Entering our 2008 comparison test as the reigning champion, we already recognized the BMW K1200GT to be a formidable sport-touring platform.
2008 BMW K1200GT
Hitting the 405 to escape from L.A. our five-bike comparo got underway. The swanky K1200GT is a solid fit for the wealth and glamour of Southern California because our BMW test unit delivers all the luxurious goods. Heated grips? Check. Heated seat? Check. Heated passenger seat? Check. Adjustable windshield, cruise control, roomy and easy-to-use luggage. The Beemer’s touring credentials are, without doubt, the strongest in our group.
In fact, the BMW K1200GT arrives at our 2008 Comparo as the reigning champion by virtue of its ample touring amenities. But its edge over the Yamaha FJR in our 2006 head-to-head was a slim 3-2 split decision among our ’06 group test riders – of which only two returned for this year’s comparo. With new testers to win over and the competition as strong as ever, the Beemer’s position at the top is by no means secure.
Once we diverted from the traffic-infested PCH for the winding blacktop of Malibu’s Latigo Canyon, the BMW got a chance to flex its sporty side.
When the going gets twisty, the K1200GT is a more than capable mount. But while it is a fine handler, the BMW was rated behind the superb FJR in maneuverability. It is nimble and comfortable, but the front end doesn’t deliver the confidence and natural feel of the Yamaha. The K1200 also seems to carry its weight high, so even though at 667.5 lbs topped off and the lightest Four in the test, it doesn’t feel the lightest.
The BMW K1200GT sports an incredible amount of ground clearance, providing plenty of room for aggressive maneuvering.
The BMW also sports the laziest rake ankle in the group at 29 degrees, perhaps accounting for its inability to turn in with the speed and precision of the Yamaha. Once pressed into a lean, however, the GT is rock steady and smooth with its 61.8-inch wheelbase – the longest in our test. Another prominent difference compared to the competition is the BMW’s incredible amount of ground clearance. Some of our more aggressive testers scraped pegs, but only on rare occasion, with the extra room much appreciated.
The K1200GT utilizes BMW’s proprietary Duolever and Paralever units for suspension duties, delivering a respective 4.5 and 5.3 inches of front and rear travel. The suspenders team with the composite aluminum frame to transmit excellent chassis feedback.
Our test unit also came equipped with the optional ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment). For those not in the know, the ESA allows a rider to shuffle on-the-fly, with a left-mounted button, between three settings: Normal, Comfort and Sport. It is a feature that makes perfect sense on the sport-touring GT, as a rider will alternate between sportier backroads and more mundane freeway jaunts.
“With the combination of an on-the-fly suspension adjustment depending on the type of riding you are doing, great lean angle before anything touches the ground, and a chassis that gives excellent feedback, I got a sense of confidence with the BMW that is really nice when riding fast through the twisties,” judges MCUSA Graphic Designer Robin Haldane.
Equipped with the duolever and paralever suspension components, as well as the optional ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment), our BMW test unit provided a stable base, with on-the-fly suspension adjustment.
While the C14 grabs headlines with its mega motor, the K1200 delivers big in the engine department as well. The surprise is how the BMW, at 1157cc, is the smallest of the four-cylinder bikes. You certainly wouldn’t guess it judging by the Beemer’s ferocious exhaust note and virile open-road performance. Roaring up and down through the 79mm bore and 59mm stroke the K-series motor features a 13:1 compression ratio. The potent result is a top end-biased engine delivering its peak power higher in the rev range – 123.8 hp at 9500 rpm and 79.7 lb-ft at 7800 rpm.
Although not quite as smooth as the Yamaha or Honda, fueling on the BMW is prompt and cracking the throttle open delivers a satisfying, immediate wallop. Getting from corner to corner is invigorating, while a straight stretch of asphalt can get felonious in a hurry as the GT urges a rider to test its Autobahn pedigree.
“In terms of outright power and roll-on acceleration the GT still feels like one of the faster bikes in the bunch,” agrees MCUSA Editorial Director and certified street hooligan Ken Hutchison.
The BMW windscreen provided some of the best protection in our test group. The trick was finding just the right position on the adjustable screen.
The K1200GT utilizes BMW’s familiar six-speed transmission. There’s nothing wrong with the actual gearbox performance, with no complaints of missed shifts or awkward clutch engagement, but it is clunky and loud compared to the ultra-smooth Japanese units. The BMW box is forgiving, however, as one lackadaisical tester discovered. After switching from a long session on the automatic FJR, our tester initiated a clutchless, sixth-gear full stop on the Beemer. The result was a gentle stall and ribbing from fellow riders rather than any nasty trouble. A small amount of buzz through the bars and driveline lash are endemic to the Beemer. Not a major worry, however, as fans of the Bavarian marque will find these traits endearing, or at least easy to overlook.
Avoiding the congested portion of the PCH, our route took advantage of the curvy inland CA-33 and Highway 166 back to the coast. Both roads are beautiful byways and the ample combination of high-speed straights with tight corners is a perfect arena to test the Beemer’s high-tech braking performance.
The BMW’s dual four-piston calipers and dual 4.5-inch rotors haul things down in a hurry, but the power-assist units don’t deliver any consistent feel at the lever. They never have. The power brakes and unique suspension components make the BMW feel different compared to the more conventional Japanese bikes.
“Unfortunately the brakes are where the Beemer falls short for me,” explains Robin. “While they are technologically more advanced than all the others and work just fine, I don’t like the way I can’t feel what they are doing. I also found it to be discomforting that they don’t work well when the bike is turned off.”
The fact that the brakes don’t deliver real power until the bike is turned on led to a hairball moment during a mountainside sunset photo op. Looking out at a scenic vista of the Los Padres National Forest, our test rider hopped on the GT and began rolling backward with the bike in neutral. And he kept rolling toward the edge of an ominously steep mountainside before 5-10 feet of frantic lever squeezing brought things to a lazy halt. Potential BMW owners should take note.
The BMW is more than capable of pushing the limits. Some of our testers, however, didn’t need the bike to get in over their head, like this dope staring off the edge of a very steep cliff.
One area the Beemer did not disappoint is in the comfort department. Initial impressions on the GT’s adjustable seat are tentative, with the design narrower than its competition and tending to push the rider forward. After some long hauls in the saddle, however, the merits of the soft seat shined.
“While the seating position and the seat’s comfort don’t seem great when first getting on this bike,” says Robin, “I did find that I became way less fatigued after long distances than the other machines in this test.”
The Beemer’s narrow perch also warmed buns when the temps plummeted thanks to the heated seat. Significant others will also appreciate the heated pillion seat. Combined with the heated grips and ample wind protection of the adjustable screen, vying with the Honda for best in our group, the BMW was a coveted mount during the colder sections of our tour.
The upright and comfy riding position of the K1200GT is also praiseworthy, with the rider able to dial in the ergos thanks to the adjustable bars and seat.
The wide open stretches on California’s Highway 166 allowed us to uncork the Beemer’s potent Inline-Four.
“It is the riding position of the GT that rounds out its great overall package,” gushes Hutch. “The protection from the elements is at the top of the rankings, the adjustable windscreen provides great defense against the elements and the optional equipment list is simply staggering. Having the ESA, heated grips and other amenities makes you wonder why anyone would venture out on a touring ride without them.”
Riding in the dark toward Maricopa on the winding CA-33, the BMW’s powerful headlamp keeps the road well illuminated. An attractive instrument cluster delivers all the bells and whistles one would expect from a BMW, including optional extras on our model like cruise control and the On Board Computer. Topping off the Beemer’s stacked touring credentials is its 6.3-gallon tank. During our throttle-happy tour, the BMW recorded a 39.9 MPG efficiency, working out to a 251-mile range.
Yet, the sleek Beemer isn’t without its quirks. Firing up the GT sometimes takes a couple on and off flips of the starter button, which was accompanied by the robotic sound of the electronic-assist brakes. The German bike’s switchgear is also eccentric, with the BMW toggle turn signals present and accounted for. The GT’s hard luggage has come a long way over the years. This latest version uses the ignition key to open and unlock, with a peculiar latch between you and mobile luggage.
The BMW brakes were disappointing, with the power-assist design exhibiting a pronounced lack of feel at the lever.
When it comes to styling, most in our camp thought the BMW was a looker, although the BMW style isn’t for everyone. It is the staggering MSRP is where the Teutonic mount delivers a hearty blow to the rider’s gut, or bank account to be more accurate. Sure, it may be the most touring capable of our sport-touring pack, but those extras pack a premium pricetag on top of an already exclusive $18,620 MSRP. Various accessory packages are available, with the equipment package adorning our test bike ratcheting the asking price up $2095.
A machine like the GT can tempt even the most thrifty, read miserly, of riders. So as our entourage motored back to the PCH via Highway 166, we pondered the Beemer’s fate in our comparo and how we can get our grubby hands on 20 Large.