Although we got it a year later than much of the rest of the world, we are not going to hold that against the 2020 BMW R 1250 R. Long known as a Gentleman’s Sportbike, for better or for worse, the pugilist boxer continues to evolve from the 1994 R 1100 R upright naked sportbike. Boasting the new ShiftCam powerplant, we couldn’t wait to ride the latest R iteration.
We didn’t test a stock 2020 BMW R 1250 R. It came with the Select Package ($2950), BMW Motorrad Navigator V ($799), Option 719 Sparkling Bronze Metallic paint ($950, includes spoiler), and Option 719 Black/Dark Brown Seat ($250). The Select Package is the meaty upgrade, adding semi-active electronic suspension, Ride Modes Pro, ABS Pro, a quickshifter, traction control, cruise control, heated grips, tire pressure monitor, saddlebag mounts (we removed them), centerstand, GPS preparation (though no GPS), keyless ride, and chrome muffler. All those goodies turn a $14,995 motorcycle into one that retails for over $20k. However, if you are only concerned with performance upgrades, all you need is the Select Package, which tones the MSRP down to $17,945.
The ShiftCam motor is a significant upgrade from the previous boxer twin. With the dual profile cams and an 84cc displacement bump (bigger bore, longer stroke), the maximum power is increased 11 horsepower to 136 horses, and the torque bumped up 13 ft-lbs to 105 ft-lbs. Even better, the peak horsepower comes at the same 7750 rpm, while the torque peak appears 250 rpm sooner. These are real-world improvements that make the 2020 BMW R 1250 R a much more serious sportbike, while not subtracting from its naturally pleasant big-twin nature. The ShiftCam swaps between two sets of intake valve timings, based on load and engine speed. In addition to improving power across the rev range, the motor performs the task transparently.
The Ride Modes Pro that you get with the Select Package is an expanded engine electronics suite. Ride Modes Pro adds Dynamic and Dynamic Pro modes to the standard Rain and Road modes. Dynamic speaks for itself, with Dynamic Pro being a customizable mode. The adjustable features in Dynamic Pro include throttle response and Dynamic Traction Control, which combines cornering-aware traction control with wheelie control. Standard traction control, Hill Start Control, and engine compression braking control come with the standard R 1250 R.
Semi-active electronic suspension is the other significant Select Package feature. BMW calls it Dynamic ESA, as it interacts with the power modes, ABS, and traction control for optimal settings for the style of riding desired. As expected, the Rain mode has the softest setting, ramping up in the Road mode, and at its firmest in Dynamic mode. Further, it continually adjusts for conditions, such as unexpected bumps or potholes in the road. A dedicated button on the left handlebar control module allows switching between Dynamic and Road, as desired.
BMW keeps the choices simple, so you won’t stray too far from the four riding modes. Given the 2020 BMW R 1250 R’s friendly nature, swapping between Rain, Road, Dynamic, and Dynamic Pro should satisfy the targeted rider. We were good with the modes’ settings, settling on the snappiest throttle response and mid-range traction control combination for Dynamic Pro. Feel free to adjust to your taste. Riders looking for a more interactive and aggressive set of parameters will want to step up to the S 1000 R.
The ergonomics of the BMW R 1250 R are classic upright standard. The footpegs and the grips are where you expect them to be, and perfectly comfortable. The Option 719 Black/Dark Brown Seat is firm and comfortable for urban and sport riding. After a couple of hours, your butt will likely need a break, though your arms and knees won’t be complaining—it’s a roomy cockpit.
BMW has made the 2020 R 1250 R all about predictability. The wheelbase is generous at 59.6 inches, and the rake relaxed at 27.6 degrees. Add in a curb weight of 527 pounds, and you get the idea—this is a motorcycle that is about setting a line through a corner and enjoying its steady feel. The R prefers faster corners to tight switchbacks, as it can show off its stability. If you like diving into corners, changing direction quickly, and rocketing out at high rpm, the S 1000 R is your BMW. The R 1250 R is a confidence-inspiring motorcycle that covers up all but the most egregious rider errors.
Rough roads allow the semi-active suspension to shine. When your friends on sport bikes with stiffer setups are bouncing all over a bumpy road, you will be gliding through with hardly a thought. It’s difficult to quantify the semi-active suspension because it is constantly adjusting the suspension—it’s all down to results. It is not until you realize the tough time fellow riders are having that you understand what magic the Next Generation Dynamic ESA is performing.
When sport riding with your quick friends, both Road and Dynamic are viable ride mode options. Typically, Dynamic will be your friend. The throttle response is strong, though never jerky or overwhelming in any way. The firmer suspension settings result in a good feel for the road, even as the damping is constantly changing. In most conditions, Dynamic is the best way to keep up with your fast friends. Should the route get bumpy, Road mode is just a couple of presses of the mode button away with your right thumb. The ride is softer, though never squishy. You retain a good sense of the motorcycle and pavement interaction, and the bumps are minimized, though never erased. Add in the ample wheelbase and rake, and the result is a confidence-imbuing ride.
Tires always come into play for sport riding, and the Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact rubber does the job. The Z8s always felt good, all the way to my toe touching down in some corners. There are no pushing problems, and the rear is well behaved—traction control contributes to this, of course. While they have a lot of weight to deal with, the Metzelers handled the R 1250 R without a problem. To prevent squishiness, make sure the tires are correctly inflated, with 38 psi in the front and 40 psi in the back as a starting point. With the ABS and traction control, those numbers won’t feel high. Like the rest of the 2020 BMW R 1250 R, the Metzeler Z8s act precisely as anticipated.
The combination of a tire pressure monitor and 90-degree valve stems makes tire maintenance a breeze.
Braking on the BMW R 1250 R is a strong point. Combining a soft initial bite with progressive strength, the Brembos are absolutely outstanding. The R’s brakes won’t get you into trouble, and they can certainly keep you out of it. The ABS does its job without making a nuisance of itself. Let’s also give due credit to the Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact tires for their indispensable part in braking.
High-speed riding is doable, even without a fairing. The seating position doesn’t turn the rider into a sail, so extra-legal speeds aren’t a problem. The BMW R 1250 R’s stability, of course, is unassailable. This could be an enjoyable light-duty sport-touring mount, though I’d opt for some sort of windscreen and a seat that’s more comfortable over the long haul.
Despite being a bit heavy at 527 pounds, the R 1250 R still makes for a great urban motorcycle. Put it in rain mode, and the engine is extremely smooth, and the suspension softens up appropriately. Add in more aggressive ABS and traction control, and the R is ready to take on the rugged city street, and all their traction-robbing qualities. The boxer layout keeps the center-of-gravity low for easier maneuverability, and the lane-splitting is still doable with the protruding cylinders.
The TFT 6.5-inch dash on the R 1250 R is terrific. It’s bright and sharp, with the information intelligently displayed. You can scroll through to change the secondary information as needed—some people prefer range, while others want a fuel gauge or tripmeter, for instance.
The 2020 BMW R 1250 R has lots of handlebar buttons, plus the spinning multi-controller, and it’s all easy to use. It doesn’t take long to master the organization of all the buttons and the dash software. This encourages you to personalize the motorcycle as needed for an optimum riding experience. I especially like quick access to the grip warmers; as temperatures drop, a righthand button gets it done. Functions such as modes, suspension adjustment, cruise control, and menus are all highly intuitive. While you have to activate the turn indicators, the BMW turns them off anonymously.
The BMW Motorrad Navigator V GPS unit installed was of limited value. It’s not the latest edition, but if I spent $799 on it, I’d be disappointed. The five-inch display is difficult to read in direct sunlight, it’s low-res, and the lower handlebar-clamp positioning of the GPS mounting bracket is out of your line of sight while riding. A good mount for your smartphone on the handlebar is going to work much better.
The Select Package includes a centerstand, if you think that’s necessary on a sportbike. Despite the attempts of many, I’ve never mastered the art of centerstands. In the case of the R 1250 R, I didn’t even get close to getting it on the centerstand. Given that the R is shaft-driven, I consider a centerstand to be superfluous. I do like the placement and operation of the kickstand.
I’m not entirely sold on keyless motorcycles yet, but the 2020 BMW R 1250 R makes a good case. With the fob in your pocket, you just hit the power button and then the start button to take off. However, my favorite keyless function is the automatically unlocking gas cap. If the power is off, you just flip it open and fill the tank—no searching for a key. That’s a real convenience at gas stops.
If you cut loose with a grand for the Option 719 Sparkling Bronze Metallic paint, be prepared for people to consistently tell you how good your R 1250 R looks.
The Gentleman’s Sportbike moniker holds true, and it is not a backhanded compliment. Like a gentleman’s gentleman, the 2020 BMW R 1250 R is predictable, stable, reliable, prompt but not anxious, quietly covers up your errors, and presents itself impeccably. It’s Alfred to your Batman.
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.