2016 BMW R1200RS First Ride Review

MotorcycleUSA Staff | August 17, 2015

BMW Motorrad has enjoyed great success with its Inline Four and Inline Six engine platforms, but the tried-and-true Boxer Twin remains the Bavarian marque’s signature engine design. BMW continues to develop the Boxer range and expands its lineup with the all-new R1200RS.

BMW has a long history of sport-inspired R series models. The original RS hails back to the mid-70s, but the last S-model designation dropped out of the Boxer lineup with the 2007 R1200S. And while the HP2 Sport carried the Boxer sportbike torch alongside the S1000RR for a time, it fizzled out as well.

The BMW R1200RS utilizes a half-fairing and two-position adjustable windscreen.

Now the RS returns alongside a significantly redesigned R1200R model, with both bikes sourcing the liquid-cooled Boxer (making the R nineT the last holdout from the water Boxer update that began with the 2013 R1200GS model). The 1170cc Flat Twin claims familiar peak power numbers of 125 horsepower and 92 lb-ft torque, but the RS and R models promise improved bottom end torque from a modified airbox and exhaust. The cooling system is also revised, with a single centrally located radiator – compared to the split radiators of the GS/A and RT models. The radiator’s placement ties in with another significant change unique to the R/RS Boxer bike, with an inverted 45mm fork replacing BMW’s traditional Telelever suspension.

The RS is, more or less, a faired version of the R model. Additional changes include a two-position hand-adjustable windscreen, with the RS also replacing the R’s single-piece tubular handlebar with a two-piece aluminum design. BMW stretched wheelbase a half-inch to 60.2 inches, and the RS’s 32.3-inch seat height is a full inch taller than the R (31.1 inches). The RS also carries 12 more pounds than the naked R, claiming a 520-pound curb weight.

BMW presented the RS for first ride impressions at Muskoka Lakes, Ontario, during a dual press launch with the also new-for-2015 S1000XR. After rain poured down on Day 1, during which time we tested the XR (review forthcoming), the weather was perfect for our daylong ride aboard the RS – as we followed a route with a scenic mix of country backroads, two-lane highway and some freeway mileage.

Fire up the RS and it resonates with familiarity. The water Boxer may not have the same personality of the previous air/oil-cooled version, but it’s still an engaging powerplant. Having ridden all the bikes in BMW’s Boxer lineup (excepting the R nineT), the RS engine didn’t throw me any curveballs. The trusty Twin churns out a steady wallop of torque with a hearty midrange. This isn’t a 160-horsepower beast of an engine, like the S1000XR we rode the day prior, but the RS doesn’t need it to be. The Boxer delivers more than ample performance for spirited riding, and does so in a dignified manner.

Two ride mode settings, Rain and Road, come standard on the base model RS ($14,950), as does ABS and BMW’s ASC (Automatic Stability Control). Rain mode softens throttle response and sets ASC for low-grip, wet conditions. The Ride Modes Pro ($350) option adds Dynamic and User ride modes, as well as Dynamic Traction Control (DTC). The DTC system takes ASC a step further, incorporating a lean angle sensor into the TC calculations. The Dynamic ride mode features a sharper throttle response and less intrusive setting for DTC (the DTC system maintaining respective wet and dry settings for Rain and Road modes). The customizable User mode lets riders mix and match throttle response and DTC settings to their own preference (i.e. Road throttle response can be mated with Dynamic DTC intervention).

The RS is not as quick to turn in as a supersport/superbike, but it’s not ponderous either. And once it is tipped in, the bike feels planted and steady.

Our test bike did not have Ride Modes Pro and DTC available, so I can’t speak to their effectiveness at this time. However, my RS did utilize several optional features. Included in this upgrade list was Gear Shift Assist Pro ($475), which made its Boxer debut on last year’s RT and allows clutch-less shifting. Smooth downshifts require a completely closed throttle, which I botched now and then. As for upshifts, shifting into second and third are not as seamless as the rest of the six-speed gearbox, and the RS’s Shift Assist suffered in comparison to the smoother operation on the S1000XR (although this could be due to my individual test bikes, which had little to no break-in miles). The feature is a pleasant addition, but unnecessary as the standard clutch worked quite well. And with the RS’s wide powerband, I was rarely scrambling for the right gear anyway. In sporty terrain I was quite content leaving it in third, only banging down for tight, low-speed corners and saving the upper gears for high-speed hijinks or freeway droning.

The Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) option was also kitted to my test bike. The ESA automatically adjusts suspension damping, front and rear, based off real-time data. Two ESA settings, Road and Dynamic, modulate different damping effects for a respectively softer and firmer setup. ESA also offers push-button preload changes for the rear shock, with three settings (single rider, rider with luggage and rider with pillion).

Out on the road, the dynamic damping does its thing in a subtle manner. The transition from Road to Dynamic isn’t a dramatic switch, but the RS does noticeably stiffen things up to better match a sporting pace. The Dynamic ESA also factors in the lean angle sensor, provided the bike sources the Ride Modes Pro/DTC option, which we are keen to sample at a future date.

More noticeable than the ESA intervention is the RS’s switch to a conventional fork. Over the years I’ve grown to appreciate the Telelever’s peculiar handling characteristics, with a few exceptions (namely the K1300S). The Telelever’s benefits of braking stability and elimination of front end dive come at the expense of road feel, requiring the rider to gain trust in the setup. The RS requires no such trust-building, delivering plenty of road feel. The dynamic suspension’s hidden intervention also seems to mimic some of the Telelever’s benefits, like a settled braking feel and minimal front end dive.

The RS is not as quick to turn in as a supersport/superbike, but it’s not ponderous either. And once it is tipped in, the bike feels planted and steady. My overriding sensation aboard the RS was predicable stability. At a fast or slow clip, the RS always felt sure-footed.

BMW's R1200RS rounds out the Boxer lineup with a true sportbike offering.

Four-piston Brembo calipers clamp down on dual 320mm discs up front, with a two-piston caliper single 276mm disc in the rear. The binders take care of business without any fuss and plenty of stopping power. The aforementioned braking stability inherent in the Telelever is reduced somewhat on the RS, but I can’t say I missed it too much. The braking package includes BMW’s integral ABS as a standard feature, but riders can disable the ABS (as well as the ASC). The ABS works fine on the RS, but I must admit to coveting the S1000XR’s ABS Pro system I sampled the day before. That system, developed on the HP4/S1000RR, incorporates lean angle and other data inputs, then modulates the dynamic suspension so that riders can brake mid-corner without standing up the bike. It’s a remarkable system.

Riding position on the RS is a good mix of sport/touring, with an upright stance that accommodates a more aggressive forward-leaning bias when required. The bar placement was just right, but the footpeg position is slightly sportier than I’d prefer (though it felt roomier than the R model). I enjoyed the RS’s comfy seat, which is good for all-day comfort. Its 32.3-inch height didn’t feel too tall for me (6’1”), but the standard seat can be swapped out for a low (29.9 inch) and high (33.1 inch) option.

Evaluated as a touring mount, the RS presents an intriguing option. The fairing, which is really just a half-fairing, proves impressive. BMW did its homework with the aerodynamics and small touches, like the unobtrusive, wind-deflecting winglets flanking the fairing and tank are quite effective. They are reminiscent of a similar concept employed on the R1200GS Adventure where small plastic deflectors greatly enhanced touring comfort. The RS’s windscreen does its part too, redirecting turbulent free airflow without corresponding helmet buffeting. I liked its simple two-position hand adjustment, preferring the lower setting’s more direct airflow. Optional heated grips ($250) mitigated, to some extent, the RS’s absence of handguards – another unsung component, like those small wind deflectors, that maximize touring comfort.

Hardcore long-distance tourers will still be better served by the RT’s cocoon-like fairing, handguards and massive, electronically adjustable screen. But all that extra touring kit brings an extra 84 pounds. And herein lies the crux of the new RS: What role does it play in the Boxer line?

BMW’s tagline for the RS is “power of a sports bike, the comfort of a tourer,” and I’d reckon that a fair assessment. The sport-touring segment has drifted toward heavy, fully-dressed touring platforms, with BMW’s own RT a prime example of this trend. On the sport-touring spectrum I’d rate the RT about 20% sport 80% touring, whereas the RS inverts that formula.

Range from the 4.7-gallon tank skews more sport than touring (the RT carries a 6.6 gallon fuel load). Based off the near 40 mpg I observed on the unfaired R model, the RS can reasonably claim a near 200-mile range. But riders will be getting mighty anxious for fuel around 150-160 miles.

Evaluated as a touring mount, the RS presents an intriguing option.

Riders can rest assured, however, that they will be well apprised of fuel levels and a myriad of other information on the RS’s instrument panel. The left-side analog speedometer sits next to a crisp TFT display. It’s easy to read and includes all the good stuff, like gear position indicator, range and clock, as well as the various Ride Mode/ESA settings. The RS display (which is also sourced on the R model) offers three different style of layouts to choose from. It’s a novel feature, if convoluted and unnecessary – but, hey, lots of options and buttons and such. Speaking of unnecessary, the RS also offers a Keyless Ride option ($295). Which is to say, the rider still needs a key fob in order to start the bike and open the gas tank, but there is no ignition on the bike to store it. I suppose one day I’ll understand the benefit of this type of system, but plain person that I am, its value escapes me.

The RS’s styling may not jive with everyone, but I fancied its lines – particularly in the blue/grey colorway I rode. Fit and finish lives up to luxury expectations. As far as pricing goes, the base model RS retails for $14,950. But a base model BMW is more a theoretic possibility than a physical bike that consumers can purchase at an actual dealership. The overwhelming majority of bikes in the US will be kitted out in either the $16,025 Standard Package or $17,700 Premium Package, which cluster popular options together. For an extra $425 a Style 2 package tarts up the granite version with flashy bits like gold calipers, stainless steel tank cover and engine spoiler, as well as a grey frame.

After a full day’s ride in Canada, I thoroughly enjoyed my time aboard the RS. It’s the sort of bike that will pass unnoticed by most riders, but I suspect a sizable contingent of Boxer aficionados have eagerly anticipated its arrival and they will not be disappointed. The RS completes the versatile R series lineup as a legitimate sportbike offering.

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2016 BMW R1200RS Specifications:
Engine: Air/liquid-cooled Flat Boxer Twin
Displacement: 1170cc
Bore x Stroke: 101 x 73mm
Compression Ratio: 12.5:1
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox with shaft drive
Clutch: Wet clutch, hydraulically operated with optional Gear Shift Assist
Front Suspension: 45mm inverted fork, with 5.5 inches of travel optional. Optional Dynamic ESA.
Rear Suspension: Paralever with WAD strut, with 5.5 inches of travel optional. Adjustable pre-load with rebound damping. Optional Dynamic ESA.
Front Brakes: Dual 320 discs with four-piston Brembo calipers
Rear Brakes: Single 276mm disc with two-piston caliper
ABS: BMW Integral ABS, can be disabled
Tires: 120/70 ZR 17, 180/55 ZR 17
Curb Weight: 520.3 pounds
Wheelbase: 60.2 inch
Seat Height: 32.3 inch, with optional low (29.9 inch) and sport (33.1 inch)
Fuel Capacity: 4.7 gallon
Reserve approx. 1 gal
MSRP: $14,950 (base), $16,025 (Standard Package), $17,770 (Premium Package)

R1200RS Options:
• Ride Modes Pro ($350)
• Dynamic ESA ($950)
• On Board Computer Pro (only Touring Package)
• Cruise Control ($350)
• Gear Shift Assist Pro ($475)
• GPS Preparation ($205)
• Centerstand ($175)
• Luggage Rack ($175)
• Saddlebag Mounts ($120)
• Chrome Exhaust ($150)
• Heated Grips ($250)
• Tire Pressure Monitor ($250)
• Keyless Ride ($295)

Standard Package: $16,025
• GPS Preparation
• Chrome Exhaust
• Heated Grips
• Cruise Control
• Saddlebag Mounts

Premium Package: $17,770 (Includes Comfort & Touring Packages)
• Keyless Ride
• Gear Shift Assist Pro
Comfort Package:
• Chrome Exhaust
• Heated Grips
• Tire Pressure Monitor
Touring Package:
• Dynamic ESA
• On Board Computer Pro
• GPS Preparation
• Cruise Control
• Centerstand
• Luggage Rack
• Saddlebag Mounts

MotorcycleUSA Staff