As dated as the air-cooled boxer twin motor may seem to the unconverted, BMW certainly feels there’s a bit more that can be squeezed out of the configuration it debuted in the 1920s, even as we settle into the 21st century. Certainly, no one can argue that BMW hasn’t successfully updated the concept. As tuned for the new R 1200 R upright Roadster, the flat twin now boasts four valves per cylinder, electronic fuel injection and 1170cc. The short stroke motor (the bore is 28mm wider than the stroke is long) pumps out 109 hp at 7,500 rpm and the grunt is 85 ft lbs at only 6,000 rpm.
Those numbers don’t match up to modern four-cylinder machines of considerably smaller displacement, but the power is delivered at lower rpm and in a decidedly unhurried (for a sport bike) manner. There is a bit of a power and torque surge in the output at 5,550 rpm, but many riders will rarely notice it, as they will have already short-shifted the smooth, long-throw transmission. However, there’s significantly less vibration than doled out by the buzzy R 1200 S, so there is less of a disincentive to approach the redline. Suffice to say, I tended to shift early unless I was specifically intent on flogging the R. When I did ride hard, the new-generation ABS was up to the job of effortlessly slowing the bike down.
The handling isn’t staid, but it won’t be mistaken for nimble. At the conservative end of neutral, the R 1200 R is somewhat set in its ways. Changing directions requires non-ambiguous input from the rider and, once aimed, the bike prefers to stick to its set course. In a straight line, the R 1200 R is rock solid, though the unfaired bike does send the air straight into the rider (a sport windshield offers minimal air redirection). Having said that, I had no problem adding well over 100 freeway miles on the odometer without fatigue. The R 1200 R is comfortable, thanks to adult ergonomics and a good seat. The BMW’s nearly 500 pounds (fully premium fueled) is carried low, and even one of our 115-pound female test riders had no problem handling the bike, and actually liked it quite a bit, though she prefers smaller displacement machines.
The suspension, of course, plays into the comfort of the bike. The front anti-dive Telelever suspension is odd to look at, but it works nicely. The lack of weight transfer on hard braking seems strange, at first, but it’s easy to quickly adapt your expectations. The Paralever in the rear is flawless, and works to eliminate the lifting of the rear end during acceleration, a bugaboo of the shaft drive design.
Not to be ignored is the technical aspect of this machine, which is designed to appeal to the more mature sport motorcyclist, of any age. In addition to ABS, ASC (Automatic Stability Control) is available as an option. ASC keeps the rear wheel from spinning and the front wheel from lifting, and can be switched off for wheelies and burnouts. We didn’t test this feature, but we certainly see the appeal. ASC is part of a larger Single-Wire-System internal communications system that allows BMW to offer other impressive options, such as ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment—both spring and damping rates), TPC (Tire Pressure Control) and an anti-theft warning system. This all ties in with an optional instrument cluster that alerts you to everything from black ice conditions to average fuel consumption. For all this technology, our R had a prosaic flaw—a leaky left fork seal.
The R 1200 R can also be turned into a sport-touring bike by addition optional system cases, including a top case and tank bag, plus a tall windshield, stepped seats of various heights, and the Navigator III GPS system. A sports soft bag is also available for those needing limited cargo space. BMW is also delving back into the “factory custom” world, offering such appearance-only options as chromed mirrors and cylinder head covers.
The R 1200 R is the friendly alternative to the R 1200 S—a bike I find to be uncomfortable, too buzzy above 4,000 rpm and not all that fast for a pure sport bike. The R 1200 R is more pleasant in every way, and actually encourages me to ride faster and farther, thanks to a better view from the cockpit, along with a motor that doesn’t punish me for revving it. The conservative styling and choice of four colors (two gray, two black) isn’t going to turn many heads, but this is a bike for the rider, not the spectator.
When cruising along a twisty canyon road, I really enjoy the neutral handling of the R 1200 R. The high-leverage of the handlebar makes 10–to-40 mph corners seamless and easy to negotiate. With minimal body weight transfer, the bike tracks smoothly through very tight turns. The torquey boxer twin pulls strongly from what feels like almost zero revs, negating the need to slip the clutch from very slow corners. In faster going, the big Beemer tracks well, it tends to understeer a little through long fast sweepers, and doesn’t quite sustain the agile feel it possesses on the slower tighter roads.
The brakes, though excellent, are a little sharp and require careful modulation at slower speeds. The ABS is confidence-inspiring and helps bring the machine back down from speed, with zero drama transmitted to the rider. Torque reaction from the boxer motor is a little unsettling as you blip the throttle on downshifts, and the long-throw gear change combined with the edginess of the braking system makes it a little bit of a challenge to really ride the bike smoothly.
Overall, I like the R 1200 R, thanks to its comfortable riding position, willing, torquey motor and flickable, confident handling. This is a great urban street weapon and short squirt Sunday ride if you’re out for fun in safety with no hassle. >> Arthur Coldwells