What is a sportbike?
As the latest Inline-Four offering from BMW, the K1200R Sport is a versatile mount which we took for a 1000-mile test ride on the freeway, backroads, and track.
It is a broad question and in recent years BMW
has attempted to answer it with its own Germanic take on the genre. Dominated by the Big Four from Japan, the sportbike marketplace is glutted with high-performance racing platforms snatched up by 20-somethings in search of the latest thrill. BMW has entered the sportbike fray with an older customer base and its stolid reputation for luxury and comfort. Yet the German firm leaves no doubt of the sporting capabilities from its latest Inline-Four, having stuck the Sport moniker in the new design's name - the BMW K1200R Sport.
The Sport is a tweener model in BMW's K-series family, a hybrid of its fully-faired K1200S and the naked K1200R siblings. In the sportbike market as a whole, the K1200R Sport is even harder to define, with its engine placing it somewhere between a superbike and hyper-sportbikes like the Hayabusa or ZX-14. It is neither one of these extremes, however, and is miscast as the aggressive machine most motorcycle folk conjure up when they hear the term "sportbike." It's like putting Arnold Schwarzeneger in a martial arts flick, he can deliver the muscles and bad dialogue, but Jet Li would slice up the Governator like an order of Hibachi chicken at Benihana.
The Sport's uncertain categorization in the motorcycle realm was the first thing noted by all of our test riders; too lax for a sportbike, but too sporty for a tourer. Our eventual conclusion is the K1200R Sport is
a sportbike, but a BMW sportbike - with all of the idiosyncrasies and accoutrements one would expect from a bike displaying the Beemer badge. In my warped imagination I can almost see a Kaiser-helmeted German with a white lab coat and monocle clicking his knee-high boots together and shouting, "Jah, ve built a sportbike. You vill ride it!"
Our test of the K1200R Sport including spinning some laps out on the track, where we confirmed the Beemer's motor was a monster.
And ride it we did, putting over 1000 miles on the new Beemer on every paved surface we could think of, including the Interstate, twisty backroads, scenic highways, and even the racetrack. The versatile mount handled the various conditions with aplomb and typical BMW style and comfort.
In describing the Sport's performance, it would be inconceivable to start anywhere other than its colossal 1157cc motor. The Inline-Four K-series engine is a monster powerplant, which can flat out smoke just about anything running on the road. Possessing a 79mm bore and 59mm stroke, the Four provides ample horsepower and torque, which we felt on the road and track. Getting a chance to hit a Pacific Track Time
trackday at Thunderhill Raceway with the Beemer let us uncork the mill not to its limits, but the limits of this test rider, as the forceful motor could have provided seconds, thirds, and a week of leftovers for our timid pilot whose nether regions puckered up once the speedo approached 140 mph.
Having felt the raw energy roaring out of the Beemer first hand, we measured it on our Dynojet 200i dyno. Looking at the power curve, rear-wheel horsepower rises along with the revs before reaching its crescendo of 138.5 ponies at 11,000 rpm; meanwhile, torque builds and peaks sooner, crossing 70 lb-ft around 3500 revs and topping out at 80.9 lb-ft at 8500 rpm. Translation: The four-valve-per-cylinder, DOHC design is a stompin' bucket of bolts that pulls like crazy.
Power delivery is smooth, with a crisp throttle response allowing the Sport to get up and go. The broad powerband pulls steady throughout any gear and peaks with a dramatic top-end hit, although it's rare that the rider would ever need to throw the rpms on this machine up toward the indicated redline. The ability of the Sport to get the speedo up from the limits of law-abiding freeway speed to the triple-digits, even in lower gears, is exhilarating (only on the track, of course - nudge, nudge, wink, wink).
Our test of the K1200R Sport including spinning some laps out on the track, where we confirmed the Beemer's motor was a monster.
Transmitting that bounteous bevy of torque and horsepower is the Sport's shaftdrive - a perfect example of how BMW has a different take to the whole sportbike concept. Compared to chain-driven machines, the shaftdrive doesn't hold the Sport back, however, and doesn't exhibit any noticeable lash engaging through the six-speed transmission. The ample power is transferred to the rear wheel in a smooth manner.
"BMW has really refined the driveline power-train and I have nothing to complain about there," explained test rider and MCUSA Graphic Designer Robin Haldane. "No drive lash and a smooth power delivery to the rear wheel were welcoming aspects of this bike, not to mention the cool factor that the single-sided swingarm gives."
A rough edge in the gearbox is BMW's familiar clunk, which is so characteristic of the manufacturer's machines it could be trademarked. The clunk from the gearbox is a sound more than a sensation, and shifts are smooth once you get comfortable with the hydraulic clutch. Although, some of our testers never quite came to terms with this aspect on the Beemer, with one rider complaining that shifts up or down were accompanied by lunges or dips if the rpms weren't just so.
Braking on the Sport is phenomenal, and there were no complaints at all during the course of our testing. The front lever got plenty of pull during our trackday experience, giving us a true appreciation the Beemer's binding abilities. Hitting braking markers at Thunderhill the stopping power from the EVO system - which features dual 320mm discs and four-piston calipers up front and single 265mm disc with single-piston caliper out back - had us decelerating with as much exhilaration as smacking the throttle.
The new Sport is a half-faired hybrid of its K-series siblings - the K1200S and K1200R.
We even got a chance during our travels to sample the quick response of the Beemer's brakes in real-world application, not once, but twice, thanks to roadside-lingering deer. Full-on emergency stops were not required, but on both occasions the bike shed excess speed in a hurry while we kept an eye on the quadrupeds, who did the same to us with a questioning look that said "should I keep eating this shrub, or bolt straight out into the road?"
Combined with BMW's latest integral ABS, the Sport's brakes match the motor in performance satisfaction. The ABS system, a safety feature which activates both the front and rear stoppers with the front lever, does all the minute split-second braking adjustments a rider could never accomplish on their own. The system is refined and effective, and it's little wonder that most bikes are delivered to owners with the $1040 option included.
Brakes and engine are the definite performance highlights on the Sport, but its handling abilities are where the sportbike credentials come most into question. An upright riding position and the lax steering geometry play a part, with the 62.2-inch wheelbase providing appreciated stability but inhibiting rapid maneuvers. While the lengthy wheelbase contributes to the slow turning, the 550-lb weight (520 lbs tank-empty) is the Sport's real handling culprit. Although the Beemer keeps an equal weight distribution in front and back, it feels like a lot of those pounds are carried up high.
This top-heavy gripe shouldn't, by any means, imply the Sport is a clumsy oaf - far from it. The Sport is a thrill to ride when the going gets tight, it's just that coaxing the Beemer into the corners requires some effort - and by effort we mean a quick push on the wide handlebars to countersteer. The top-heavy sensation just requires a rider to finesse the bike into a lean or hustle to pick the bike up for a quick transition, more so than some more compact sportbikes, which dip into turns without effort.
Matching the Beemer's powerful motor are its brakes. The Sport's dual 320mm front discs and optional ABS system bring the 550-lb machine to a quick and gentle stop with ease.
"Getting it to lean into a corner isn't really difficult, but it isn't easy either," explained our test rider and photographer, Tom Lavine, who's a BMW aficionado that can ride the pants off just about any bike we hand him. "Some bikes corner so effortlessly that I don't even think of what I'm doing. The K1200R Sport isn't one of those bikes; the bike just acts like it wants to be driven around a curve, not ridden as in leaning!"
A bright spot in the Sport's handling is the Duolever and Paralever suspension systems, which are two more proprietary Beemer components that give the Sport a unique sportbike take. While one tester felt the base settings were on the stiff side, the two units sucked up bumps and provided pitch-perfect stability. The Beemer flies straight as an arrow on the freeway and, once it is pushed over in a corner, the stable Sport holds its line without effort.
Our test bike was also fitted with the $800-extra ESA (Electronic Stability Adjustment) system, which provides on-the-fly suspension adjustment. All a rider needs to do is thumb the ESA button on the left hand control and shuffle through the three settings: Normal, Comfort, and Sport. Rolling through the options on our long-distance drives, the change is almost imperceptible, although switching from the extremes of Sport and Comfort did register a difference.
So while most sportbikes compromise comfort for performance, those priorities are flipped on the Beemer. The good news in that equation being the Beemer's ergos are fantastic. No doubt many riders will be happy with this trade-off. The upright riding position on the Sport feels natural, with the slight pitch forward not enough to put any pressure on the wrists. The wide handlebar is well placed and provides more than enough leverage for the extra turn-in effort we mentioned before. Our testers' opinions on the firm-but-plush seat ranged from fantastic to good and it took many, many miles before our backsides started feeling any ill effects. In fact, it was difficult to assess the suspension's cushioning traits with the seat absorbing the leftovers of all but the most extreme road imperfections. Overall, the Beemer's comfort rating was excellent.
The Sport may not be the quickest turner out there but the Beemer's performance potential will exceed the talents of most riders.
The one caveat in this glowing assessment for the ergos would be for smaller riders. The two fellows who put the most miles on this Beemer, myself and our buddy Tom, are both over six feet tall and 200 lbs. While the standard 32.3-inch seat height (BMW does offer an optional 31.1-inch at no extra charge) didn't provide any problems, there were moments at low speeds where the Sport's hefty feel was very evident, this was of particular note during your typical parking lot maneuvers. BMW gives off a vibe that its target rider is an Olympic biathlon medalist named Klaus, who stands 6'5" and can carry on a light-hearted conversation while bench-pressing 300 lbs. Summation: for even us bigger guys the Sport feels large and would not be an ideal fit for the small in stature.
As far as fit and finish go, this Beemer delivers all the finery you would expect from the German marque. Mirrors provide a clear view behind, although there is some vibration at higher speed. The cockpit is attractive, with the analog speedo and tach teamed with an LCD display. Besides showing tripmeters and electronic gauges for engine temperature and fuel, the LCD monitor can also rotate through numerous snippets of info like range, time, and mpg figures. Also prominent on the LCD is a gear position indicator, which is a valuable tool only appreciated after riding a bike without one.
The Sport also offers optional heated handgrips, which were installed on our test bike, much to our approval during a late-night, 225-mile trek down I-5 to make our Thunderhill trackday near Willows, CA. Crossing the Siskiyou Mountains as the temperature dipped into the 40s, never were the heated grips appreciated more. They are well worth the $235 price and good for all seasons. In fact, our photog Tom was unashamed to admit that he has used the heated units on his own Beemer in the middle of sweltering August. They're a fantastic option and will make even the hardest of riders turn into a sissy after experiencing their charms.
The nighttime ride also allowed us to test the BMW's headlamps. The regular light provides ample illumination of the road ahead, with the high-beam lighting up the mountainside like a spotlight. Clicking the passing signal once darkness falls will leave little doubt of your intentions to the driver ahead.
The K1200R Sport may not turn or transition as quick as its rivals but the Beemer is a fun ride when the road gets squiggly lines.
The Sport exhibits some touring tendencies, with its comfortable ergos begging for it to be ridden long distances, or at least not discouraging it. The half-faring and windshield, which are really the only major differences from the K1200R, provide a fair amount of wind protection. We were fortunate to avoid any rain on our journeys, but a rider will receive reasonable shielding from the elements. An intrepid rider could even throw some bags onto the back (an optional luggage grid is available for $135), if they were so inclined, and start piling on the miles.
The Sport's touring capabilities, however, are limited by its smallish 5-gallon gas tank. Our observed fuel efficiency was 40 mpg, so the bike's range (one of the many useful bits of info available on the LCD display) was accurate showing 200 miles with a full tank. Like clockwork, however, after 140 miles of riding the yellow exclamation mark lit up on our cockpit display with the word "FUEL!" letting us know the Sport needed a drink soon.
The biggest black-eye for the Beemer is its $14,875 MSRP. Throw in an extra $2075 for ESA, ABS, and heated handgrip options and your asking price just jumped up to $16,950. Granted those who plop down the money for a BMW often have the wherewithal to drop 17 grand for a bike, but when you put the Sport on the scale against its rivals, the question of value is impossible to ignore. Compared with the new Suzuki Bandit 1250 with ABS ($8,799), the Beemer is almost twice as much!
If you can handle the steep price tag, the K1200R Sport is a versatile, exhilarating ride.
Its high price tag not withstanding, the Sport will no doubt be an enticing offer to many a rider. After our testing excursions, I envision the ideal Sport owner to be a gentlemen sportrider, of a certain age and income, who wants to blitz down the canyons on occasion but with comfort coming first.
In the end, we didn't do much to clear up the muddy waters of motorcycle classification and the Sport's place in it. The half-full judgment of the Sport is it's a Jack of all trades; the half-empty judgment is it's a Jack of all trades, master of none. For most riders out there, however, versatility in a bike isn't a bad thing, and the adaptability of the Sport was exhibited throughout our testing process. To be honest, though, after the end of our time with the new Sport, I couldn't care in the least that it defies easy categorization. Let someone else worry about what
kind of bike it is, all I could see was a comfortable bike with a hell of a motor that was an absolute blast to ride.
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