Sport Touring Luxury at its Finest!
Every car driver must be aware of the BMW brand. They make quality cars that have an emphasis on performance and luxury. But how many four wheeled pilots realize that the proud German firm also makes some of the best motorcycles on the planet?
Every car driver must be aware of the BMW brand. They make quality cars that have an emphasis on performance and luxury. But how many four wheeled pilots realise that the proud German firm also makes some of the best motorcycles on the planet? Not many it would seem judging by some of the comments I got when I rode the latest version of BMW's tourer fitted with its famous boxer motor, such as, "Ooh, what a nice bike, I didn't know BMW made motorcycles." Well they do, and they're rather good at it.
In the motorcycle world, the brand BMW still stands for quality, at a premium price. But performance isn't BMW's strong point in motorcycles. While most of their range has enough poke to leave the average car driver impressed, they aren't at the top of the performance tree in motorcycling, in fact, they're some way off the top. What they offer instead, and this is still quite rare in motorcycling, is genuine 100,000 mile plus reliability. The competition may be faster, but it often wears out quicker too.
The R1150RT is aimed squarely at the long distance motorcyclist. BMW's reputation for reliability and comfort has long seduced the touring motorcyclist. I took the latest RT back home, riding it across France, Belgium, Holland and Germany â€“ almost returning the bike to Berlin, where BMW motorcycles are built. I covered thousands of miles and the bike's reliability was faultless and the bike didn't use a drop of oil despite being soundly thrashed on the autobahns! You can't really stay comfortable on any bike for hours on end. However good the saddle is the arse cheeks will eventually call time. But the ergonomics of the Bee Em allow you to spend longer on the road before your body demands a roadside stop. The upright riding position is good for the arms and the back, and the saddle adjusts through three heights, making it perfect for the long, or short, legged rider. Why can't other bikes do that?
The R1150RT stands up to the competition well, and comes with BMW's enviable reputation for quality, reliability and resale value.
The engine, which pumps out relaxed, rather than spirited, power helps munch the miles. It produces plenty of mid-range torque although top end power is a little feeble compared to the likes of Yamaha's FJR1300. Normal riders won't complain, but when you're in a real hurry a top speed of around 135mph can feel slow on an autobahn. I would have also liked a little stronger acceleration, passing big continental trucks on the back roads took precise timing to complete the manoeuvre before the next bend, or oncoming truck arrived. But if you relax, the bike relaxes with you and the miles slip by.
There's one thing that might ruin your relaxation though, the gearbox. It's so far behind the sophistication offered by the rest of the bike it's embarrassing. To be fair to BMW, their bikes do take a long time to get properly bedded in, and my test bike only had a couple of thousand miles on the clock. I've owned a big, twin cylinder BMW before, and the transmission did improve with age, with about 6-8,000 miles needed before things really loosened up. As it was, the changes felt crunchy, with the long travel gear throw only serving to exacerbate the problem. The bike also had a tendency to drop out of sixth back into fifth at times. Not nice at 135mph! Again, the more relaxed rider, taking more time over his or her changes probably wouldn't even notice the gearbox. To be honest, the average BMW rider is probably more laid back than me; I've ridden too many out-and-out sports bikes!
One area where BMW also excel in their cars is handling. Without doubt they make some of the best handling cars on the market. But this is another area they've not been too strong on in bikes and they've made a big effort to close up on the competition. The front suspension on the BMW is unique. It doesn't use the traditional telescopic fork system found on 99.9% of motorcycles, instead they use a Telelever system. The advantage of the BMW Telelever front suspension is simple, normal bikes dive when you brake. This uses up the suspension until it stops absorbing bumps.
BMW offers many aftermarket goodies for the owner who wishes to separate his bike from the crowd. Here is the chrome engine accessories kit.
BMWs have a little front end dive, factored in to make motorcyclists feel familiar with the handling. But the suspension and braking forces are separated, allowing you to brake hard without loosing use of the front suspension. Frankly, top of the range telescopics, as found on many sports bikes nowadays, behave so well they've almost achieved the same aim as the Telelever. The rear is different on the BMW too. Instead of the normal double-sided swing arm, there's just one stout lever holding the rear wheel in place. It also houses the shaft-drive, no messy chains to oil on a BMW. It all works well enough for a bike in this class. It's not the fastest turning bike in the world, but the handling is predictable, stable and sure-footed.
With the car-like brake assist, ABS and brake pressure distribution system the R1150RT offers panic free braking. Expert riders may dislike the level of interference the braking system introduces, preferring to use skill and experience to keep the wheels rubber side down. But the less-experienced rider will relish the security of ABS and will be aided by the system. I didn't like the brake assist, as I really don't like the idea of a computer having control over my braking. But I can't honestly point to an experience aboard the bike and say; "the brakes messed up!" Most of the time, you don't even realise the system is there.
BMW pioneered the fitting of 'luxury' items to motorcycles, such as the brilliant electrically heated handlebar grips. They really do help keep your hands warm, and they also dry your gloves out if they get soaked by rain. The wind-tunnel developed fairing keeps most of the weather off the rider, only leaving the hands, knees and shoulders out in the breeze. The windshield is electrically adjustable, in the full down position a steady rush of air will hit a tall rider in the chest, in the highest position the screens tall enough to deflect air over the top of my head, and I'm 6ft tall. I did find myself being pushed toward the screen at high speed with it in its highest position â€“ the air was really still behind the screen but eddying currents of air were swirling around behind my back and pushing me into the still air.
It's not the fastest turning bike in the world, but the handling is predictable, stable and sure-footed.
Along with the heated grips and electric screen the bike comes with a puncture repair outfit that really works, and you don't need to take the wheels or tyres out to use it. There's also a power socket for charging the mobile or operating small electrical items such as lights, radios or notebook computers when you are stopped. There's even an option for a sound system to tuck into the fairing. This wasn't fitted to my test bike, and I missed it. I've ridden long distance on bikes with music systems before and it really helps to roll the miles by.
The BMW R1150RT left me with a good feeling. I'd ridden the bike as it was designed to be ridden, long and far! It had done its job admirably, with only a few minor niggles that might not even bother other riders. There's a great deal of competition in the touring market, and there's an even bigger touring bike from BMW, the K1200LT, although this isn't as nimble as the RT and is aimed more at the Gold Wing end of the market. But the R1150RT stands up to the competition well, and comes with BMW's enviable reputation for quality, reliability and resale values.