2014 BMW R 1200 RT TestThe 2014 BMW R1200RT displays the refinement one might expect in a model whose antecedents date back 35 years. Two-thousand fourteen marks the RT’s much-heralded marriage to the partially air/partially oil/partially water cooled “Wasserboxer” engine that graced only the R1200GS adventure-touring models in 2013.
This Wasserboxer is the culmination of BMW’s effort to modernize the iconic and historic engine – and to make it relevant for modern requirements. It now sports 125 horsepower from 1170 cc displacement and, at all times while riding this bike, one is reminded of the improvements both large and small because BMW did not simply change the powerplant and call it quits.Press the starter button and the horizontally-opposed twin barks its baritone note with a sound previously reserved for racing Boxers. It is distinct and urgent, and a lot different from most Airheads and Oilheads of year’s past. It revs smoothly and quickly in a linear fashion to the 9000 RPM redline, and the 92 lb/ft (claimed) of torque simply yanks this 604 lb. (wet) bike to speed effortlessly.Acceleration from a stop is crisp, and so is the exhaust note. If it’s not to your liking, there is an EPA-certified Akrapovic system offered. Aiding fast get-aways through the gears is the optional quick-shifter that BMW calls Gear Shift Assist Pro. It offers seamless, clutch-less up-shifts at any speed as long as you are on the throttle, and is smoothest in the higher gears. It can be a bit jerky shifting first to second to third if you are not accelerating hard enough, but third through sixth is butter smooth no matter how much or little you twist.Gear Shift Assist Pro allows clutch-less down-shifts, too, as long as you roll off the throttle first. Simply press down on the shift lever and the transmission drops a cog. There is no blip to equalize revs – they are under computer control which equalizes them perfectly no matter the speed and gear. The Gear Shift Assist Pro also never upsets the chassis by one ounce of misguided force.Speaking of smooth, BMW has got this transmission as silky as any on the market. The throws are short, and the hydraulic clutch actuation is soft, smooth and easy. Upshifts and downshifts are positive and fast. And now that the clutch can be accessed for service relatively easily through the front of the motor, future changes will not require two days of work and breaking the bike in half.After almost 1,000 miles, we found the 2014 BMW R1200RT to be a true road superiority vehicle. Not because it is always the fastest or the best at what it does either. Looking at the sport touring segment as a whole it is possible to find competitor’s bikes that exceed the RT, in one performance specification or another. The RT may not be the best at any one element in a comparison but it is always near the top of the chart.It is this complete package that is so compelling and is hard to beat. It is an endearing machine that makes you realize that it is the light sport-touring rig by which all others are compared. It is the bike to choose when the outcome of your trip is uncertain – when you just don’t know what you might need. In this case, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.BMW positions this model at the top of their light touring line-up, only surpassed by their K1600 line of 6-cylinder powered Über tourers that weight 100 lb. more and usually appeal to a different type of buyer.This all adds up to a luxurious but sporty ride from the R 1200 RT. Vibrations from the Wasserboxer engine are unlike any other, and can be felt in the feet and hands. To me, they are soothing and are reduced to almost nil at cruising speeds. Also unique is the confident, thrumming sound of the motor that can’t be confused with any other – it is a pleasant companion through all the miles.For a ride on the highway you can raise the infinitely variable power windscreen, set the full-featured cruise control, and see the miles pass effortlessly. At 6-feet tall, I experienced no buffeting nor forward push within the cockpit at any speed. And the screen is large enough to protect someone several inches taller than I.When the twisty bits come along, I lowered the screen to better see the terrain and the RT doesn’t hesitate to switch from straight line duty to cornering on the edges of its 180/55-17 (120/70-17 front) Michelin Pilot Road 4 GT tires on cast aluminum wheels. The profile of this tire perfectly matches the bike’s handling potential without any drama or hard parts touching down on the tarmac.With all the luggage and bodywork, one can be deceived by the RT’s size and think it much bigger. But under all the removable parts lurks a sportbike capable of traversing roads with the best out there. The handling is sharp and precise. When pitched into a fast corner the RT is eager but neutral and likes to power out of turns.Corner entry, even when slightly overcooked, inspires confidence and the newly designed chassis is better than ever at keeping the bike true to its line. The proven BMW telelever and paralever suspension design is employed and utilizes BMW’s Dynamic ESA semi-active system to give the rider many setup choices for preload, damping levels and load weight. It also can be set in Dyna mode to let the computer do the thinking. For fast sport touring, Dyna is completely satisfying.The radial-mounted Brembo brakes with braided lines and ABS (always on) encourage aggressive braking when desired, and repeated hard usage on fast canyon sections going down mountain roads had no negative effect on their performance, even with the panniers and top case fully loaded. Initial bite is about perfect, and the binders offer linear response to the only one or two fingers required under any braking scenario. Front and back brakes are linked together, and they operate seamlessly with the computer handling the proportioning chores. The pedal operates the rear only for those that like trail-braking into turns with the rear brake.Another useful and unique option is Hill Start Control which, when activated by a firm squeeze of the front brake at a stop, allows easy uphill starts without the chance of rolling backward. It works well but we found the system much more useful when stopped on not-so-level ground in a place where you don’t want to roll. One no longer needs to keep a toe or finger on the brakes when waiting at a light or pulled over to change music tracks on your player.As for the cockpit, this year BMW lowered both front and back seats by 0.8 of an inch and no longer offer the low suspension option. This lowers the bike’s center of gravity and still allows the rider to choose from two seat heights and a low seat option offering a seat height as low as 29.9 inches.The seat cover fabric on the optional heated seats is called Freshtouch and it is said to be 18 degrees cooler than normal in direct sunlight. The mid-section was narrowed and the handlebars lowered accordingly. Front and rear seats are also longer and allow a wider range of seating positions. I found the more forward position best for curvy roads and moving further rearward offered better and wider support for the highway. The upright position combined with the long seat and perfect bar height makes this one of the most comfortable rides to date.The cockpit is also thoroughly modern, and the hardware is first rate with a mix of advanced plastics and metal in the usual places. The dash incorporates a 5.7 inch TFT, high resolution, high contrast, color display with backlit dials that is easy to read in all light conditions and pleasantly organized. It even tilts a few degrees at a press to eliminate any glare. Two versions are available from the factory – with or without the optional BMW Navigator V GPS, sourced from Garmin. Optional is an audio system that integrates with media players, connects via Bluetooth to rider and passenger headsets and is satellite radio ready.Through the Menu switch and multi-controller wheel on the left grip one is able to access all system functions including suspension, seat and grip heaters, GPS, and extensive trip computer. It is intuitive and easy to use. All systems allow changes on the fly and offer many data display possibilities. We liked that the menu system is easy to understand and use thus allowing quick access to the many sophisticated features offered. Automatic Stability Control (ASC) is BMWs name for traction control. It is always on and is adjusted through the power modes which include: Road (optimal power, optimal ASC traction, normal suspension damping), Rain (soft throttle response, early ASC intervention, soft damping) and Dyna (direct throttle response, ASC allows minor drifts, hard damping) and operate off a dedicated handlebar switch.BMW has re-designed the bodywork, giving it a more streamlined look and aerodynamic profile that also benefits rider protection from wind and weather. In strong crosswinds we found the bike to be quite stable and well behaved.Fuel consumption averaged 35 mpg when ridden hard, and about 40 mpg on the highway. Fully loaded, with its 6.6 gallon fuel tank the warning light comes on around 190 miles with a 240 mile range.The fit and finish is industry-leading and the cases are waterproof, easy to open and remove. They lock with either the key, a dedicated switch on the right grip, or by using the electronic key fob button which also activates the anti-theft alarm system. Additionally, this lock system operates two front “glove” boxes, and the right box features a USB port to charge your device or integrate it with the media system. There is a 12-volt “BMW style” outlet positioned conveniently along the fairing for your electric vest or whatever. The alternator was upgraded to 540-watts to power all your equipment.The 2014 BMW R1200RT is a highly capable, exclusive and refined machine, wrapping its rider in a cocoon of comfort, sophistication and capability not often found.The 2014 BMW R 1200 RT is available in Quartz Blue Metallic or Callisto Grey Metallic Matte contrasted with Dark Slate Metallic Matte, or Ebony Metallic contrasted with Monolith Metallic Matte. Prices will range from $17,650 to $21,700 (fully loaded).
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.