where the twins have lots of grunt just above idle and linear delivery thereafter, the S1000 feels a tad soft at the bottom of the revs. But beware: Once the 999cc four clears its throat there is enough torque in the midrange to lift the front wheel, and by the time five-digit revs are displayed the bike feels like it might take off for the stratosphere. The nineT’s horsepower is adequate at 95.8, and the R12R feels quick with 107.7, but the S1000 lays down 152.3 hp and exudes performance on a completely different level.

BMW RnineT
With its pair of round-faced clocks, Mr. RnineT is quintessential BMW, as you would expect.Justin Kosman

The typical, wide handlebar only sharpens the single-R’s sportbike handling, as does the tall seat and relatively high footpegs. Overall ergonomics aren’t exactly plush, with a tall (albeit well-padded) seat and a notable buzz through the bar and pegs at certain rpm. But in the much more aggressive riding position you feel utterly in command of the S1000, as you would a sportbike, only without wrist-cramping pressure on the grips.

With superbike-like geometry and suspension that adjusts itself up to 100 times every second, the S1000R falls into corners and changes direction with limitless composure. The R1200R’s suspension damping is active, too, but in side-to-side transitions it feels much heavier. This is where body fat comes in to play, with the S1000 tipping the scales to 461 pounds with a full tank, nearly 70 pounds (!) lighter than the R12R’s 529 pounds. Not that the RnineT could be bothered with weights and measures (missing the point!), but at 488 pounds Mr. Trendy lands in the middle.

They are all comparably wonderful on a smooth ribbon of two-lane tarmac, but some oddities in character come to the surface elsewhere. On interstate-size roads you would expect the R1200R to shine, but the I-just-had-back-surgery riding position makes leaning into the wind a literal pain in the neck. However unlikely, the S1000R’s forward cant from the saddle meets freeway-speed windblast just about right, leaving the rider a chance to engage the cruise control and give the R12R rider a smug nod. The nineT? Worst of the bunch, by far. Between the spinnaker stance behind the bar and the narrow seat it’s much less comfortable, to nobody’s surprise.

R1200R vs S1000R vs RnineT
R1200R vs S1000R vs RnineTJustin Kosman

Keep in mind that to almost every point on each machine there is a counterpoint to match. For example, the S1000 is much lighter than the R12R, but it’s also about an inch taller at the saddle and much wider between the knees, so depending on your taste (and your inseam) you might prefer something in a size “short.” The nineT is far and away the least advanced, and yet there’s something to be said for a bike that will probably be just as handsome in 10 years as it is now. You’re only new once, but classic is forever.

Your brow has probably already begun to furrow, realizing that we’re not going to rank these three in a three-two-one fashion. Sorry. It’s like picking one Harlem Globetrotter; you can have a favorite, but they’re the most interesting when they’re together. And to us the most intriguing comparison of capability and charisma comes when you add price to the equation. Ostensibly, each of these Beemers is about $15,000—the RnineT is only available in one trim (options are so modern and complicated) for $14,995.

The two water-cooled bikes are trickier, with base prices less than $14,000 and options aplenty. An S1000R starts at $13,260 and, impressively, even fully loaded with the glut of options BMW customers are expected to purchase (heated grips, electro-suspenders, cruise, and so on) comes out to $14,950, just undercutting its chic, tuxedoed brother. R1200R pricing starts at $13,950 but with equivalent options climbs quickly to $16,995. And with that suddenly the meathead of the group starts to look savvy.

With a loaded S1000R you will receive one of the finest suites of performance electronics available today, along with a drivetrain that can be as savage or sedate as you please and a chassis that will make all but the most superlative superbikes blush. However, what you will not possess is any tangible essence of Bavaria’s famous motorcycling spirit. The S1000 line has become a cornerstone of the new BMW, being mechanically immaculate but without hearkening back more than a few years. That’s where the opposed twins have the athlete flustered.

If you’re dead set on celebrating BMW as much as the company celebrates itself, there will be no shinier apple of your eye than the RnineT. It twists and bucks while you ride and smells like gear oil when you don’t, but if you have a certain sentimental passion steeping inside, it will stir emotions in a way that 150 hp and electric suspension simply can’t. It is a gentlemanly nod to the machines of record that delivered BMW to its current superpower state, but it is also extremely pure and visceral. It sometimes feels less than average for a BMW, but if the nineT were empirically better, it would be undeniably worse as an experience.

Which brings us to the better bike: the collected, refined, comfortable, unapologetically mature R1200R. It is the state of the art as well as the culmination of everything BMW has always been. And yet we grapple with the idea of the R1200R. With the advancement of two-wheeled transportation has come versatility that once wasn’t possible, and BMW is demonstrating it more than most. Is the R1200R one of the smartest and most comprehensively capable standard motorcycles that exists today, perhaps ever? Yes, we think so. But would we more proudly park the antiquated nineT or the endlessly electrifying S1000 in our driveways? Also yes—not because either of them is better but because we feel they connect us more directly with what riding a motorcycle is all about.

ERGOS

The difference between riding positions on the R1200R (top) and S1000R (middle) are plain to see—note the action photo at the top of the page too. Legroom is short on the R12R mostly because the saddle is quite low. What doesn’t come through in the numbers is how wide the RnineT handlebar is and how narrow the seat feels.

BMW R1200R
BMW R1200RJustin Kosman
BMW S1000R
BMW S1000RJustin Kosman
BMW RnineT
BMW RnineTJustin Kosman

DYNOS

It’s not hard to tell which one is the black sheep of the family in the dyno room. The S1000R gives up significant torque and a little power up to 8,000 rpm but then has a third of its rev band still to come! The R1200R and RnineT feel about that close in performance on the road, though the R12R is much smoother and quicker to rev. Acceleration between the two twins is comparable, but the S1000 bolts away predictably.

Horsepower DYNO
Horsepower DYNOJustin Kosman
Torque DYNO
Torque DYNOJustin Kosman
R1200R vs S1000R vs RnineT
R1200R vs S1000R vs RnineTJustin Kosman

Off the Record

Zack Courts, Senior Editor
AGE: 32
HEIGHT: 6'2"
WEIGHT: 185 lb.
INSEAM: 34 in.

You would probably expect someone as rowdy and immature as I am to want the S1000R, right? Well I do. I adore it, and I am as enamored with the vicious horsepower as I am with all of the electronic amenities. And it’s $2,000 cheaper than the R1200R!

That being said, I was raised in an airhead-BMW household, and for that reason the RnineT totally resonates with me. Maybe I’m just an average 25- to 35-year-old smitten with the retro vogue, but I prefer to think that it transports me to all of those vintage BMW experiences. It handles well, goes and stops with plenty of authority, all while flashing me back to R60, R75, and R80 memories from my childhood. Plus I think it looks terrific.

It kills me to dismiss my treasured memories, but I must confess that in opening the garage every day I think I want that crazed, crooked, rambunctious face staring back at me. Viva la S1000!

Ari Henning, Senior Road Test Editor
AGE: 30
HEIGHT: 5'10"
WEIGHT: 175 lb.
INSEAM: 33 in.

I was surprised BMW sliced its “roadster” category so thin with these three bikes, but after riding them—and experiencing each bike’s unique character—it makes a lot more sense. Each machine has a distinct style, function, and attitude that will appeal to a different age and type of rider.

For me, it comes down to the RnineT and the S1000R. The R1200R is a fine machine, but besides the addictive quick up-and-down shifting the R doesn’t do a thing for me. It doesn’t stir my soul the way the RnineT’s raw mechanical feel and classic styling do, and it doesn’t make me howl in my helmet the way the S1000R’s 152 horses do. And given that the nineT and single-R are essentially the same price, how could I not choose the bike with superbike bones, traction control, heated grips, and ABS?

Marc Cook, Editor In Chief
AGE: 52
HEIGHT: 5'9"
WEIGHT: 190 lb.
INSEAM: 32 in.

Bringing these bikes together for a group ride dramatically reinforced something I’ve believed for a couple of years now: just how far the water-cooled engine has advanced the boxer state of the art. You don’t have to go far on the new engine to appreciate its vigorous character: quick revving, smooth, fairly powerful, very lively.

I’d always appreciated the previous boxers, but getting on to the RnineT after a stint on the R1200R is stunning. The “ninety” seems to have twice the flywheel effect, a shockingly coarse gearbox, and nothing like the free-spinning nature of the new engine. Even its throttle response feels dull. It’s as though more than a few years separate the two designs. And that’s probably why the RnineT fails to find resonance for me. I love the way it looks, but riding it leaves me cold.

TECH SPEC

R1200R  
PRICE $16,995 (as tested)
ENGINE 1170cc, liquid-cooled opposed-twin
BORE x STROKE 101.0 x 73.0mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 12.5:1
VALVE TRAIN DOHC, 8v
FUELING EFI, ride by wire
CLUTCH Wet, multi-plate
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/shaft
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION Sachs 45mm fork with dynamic compression and rebound damping; 5.5-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Marzocchi shock adjustable for spring preload with dynamic compression and rebound damping; 5.5-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 276mm disc with ABS
FRONT TIRE 120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Roadtec Z8
REAR TIRE 180/55ZR-17 Metzeler Roadtec Z8
RAKE/TRAIL 27.3º/4.9 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 31.1 in.
WHEELBASE 59.7 in.
MEASURED WEIGHT (TANK FULL/EMPTY) 529/500 lb.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.8 gal
FUEL ECONOMY (HIGH/LOW/AVERAGE) 48/39/43 mpg
RANGE (INCLUDING RESERVE) 206 miles
CORRECTED 1/4-MILE 11.33 sec. @ 120.8 mph
TOP-GEAR ROLL-ON (60-80 MPH) 3.3 sec.
WARRANTY 36 mo., 36,000 mi.
CONTACT [bmwmotorcycles.com][]
S1000R  
PRICE $14,950 (as tested)
ENGINE 999cc, liquid-cooled inline-four
BORE x STROKE 80.0 x 49.7mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 12.0:1
VALVE TRAIN DOHC, 16v
FUELING EFI, ride by wire
CLUTCH Wet, multi-plate slipper
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION Sachs 46mm fork adjustable for spring preload with dynamic compression and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload with dynamic compression and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo one-piston caliper, 220mm disc with ABS
FRONT TIRE 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II
REAR TIRE 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II
RAKE/TRAIL 24.6°/3.9 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.0 in.
WHEELBASE 56.7 in.
MEASURED WEIGHT (TANK FULL/EMPTY) 461/433 lb.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.6 gal
FUEL ECONOMY (HIGH/LOW/AVERAGE) 38/33/36 mpg
RANGE (INCLUDING RESERVE) 166 miles
CORRECTED 1/4-MILE 10.34 sec. @ 138.4 mph
TOP-GEAR ROLL-ON (60-80 MPH) 2.5 sec.
WARRANTY 36 mo., 36,000 mi.
CONTACT [bmwmotorcycles.com][]
RnineT  
PRICE $14,995
ENGINE 1170cc, air-/oil-cooled opposed-twin
BORE x STROKE 101.0 x 73.0mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 12.0:1
VALVE TRAIN DOHC, 8v
FUELING EFI
CLUTCH Dry, single-plate
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/shaft
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION Sachs 46mm fork; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE BMW two-piston caliper, 265mm disc with ABS
FRONT TIRE 120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Roadtec Z8
REAR TIRE 180/55ZR-17 Metzeler Roadtec Z8
RAKE/TRAIL 25.5º/4.0 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 30.9 in.
WHEELBASE 58.1 in.
MEASURED WEIGHT (TANK FULL/EMPTY) 488/459 lb.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.8 gal
FUEL ECONOMY (HIGH/LOW/AVERAGE) 43/31/37 mpg
RANGE (INCLUDING RESERVE) 178 miles
CORRECTED 1/4-MILE 11.53 sec. @ 119.0 mph
TOP-GEAR ROLL-ON (60-80 MPH) 3.0 sec.
WARRANTY 36 mo., 36,000 mi.
CONTACT [bmwmotorcycles.com][]
bmw roadster review, r1200r, s1000r, rninet
The Bavarian triplets: S1000R, R1200R and RnineT.Justin Kosman