Not your average tourer?
You know a bike is going to be a cut above the rest when it wins the prestigious RiDE POWER Survey. In 2006 RiDE readers voted the BMW R1200 RT their number one motorcycle.
So when I got the opportunity to test a R1200 RT, I was anxious to find out why this bike is so special? After all it’s marketed as a straight tourer, not a high performance sports bike.
It’s powered by the 1200cc boxer engine, first introduced in the now highly successful BMW R1200 GS. In the RT it has been engineered to give even more power and torque. Ten ponies more in fact, with power up to 110bhp (100bhp in the GS) and torque is up to 115Nm. Plus the compression ratio has been increased to 12.0:1. With a dry weight of only 229kg you have a recipe for a tourer that can seriously hustle.
Our Biarritz Blue Metallic test bike had virtually every optional extra, including chrome exhaust, ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment), heated seats, heated grips, cruise control, on board computer, radio with CD Player and speakers, white indicator lenses, anti-theft alarm system and additional power socket.
All these extras cost! The on the road price is £10,895, but this cost swells to £13,690 with the extras. However many owners will feel these extras are essential and represent good value for money.
Our bike had the full BMW luggage system including top case and panniers. They are very good quality with excellent locks, which you push to open the lids, which then glide gracefully down into the open position.
All these extras, add many more buttons to the standard motorcycle set up, which can be distracting. On several occasions I found myself, trying to find a particular radio station, which was diverting my attention from the road.
The bike has 17″ alloy wheels which assist the bikes quick steering. They are shod with Dunlop SportMax road tyres, no trail tyres here. This is the one limitation; the bike is not designed to be taken off-road. It has off-road style suspension, but the bike is meant to be kept on the black stuff, or even the odd paved or cobbled street, but mud tracks are not its province. Shame really!
Looks are a personal choice, gone are the curved, bulbous lines of its predecessor the R1150 RT, replaced with sharp angular lines and panels, an acquired taste I think? The bike met with mixed reception when parked up, some liked it, others did not. For my own view I think the bike looks purposeful.
Instrumentation is copious, with round analogue speedo and rev counter dials separated by a rectangular LCD display, for provision of additional information from the onboard computer. I found the white on gray contrast of the dials not the clearest, though the automatic orange backlighting in poor light or at night is excellent. However the LCD display is not an improvement over the compact form of the earlier touring models, as the text layout does not make optimum use of the available display space.
The pleasure is in getting there!
It’s said that the pleasure in riding a motorcycle is the getting there, not the destination. No more so than with the BMW R1200 RT, this bike will simply blow away your jaded preconceptions as to how a large touring bike should handle and perform.
This bike carries its 229 kg very lightly; helped by the low centralised centre of gravity from the boxer engine layout. A tourer this big has no right to feel so light and nimble, but it truly does, even at car park speeds.
The bike has a near neutral seating position. You sit fairly upright up the bike in a natural position that does not put strain on the back neck or wrists. Additionally the seat is height adjustable between 820 to 840mm.
It’s when you start to explore the R1200 RT’s handling and performance that you will be blown way. Now tourers are supposed to be lardy with mediocre handling and performance, aren’t they? Well nobody told BMW that.
Ride this bike sedately and it’s immensely comfortable and refined, the ESA letting you change on the move between Sport, Normal and Comfort suspension settings. I found no discernable difference between the Normal and Comfort, my preferred setting was Sport. Suddenly the bike is transformed into something with handling more akin to a sports bike. The whole bike’s response is tauter and more aggressive. If you try and ride the bike spiritedly on B or C roads I found the lesser settings allowed the bike to wallow and pitch when pushed hard, but Sport does what is says on the button. Suddenly you’re no longer riding a big tourer and you find yourself taking corners at speeds and angles that are surely only the province of a sports bike rider. In fact you have to keep reminding yourself you’re riding a large tourer.
However, when the top case is fitted, the handling slightly affected, it doesn’t weave, but you are conscious the box introduces a slight rear end hesitancy.
The bike was shod with Bridgestone BT020’s. 99% of the time they were excellent. Providing high levels of grip and confidence, but I did find the front end susceptible to some tram lining.
In Sport mode, the limousine style ride is slightly compromised with short sharp bumps now not being perfectly isolated; but this is a small price to pay for the near sports bike handling.
BMW Motorrads’s unique Telelever front suspension system and the Paralever system at the rear (which combines the functions of rear wheel suspension and power transfer), both contribute to the excellent handling, providing a generally smooth unflustered ride with no fork dive.
This has to be the smoothest incarnation of the Boxer engine yet. Smooth, unruffled power delivery is an absolute requirement of a large tourer and this engine exceeds expectations. How have made this Boxer engine so smooth? It does have the additional counterbalance shaft, but somehow it’s smoother than when installed in the GS.
Boxer engines are not about ultimate top speed, though BMW Motorrad say the bike will exceed 200 kmph and I have seen a claimed top speed of 223 kmph in print. No they’re about power where you need it, with truck loads of torque on tap. The Boxer engine pulls strongly through out all the gears and the entire 8,000 RPM rev range. Because of the huge reserves of torque on offer, many overtakes don’t need you to change down out of top; certainly the amount of gear changing necessary to make smooth and progressive progress is greatly reduced. This only enhances the touring experience and is less tiring.
Wind the engine above 5000 RPM and it gets a serious second wind providing an accelerative punch that will have you grinning.
The smoothness is complemented further by what must also be one of the best BMW motorcycle gear boxes yet. BMW have been criticised in the past for clunky gearboxes but in the 1200 RT this is no more. Slick, quick, effortless gear changes are the norm.
What I found impressed me most though, is you are able to ride the bike without consideration for its bulk and size. I forgot I was riding a large tourer as I made smooth and fuss free progress on motorways down to challenging C roads.
Now comfort is a major requirement for a long distance tourer and the upright riding position and full wind cheating fairing both combine to provide a comfortable ride, with a couple of exceptions.
I found it near impossible to get a favourable position with the electrically adjustable screen, to minimise wind blast and noise. Now I did have the adjustable seat set to its highest position and I am 6ft 3″, perhaps lowering myself on the bike would have helped.
Also I found with the mirrors, which are built into the fairing, all I could get was a clear view of my arms and gloved hands. Above 50MPG the sound from the stereo speakers difficult to hear, even with the volume at maximum. Perhaps a shorter person who would sit below the screen top and hence experience much less wind noise would find the speakers audible at higher speeds?
For the most part the stock seat is supportive and fairly comfortable, but push the other side of 250 miles without stopping and it does start to feel a little hard.
With a massive 27 litre fuel tank capacity, fuel stops are infrequent. I achieved an amazing fuel economy figure of 59 MPG giving a potential range of 350 miles.
The BMW R1200 RT delivers comfort, performance, handling and economy all in one package. It allows the rider to cover great distances and make smooth and rapid progress on most roads with almost sports bike handling. Plus it can be tailored with an options package to the individual desires of most buyers.
Perhaps now one can see why RiDE readers voted it their number one motorcycle!
Article and Photos by Jon Booth – www.inter-bike.co.uk – The UK Biker Site. Note all performance figures, weights and technical specifications are as claimed by the respective manufacturers