Paradigm Shift

Snaking along rumpled pavement and loose gravel toward the 6,288-foot summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington aboard BMW’s all-new K sportbike, it is not difficult to imagine the obstacles in our ascent as metaphors for the engineering challenges the Munich-based manufacturer faced while designing the impressive machine. That the usually conservative company would produce such a bike serves as a tangible barometer for the changing attitudes and evolving demands of an expanding, maturing motorcycle community. The intensive five-year project was a radical departure from BMW’s established platform, and a gamble that paid off. The much-lauded K bike rewarded long-suffering brand loyalists with a serious sport machine. Surprising numbers of BMW owners—ranging from R90S enthusiasts to the securely ensconced BMW tourist segment—have traded in trusty, beloved Beemers for a new K model. They have also attracted new buyers by defying BMW’s staid perception.

A welcome, urbane approach to a sport machine, the K bike’s German engineering and long-distance sensibilities offer a pleasing alternative to single-minded street missiles.

Whether by calculation or serendipity, BMW has effectively tapped into the psyche of perhaps the largest—and most quiet—category in motorcycling. It is a high-performance sport motorcycle that exudes sophistication and adroitly disguises comfortable ergonomics in a strikingly aggressive package. BMW has served notice that the sport category is no longer the domain of the Japanese or the Italians. (Click image to enlarge)

The fully faired BMW K 1200 S and its stripped-down brother, the K 1200 R, are otherwise identical, except for a slightly raised handlebar and abbreviated fairing on the R for a more upright riding position. But despite their close relationship, the two machines cultivate decidedly independent personas: The K 1200 S is suave and debonair, the K 1200 R a sophisticated bully for the street fighter crowd. What the K bikes share is a highly respectable performance curve with power and handling delivered in a manageable, prestigious package.

An all-new powerplant is at the heart of each machine. Instead of using its signature Boxer-twin platform, BMW developed a 1,157cc in-line 4-cylinder engine that delivers 167 hp at 10,250 rpm. It is the most powerful, highest-revving BMW ever. Add a peak torque rating of 96 ft lbs at 8,250 rpm and it enjoys a level playing field with its competition. As equally as impressive on paper, they are marvels in action. Without sacrificing the luxury of healthy low-end torque, the in-line four builds revs with exceptional speed, and delivers controlled, linear power. It starts off idle and continues evenly until just shy of redline. (Click image to enlarge)

The engine’s placement contributed significantly to the configuration of the machine’s frame. Intent on keeping the mass of the 4-cylinder plant low in the frame, engineers rotated the motor forward 55 degrees. This necessitated pushing the front wheel out, which resulted in a wheelbase stretched to 61.8 inches. Though long, the motorcycle gains increased stability, and handles corners with nimble precision. (Click image to enlarge)

BMW developed the Duolever suspension system for the new model’s front end. It employs longitudinal arms that resemble a pair of scissors in motion and allow the front wheel stroke to follow an almost straight up-and-down path. Unlike traditional telescopic forks, there is minimal influence to the rake and wheelbase. The Duolever also improves front wheel response by reducing the friction inherent to sliders on traditional forks. The new system’s only odd characteristic is that, at extremely low speeds—primarily in stop-and-go traffic—the front end tends to weave, with the sensation of low tire pressure.
BMW’s proven Paralever design serves as a rear suspension. An electronic suspension adjustment option enables nine on-the-fly spring and damping settings selected by handlebar-mounted buttons; a well-placed dashboard indicator displays chosen settings with simple, easy to understand terminology. The ESA system made transitions on a wide variety of roads throughout New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, an effortless affair. It also proved useful during a Max BMW track day at the Loudon race circuit.

Electronically adjustable suspension handled  New Hampshire’s road vagaries with aplomb. (Click image to enlarge)

A Partial-Integral adaptive braking system on the K bike augments its acclaimed EVO brakes. The linked system activates both the front and rear calipers whenever the rider pulls the front brake lever; the rear brake pedal operates only the rear caliper. The system works effectively both in controlled and in panic situations, without any strange quirks or an unnatural feel.

The stock Metzeler tires handled the wet conditions impeccably. (Click image to enlarge)

Striking a balance between engineering progress and consumer demands, the new K models represent a mature, practical approach to the sport category. This isn’t to say, though, that you can’t have serious fun on the BMW. One editor at the Loudon track day enjoyed repeated runs, spinning the rear wheel of the R bike all the way up the hill. Essentially, while the K bike is not your dad’s BMW, it is also not your son’s crotch rocket.

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