1998-2004 BMW R1200c | SMART MONEY

Anyone laboring under the delusion that all cruisers are alike has never seen one of these. With a strategically detuned version of BMWs inimitable Boxer-twin between the equally unique Telelever front end and single-sided Monolever final-drive, the R1200C is, above all, different. And when it debuted way back in 1997, it represented a more radical detour from V-twin conformity than most riders were willing to take. For starters, anyone laboring under the delusion that bigger was always better thought the 1170cc eight-valve twin was small.

BMW engineers tried using current 101 x 73mm cylinder dimensions to create the first 1200cc Boxer. Smaller valves and more torque-friendly intake architecture deliver 64 lb.-ft. of the stuff at 3000 rpm. It does feel less seismic than bigger twins, and progressively breathless beyond 75 mph. Making 56 horsepower at 5000 rpm, Munich’s 560-lb. non-conformist covers the quarter-mile in 14.2 leisurely seconds at 91 mph—quicker than Kawasaki’s Vulcan 1500, but not as quick as a Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200.

Laid-back bars, a comfy solo saddle and forward foot controls enforce a laid-back riding position. If it’s too laid back, try a more comfortable R1200C sequel like the ’04 Montauk. Passengers will be more comfortable on something more substantial than the standard C’s skimpy pillion pad, which is more practical in its upright position, providing the rider with welcome low-back support.

Steering is predictably sluggish at slow speeds. Above that, we reckoned this was the best-handling cruiser you could buy back in ’98. Suspension is acceptably compliant. Four-piston Brembo front calipers and 305mm discs were an excellent combination by pre-Millennium standards and quite good today, as is BMW’s optional third-generation ABS. One 4.3-gallon tank can cover up to 200 freeway miles—a much more comfortable proposition with a bit of bolt-on wind protection from somebody’s accessory catalog.

Early Chromeheads were plagued with sufficient teething problems to put the smartest money on '99 and newer models, some of which had mechanical issues of their own. Misfire-inducing crosstalk between a sparkplug lead and oxygen-sensor wiring prompted an '03 recall. Faulty quick-disconnect couplings and crimp-type hose-clamps can cause fuel leaks. Oil can leak from the final-drive case. But tap into the assembled wisdom at www.chromeheads.org and you can find yourself on a comfortable, reliable alternative to V-twin conformity that's more fun to ride than it is to look at.

Eccentric styling, (relatively) athletic handling, great brakes.

Eccentric styling, subseismic low-end torque, odd ergonomics.

Flawed chrome, cracked taillight bezel, fuel leaks, leaky final-drive, excessive cam-chain noise.

A BMW first and a cruiser second.

1999 | $5975 (w/ABS)
2003 | $6950 (w/ABS)

Also Smart

Harley-Davidson XL1200C
2003 | $4550
Celebrating The Motor Company's 100th birthday with righteously historic paint, the most radical Sportster bolts 73 inches of V-twin directly to the frame for those who take theirs straight. Rubber mounts filter out harsh vibration on 2004 and newer models.

Honda Sabre
2003 | $3800
Taking the off-the-rack custom from oxymoron to affordable showroom reality in '03, Honda's 1099cc SOHC 45-degree V-twin delivers homogenized, pasteurized All-American feel in a dead-reliable package. Choose candy red or orange flames on the tank in addition to basic black.

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic
2004 | $4300
Kawasaki's first credible Milwaukee homage really is a classic; it's been around since 1996. The very picture of 1950s American simplicity on the outside, this 90-cubic-inch, liquid-cooled, eight-valver is all bulletproof Japanese engineering on the inside. Maximum bang. Minimal bucks.