The highways and backroads of Oregon provided a perfect setting to test the K1200S’s capabilities. That’s Mt. McLoughlin in the background.
For 80 years BMW Motorrad has been working hard in the pursuit of building the ultimate riding machines. They may not have always been the prettiest (or the fastest, for that matter), but the German-built bikes have won a fair share of championships and have cranked out some of the most desirable long-distance machines ever made. Many a burgeoning marque would give their left axle nut to ensure they can rival the history that BMW has enjoyed in this past century.
For all BMW’s successes on and off the track, there remains one segment where it has longed to etch its name: Superbike. When rumors began to spread about a Formula One-derived in-line four-cylinder Beemer that was destined to compete in World Superbike or possibly even MotoGP, the motorcycle industry was all ears.
But when the K1200S showed itself, it certainly wasn’t any sort of racer. And it stumbled out of the gate with a few teething problems with the pre-production units during its 2004 world press intro in Germany. Rather than go ahead with production and recall the bikes, BMW did the righteous thing and held off, opting instead to refine the newest K bikes and release them the following year.
That was good news for us because MotorcycleUSA was invited to join a half-dozen of the premier journalists in America for the American press launch of the 2005 BMW K1200S, held in the beautiful city of Sausalito, just outside of San Francisco, California.
We rode more than 300 miles on that day, going through two tanks of fuel and bringing them back with just 3 miles left on the cool LCD fuel-o-meter countdown gizmo. But that wasn’t enough seat time to really evaluate a big mileage-eater like the K, so we rode it back to MCUSA HQ in Oregon and did some additional riding there before returning it back to California.
After about 20 miles, it was clear that this bike has what it takes to be considered a super-sport touring machine, with plenty of motor to swiftly haul the massive hi-tech chassis from one end of Napa Valley to the other in luxury-tourer comfort.
The K1200S feels heavy at lower speeds but seems to shed weight once up to speed. Whack open the throttle and it shows some serious power.
When you first see the BMW K1200S it looks like a super-sized sportbike. Everything is big. The enormous exhaust canister is prominently displayed on the right side, the sculpted bodywork is big, and the headlight and upper-cowling area, while very schnazzy, are also very big. Then throw a leg over it and assume the riding position, and suddenly, the bike actually has a very comfortable sport-oriented riding position.
That’s because the K1200S riding position was engineered with optimal sport rider ergonomics as a high-priority on the designer’s to-do list, along with keeping the rider protected from the wind during longer hauls. The bike itself is quite thin in the waist with the seat designed to allow for a straight shot to the ground, so that your legs are not splayed apart. Since the bike has a 32.3″ seat height, this was good news for me and my 30″ inseam. The K1200S is also available with an optional 31.1″ seat height for even more vertically challenged riders.
Once in the cockpit and rolling the feeling is more of a luxury-touring machine than a sport-touring one. Oh, the duality. Throughout the tank region there are plenty of strategically-place angles in the bodywork that allows the rider’s knees to be free of obstruction all while being somewhat protected from the elements. More aesthetically pleasing cutouts are integrated near the front of the tank to allow the handlebars a full range of motion too.
Then there’s the dashboard. This is the type of information system all street bikes should come with. The arrangement provides an impressive array of info, and there is more switchgear than anything short of an R1200RT at your disposal. There are no less than nine buttons for on/off-start, right blinker, left blinker, blinker-cancel button, hazard lights, and the trick new ESA electronic suspension system, that allows on-the-fly suspension adjustments.
The dash includes a cool-looking overlapping analog speedo and white-faced tach, an array of idiot lights, and of course a digital clock (to make Duke happy) in the LCD information center, or as BMW refers to it, the Info Flatscreen. The display, which can be difficult to read in direct sunlight, offers a fuel gauge replete with a countdown of how many miles the bike can go at the current rate of consumption, two tripmeters, odometer, current ESA settings and gear-position indicator.
BMW Motorrad did a fine job when developing this sportbike chassis. The K1200S offers an excellent combination of stability and agility on any road surface.
As extensive as the array of instruments is, some of the test riders found the cockpit to have mediocre fit and finish, considering the hefty $15,400 (for the base model – Ed.) BMW price-tag. Some testers believed the Indigo Blue version of our test example didn’t look very upscale, though I liked it myself. Fortunately, the super-tourer is available in three additional color combinations including Granite Grey, and two versions with graphics: Indigo Blue/White and Sun Yellow/Aluminum Metallic/Black, both of which incorporate a black frame.
Once the starter button is located and dabbed, the 16-valve in-line four-cylinder powerplant comes to life with a non-threatening purr. At this point it’s time to select the desired Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) setting for your ride (I recommend the Comfort setting for around town and freeway use). The ESA is a $750 option. With the bike running you can adjust the preload for three different riding options: single rider, rider with luggage, or rider with pillion and luggage. But wait, there’s more. The ESA also allows the rider to change the suspension setting based on the type of riding you’ll be doing. The ESA has three settings: Normal, Comfort, and Sport. Front rebound and both rebound and compression at the rear are adjusted accordingly.
Pull in the light hydraulic clutch lever before dropping this beast into first gear, and the transmission engages with a BMW-typical thunk. With further use, we found the close-ratio 6-speed tranny to be smooth and precise, without a single report of a missed shift during 1000 miles of road testing.
At really slow speeds the K1200S does feel a bit heavy. After all, it scales in at 565 lbs with its 5.0-gallon fuel tank topped off. And, with a wheelbase that’s 61.9 inches long, the S has over a half a foot on its sportier, more nimble competition. Now, in the porn-industry an extra six inches is a sure-fire way to satisfy your customers, but we wonder if this length is the most advantageous for a sport-oriented touring machine in the motorcycle industry. Dial in a little more throttle, head out to the canyon, and the answer to that question will soon be a resounding “Yes!”
Once the bike is up to speed, all thoughts of it being big are quelled by the supreme comfort and complete control of one fine streetbike. Ridden in a straight line, the S is smooth and steady, soaking up road imperfections without complaint and absorbing the majority of the operating forces in stride. All hail the ESA!
The 16-valve in-line four-cylinder powerplant in the K1200S is the most powerful motorcycle engine BMW has ever produced. It yanked on the dyno with a stomping 82.7 lb-ft of twist and a walloping 143 horsepower.
Activating BMW’s complicated turnsignals continues to be a struggle. I continuously fumbled for the correct switch while trying to make sure not to be run down by an un-attentive cager, and editor Kevin Duke came back from his ride with tales of honking the horn while making lane changes. But BMW loves its three-switch arrangement, so get used to it. Halfway through the first day I had it down.
Out on the open road where there’s a little room to allow the K1200S to unleash its sporty side, it is time to twist the throttle open and see how close BMW came to hitting its target. Did the Germans manage to create a bike to rival the mighty Hayabusa and ZX-12R for uber sport-touring supremacy? Let’s find out.
The horizon approaches as rapidly as the K’s tach needle whistles to redline. With 143 horses at the rear wheel and a wonderfully flat torque curve, the speedo rapidly spins clockwise towards triple digits. This bike has some serious motor. Row through the next few gears with the throttle to the stop and you get the full-on thrill of BMW’s most excellent example of a sportbike to date.
It’s not just a bland experience either, twisting the throttle wide-open. The exhaust note changes from a ho-hum growl to whoa-nelly wail as it leaps past 7000 rpm, and our test riders unanimously noted how impressed they were with the sound of this smooth in-line Four. It was quite a surprise just how sweet the note is after being squelched by a 3-way catalytic converter and routed out the massive exhaust canister.
From 3000 rpm on up to the 11,000-rpm redline the motor pulls hard, but it really makes some thrilling power in the final 4000 rpm. It accelerates hard enough to give the impression that it should be easy to loft the wheel during roll-on, but reality frowns on such an attempt. As our wheelie-happy riders proved, however, it does clutch-aided wheelie just fine if that’s your intention.
At this point it seems safe to say BMW hit the target, just not right-square in the middle. The K does not offer up the brutally exciting acceleration of a Busa or ZX-12R, but it’s pretty close. BMW was aiming the K1200S at a market segment who enjoy hauling ass, yet require it to be done with a certain amount of class that BMW owners have come to expect from the German marque.
The BMW K1200S is an interesting alternative to the cookie-cutter variety of big-bore sport-touring machines on the market, delivering Big Speed in an upscale package.
“This thing is like riding in business class compared to the coach-like accommodations most sporty bikes offer up,” says editor Kevin Duke. “Its engine sounds and feels high-end automotive in its quality, and it has a very protective cockpit, with no noticeable buffeting from the windshield, even when moving my head to different heights (while searching for issues to complain about).”
Yes, there can be more to sport-touring than getting to 186 mph before the other guy. Creature comforts are important, too, so BMW has given the K12 a comfortable riding position, excellent wind protection from its massive windscreen, and a plush seat. Combine that with more gadgets than any of the Japanese contenders and a state-of-the-art chassis and suspension combination, it makes the others look like vintage hardware.
Considering its large hi-po motor, there’s not an inordinate amount of engine vibration that makes its way to the bars thanks to the dual balancer shafts. That helps keep the excellent view from the turn-signal-integrated mirrors spot-on too. Which is a good thing since you’ll be checking your mirrors to make sure the coast is clear every now and again.
With the curvy portion of the trip only a few miles away, it’s time to do something no other S-T can: Change your damping setting on the fly from Comfort to Sport. With two dabs of the ESA button, the digital readout confirms the suspension is in Sport mode, which helps keep the stable bike even more composed when the road gets kinky.
When the road ahead is comprised of 70-90 mph sweepers, it is easy to forget that you’re at the controls of a bike this big. It’s so stable and inspires so much confidence that I swear it could handle another 30-40 mph on the fast stuff. But this is a streetbike and there’s no need to go that damn fast, mister. I promise you, though, it can handle it.
Normally, muscling a bike this big back and forth in tighter 35-55 mph switchbacks is quite an undertaking but, in the case of the BMW K1200S, it’s so well balanced that it feels quite a bit smaller than it actually is. Despite being a little reluctant to turn in, it is an absolute blast to ride.
BMW’s design goal for the K1200S was to position the bike right in the middle of the big bad sport-touring class. Well, the bike is big and it is bad, and it sport-tours like nothing else on the road.
Taking a more extensive look at the front end of the K1200S you will find a most peculiar piece of hardware holding the front wheel in place. The industry-first Duolever utilizes a fixed structure, not unlike a swingarm, attached to a single shock through a linkage in front of the steering head casting. This fork design was first introduced by former McLaren Racing engineer Norman Hossack in the early ’80s and has since been refined and taken to the level offered here.
BMW claims that the combination of the Duolever front end and the latest version of the EVO Paralever shaft drive on the rear (along with the forward-canted powerplant) work together to allow the bike to turn better than you would expect from a bike with such a long wheelbase. This new Paralever design is lighter, and its brace is now located on the top rather than the bottom of the unit to improve ground clearance. It may look different, but everything about this machine is different. That’s exactly what BMW was trying to do: Provide a features-packed alternative to the Japanese competition.
However, it was in the tight and twisty canyon of California’s Napa Valley that the bike’s remaining glitch was exposed. The fuel-injection system twice exhibited a noticeable hang-up when getting off the throttle after hard acceleration in between some of the low-speed corners.
The first time it happened I had chopped the throttle to begin my braking into a corner, decelerating from about 60-70 mph, and the bike continued to accelerate for a moment. At first I thought I didn’t allow the throttle stop to return to the closed position somehow and didn’t think much of it. But when it happened a second time a few miles down the road it gave me that scary vertigo feeling as I realized something was awry. At this point I was thanking the Lord above for the K’s stonkin’ power-assist brakes, as they handled the situation without so much as a whimper and with a negligible amount of dive from the Duolever fork.
BMW Mottorad recognizes that this issue was still lurking in the system after a few other journalists had the same experience at the intro, and it has already implemented a plan to remedy the situation on their production units.
Although the K1200S proved difficult to classify, BMW has come up with an excellent ride by combining elements of both sport and touring bikes into an excellent high-speed touring package.
As I mentioned above, the power-assisted brakes on the K1200S are among the strongest I’ve tested on a modern streetbike. This bike is equipped with the latest version of BMW’s partially integral ABS system, which distributes the braking power between the front and rear brakes when using the front brake lever – but it only actuates the rear brake when using the rear pedal. The dual 12.6″ front rotors are gripped by four-piston servo-assisted calipers that supply some serious stopping power. I have ridden quite a few Beemers and so has our resident Be-em-dub-o-phile and staff photographer Tom Lavine. He reinforced my feelings that they continue to get better and better every year, and this one was top notch.
After spending a couple days being pampered by BMW during the press intro, I sampled its touring worthiness with a day-long 400-mile ride from the posh Casa Madrona Motel in Saulsalito to my home in Southern Oregon. Droning up the Interstate at 70-80 mph can be pretty boring so I had plenty of time to really scrutinize the blue bomber.
Overall, it proved to be just as capable conquering a state-to-state sojourn as it was carving up a canyon. The seating position is definitely geared towards the sporty side of the equation, yet it is surprisingly accommodating. It didn’t put an inordinate amount of weight on my wrists, and my legs only started to get achy near the Oregon border.
Of course, that’s when I-5 turns to 80-90 mph sweepers that wind through the Siskiyou Mountains, so I forgot about my joints pretty quick. The fact of the matter is, I’ve ridden dozens of different sportbikes on this same trip in the past decade, and the K is by far the most comfortable of the lot. It wasn’t until I passed the 300-mile mark that my right wrist finally started to get weary, which in retrospect makes me wonder why this bike is not equipped with BMW’s excellent cruise control. That addition alone would be enough to put this bike in a league of its own.
I was able to average about 40 mpg during my trip home, making its 5.0-gallon tank good for about 200 high-speed miles between fuel stops. Mileage ranged from 35 mpg when hauling Napa ass, to a surprisingly thrifty 46 mpg out on the open road.
The new K1200S is a bit of a conundrum. In terms of sportiness, it’s not quite the equal of a Hayabusa and ZX-12R, and if that’s what you were expecting you’ll be a bit disappointed. So, what is the new K12? I was telling Duke that it’s a sportbike that doubles as a touring machine, while he was saying that it feels like a touring bike with excellent sporting ability. If that’s not on target, folks, I don’t know what is.
In the end, the $17,345 (as tested) BMW K1200S is a wonderful piece of machinery. It offers up a smooth and well-controlled ride to go along with some of the coolest technological tidbits used on any motorcycle in production today. If you’re looking for a hyper-sport-tourer and you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of (relative) high-end performance for comfort and exclusivity, then you need to get to your local dealer and lay hands on one the latest K bike from BMW Motorrad.
“If you’re looking for someone to do a long distance ride to Key West,” says Lavine, “just give me a call.”
There’s a website from BMW that has incredible details of the Duolever and Paralever in action. Check it out on the Official K1200S website.
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