2015 BMW R1200R First Ride Review | Back to High-Tech Basics

2015 BMW R1200R, right side

2015 BMW R1200R First Ride Test with Video

With numerous superb high-spec and exciting new motorcycles arriving for 2015 — indeed, several of them from BMW — it might be easy for one all-new roadster to get overlooked in the exotica shuffle. But that would be a mistake, as BMW’s new R1200R is a superb machine worthy of much more than just a cursory glance.

Although it’s a “naked” style motorcycle, the R1200R could hardly be described as minimalist, as it comes with a mega-high-tech electronics package that includes fully electronic suspension. However, despite all the help provided, the R1200R actually takes the rider back to the essence of motorcycling: it’s incredibly fun to ride with a sporting, neutral handling chassis and a low-revving motor that has plenty of torque to keep you amused.

Although at a claimed curb weight of 509 lbs. it isn’t particularly light, it does, however, feel very maneuverable – the weight is carried nice and low (thanks, boxer flat-twin), and the upright bars and rider stance allow for plenty of leverage and easy riding. The R 1200 R is an intriguing prospect: a comfortable, agile-handling machine with a super-torquey engine and stellar good looks. What’s not to like?

I spent a day and a couple hundred miles…hmm, kilometers…riding the 1200 R along Spain’s coastline and inland from Alicante, where the roads are twisty and superbly paved — clearly the perfect recipe for this spirited roadster. Except it was raining. However, as the kilometers clicked by, my initial tentativeness with the conditions gradually disappeared and I found myself appreciating the supremely easy to ride 1200 R; it handled the conditions with aplomb, and without one single bad “moment,” I ended up having enormous fun.

BMW has the roadster’s recipe absolutely spot-on: smooth, manageable power; impeccable fueling with an astonishing throttle connection; compliant electronically controlled suspension; a stable and accurate chassis with neutral, easy handling; every available electronic safety device; and inspiring grip from Metzler’s latest Road Tec tires. All these gave me more and more confidence as the day went by. I can honestly say that I have never felt so secure and confident in the wet – to the point I forgot my trepidation and started to rise to the challenge of the slippery conditions, pushing the limit far more than I ever would have thought possible.

Ninety-one years after the first BMW boxer-engined motorcycle, this latest evolution of the justly revered flat-twin results in a now water-cooled motor that is both powerful and superbly refined. It vibrates a little at idle, but as soon as you move off the line those vibes all but disappear. It is the same water-cooled double overhead-cam unit that now powers the GS and its Adventure sibling, as well as both the latest RT and the new RS. Outputting a healthy 125 horsepower at 7,750 rpm (claimed) and a very substantial peak of 92 ft/lbs of torque at 6,500 rpm, the 1200 R pulls strongly in every gear. Not only has torque been increased substantially throughout the rev range over previous iterations, this 1200 R model actually has different fuel mapping and provides a slightly stronger low-down output than both its GS and RT siblings.

Many of the corners I was riding were pretty slow and averaged in the 30-40 mph range. I kept the R1200R in second and third gear most of the time, and enjoyed the feeling of the big motor pulling me out of the corners from almost zero revs, without a cough or a hiccup to be felt. One time just for grins I kept it in fourth gear through a 20 mph corner just to see how the fueling would handle it. Amazingly it had absolutely no ill-effect whatsoever. Sure the power was a little reduced, but the bike still pulled well and accelerated smoothly and easily. With such rider-friendly throttle action and uniform power-delivery, controlling the motorcycle becomes super-easy; you would have to be incredibly ham-fisted to induce any jerkiness at all into your ride.

Exhaust gases are routed through a 2-in-1 system and exit through a steeply angled rear silencer that produces a nice burble on the throttle and a characterful mild popping on the over-run. A modified airbox and newly shaped air intakes, as well as a quite small radiator at the front give the bike a slim frontal area.

The transmission is nicely refined and the gear lever needs little pressure. Changing ratios in the upper gears is quite smooth, although from first to second and into third is a little clunky, as with all big twin-cylinder motors. Absolutely make sure you order your bike with the optional Gear Shift Assistant (aka quickshifter). This allows both up and down gearshifts through the box without the need for the clutch. I realize many of you will be snorting in derision at this, but believe me, once you’ve used this thing, there’s no going back. Up shifts are smoother and quicker, and downshifts (provided the throttle is completely closed) feel almost seamless, and are accompanied by an automated engine blip. If you forget to completely close the throttle on downshifts the GSA will work, but it makes for a fairly lumpy ratio-change. My fault: I did just that, and on the accompanying video (below) you can see what I mean at around the 2 mins :20 mark. Riding in the wet, on an unfamiliar twisty road, I could change down mid-corner if needed, and my cold hands could take advantage of being able to fully grip the heated hand warmers properly. It was a luxury to have the Gear Shift Assistant and the uninterrupted smoothness of the drive helped with the bike’s balance and therefore the traction as well, I’m sure.

The electronics package is incredibly impressive; in standard trim the R1200R is equipped with Rain and Road riding modes together with traction-enhancing Automatic Stability Control (ASC). Optionally, the Riding mode Pro offers two more: ‘Dynamic’ and ‘User’, and these include a bank angle sensor and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) that replaces the standard ASC system.

Dynamic mode is the most sporting of settings and it gives a really direct feel to the engine’s power. The User riding mode is completely customizable, and the Dynamic mode can have some settings tweaked slightly if preferred. So the three DTC (traction control) modes can be made to match the Rain, Road and Dynamic throttle modes to produce the best throttle response depending on rider preference. In Road mode, the control systems are set to provide an optimum balance of performance and comfort on all roads. In Rain mode, throttle response becomes even gentler although horsepower is not actually reduced.

The R 1200 R’s chassis is a tubular trellis frame with the motor as a stressed member. The lack of plastic fairing ensures the bike maximizes its good looks and will keep the purists happy. Of course the most noticeable change, apparently inspired by the S 1000 RR superbike, is the conventional upside-down (male-slider) front fork. In other words, gone is the traditional BMW Paralever front end that definitely works well, but that has at times been criticized for lacking somewhat in feel. The adoption of a conventional front fork certainly helps the R1200R’s looks, but it also allows for plenty of clearance for the unobtrusive radiator tucked under the steering stem. All-in-all, I loved the traditional looks of the R1200R, and the boxer motor looks purposeful and dynamic attached to a traditional looking motorcycle chassis.

The latest generation of the (optional) Dynamic ESA electronically controlled suspension automatically and continuously adapts the damping in milliseconds to the prevailing conditions and rider input. It is an integral part of the gold-colored 45mm Sachs front fork that contains the electronically controlled damping components in the left leg and a spring in oil in the right.

The rear single-sided swingarm is suspended by BMW’s EVO Paralever system on a white Marzocchi shock, and again the damping functions (not the spring preload which is adjusted by hand wheel) are likewise electronically adjusted depending on the selected driving mode.

In Road mode the automated damping offers maximum comfort without compromising handling too much. Dynamic mode damper mapping creates an altogether firmer damper setting and is obviously for the most sporting of situations. Although I started my day in Rain mode, the R 1200 R was so user-friendly and confidence inspiring I quickly progressed to the Dynamic fueling and suspension settings. And I was so enamored I ended up sticking with them.

A fairly lazy rake of 27.7 degrees and a longish wheelbase of 59.6 inches implies the roadster’s steering could be a bit ponderous — but nothing could be further from the truth. The R 1200 R’s handling is impeccable. Although not quite athletic, the well-mannered handling makes the roadster feel extremely light-footed—agile even. No doubt encouraged by the upright handlebars and excellent balance, turn-in to an apex is quick and positive—and it’s easy to be absolutely precise with your road positioning. Due to the wet conditions I wasn’t about to start throwing the bike around too much, but the Spanish roads were very twisty, and rapidly transitioning from side-to-side while simultaneously trying to avoid the worst of the puddles. I felt confident and completely in control with nary a twitch from the tires at all. In a straight line the R 1200 R is solidly stable; there is zero nervousness and the BMW goes exactly where you point it.

In keeping with the BMW’s rider-friendliness, the R1200R’s comfortable-but-firm seat can have its positioning quickly changed to suit rider size and preference. I used the standard position which gave me a nice comforting “seated-in” position, but if you prefer a more “perched-on” position or have much longer legs, then the seat locators can be changed at will. The standard position leaned me slightly forward, and although far from the typical sport riding position, it gave a pleasing feeling of mild aggression and the bike a slight front-end weight bias—which most certainly helped with front-end feel in the wet conditions. It was also the most comfortable position for my six-foot frame, and the footpegs were likewise nicely set back without being too aggressively rear-set.

Braking is also inspired by the S 1000 RR superbike. The system is made up at the front with the almost ubiquitous Brembo radial four-piston calipers biting on to 320 mm discs — although the rotors mount directly on to the wheel hubs thereby saving weight — and a single caliper and 276 mm rotor at the rear. ABS (anti-lock braking) comes as standard on all BMWs and it is exemplary. I have no idea if I used it on the wet Spanish roads, but I didn’t crash on one slightly over-optimistic corner entry – perhaps it did indeed save me some embarrassment and pain. Overall the feeling from the front brake is very good, the initial bite is relatively soft with quite a lot of lever travel, and as the brake starts to bite it is very easy to modulate braking power to exactly where you need it. Although power is of course necessary in braking, I’ll trade a bit of power for more feel any day, and the R 1200 R was ideal for my particular riding style and the prevailing conditions.

The TFT instrument display is not the easiest to read, but I suspect owners who become familiar with the bike will have no complaints. It certainly contains a wealth of information including the analogue speed indicator, a digital gear position, and a sweep tachometer reading across the top. Interestingly a choice of three “styles” can be selected depending on preference. “Full” mode (Style 0) has the information individually arranged in the two display panels. “Sport” mode (Style 1) offers a more sporting bar graph displaying the engine speed with an additional digital rev speed readout available. Those who prefer uncluttered instruments can select the “Tourist” mode (Style 2), where just a digital speed readout is activated, along with the onboard computer information of total mileage, trips 1 and 2, remaining range, outside and engine temperatures, average fuel consumption, average speed, date(!), oil level, and tire pressure. An optional “Pro” on-board computer includes a menu for activating and deactivating any of the optional equipment including an anti-theft alarm system, the BMW Motorrad Navigator V GPS system, the automatic daytime running lights control, and the prompt to perform fuel-saving upshifts. It also displays an automatic trip recorder, average fuel consumption 1 + 2, current fuel consumption, electrical system voltage, total timer, ride timer, service date, and distance to service.

I’m not a big fan of keyless ride systems on motorcycles as it seems way too easy to leave a key in the wrong pocket and so on; however BMW now offer it as an option on the R 1200 R and it did work fine while the bike was in my brief tenure. Essentially – provided the key is within one meter of the bike – everything is ready to go, and a push on the center button (where the key traditionally inserts) lights the fire. The steering lock is automated which is a nice feature, and the fuel cap only needs a button push to open, provided the ignition is on and the bike is in neutral on its stand.

The new R1200R is available in three distinctly different styling variants, and the two options have a really elegant-looking brushed stainless steel tank cover. The basic color is in non-metallic Cordoba blue with a plastic center fuel tank cover in contrasting Granite Gray metallic matt; the frame is in black with black-anodized brake calipers. Option Style 1 in Light White non-metallic has a large “R” model graphic, a sexy red frame, and gold anodized brake calipers, offset by a brushed stainless steel fuel tank cover. Optional Style 2 is in Thunder Gray metallic with an Agate Gray metallic matt frame, gold-anodized brake calipers, and the brushed stainless steel fuel tank cover.

Pricing is yet to be announced for the R 1200 R, but with all options expect it to be in the $16,000 to $17,000 range. It’s not cheap, but the quality and specifications of this machine are top drawer. You’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s worth it, but if I had the money and I was in the market, I wouldn’t hesitate.

Overall I found the R1200R to be a refreshing, charismatic motorcycle that captures the very essence of why I ride motorcycles. Despite its mind-boggling technical sophistication it is actually beautifully simplistic, and is arguably one of the most user-friendly, large-capacity motorcycles I’ve ever ridden. Because of that — and despite the sketchy weather conditions — I was able to have incredible fun riding on a day that by all rights should have been pretty miserable. The R 1200 R is intuitive and reactive, relaxing and yet sporting, non-intimidating but encouraging you to challenge your skills, yet it will willingly give you all the performance you’re likely to ask for. The stellar electronics package works seamlessly in the background and keeps a low enough profile that you can fool yourself into thinking that you’re riding a back-to-basics machine. Of course the R 1200 R BMW is anything but simple, yet it’s complex systems are so flawlessly executed I truly loved riding it both quickly and safely.

Check out our video below for some riding footage from the Spain launch of the 2015 BMW R1200R.

Photos by Arnold Debus

Riding Style:

2015 BMW R1200R Optional Equipment List:

All optional equipment included in the packages can also be ordered individually, with the exception of the onboard computer Pro.

• Comfort Package comprising: chrome-plated exhaust system, heated

grips, RDC.

• Touring Package comprising: dynamic ESA, preparation for navigation

system, onboard computer Pro, pannier holder, centre stand, luggage

grid with hand grips, cruise control.

• Dynamic Package comprising: riding mode Pro (including DTC), Sport

windshield, LED indicators, daytime running light.

• Keyless ride.

• Gear shift assistant Pro.

• Anti-theft alarm system.

• High rider’s seat (820 mm).

• Low rider’s seat (760 mm).

• Comfort pillion seat.

• HP milled clutch lever.

• HP milled brake lever.

• HP milled rider footrest system.

• Small tank rucksack.

• Pannier.

• Topcase 2, lacquer-varnish lid.

• Luggage grid with hand grips.

• Pannier inner bag.

• Topcase inner bag.

• LED indicators.

• Engine spoiler.

• Akrapović Sport silencer.

• Sport rider’s seat (840 mm).

• High rider’s seat (820 mm).

• Low rider’s seat (760 mm).

• Comfort pillion seat.

• Backrest for topcase.

• High windshield.

• Sport windshield.

• Tinted Sport windshield.

• Heated grips.

• BMW Motorrad Navigator V.

• Cradle for BMW Motorrad Navigator V.

• Retrofit anti-theft alarm system.

• LED auxiliary headlight.

• Engine protection bar.

• Retrofit Riding mode Pro.

• BMW Motorrad warning triangle.

• Large first aid kit.

• Small first aid kit.

• BMW Motorrad battery charger 110 V.

• Repair kit for tubeless tires.

• Centre stand.