As the do-it-all adventure-motorcycle market evolves, the once-popular sport-touring scene has faded to the back lines of nearly every manufacturer’s lineup.Take a look at any OEM website, and it’s clear that modern adventure bikes have replaced the need for a sport tourer. This change vitalized over the past few years with the release of many high-horsepower, big-ADV bikes such as the Yamaha Super Ténéré, Triumph Tiger Explorer, KTM 1290 Super Adventure, and Ducati Multistrada 1200, to name a few. Bikes like these have off-road capabilities, but, in essence – especially with street tires – they are simply upright sport-touring motorcycles that provide endless comfort and mindless speed, if one wants to go there.
BMW Motorrad has the best of both the adventure and sport-touring genres. The Bavarians offer the granddaddy of all ADV machines, the R1200GS, and two sport tourers that cater to the touring side of things – the top-selling K1600GT/GTL with its inline-six and R1200RT boxer models.There is history to this stronghold on both the adventure and sport-touring markets. BMW is credited with creating the first true adventure bike, the 1980 R80 G/S, and the first true sport tourer – the 1976 R100RS. The RS, which was simply an R100R with a Hans Muth-designed fairing, was immediately popular, especially to those who enjoyed speed. The fairing increased comfort at higher speeds, and really put the “sport” in sport touring.Over the past decade, the sportier RS bikes were dropped from the lineup in favor of more touring-oriented bikes, such as the K1600GT/GTL and R1200RT. The last RS offered was the 2005 K1200RS – a hefty sport-tourer featuring a 130-horsepower flat four.This changes for 2016 with the R1200RS, the first RS model offered in nine years. This latest version, however, is a bit more faithful to its R100RS roots due to its boxer engine.Unlike the K1600GT/GTL and R1200RT offered under BMW’s “Tour” models, the R1200RS is categorized under the “sport” group, along with the 199-horsepower S1000RR and the 175-horsepower K1300S.The R1200RS sticks to its RS roots, and arrives with an 1170cc boxer – the same 125-horsepower semi-water cooled “wasserboxer” found in the R1200GS since 2013. But the R1200RS’s boxer is tuned for better street manners, something that was apparent from the first mile during the bike’s launch alongside the S1000XR adventure sport in the Muskoka region of Ontario, Canada. By day’s end, I piloted the RS for nearly 250 miles throughout the Muskoka region, whose land two hours north of Toronto flirts with the shores of 1600 separate lakes.One look at the R1200RS and it’s obvious the folks in Munich were looking to cater to the sport side of things. Yet, by nature of design, the RS also caters to urban mobility; the R1200RS is basically the same bike as its fairing-less twin, the R1200R.The R1200RS is nearly identical to R1200R, with the RS arriving sporting a half fairing and two-way adjustable windscreen for better aerodynamics at speed. This twin is a bit heftier; the fairing – featuring symmetrical twin headlights – a favorite styling tactic of BMW) – brings the RS’ weight to a claimed 520 pounds wet (12 more than the R1200R).Besides the protruding boxer heads, the bike appears very slender due to the design of the half fairing. Settling in behind the fairing, and assisting in the R1200RS’ slim design, are a modified airbox, newly shaped air-intakes snorkels and a centrally positioned radiator. The R1200RS also arrives a longer wheelbase than the R1200R for touring aspects (60.2” vs. 59.7”), and a taller seat (32.3” vs. 31.3”), though lower and higher saddle options are available.The R1200RS also features a different handlebar setup that puts the body in a slightly more forward and lower position, but not one that provided any discomfort for my nearly six-foot frame.Smartly, the R1200RS retains all the features that made the R1200R an instantaneous hit at Ultimate MotorCycling; the RS utilizes shaft drive, an upside-down, 45mm Sachs telescopic fork up front instead of the traditional telelever system, and Paralever suspensions setup out back.When prepped with the optional Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Control), one of the R1200RS’ fork legs features an electronic damping cartridge (no preload adjustments), and the rear suspension utilizes a Marzocchi shock that has electronic spring-preload adjustment and dynamic damping.The RS is loaded with the latest in BMW electronics, including ABS, Automatic Stability Control (ASC) and two riding modes as standard. BMW also offers Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and Dynamic ESA as options, which were featured on the test bikes. DTC uses a banking detection sensor, whereas the base model arrives with Automatic Stability Control (ASC), which basically is Traction Control without a banking-detection sensor; ASC keeps both tires at the same speed to prevent slippage (loss of traction).Rider Modes Pro is also an option, which adds a more aggressive “Dynamic” and “User” engine modes, the latter allowing full adjustment to power delivery and DTC. Unfortunately, the test bikes were not equipped with the coinciding lean-angle sensor needed for the Rider Modes Pro, so I was only able to test the standard “Rain” and “Road” engine maps. Fortunately, the RS’s had DTC and Dynamic ESA, which made the ride much more fun.Starting with the engine, the R1200RS powerplant is tuned for increased torque at lower rpm compared to other BMWs that use the same engine – the GS, GS Adventure, and RT. The exhaust gases are routed through a 2-in-1 exhaust system with a rear silencer that is steeply angled for a dynamic effect. This exhaust has little attitude in the lower rpm, but purrs gorgeously as the flat-twin’s pistons rev to the peak power output of 125 horses at 7750 rpm.The beauty of this boxer is the feel of immediate torque. After thumbing the starter and feeling the left-to-right rattle that harmonizes into a continuous melody, the R1200RS’ engine presents hefty torque from the first crack of throttle to the maximum 92 ft/lbs at 6500 rpm.The anti-hopping oil-bath clutch has a light feel, and only two fingers are needed for engagement. The R1200RS test bike was upgraded with all the add-ons, including the GP Pro Shift Assist that allows for clutchless upshifts and downshifts, an aid we raved about on the S1000RR superbike, but had some lower-gear issues with aboard the S1000XR “Adventure Sport.”Unfortunately, the R1200RS’ GP Pro Shift Assist felt even less refined than the S1000XR, but this may be due to the low mileage on the test bike, which had less than 250 miles before evaluation began. And just like the S1000XR, I was forced (yes, I got spoiled) to use the clutch between first and second gears, regardless of downshifting or upshifting. At lower rpm, clutchless shifts were clunky, though they smoothed out when the boxer was pushed.And pushed it was. On one stint of twisties, the R1200RS remained in the upper-rpm power zone of fourth and fifth gear for nearly 30 minutes. The engine never hiccupped, and power was always present, allowing me to focus on the bikes electronics, suspension and brake setup.The most confidence that allowed me to comfortably push the R1200RS arrived from BMW’s refined electronics. Regarding modes – remember, our bikes did not have Rider Modes Pro – I experimented with Rain mode for a few sections of rock-strewn road. The power delivery was soft, and though it integrates beautifully, the DTC and ABS were kicking in more often while playing goose the throttle and hard on the brakes.Most of the day, though, was in Road mode, which presented a much snappier power delivery and less intervention of electronic aids such as DTC and ABS. And when things really got cranking, the ability to disengage either DTC or ABS – or both – made the ride much more pleasing.It was with the DTC and ABS off that I was truly able to push the other side of the electronic card – the Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA). This setup features two damping modes – Road and Dynamic – and each mode is available in three spring preload selections: single rider, single rider with luggage, or two-up.For most of the twisty sections, I kept the bike in Dynamic mode with spring preload set for two-up. This provided a tight setup, something that allowed me to truly feel every bump in the road – something I prefer when pushing things. Dynamic in the single rider and single rider with luggage settings provides less stiffness. Unlike my experience on the S1000XR, I could tell the different between all three spring preload setups in Dynamic mode.The same could be said when the damping is set to Road. On one long (aka, boring) stretch of Highway 11 en route to lunch at the Portevino in Dwight, Ontario, I experimented with all three spring preload settings in Road mode. The single rider in Road definitely provided the cushiest ride, and due to the comfortable seat that allows for ample movement and the rider triangle, I could have ridden much longer on that soulless highway – much longer than my 20-minute travel.Braking duties are handles by dual 320mm discs up front squeezed by radially-mounted Brembo four-piston calipers, and a single 276mm disc squeezed by a Brembo two-piston caliper out back. Feel at both the front-brake lever and rear-brake pedal was exceptional, the front allowing for one-finger slowing most of the day. The brakes do have a strong initial bite, and pressure can build quickly, so I quickly developed a sense for the feel.Fading was never an issue, even when constantly loading up the front tire during some more aggressive riding. The ABS worked just as the engineers designed it to. Under a few controlled emergency-braking situations – one at triple-digit speeds – I was able to grab a hand full of brakes and control the bike to a complete stop.The integration is smooth, which allows even an over-compensating rider a safer means of slowing/stopping. The R1200RS’s ABS arrives with an additional front-pressure sensor that reportedly improves modulation, and after testing these claims appear to be true.The R1200RS’s TFT-display instrument cluster has a clean layout, featuring an analog speedometer and onboard computer offering a long list of information: Total mileage, Trip 1 and Trip 2, range, outside temp, engine temp, average fuel consumption, average speed, date, oil level and tire pressure.The data grows with the Pro option – equipped on my test bike – that also includes automatic trip record, average fuel consumption 1 and 2, current fuel consumption, electrical system voltage, total timer, rid timer, service date, and distance to service.And all R1200RS’s gauges can be set up three different ways – full mode, which allows riders to individually arrange display data; sport mode, my favorite that highlights rpm; and tourist mode, which provides a clean, less-distracting layout of information highlighted by a speed display.As is the norm of nearly every automobile today, the R1200RS is available with a keyless system. The BMW Motorrad Keyless Ride System, which was installed on my test bike, offers more than usual. The key never left my pocket, whether pushing the button to start the R1200RS, unlocking the steering or popping open the gas cap.On to the things riders always ask about – seat height and mpg. BMW designers understand that preferences vastly vary on seat height. The R1200RS arrives with a friendly – to us – 32.3-inch standard seat height, but offers three different variations – 29.8, 31.1 or 33.1 inches.And as for mileage, don’t worry; even while riding aggressively, the R1200RS registered around 42 mpg. Under normal riding conditions, expect around 200 miles from the 4.7-gallon gas tank before the low-fuel light comes on (meaning a gallon in reserve). BMW claims 57 mpg at 55 mph, which we guess is possible with cruise control and no headwind.Catering to different ideas of styling, the R1200RS is available in the two versions – Standard (Lupin Blue Metallic/Light Grey Metallic pictured above) or Style 2 Package (Granite Grey Metallic Matte/Blackstorm Metallic). It’s not just paint differences, though; the Style 2 Package arrives with a grey frame, gold brake calipers, a stainless steel tank cover (instead of plastic on base Lupin Blue model) and an engine spoiler.The Style 2 Package is $450 extra over the base model of $14,950, but don’t expect many base models to be offered stateside. BMW knows its customers, and most dealers will be filled with Standard Package R1200RS models for $16,025 (GPS Preperation, Chrome Exhaust, Heated Grips, Cruise Control, Saddlebag Mounts) or ones with the Premium Package like I tested for $17,770 (Keyless Ride, Gear Shift Assist Pro, Chrome Exhaust, Heated Grips, Tire Pressure Monitor, Dynamic ESA, On Board Computer Pro, GPS Preparation, Cruise Control, Center Stand, Luggage Rack and Saddlebag Mounts).Don’t fear the saddlebag mounts; they integrate into the style of the R1200RS, and will immediately create a need for the optional bagsMany will argue the R1200GS is simply a fairing-equipped R1200R. In essence, it is – though BMW made small, yet significant, changes via the slightly longer wheelbase for touring stability and a slightly farther reach to the handlebar.For the sport disciplined, the R1200RS is a completely different bike. Due to that added half fairing, the RS offers pure sport without sacrificing comfort where comfort is needed most – at speed. Combine the sporty looks with the best-running boxers to date, and the R1200RS adheres to the BMW Motorrad’s motto as “The Ultimate Riding Machine” – especially for the rider who longs for the sportier side of sport touring.Photography by Kevin WingRiding Style:
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From all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!