2004 saw BMW’s first foray into the sportsbike market with a thinly disguised touring bike. It worked for them though look at their sportsbike now. Here’s what we thought on the launch in October 2004.
You’re not going to believe it, hell I didn’t either, but this bike works. This bike represents BMW’s first foray into the sports bike market, a brave move you might say, given the established crowd of Japanese manufacturers and their range of bikes. Specifically, the K1200S sits alongside the Suzuki Hayabusa, Kawasaki ZX-12R and Honda Blackbird in the hyper sports market. But the news is that – in le face of that kind of opposition – the 1200S stands up exceptionally well, vorks in a way no other Beemer has before – just like a Japanese in-line four.
BMW rented the top two floors of the tallest (and emptiest) building in Munich for the press introduction. With views across the whole city the saying that BMW owns half of Munich certainly seemed true as one BMW logo after another BMW logo lit-up in the evening sky.
Maybe I’m a cynic but presentations of a new model get less and less interesting partly because they only ever re-iterate what we already know or is written in the press pack but largely because all I really want to do is ride the bike and ask questions later. So in between bouts of note taking (page one in my notebook reads, “Edgar Heimlich? That can’t be right!”) I found myself more interested in whether the gloriously beautiful woman on my left actually had any pants on. I’m still not sure – about Heimlich I mean.
The next day dawned very hot and humid in central Europe but a lOOkm-odd blast of autobahn, which lay before us to the first photo location just over the Austrian border, looked like a great way to keep cool. First sight and feeling of the bike makes you think this is smaller and lighter than expected. It’s no ZX-10R but it feels
smaller than the more lardy class rivals. The all new, in-line four l,157cc motor is, without a doubt, fucking fast. It should be with a claimed 167bhp and it’ll need to be to match the Bird/Busa/12Rs of this world. Thankfully the autobahns south of Munich, towards Austria, remain speed-limit-free and there’s no question this thing tramps along very, very quickly. You know a bike’s fast when you find yourself breaking to ABS testing point and flashing your lights at the prat who’s just pulled into the fast lane without looking, only to find when you look down at the speedo he’s been ‘pootling along’ actually doing lOOmph any way. That said I never quite topped-it out – 270kph (167mph) being the maximum I managed before needing to brake for a car or corner but there were : revs still to spare.
It doesn’t have the low down surge you associate with the Busa or Blackbird but needs revving more like the ZX-12R to get the best from it (judged by sports 600 levels of torque this sentence is nonsense of course). It also lacks some of the refinement of the Honda and comes across as more mechanical. A number of other testers present on the launch bemoaned an inconsistent fuel injection and throttle delivery, especially at low speeds through towns. It may have been the hot weather but I didn’t find the same problems but felt it worth noting. The flip side is there’s no over-sensitivity that you find from a Honda throttle.
There’s also a distinct feeling of some form of traction control. Open the throttle hard to the point at which you’d expect wheel spin out of a corner and there’s a real feeling of power being temporarily damped. Only by a small amount, but enough to stop wheel spin on grippy Alpine roads. Experimenting with it on a straight road demonstrated that you could actually accelerate faster by not using all the throttle.
“Built-in corrective functions ” are operated by a “potentionmeter” which determines the engine’s “operating point” by measuring the engine speed and throttle body position. Couple this with the biggest exhaust can not fitted to a Scania truck (which helps the K12S easily meet EU emissions standards) and there is a real sense that mid-revs power has been “optimised” to reduce engine response. In short it could be more powerful than it is at lower revs. The reason for all this is primarily to stop us all falling off every time we open the throttle but I’d rather have the option.
The gearbox is nothing special but nothing to complain about either. By older BMW standards it is a vast improvement but still, in Suzuki terms for instance, it is clunky and liable not to want to work at high revs. Clutchless gear changes went out the window above 9,500rpm or so.
The classic quirky chassis set up continues with a new ‘duolever’ front end joining the paralever rear-end set-up (10per cent lighter than the telelever system fitted to other BMWs). A British designer named Norman Hossack persisted with the idea of anti-dive as the best principal for best braking and cornering of a bike chassis. BMW then bought his idea and made it real.
248kg with a full tank is a lot of bike, hidden behind BMW’s usual emphasis on mass concentration around the centre of the bike (bear in mind BMW has been banging this drum years before Honda et al started banging on about “mass centralisation”). BMW has done well in hiding the inherent weight problems of the class behind a tight and positive front end is the duolever’s best trick. To my mind the front end farts in the face of, say, the Blackbird because it doesn’t have any tendency to push away the front wheel (which can be unnerving on Alpine roads this launch took us to). The bike also feels smaller and almost playful (to use another quote from my notebook during the presentation)dishing up a surprising comfortable riding position thanks to a low slung alloy frame (in turn possible because of a low slung engine). The bar and footrest position is quite relaxed but still gives you great control over the bike. Along with some decent ground clearance this should make it a rival for the Busa and ZX-12R on a track. Chassis feedback is very direct at lean angles too, which is big bonus with nearly 250kgs pushing the tyres.
The biggest single surprise about this bike is the electronically adjustable damping control. You can adjust the ride quality according to how you’re riding or how much load you’re carrying by – and get this – a button on the bars. You can switch between three options of comfort, norm and sport, which in turn have three options for rider, rider with luggage or rider with pillion. The difference is readily apparent, even between the luggage or no luggage on one of the settings, and they do make a considerable difference to how the bike handles on the right (or wrong) road. You couldn’t have it on a full-on sports bike, where the extra weight of hydraulic damping control motor would add too much weight, but it makes a lot of sense on a bike designed for motorway touring and Alpine passes. UK bikes will come with or without ABS fitted and, unless you are of a nervous disposition I’d recommend without as this system does still ultimately hamper optimum stopping power and feel. The hot news is it works. You’d expect it to of course, BMW being no Muppets when it comes to bolting stuff together, but I expected something more clunky and well, BMW-like. Instead I got something much closer to a Japanese bike. Shame the colours available are uncharacteristic of a marque adept at producing classy looking cars. It’s an ok journo criticism that BMW bikes look unlike their cars but i half expected this new model, considering the hyper sport class’s agenda, to be look more like one of their 5-series cars. Single colour options will be available early in 2005 (the bike goes on sale from 25 September) but if you can’t wait you’ll have to put up with looking like a policeman or a giant bumblebee.
There’s not a huge number of the 2004 model of this bike for sale at the moment but a quick scout on ebay turned up the full bumblebee coloured beast.