2004 BMW Montauk First Ride

January 7, 2005
By Ken 'Hawkeye' Glassman
A new feature on all Cruisers is the EVO brake system as well as Integral ABS available as an option.
BMW has done the usual “tuned for torque” thing to make the 1170cc Boxer motor more cruiser-appropriate. Claimed horsepower is just 61, while torque is a respectable 72 lb-ft.

In 1997 BMW decided that it wanted, or needed, to get into the huge cruiser sector of the motorcycle market, so it launched the R1200C. BMW has always enjoyed a strong reputation as being a premium brand of automobiles and motorcycles, so they believed that the cruiser market was ripe for a different kind of cruiser that would appeal to a different kind of motorcycle enthusiast than those who flock to Harley-Davidson or the Japanese companies. They assumed that their loyal following of riders who purchased BMW touring, adventure and sporty bikes, might just be in the market for a cruiser to add to their garages. They also hoped that their cruiser would attract customers who have never owned a BMW before.

It appears that the strategy has paid off. BMW has sold nearly 40,000 R1200C models worldwide, and more than 10,000 in the U.S. alone. What’s more, the company estimates that nearly a third of the C’s worldwide sales were to customers new to the brand.

Over the years BMW has developed several versions of the model, including the Classic, Phoenix, Montana, Euro and Stiletto. It also has a CL touring model, complete with a fairing, hard saddlebags and top trunk. (For 2005, only the standard R1200C, CL and new-for-’04 Montauk remain in BMW’s cruiser lineup.-Ed.)

When BMW launched the Montauk version last year, my first call was to Tag Sport BMW in Geneva, Illinois, who were eager to accommodate my request for a test ride. The Montauk shares the same basic running gear as the heavier CL model, but since it’s a “naked” model without the fairing and luggage, I wanted to see how would run with 125 less pounds to carry around.

The 1170cc, air/oil-cooled, fuel-injected motor starts up on the first push of the starter button. Because it’s a horizontally opposed Twin (affectionately know as a Boxer engine) there is a considerable side-to-side shaking motion inherent in the design. And when you crank the throttle in neutral, the engine dances to the right. To BMW fans it’s all part of the charm and character. I suppose one can get used to it, but I didn’t care for the sensation. Fortunately, it goes away once in gear and moving.

The clutch requires only a light pull, and the lever, like the brake lever, is adjustable for smaller hands. The gearbox operates smoothly and each shift feels direct and positive. One annoyance I noticed right away, however, is that there is very little room between the shifter and the cylinder head which makes it awkward getting your riding boots to fit comfortably in that space.

The front suspension features a caster setting designed for a relaxed riding position. The Telelever fork is carried over from the R 1200 CL  as is the wide 150mm tire.
The wide-stance Telelever fork is borrowed from the portly R1200CL touring cruiser model, as is the fat 150mm front tire. New standard equipment for ’05 is the small but effective clear windscreen.

With this model, the Boxer engine received an upgrade to two spark plugs per cylinder, making it easier to meet new emission standards, and some say to help with the surging problems that seem to have plagued some individual bikes in earlier models. I didn’t notice any surging on the CL model I rode last year, nor on this Montauk, even though I was looking for it. Claimed horsepower is the same as on the CL at a very mild 61 ponies at 5,000 rpm and 72 ft-lbs. of torque at 3000 rpm. Since it weighs less than the touring model, it feels quicker, but the performance is still uninspiring. It wouldn’t be fair to say that it’s underpowered, since the torque is available in the low to midrange of the powerband where it’s most needed, but another 15 horsepower isn’t asking too much to put some kick in the riding experience. And the motor can get a bit buzzy if you keep the revs in the upper numbers of the tach. The sound from the stainless steel exhaust is rather muted, which is a very un-cruiserlike quality, but since I’m no fan of loud pipes, it didn’t bother me.

BMW is famous for excellent brakes, and this Montauk is no exception. The brakes are outstanding and feature BMW’s EVO/Integral ABS. Pull the front lever and it activates the dual 4-piston calipers that bite on 12.0-inch dual floating rotors in front, and also activates the floating two-piston caliper out back that grabs another 11.2-inch single fixed rotor out back. And it’s tuned for just the right bias. Pressing the rear brake pedal, however, does not activate the front brake. And the ABS will kick in if the pavement gets wet or gravely, so there is no chance of lockup.

The Montauk’s unconventional suspension components are unlike any other cruiser’s suspension on the market, and I really liked it. The front Telelever with 5.6 inches of travel soaks up bumps and potholes with ease, and along with the beefy 150/80-16 tire, help the Montauk to turn in easily and track solidly through turns. The rear Monolever has 3.9 inches of travel, is adjustable for preload, and it too handles its duties well. At highway speeds the Montauk felt stable, solid, and smooth. The Montauk wears the same 170/80-15 rear tire that the heavier CL touring model sports. The wide bars provide good leverage for turns, and side to side transitions are handled with a fairly light sporty feel. There is also enough cornering clearance for aggressive riding when the roads get challenging.

Ergonomics are mostly good except for the tight clearance of the gear shift pedal I mentioned before. The wide handlebars have a comfortable reach. The seat is wide and well cushioned, but lacks any back support. It has a narrow front portion to allow shorter-legged riders to reach the pavement a bit easier than the 31.1 inch seat height might suggest. A rider sits comfortably upright with feet placed just ahead of knees. The mirrors are well placed for a good view behind and are rock-solid at speed. The turn signals are self canceling, but still use the BMW system of a button on each handgrip. I prefer the all-in-one control of the multi-function button on the left grip like the Japanese use, but I’m sure it’s easy to get used to the BMW way. The small flyscreen doesn’t do much for windblast, but it frames the handsome dashboard with large analog speedometer, tachometer, and clock set among the panels of warning lights. A few unexpected and welcomed amenities include heated handgrips, a power socket, a height-adjustable low-beam headlight, and a conveniently located battery charger connection point.

Ken  Hawkeye  Glassman poses with the Black Sapphire metallic Montauk.
‘Hawkeye’ looks to be right at home aboard the Black Sapphire metallic R 1200 C Montauk test mule. We’re not sure, however, if that beret is DOT-legal.

Now we come to one of the more important aspects of a cruiser motorcycle: styling. The BMW cruisers look unlike any other cruiser on the market, and there is no mistaking it for anything else on the road. For most people it’s love it or hate it. If “love it” is a 1 and “hate it” is a 10, I’d have to give the styling a 9. Oddly enough, I find many parts and components of the Montauk beautiful. The rear Monolever, for example, is a slick looking piece that contains the shaft drive and it allows the left side to show off the beautiful 5-spoke cast wheel. The stacked headlights make a unique front end, and the taillight and rear turn signals are clean looking.

But it seems as if BMW handed out the styling chores for the individual parts to separate designers who worked on different floors, and it wasn’t until the final assembly that anyone saw what the other was working on. The end result seems to be a random collection of nice looking parts and pieces that don’t seem to fit in any cohesive form. Take the painted portion of the gas tank, for example, which has a sexy shape and flowing lines. The chrome sidecover with its three horizontal vents that fits into the tank is also sleek looking, and the brushed piece that sits just ahead of the tank with its large duct is a pleasant shape. But put them all together and the whole is much less than the sum of its parts. The motorcycle looks like a hodgepodge of styling cues and peculiar shapes and textures, which try to outdo each other for attention.

And the huge jugs from the Boxer engine sticking out from the lower portion of the bike like Prince Charles’ ears are at odds with the narrower flowing lines that the upper part of the bike is going for. It just strikes a dissonant chord for me. I like classic cruiser styling, but I don’t need for every cruiser to look like a Heritage Softail or Yamaha Road Star to satisfy my cruiser aesthetic.

For those riders who are searching for something different in a cruiser bike than is being offered by any other manufacturer, this BMW may be just the ticket. The motor gives you a unique pulse; the suspension offers a distinctive handling package, and the unconventional, iconoclastic styling obviously distinguishes itself from the crowd. The R1200C Montauk might even be the right combination for you.

Talk about the R1200C Montauk in the MCUSA Forum