BMW R 1200 RS Test from Canada
Credit goes where credit is deserved, and the Bavarians deserve much for creating two of the most significant genres of modern motorcycling – adventure touring and sport touring.
The 1980 BMW R 80 G/S provided a tool to rediscover the world. This bike propelled modern iconic travelers such as Helge Pedersen into decade-long journeys; Pedersen documented his travels aboard an R 80 G/S in 10 Years on 2 Wheels.
BMW also is credited with creating the first true sport-tourer—the 1976 R 100 RS. The design was simple but effective—BMW added a Hans A. Muth-designed fairing to the already popular boxer-powered R 100 R.
Fast forward to 2015, and BMW has a stronghold on both the adventure- and sport-touring markets with the R 1200 GS and the K 1600 GT/GTL. However, just as BMW’s more agile F 800 GS places more adventure in the ADV genre, BMW’s new R 1200 RS—the first RS offered since the 130 horsepower flat-four 2005 K 1200 RS—puts more sport into the sport-touring genre.
Adhering to its grass roots, the R 1200 RS arrives with a boxer configuration like the ’76 R 100 RS, but with the new 1170cc boxer—the same 125 horsepower 1170cc semi-water cooled wasserboxer found in the R 1200 GS since 2013. Fortunately, BMW has retuned the R 1200 RS’s boxer for better street manners, something that was apparent while touring the Muskoka region of Ontario, Canada. I piloted the RS throughout Muskoka, which sits two hours north of Toronto and flirts with the shores of 1600 separate lakes.
The R 1200 RS is nearly identical to the unfaired R 1200 R, save for the addition of a stylish half fairing, a two-way adjustable windscreen, and a stability- enhancing half-inch longer wheelbase. These extras bring little additional heft, bringing the RS’s claimed wet weight to 520 pounds, just 12 more than the R 1200 R.
The fairing design of the RS is slender, sans the protruding boxer heads. Stuffed behind the fairing are a modified airbox, newly shaped air-intakes snorkels and a centrally positioned radiator. The R 1200 RS also arrives with a taller seat (32.3 inches vs. 31.1), which works for my nearly six-foot frame. For personalization, BMW offers three different height variations—roughly 30, 31 and 33 inches. The other obvious difference is the lower and more-forward handle- bar, which puts the body in a slightly sportier position. The reach never provided any discomfort.
The rest is what made the R 1200 R an instantaneous hit at Ultimate MotorCycling—shaft drive, inverted 45mm Sachs forks (instead of BMW’s odd Tele-lever system), and Paralever suspension with a single-sided swingarm out back.
BMW electronics dominate the RS, including ABS, Automatic Stability Control (ASC) and two riding modes as standard. BMW also offers Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) as options, which were featured on the Premium Package bike I tested. DTC is basically ASC (traction control) with a banking detection sensor.
When prepped with the Dynamic ESA, one of the R 1200 RS’s fork legs features an electronic damping cartridge (no preload adjustments), while the rear suspension utilizes a Marzocchi shock that has electronic spring-preload adjustment and dynamic damping.
Ride Modes Pro is also an option, which provides a more aggressive Dynamic mode by increasing throttle response and disabling some of the Automatic Stability Control functions. Unfortunately, my test bike was not equipped with the coinciding lean-angle sensor needed for the Ride Modes Pro, so I was only able to test the standard Rain and Road engine maps. On the upside, the RS had DTC and Dynamic ESA, which amped up the fun factor.
Compared to its GS and RT counter- parts, the RS features a retuned engine for additional torque at lower rpm. The 2-in-1 exhaust system is steeply angled, and has little attitude in the lower rpm. Crank the flat twin to peak power output of 125 horsepower at 7750 rpm and the engine purrs gorgeously.
The true beauty of the RS boxer is its immediate torque. After thumbing the starter and feeling the left-to-right rattle that harmonizes into a continuous melody, the R 1200 RS’s 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 R 1200 RS Premium Package includes the Gear Shift Assist Pro, which allows for clutchless upshifts and downshifts. On the barely broken-in R 1200 RS—less than 250 miles before testing began—I was forced 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.
On one stint of twisties, the R 1200 RS remained in upper-rpm in fourth and fifth gears for nearly 30 minutes of flaw- less-running fun. This allowed for true evaluation of BMW’s refined electronics. Regarding modes—remember, my test bike didn’t have Ride 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 time, though, the RS was in Road mode, which presents a much snappier power delivery and less intervention of electronic aids. When things really got cranking, the ability to disengage either DTC or ABS, or both, made the ride more pleasing.
With DTC and ABS off, though, I was able to truly push the other side of the electronic card—the Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment. Two damping modes are available—Road and Dynamic—in three spring preload selections: single rider, single rider with luggage, or two-up.
For most of the twisty sections in Canada, I kept the bike in Dynamic mode with spring preload set for two-up. This provided tightness, allowing me to feel every bump in the road, which I prefer while pushing things. Dynamic in the single rider and single rider with luggage settings is less firm. Unlike my experience on the S 1000 XR, I could tell the difference between all three spring preload set- ups in Dynamic mode.
The same could be said when the damping is set to Road. During a boring stretch of Highway 11 en route to lunch at Portevino Wine Bar & Collectibles in Dwight, Ontario, I experimented with all three spring preload settings in Road mode. This mode in single rider provides the cushiest ride and, due to the comfort- able seat that allows for ample movement, I could have ridden much longer than the 20 minutes on that soulless highway.
Braking duties are handled 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 is exceptional, the front allowing for one-finger slowing. The brakes do have a strong initial bite, and pressure can build quickly.
Fading and the ABS are never an issue, even when constantly loading up the front tire during more aggressive riding. Under a few controlled emergency-braking situations —one at triple-digit speeds—I was able to grab a handful of brakes and control the bike to a complete stop. The RS’s ABS arrives with an additional front- pressure sensor that reportedly improves modulation; after testing, these claims appear to be true.
The R 1200 RS’s TFT-display instrument cluster has a clean layout, featuring an analog speedometer and onboard computer offering a long list of information. Data grows with the On Board Computer Pro option, which includes other vitals such as service dates, average fuel consumption and automatic trip record. All R 1200 RS’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 upscale automobile today, the R 1200 RS is available with a keyless system. The BMW Motorrad Keyless Ride system offers more than usual fob functions—the key never left my pocket, whether pushing a button to start the R 1200 RS, unlocking the steering, or popping open the gas cap. As for mileage, even while riding aggressively, the R 1200 RS registered around 42 mpg. Under normal riding conditions, expect about 150 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 I guess is possible.
For the sport-touring folks who crave sport over touring, the R 1200 RS is much more. It captures the roots of pure sport-touring like the original 1976 R 100 RS without sacrificing comfort where comfort is needed most—at speed. The new R 1200 RS adheres to BMW Motorrad’s motto as “The Ultimate Riding Machine”—especially for the rider who longs for the sportier side of sport touring.
Photos by Kevin Wing
- Helmet: Arai RX-Q Italy Flag with Pro-Shade System
- Jacket: REV’IT! Airstream
- Gloves: REV’IT! Chevron
- Pants: REV’IT! Gear 2
- Boots: AXO Slammer Boots
- Underlayers: Woodcraft Stay Dry Riding Shirt; Knox Dry Inside Leggings