BMW’s new R1200 RS is one of a neglected class – the honest-to-goodness sports tourer. So Al took it for a sporty touring day out in Spain
Fashion is a fickle thing. Pastels are in, autumn hues are out, monochrome is the new black. It might seem like utter bollocks, but plenty of folk live and die by it, and biking is no exception. Entire classes of bikes come and go, sometimes brought into being, or killed, by legislation – like the 125cc learner law in the UK. Or emissions regs which knocked big two-stroke motors for six. Sometimes these changes seem to be purely a fashion thing though. Like the recent decline in the sales of 600cc supersports bikes – or the enormous growth in adventure bike sales.
So it’s refreshing to see BMW sticking to the knitting with its new R1200 RS – a proper, conventional, sport-touring bike. The prescription for that class is simple: a moderately high-performing engine, in a road-biased chassis, with decent brakes and suspension, yet with good space for a pillion, a chunky rear subframe for luggage, and a fair degree of wind and weather protection up front. The idea is you get something that has the cojones for a good backroad blast, or even the odd trackday, but which can also deal with a few 450-mile days, two-up, in indifferent weather, and with a significant other in tow.
Back at the turn of the century, these were big selling bikes. Honda’s VFR800, Triumph’s Sprint ST, Ducati’s ST4: all ticked the sport touring boxes, and all sold well. But their job was usurped by the adventure bike class. These tourers-on-stilts offered much of the benefits of a sport tourer – comfort, wind protection, luggage capacity, flexible engines – with a hint of adventure ability that became, yes, fashionable. You might only ride your adventure bike to the edge of your town, but it looked like you could ride it to the edge of the Earth. And as the average age of the typical biker increased, many of them seemed to prefer this semi-faux ‘adventure’ to the previously-favoured sportsbike ‘adventure’.
BMW’s got form here – its R1200 GS is the benchmark in that class, with genuine heritage in the form of its Dakar racing GS of the 1980s, reinforced by the luck of landing Ewan McGregor and his Long Way Round TV series. The firm’s put the hard yards into developing that bike, and the 1200 GS and GS Adventure have been the top-selling bikes in the UK, and many other markets, for years now.
So what’s BMW doing bothering with this RS – a contender in a seemingly-moribund class – rather than simply cranking up the GS production lines even more? Well, that model name has plenty of heritage in the Munich firm too. On this launch, the BMW guys were harking back to the R90S of the 1970s as a spiritual ancestor for this bike. A half-faired, boxer-engined sport tourer with the RS badge has been around, pretty much, since 1976, in R100 four-valve, then R1100 and R1150 eight-valve oil-cooled form. The 1150 RS was replaced by the R1200 ST, a bike which is, unquestionably, one of the most horrible bikes ever built. Yuk.
None of those older models were anything other than steady performers. But as part of the great reinvention of the BMW brand, the Munich maestros have given the sport-touring Boxer a total makeover, with echoes of its world-class S1000RR superbike. Gone is the staid, functional tourer of old, replaced by a much sharper, capable, focused design. And we’re here in Spain to spend a day riding it round the roads of Andalusia. Hurray!
I’d come on this trip with very few preconceptions. I knew the R1200 R, essentially the naked version of the RS, had been well received by the press earlier this season. And I’d had a look at the spec sheet and BMW’s sales bumph. But it was with a pretty blank sheet that I stood in the hotel lobby, listening to a brief spiel from the BMW guys. I liked the styling straight off – typical BMW quirk, with a hint of S1000RR in the headlights, and a ‘surprised rabbit’ look to the top fairing and windscreen. I’m loving the spec too: proper USD forks, Brembo radial calipers, new 125bhp water-cooled Boxer engine, and a heap of on-trend toys, including electronic suspension, up-and down- quickshifter, riding modes, LCD dash, smart ABS, tyre pressure monitor, traction control – the works, pretty much. Even better, some of the bikes were special edition models laden with extras – cruise control, super-smart satnav screens that incorporate information from the bike’s ECU itself, and luggage (see below for details).
As it turns out, my allotted bike is pretty basic: no cruise, luggage or satnav. I have snaffled a low seat option though, and the 760mm perch is ideal for me and my stumpy pins. I get myself sorted: Ultimate earphones in place, soothing tunes plugged in (the 1978 Festive Fifty since you ask), lid on, jacket zipped up. Spain’s actually a bit cooler and cloudier than I expected after leaving a 22-degree London the day before. But there’s no need for the heated grips just yet, and the big flat twin kicks into life instantly, gently warming on the sidestand as I fling a leg over, and we pull away.
Today’s ride is a little unusual as it happens. BMW UK has organised the whole trip, rather than being invited on a European or world event. So we’ve got a teeny bit more freedom, and we have some old chums running the gig. Kevin Healey, of Focused Events trackdays, is managing the logistics, and is our guide for the day. Kev knows his way round a bike, and with over 100 trackdays a year at Almeria circuit, he also knows his way round the local roads. Kev, mounted on a fully-loaded R1200 GS, sets us at ease, with a steady start to the ride, and I get a chance to settle into the RS.
We’d had a bit of a briefing on the controls, but it still took me a few miles to get all my electronic ducks in a row. Suspension and riding modes set to ‘Dynamic’, adjust my head to the quickshifter (which can’t be switched off), and work out how to turn the wheelie-defying traction control off and on. Now we’re set.
And Kev begins to turn the heat up a bit. We’re well away from the busy coastal roads round our home base of Mojacar, and are heading up into the hills towards Almeria circuit. I’m following Kev on his GS, and the RS feels good: strong, grunty engine, communicative brakes, and nicely-damped suspension. 125bhp doesn’t sound like a lot on paper, but I’m not feeling short-changed at all on these roads, and there’s plenty of midrange grunt, immediately available. Fuelling is spot-on, and as I start to push a bit more to keep up with Kev, the quickshifter responds, giving a lusty blip on downchanges, and seamlessly clicking in the cogs on the upshift.
We’re quickly at the first photo location though, and it’s time to try some more committed cornering. A few passes to warm the tyres, and the RS is putting me at my ease. Sure, the steering is maybe a little slow, with the low seat giving the impression of a bike that’s sitting back a bit, rather than thrown onto its nose like a supersports bike. But the suspension is super-stable, and where some adventure bikes would be pitching back and forth on their long-travel forks, the RS’ fork simple digs in, and gives a solid, dependable foundation for braking, turning and gassing.
It’s not all MotoGP-fantasy gravy though. The pegs touch down pretty easily, actually catching me out when they first started scrawping along the Spanish asphalt. It’s no big deal – it rarely happened on the road without provocation, and is the price paid for the comfortable riding position. But it was a little surprising, and a reminder that the RS, despite its high specification, isn’t a supersport bike. Of which more anon.
The biggest problem at this bend though is the wind. Spain’s been getting some unseasonable weather it seems, and the sharp gusts on the exposed hillside are the worst I’ve ever felt, properly snatching at the RS, lifting and dropping you like the hand of god. It’s also making the few snatched wheelies I’ve tried a bit hit and miss (yes, even more than usual…)
Never mind. We’re back on the road, and playing the ‘Death Chase 2000’ game with Kev. We’re not actually going so mad, but Kev’s skills, and local knowledge is more than making up for the power/weight difference between the GS and RS, and I’m working hard to stay with him up a twisty, winding mountain road. A silent secular prayer is said for the TC and ABS safety nets at times, but the RS is making life easy for me. The quickshifter is excellent, much better than any others I’ve tried, with a real snap to the downshifts in particular. Dancing up and down the gears is a joy, the big old German pistons sucking in great gobbets of air beneath me, with even the odd racebike pop and bang once I start revving the beastie out full on the quickshifter. The brakes are strong, and help dig me out of a few holes, while the ground clearance that felt lacking on the photo corners seems perfectly adequate in ‘normal’ fast riding. One thing that catches your eye on the spec sheet is the weight: 236kg ‘road-ready’ is a hefty old mass, and not far off something like a Hayabusa. On the move though, I didn’t feel the weight much at all.
If I’m being critical, I’m not feeling as much love for the tyres as I’d expected. They’re good tyres – Metzeler Roadtec Z8s, and I used them on my Hayabusa test bike last year, with no complaints. But on some sections of smoother Tarmac, I feel a bit of vagueness, a little like when you run road pressures on a trackday. The dashboard tells me the rear is at 3.0bar, and if I’d had more time, I’d like to have taken a puff of air out to see if it made an improvement. Three bar is 42psi – fine for high-speed two-up touring work, but maybe a bit firm for backroad antics.
Those backroad antics are at an end for now though, and we pull in to Almeria circuit for lunch. But there’s a special treat – the track is empty, dead, unused today. So Kevin and the boys have pulled some strings and got us a few ‘parade’ laps on the RS. We’re in two groups: legendary racer Steve Plater takes one group round on an RS, and I set off following Kevin on the GS half a lap later. I’ve been to Almeria a good few times (although not for a while), so after a lap, I’ve got my head round it, and charge off for another few circuits. The RS is fine – you have to alter your line to keep the pegs off the deck too much on Almeria’s loooongggg turns, and the road-pressure Roadtecs are still a little short on feedback. But the brakes are great (I remembered to turn the ABS off), and the engine pulls lustily down the back straight, helping the clocks hit 140-odd mph before braking for the uphill right-hander.
I’d have loved a load more laps, with pics and track tyre pressures – but the man from BMW he say ‘no’ – this isn’t a supersports machine (again). And I can sort of see his point. So rather than ripping the RS up round Circuito de Almeria, we enjoy the peace and quiet of the Andalusian mountains, and a nice Spanish lunch.
Suitably refreshed, we fuel up the bikes, and head back towards Mojacar, It’s a steadier ride back, and with a little bit of spare brain capacity, I take in the surroundings on the RS a bit more. I’d been comparing it with the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce I’d ridden three days ago, and it scores higher in most areas, lower in some others. The MV has a few standard items which are optional on the RS (and missing on mine). Cruise control, a colour screen and Bluetooth are obvious ones. On the other hand, my RS has the electronic suspension and heated grips, which the Agusta missed. Both have an adjustable screen, both have various LCD display modes.
One other thing I consider is the riding position. Up in the hills, in attack mode, the RS felt fine. But on faster, straighter motorway-type roads, the bar position wasn’t totally natural for my height/arm length. It may have been exacerbated by the lower seat I had fitted, but the angle of my elbows was a little straighter than was totally relaxing. No biggie, and your experience will probably be different – but one to watch on the test ride.
And a test ride is what I’d recommend, after my excellent day out on the RS. I know a couple of guys who are already considering one, as a slightly-less-crazy option to a 1,000cc four. If you’ve got a middle-distance commute, or like the odd weekend tour away, yet still want sparkling performance, then the RS is a definite contender. And if you’re looking for all that, without the height and style of one of the big adventure bikes, then the RS really is top of the class…
Just the facts m’am.
The latest incarnation of BMW’s trademark flat-twin boxer engine, with double overhead cams, and vertical intake/exhaust ports. This one has water-cooling, and is similar to the motor on the R1200 GS and RT, with intake and exhaust tweaks giving a smidgeon more bottom-end grunt. Peak power is 125bhp, with 92ft lb of torque.
Steel tube space frame uses the engine as a supporting member.
BMW’s quietly dropping much of the mad old stuff it used to declare was indispensible on a motorbike. One of those is the Telelever front end, here swapped for a set of S1000RR-style USD forks. Adding a water cooling radiator has taken up the space where a Telelever arm might sit, so the forks make for a better package. Out back, we still have a single-sided Paralever swingarm, with shaft drive built in. How long before they start dropping that in favour of a chain on more models?
If we’re being generous, we could say that the ESA electronic suspension adjustment system has helped make the front fork more suited to BMW’s needs, and the ESA setup itself is excellent, as ever.
No messing: high-spec Brembo radial four-piston calipers up front, with 320mm discs. Switchable ABS as standard.
The base model comes with BMW’s ASC – which is old-school, ‘stop-you-highsiding-in-a-gravel-carpark’ traction control, as well as ABS, and two engine power delivery modes, ‘Rain’ and ‘Road’. Go for the Sport or Sport SE models, and you get Dynamic Traction control instead, which is the more advanced system that has variable levels of control, as well as a lean sensor. The Dynamic system also lets you program a ‘User’ setting, where you can fine-tune your favourite traction and throttle settings to suit.
The Sport SE version also come with the Dynamic ESA electronic suspension adjustment system, which is a semi-active setup, using the lean sensor on board to adjust damping on the fly. When at a standstill, you can alter the preload settings to suit different loads – solo, with pillion, with luggage, with pillion and luggage.
Finally on the engine front, there’s the new BMW Gear Assist Pro quickshifter. This is the latest system, with throttle blips on downshifts, and it works very well.
The dash has a load of info on display from the trip computer: the usual odometer, mileometer, air and engine temperature, gear, speed, idiot lights of course. But also a tyre pressure monitoring readout, fuel consumption and range. There’s an optional Trip Computer Pro with even more info, and if you fit the bespoke BMW satnav, you can also display a load of info on its colour screen, and it integrates fully with the bike itself.
The dash itself also has three different readout modes, with various information highlighted or minimised to suit sport, touring or full modes. And there’s a keyless ride option too.
There are a lot of these. All the bits in the packages can also be ordered separately, except the Pro computer.
Comfort Package comprising: chrome-plated exhaust system, heated grips, RDC.
Touring Package comprising: dynamic ESA, preparation for navigation system, on-board computer Pro, pannier holder, centre stand, luggage grid with hand grips, cruise control.
Dynamic Package comprising: riding mode Pro (including DTC), LED indicators, daytime running lights.
Gear shift assistant Pro.
Anti-theft alarm system.
HP milled clutch lever.
HP milled brake lever.
HP milled rider footrest system. ?Stowage range.
Small tank rucksack.
Topcase 2, lacquer-varnish lid.
Luggage grid with hand grips.
Pannier inner bag.
Topcase inner bag.
Akrapovi? Sport silencer.
Sport rider’s seat (840 mm).
Low rider’s seat (790 mm).
Extra-low rider’s seat (760 mm).
Backrest for topcase.
BMW Motorrad Navigator V.
Cradle for BMW Motorrad Navigator V.
Retrofit anti-theft alarm system.
LED auxiliary headlight.
Engine protection bar.
Retrofit riding mode Pro.
BMW Motorrad warning triangle.
Large first aid kit.
Small first aid kit.
BMW Motorrad battery charger.
Repair kit for tubeless tyres.
In the UK, there are three editions – the RS, the RS Sport and the RS Sport SE. The Sport gets the Dynamic traction control, riding modes and gear assist, as well as heated grips, LED daytime running light, tyre pressure monitor and LED indicators. The SE adds the electronic suspension system, cruise control, centre stand, luggage brackets and a chrome exhaust.
Most of the options can be added to your bike when you order one, for a bespoke build.
R1200 RS: £10,835
R1200 RS Sport: £11,870
R1200 RS Sport SE: £12,915
- Engine: l/c flat twin, 8v DOHC, 1170cc
- Bore x stroke: 101x73mm
- Compression ratio:12.5:1
- Fuel system: BMS-X fuel injection, ride by wire throttle bodies
- Transmission: six-speed/shaft. Slipper clutch
- Frame: steel tube space frame
- Suspension: 43mm USD fork, fully adjustable
- BMW Evo Paralever monoshock, fully adjustable. Optional electronic adjustment.
- Brakes: dual 320mm discs, four-piston radial mount Brembo calipers (F), 220mm disc, twin-piston caliper (R)
- Tyres: Metzeler Roadtec Z8/Michelin Pilot Road 4 120/70 17 F, 180/55 17 R
- Wheelbase 1,530mm
- Trail: 114.8mm
- Fuel capacity 18 litres
- Kerb weight 236kg
- Peak power (claimed):125bhp@7,750rpm
- Peak torque (claimed): 92ft lb@6,500rpm