BMW shocked us early in 2004 when it released the ground-up re-think of the iconic Boxer GS. The R1200GS proved to be heaps better than the R1150GS, gaining a significant boost in power while losing a hefty chunk of weight.
I suppose, then, it shouldn’t have surprised us to find out the new R1200RT is every bit of the huge leap forward over the previous generation. The sportbike formula of more power and less weight again proves its efficacy in other classes of bikes, as the loss of a claimed 44 pounds and the addition of 15 horsepower compared to the R1150RT makes this comfy touring bike feel like a nimbler sport-tourer.
BMW started with the GS’s 1170cc Boxer Twin and hot-rodded it with a bigger airbox, more aggressive cams and a full-point bump in its compression ratio to 12.0:1. The result, claims BMW, is 110 peak ponies at 7500 rpm, 10 more than claimed for the GS. And its 85 lb-ft of torque at 6000 rpm is up nearly 15% from the 74 lb-ft claimed for the old R1150RT.
After riding the RT at its press introduction, we ordered up a test bike for the MCUSA fleet. Kenny rode it from SoCal to our headquarters in Oregon, where we strapped it to the dyno to check on the power sent to the rear wheel. We were impressed when it cranked out nearly 100 horsies (97.3) at 7900 rpm, just prior to hitting the rev limiter but after BMW’s claimed redline of 7500 rpm. Torque stays above 60 lb-ft shortly after 3000 rpm, growing to 74.4 lb-ft at its 6400-rpm peak.
The old R1150RT was basically a full-fairing version of the R1150RS. For 2005, BMW has dropped the RS in favor of the new R1200ST, a sportier version of the new RT but using much less bodywork and features for a lighter steed.
At the siblings’ press introduction, I spent a few hours aboard the 60-pound lighter ST before sampling the RT. I had been enjoying the ST’s newfound power and sporty feeling, so it was a shock to sit behind the RT’s acres of plastic. In contrast to the ST’s relatively lithe physique, the RT wide expanse of wind protection and broad seat make it initially feel like a bit of a pig.
Engaging first gear in its revamped six-speed transmission (with quieter helical-cut gears) is now easier than ever, and the RT surprised me with its apparent lack of heft at low speeds, the Boxer engine’s low center of gravity evidently playing a role.
I rolled off out of town, angling the electrically adjustable windscreen higher to fully block the oncoming air. Soon I was on a sparsely traveled and somewhat curvy backroad, happily cruising along in comfort and grace. Then I noticed the needle of the easy-to-read analog speedo was pointing at 90, so I assumed this RT might be a Euro-spec bike with kilometers-per-hour readings. Well, no, it turned out it was in mph-that’s how comfortable and composed this bike is at speed while its rider is ensconced in a pocket of still air.
“I traveled from L.A. to Medford up I-5 in two days on the 1200RT, and I can tell you that this bike is the most comfortable motorcycle I have ever ridden on that stretch of road,” comments Editorial Director Ken Hutchison.
Straight-line cruising is effortless on the RT. The revised Boxer engine drones along capably and without the bothersome surging of some previous models, and it pulls clean and strong from just 2500 rpm. A balance shaft that debuted on the 1200GS means that intrusive vibration doesn’t come into play until top-gear revs are in the go-to-jail category.
Ergonomically, the RT’s riding position is about as neutral as they come, as its rider is in a comfy upright position with a decent amount of legroom. Tall riders will probably prefer the broad two-position seat in its higher 33.1-inch setting rather than the 32.3-inch standard position. Shorter riders can order an optional seat that lowers the height to either 30.7 inches or 31.5.
The RT’s windscreen, now taller and wider than previous, proved to be highly versatile. When in its low position, a rider can easily look over its upper edge and enjoy a bit of cooling breeze; in its most vertical position, it provides a huge bubble of shelter. In addition, the RT’s integrated rearview mirrors/turn-signals help keep a rider’s hands protected from chilling wind, and the side fairings do a similar job for legs.
“The windscreen actually suits me just fine in its low setting, although there is a substantial amount of wind noise that comes into play,” says Hutch. “On the opposite end of the spectrum, the tallest setting completely shields my 5’8″ body from the elements and drastically reduces wind noise.”
Okay, so it’s no surprise this born-again RT is comfortable. What was surprising was how well the big-boned Beemer could be hustled down a twisty road. A revised Telelever front end gives improved feedback, and its rake angle is set at a slightly steeper 26.7-degrees. Trail, too, gets a bit sportier, reducing from 4.8 inches to 4.3 inches. These two reductions result in a nimbler feel from behind the bars, despite the wheelbase remaining constant at 58.5 inches. (An odd snafu prevented us from weighing the RT on our scales, but BMW claims it weighs 571 pounds full of fuel but without the saddlebags.)
“I had a lot of fun blasting the backroads of Oregon during our time with the RT,” notes Hutchison. “For such a massive looking machine the RT actually handles very well and is surprisingly nimble for a bike of its size. It really scoots through the turns, it’s stable and holds a line very well, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of extra effort to get it to change direction.”
Holding up the 120/70 and 180/55 17-inch rubber are Brembo-made wheels that are lighter than before, reducing unsprung mass for better handling and improved suspension control. At the rear, BMW’s Paralever shaft drive also acts as a swingarm, borrowing the GS’s newer and lighter Paralever that is made of tough forged aluminum. The shock is adjustable for preload and rebound damping, while compression is handled by travel-dependant circuitry that gets stiffer as the shock is compressed. When combined with the revised Telelever front end, also made of forged aluminum, the RT’s suspension does a wonderful job of soaking up bumps – it’s only on sharp hits like Botts Dots that it feels harsh.
Okay, we know these kinds of shenanigans aren’t what the RT was designed for, but its playful demeanor and more powerful engine sometimes can’t be resisted.
“The Telelever front end continues to evolve and this version is of course better than previous,” says Hutch. “Feedback that was lost in previous versions is now more evident – it’s not as familiar feeling as a fork, but it is getting closer.”
In addition to its innovative and mostly effective suspension systems, BMW has become the biggest purveyor of luxury and comfort amenities. The RT is no different, and its list of standard features includes ABS, a power outlet, luggage rack and color-matched saddlebags, among a couple others.
“The RT comes equipped with two of the greatest OEM components to make their way onto any motorcycle: cruise control and heated grips,” Kenny declares. “The great thing about the RT is its sweet rider accommodations.”
And if that’s not enough for you, the clever Germans have more to offer if you’re willing to pay extra for it. A heated seat can be a godsend on cold rides, a trip computer is handy while traveling, a radio/CD player helps pass the miles, a choice of two top cases will hold more stuff, and BMW’s Navigator II GPS moving-map system will help find your way.
Of the above options, our tester had only the stereo system. While we appreciated having tunes along for the ride, some of us found its myriad controls and buttons difficult to navigate without looking away from the road.
“This stereo is a double-edged sword,” notes Hutch. “It offers a great break from the typical mind-numbing sound of the wind that accompanies any long trip and helps you forget about the amount of time in the saddle. And it gave me something to do to satisfy my innate desire to fidget with electronic equipment, which brings me to the con side of having a stereo. The handlebar-mounted stereo operation center, as I like to call it, is difficult to ‘feel’ your way to the controls on the first try. This nearly gave me a heart attack when the car I was following during one such moment got hard on their brakes. It’s easy to forget you are on a motorcycle when you have all these gizmos to play with, so take a bit of advice and make sure not to sacrifice paying attention for trying to fine tune your tunes.”
BMW leads the way with luxury components like heated seats, ABS, radio/CD player… The list goes on and on.
The RT’s most notable option is BMW’s Electronic Suspension Adjustment. Better known as ESA, this $750 selection allows a rider to adjust the shock’s spring preload and damping from the cockpit and while moving. Sadly, our test unit was not equipped with ESA, but the scuttlebutt is that it’s a very worthy option.
One item that some of us wish was optional is BMW’s EVO power brake system with the Partial Integral anti-lock brakes. Optional on the R1200ST, the Partial Integral ABS is a form of linked brakes in which braking power is applied to the front andrear brakes when the hand lever is cued, governed by an electric power-assist mechanism. The amount of rear-brake application via the bar lever is electronically controlled depending on conditions. The rear brake pedal operates only the rear brake.
While we appreciated the extra safety provided by ABS, and the linked braking was transparent enough not to be intrusive, we’re not entirely sold on a motorcycle needing power brakes. Sure, the twin 320mm floating front discs and single 265mm rear disc (and Brembo 4-piston calipers) provide plenty of whoa action, but the power-assist makes feedback feel unnatural. And when the bike is not running, there is only about 5% of braking power available, which can make for tense moments when pushing it around your driveway.
In one disturbing instance, the ABS malfunction light glowed back at me as I began to ride off from a stop, and I noticed the brakes’ power assist wasn’t functioning. I kept grabbing the brake lever to activate it, but it wouldn’t respond to repeated attempts. I pulled the brake lever once more and the power brakes had suddenly and magically turned on, nearly catapulting my body through the windscreen! I’d much prefer having a direct connection to the bike, but Kenny had some different thoughts.
It’s hard to imagine a more comfortable riding position than the RT’s neutral ergonomics. And don’t let its bulky size fool ya – this “touring” bike is gonna surprise some sportbike squids in the twisties.
“I like the security of having ABS and the power-assist braking BMW has integrated into the RT,” he notes. “Some people will complain about the lack of feel or whatever it may be, but the fact remains that ABS is a great addition to a bike that will be ridden from one end of the earth to the other, regardless of weather conditions. I have mixed feelings about the power assist, though. I can see the point that some level of feel is sacrificed, but it certainly seems to help haul a bike of this size down without much effort at the lever.”
Although we didn’t have the opportunity to sample a top box, each of the RT’s standard side cases was able to swallow 32-liters of stuff. Recently redesigned, now with a four-point mounting system, the bags proved to be better than ever.
“The ease with which they can be installed and removed is a welcome change to the equipment just one year ago,” explains Kenny. “The release mechanism in the handle no longer requires use of the key to open the bags as long as you do not lock them.”
Frequent fuel stops are a major inhibitor of making efficient traveling time, but the RT can take you more than 300 miles on a tankful if you’re judicious with the throttle. On his freeway stint up to Oregon at 75-85 mph, Kenny averaged 52 mpg, which combined with a generous 7.1-gallon tank means that its rider will probably be ready to stop before the RT will.
BMW has long been a reliable source for mile-munching touring bikes, and the R1200RT might be its best one yet. It is blessed with Gold-Wing-like comfort yet weighs several hundred pounds less, so it’s fun to ride on twisty roads and not ponderous.
As with all things BMW, the only real obstacle to entry into the fraternity is the Corolla-like MSRP. The new RT retails for $17,490, so your 1986 Honda Magna trade-in ain’t gonna get you far. Check all the option boxes and you’re looking at a $20K ticket.
Still, the 1200RT is only $900 extra over the 1150RT and, like the excellent new GS, this RT is a Shaq step forward for the model line. It’s one of the first directions we’d turn when setting out on a cross-country journey.
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