First Ride: 2005 BMW K1200S Motorcycle

Is BMW's high-performance, across-the-frame four, the 2003 K1200S, a better 'Busa or K1 part zwei?

Pictures don't do it justice. Peering through a caffeine-proof haze, something to do with the nine time zones between Los Angeles and Munich, BMW's all-new K1200S looks much better in person. Catching German sunlight with more facets than a marquise-cut diamond, the silhouette is muscular, svelte, modern and, perhaps most important of all, unmistakable. Even without the trademark blue-and-white roundel, it can't be anything but a Beemer.

Contrary to deductions drawn from spy photos and PR appetizers, the most eagerly anticipated BMW sportbike ever is not as long as a Chevy Suburban. Do us all a favor and get the muffler jokes out of your system right now. Is it a thermos? A Teutonic pony keg, maybe? Have at it. We'll wait. At 61.9 inches, its wheelbase matches BMW's original 16-valve four-cylinder sportbike, the weird and mercifully forgettable 1989 K1. Fortunately, all similarities between this K-bike and that one end there. Weighing in at an alleged 547 pounds wet (24 fewer than its weird uncle twice removed), this latest K is about 100 pounds heavier than the current crop of Japanese ubersports. So what gives?

Is it a Supersport? Is it a sport-tourer? Is it fast? Yes, yes and yes. After a nearly 300-mile blitzkrieg comprised of incomprehensible intersections, toad-choking rain, snot-slick pavement, apoplectic manure trucks, outraged pedestrians, suicidal chickens and grandiose British journalists, I'll say this much: BMW's most convincing sportbike is a BMW above all else. That means benevolent ergonomics, shaft drive, antilock brakes and more. With the tach hovering a smidge to the right of 11,000 rpm, it inhales an indicated 272 kilometers of autobahn per hour—that's 169 mph to you. That's not quite enough to rattle the 'Busa boys, but when you're closing in on Aunt Greta, who's tapped out at 85 mph in a 55-horse Renault Twingo, it's plenty fast.

According to BMW, the 1157cc four responsible for such haste sends 167 horsepower to its crankshaft at 10,250 rpm. I'll wait for dyno and dragstrip numbers to know for sure, but according to the seat of my pants, it won't thump Suzuki's 1298cc Hayabusa or Kawasaki's 1199cc ZX-12R. In terms of elegance, distinctiveness and sheer technological grandeur, though, this BMW is in a class by itself. In a soft European sportbike market where '05 K1200S buyers will trade up from other brands, uniqueness is a necessity. And from its 1200GS-derived Paralever rear end to the Norman Hossack-inspired Duolever fork, the K1200S is categorically unique.

The only question remaining now is this: Is the new K ready for prime time?

Slip into your leathers and the comfortably sculpted seat puts you in the new, supreme K-four instead of on it. Bodywork cutouts keep it narrow between your knees. The riding position is comfortably snug, skewed toward the athletic end of the sport-touring continuum. As delivered, there's 32.3 inches between your butt and the street—the same as an '04 ZX-12R—with a lower (by 1.2 inches) alternative saddle available for the vertically challenged. The overlapping speedo and tach contribute to a clean, legible cockpit, as does an LCD/idiot-light array adapted from the new GS. Big mirrors on long, perfectly angled stalks provide a flawless rear view—vital on anything this fast. Switches are still infuriating, but like having some kind of pork for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you adjust.

After all the insinuations of Formula 1 ideology, the slant-block four feels startlingly docile at first. There's a veiled menace in the exhaust note at idle, and by 7000 revs there's no more veil. But off-idle, revs build with the leisurely feel of BMW's old flopped-four. There's ample thrust on tap from 3500 rpm, but some confusion between the proprietary BMS-K engine electronics and those 46mm Bing throttle bodies makes it difficult to use. The preproduction bikes we rode in Munich all suffered from some degree of fuzzy throttle response, and mine was particularly bad. The engine surged and stammered from 2000 to 3000 rpm before gradually settling down 1000 revs later. BMW's engine guys know about the wrinkles and hope to iron them out before bikes roll into American showrooms this fall. On the plus side, apart from a rough spot around 5000 rpm, dual balance shafts keep the engine quite smooth.

By 7000 rpm, I don't have time for any of that smooth-engine discussion. Peak torque—ninety-six foot-pounds if you're taking BMW's word for it—comes online at 8250, and from there it's one big tire-squealing, schnitzel-clenching whoosh to the engine's 11,200-rpm rev limit. Painting the exits of first- and second-gear corners with big black darkies is par for the course on any big sportbike, but I've never done it on a BMW. Various impediments to sporty cornering pop up in blind Bavarian corners quicker than ads on AOL. Despite my best efforts and BMW's excellent integral ABS, at least one chicken over there walks with a limp.

Only time and familiar pavement will tell how the new Duolever front end fits into the big picture. Steering is a little sluggish at parking-lot speeds, especially on cold tires first thing in the morning. But for going fast, it's a significant step forward for BMW. You get more chassis pitch under hard braking than on a Telelever-equipped bike, along with a better feel for what the front tire is doing in any situation. Step off a GSX-R1000 or CBR1000RR and the S's chassis isn't exactly nimble. No surprise there, but Duolever steering effort is more linear than a telescopic fork, on or off the brakes. Steering around an ugly patch of midcorner goose sushi seems easier as well. It feels planted and confidence-inspiring at speed, largely because of wonderfully compliant suspension.

All the bikes at the Munich launch came with BMW's new Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) that lets you choose one of nine preprogrammed spring/damping configurations via a button on the left handlebar. First, cue up the appropriate icon in the cockpit's LCD display—solo, solo with luggage or two-up with luggage—to tell the computer what you're carrying. After that, the same button lets you punch up Comfort, Normal or Sport mode on the fly. The system is as easy to use as it is effective. And it's quick. Smooth out rough spots in Normal mode and switch to Sport before tipping into the next corner. The cassette-style six-speed gearbox felt a little stiff through second gear, and it got stiffer throughout the day. Aside from the glitchy fuel injection, there's not much to complain about.

BMW won't coax anyone off a Hayabusa with the 1200's dyno numbers and quarter-mile times. Especially when ABS, ESA, heated grips and multicolor paintwork will probably push the price tag up against the $18,000 point. Without ABS or ESA suspension, expect to pay about $15,500. But for a certain well-heeled clientele—riders who wouldn't consider any other K-bike or boxer—this singular mix of BMW panache and big horsepower will be irresistible.

It's not light—BMW claims 547 pounds wet—but with all the heavy bits carried low in the chassis, the K1200 arcs into corners easier than you'd expect. Tilting the cylinder block forward helps accommodate the Duolever front end, which is 10 percent lighter than BMW's Telelever setup at 30.2 pounds. The Paralever driveline is adapted from the R1200GS's design.
Tilting the oversquare (79 x 59mm) cylinders in the dry-sump four 55 degrees forward lowers the center of mass and makes room for the Hossack front end. Inside, oil flows to 38mm main bearings through holes in the forged-steel crankshaft, contributing to the engine's slim 17-inch width. At 179 pounds—including the clutch and gearbox—it's light as well.
Power-assisted brakes are partially integrated. The brake lever cues dual four-piston calipers and 320mm rotors—bolted directly to the wheel—plus the dual-piston rear caliper and 265mm rotor. Stepping on the pedal actuates only the rear brake.
Getting power to the rear wheel via shaft drive requires two 90-degree turns and BMW's first multiplate wet clutch. Shafts in the six-speed cassette-type gearbox are stacked to save space.
Cams move valves via stubby followers to keep the valve angle and the cylinder head compact. Three-ring pistons set compression at 13:1. The 46mm throttle bodies carry one stepper-motor-controlled butterfly each.
The Duolever front end is BMW's take on the Hossack fork, connecting the Dutch WP shock and a new 10-spoke cast-aluminum front wheel via two parallel wishbones and an extremely rigid aluminum fork. Wheelbase and steering geometry remain essentially constant regardless of what you're doing.
BMW's slant-block four lets the aluminum frame's extruded main spars run above the head rather than arcing around it, thus optimizing their shape. Spars join at the front in a die-casting that carries the Duolever. Another casting carries the Paralever swingarm. The robot-welded structure weighs 25.2 pounds.
Price: **N/A
**Engine type: **l-c inline-four
**Valve arrangement: **dohc, 16v
**Displacement: **1157cc
**Transmission: **6-speed
**Weight: **547 lb. (claimed wet)
**Fuel capacity: **5.0 gal. (18.9L)
**Wheelbase: **61.9 in. (1571mm)
**Seat height: **32.3 in.
BMW design boss David Robb and his crew didn't scar the K12's flanks with the usual vents. Hot air exits underneath the fairing, just aft of the engine spoiler. Front fender contours encourage efficient airflow into a small radiator situated toward the bottom of the fairing. Ram-air nostrils are just below the headlight array.
Welcome to Germany: Wet pavement and Armco close enough to kiss. Shod with Metezler Sportec radials for its coming-out party, the newest K-bike is solid as a rock and stinky fast. There's a reassuring bit of brake-dive entering corners, but suspension compliance is unaffected.
The K stands up under trail-braking, but steering is essentially neutral.