BMW R 1200 S
My introduction to BMW motorcycles occured in the summer of 1975. I was 17 years old and had exuberantly nailed a job at a Honda/BMW dealership, indenturing myself to uncrating motorcycles. A perception of BMW elitism was immediately instilled simply by virtue of how the German machines were boxed up at the factory. Unlike their Japanese counterparts, the BMWs came fully assembled. All that needed to be done was raise the handlebars and attach the mirrors.
Shipping the motorcycles fully assembled—certainly a costly matter—imbued the machines with an exclusive luster. Even the crates exuded superior craftsmanship. They had metal reinforcing bars to protect the precious contents and sturdy tie-down straps to hold the machines solidly in place. For a devout motocrosser like myself, with little interest in street bikes, BMWs still managed to make an indelible impression.
The motorcycles that emerged from those impressive crates were distinctive, unique machines with massive cylinders that protruded from either side. When one of the bikes was sold—usually to an enthusiast with equally inimitable characteristics—it would be prepared by the service department and a mechanic specific-ally dedicated to the BMWs; yet another endorsement of exclusivity. The sound of the Boxer twin motor’s deep, mellifluous thump would resonate like a bass tympani beneath the staccato chorus of high-pitched Japanese four-cylinders emanating from the shop. (Click images to enlarge)
Fast-forward 30 years. The uncrating job is long gone. I have traded in my ratchet tools for a livelihood in writing. The motocross roots of my youth have been supplanted by a passion for street riding. BMW is still building that quirky horizontally opposed twin cylinder engine, though the latest incarnation is a far cry from what was being produced when Jimmy Carter was making his bid for the presidency.
Despite the introduction of their impressive new in-line 4-cylinder engine, BMW is not about to retire the dependable flat twin and the Boxer is as iconoic as the company’s logo. Over the years, BMW has dutifully kept the engine evolving with everything modern engineering has to offer, continuing to boost power and performance while retaining a touch of its esteemed past. The latest tasteful blend of old and new is brought to bear on the new R 1200 S.
Like everything else BMW does, the engineers marched to the beat of their own drum when designing the new sport Boxer. They were intent on building a motorcycle with performance and comfort as opposed to an all-out superbike. The result is a machine that functions exceptionally well in the sporting arena, yet embodies everyday practicality.
The R 1200 S is graced with the most powerful production Boxer engine ever built. The most significant change are new pistons that push compression to an incredible 12.5:1. The 1170cc air-cooled flat-twin produces 122 hp just shy of the indicated 8,500 rpm redline, but that power is delivered with typical twin-cylinder signature low-end torque. The gearbox is unexpectedly clunky. Although solid shifting and with no real danger of selecting a false neutral, it nevertheless has a long throw at the lever which makes it a challenge to change gears smoothly. But, overall, the respectable horsepower, with its pleasant delivery and strong low-end torque, translates to a welcome versatility of performance well suited to everyday street riding, yet gift the BMW with enough muscle for canyon scrapping or stringing together laps at a track day.
Aerodynamic bodywork helps the new machine cut an aggressive profile. The partial front fairing, with its dual headlights and air ducts, molds smartly into the fuel tank. The sleek lines carry through to the tail section, concealing a compact under-seat exhaust. The slim feel of the bike is corroborated by a dry weight of 430 lbs—29 lbs lighter than its predecessor, the R 1100 S.
My time on the S was evenly split between road riding and the racetrack. The bike functions exceptionally well in either venue, exhibiting a surpris-ingly competent level of performance on a closed course. Some fairly rapid laps were cut with a level of comfort and fun that only began to hint at what the BMW is truly capable of achieving.
Steering angle is one-degree steeper than the previous model, helping the S turn-in with exceptional ease and precision. BMW’s innovative Telelever front suspension system helps keep brake dive to a minimum. Rear suspension is handled with the proven BMW Paralever, which employs travel-dependent damping. As the spring strut compresses in response to various road elements, the system progressively intensifies its damping forces. The result is a consistently smooth ride, the R 1200 S absorbing everything from small bumps to relatively hard impacts with confidence and stability.
The R 1200 S is available with ABS as an option to further enhance the stopping power of the twin 320mm front discs. For track sessions the ABS can be easily deactivated, rendering a more positive feel. The Boxer can be dragged down from speed under aggressive braking without any hint of getting unsettled—just positive, rapid deceleration. However, aggressive braking on bumpy, rutted sections of road can cause the ABS to interpret any wheel hop, however slight, as loss of traction (as it is designed to do) and fluctuate pressure between front and rear brakes to prevent locking. Although the ABS is doing its job, for this kind of spirited riding the oscillation results in an inconsistent brake lever that is somewhat disconcerting. (Click image to enlarge)
Perhaps most impressive of all is the way the BMW engineers contoured the R 1200 S cockpit to render a relatively comfortable riding position, while still managing to capture the essence of a sportbike. They grasp the concept that, although we love to ride in winding canyons, we usually have to traverse a good deal of ordinary streets and highways to get to them. So, the R 1200 S leaves us with enough energy and enthusiasm to enjoy those twists and turns when we arrive. (Click image to enlarge)
Overall the R 1200 S stays true to the BMW ethos of rapidly covering lots of miles, comfortably and without fuss and its Teutonic heritage shines through with its solidity and quality of manufacture. Giving the impression that it has been machined from one piece of solid billet, the BMW manages to exude a high-tech, next-generation feel, without losing the essence of simplicity that has always been a signature of the marque.