BMWS BOX IT OUT
One boxer engine, four very different bikes. BMW R-series go head-to-head
BMW’S flat-twin boxer engine has to be one of the most versatile motorcycle powerplants in production. The German firm has used it to power everything from tourers to sportsbikes, nakeds to retros, cruisers and sportstourers and – of course – continentbashing adventure machines. And now, in its latest water-cooled incarnation, the boxer’s popularity shows no sign of waning, continuing to prove its versatility and significance within BMW’S model range. If you are a fan of the engine, you are certainly spoilt for choice. But faced with such a diverse line-up, which boxer-engined BMW should you go for?
We’ve gathered together the complete water-cooled boxer range in one place to see how their unique features alter the character and feel of the motorcycle. Each one has an identical 1170cc motor that makes the same claimed 125bhp with 92flb of torque, with only slight gearing variations, but they all use it in very different ways to suit their individual outlook on life.
Ever since Ewan Mcgregor and Charley Boorman decided to do some globetrotting on BMW’S GS it’s been the class-defining adventure bike. It was actually a happy accident (thanks to KTM getting cold feet over supplying the bikes), but BMW Motorrad in the UK took the risk, and changed the fortunes of the model forever. Now boasting a phenomenal level of engineering and electronics, it’s the default boxer buy. But don’t let that blind you to the charms of the other three bikes here.
In the touring RT you have another class-leader that’s dominated the tourer sales charts for more than a decade. The R and RS haven’t acheived their siblings’ class status, yet. The R is fighting to be accepted as a fun and fruity naked, while the RS is trying to reignite a class that disappeared for most of the last decade. So should you just take the GS – like so many seem to have done – and get on with it, or do the others’ skills better fit your needs? There’s only one way to find out – seconds away, ding ding, for the great BMW boxer punch-out. ■
Ôshould you take the GS like so many others, or is there a better option?õ
What we said then
“The K1200R is another from the latest generation of Beemers that blows away the firm’s reputation for dull motorcycles. A 170mph naked with looks that fuse sci-fi and retro and back it up with plenty of brawn.” MCN launch report, 2005
But what is it like now?
I confess, I’ve never been a huge fan of the K1200R. Back when it came out in 2005 I thought a 163bhp naked bike with a top speed of 170mph was about as much use as mudguards on a tortoise. But that was before the whole super-naked craze took off; so was I being too judgmental?
To be fair, the K1200R is still not a good-looking bike. Its googly-eyed headlights are a bit weird and BMW haven’t really made much effort to style the bike. Some would argue its rugged, almost robotic, look is part of the charm, but to me it is lazy design. And then there is the ride.
I remember K1200RS being really agricultural and nothing like the slick machines you expect from BMW. Within a few metres this used K1200R proves exactly that. The initial fuel injection is very abrupt (I think BMW have released something like 12 different maps in an attempt to sort this out), the clutch is grabby, the gearbox clunks and the bike feels really long. Not exactly a promising start to our re-acquaintance – but then I hit the open road.
The inline four dominates any ride on a K1200R. Like a Hayabusa it pulls from next to no revs and is so fast the speedo has a hard time keeping up. But, and here is what I missed back in the day, you don’t have to go ballistic on it everywhere. No really, you don’t.
The motor is so stacked full of grunt that you can just leave it in top and take it easy, surfing the wave of torque and avoiding the gearbox. This endless thrust makes the R really easy going as you wind on the throttle to overtake traffic and relax into the comfortable riding position. Windblast aside, and this used bike has a screen to help cut this factor down, it’s effortless motoring personified. And come the bends it handles as well.
The K1200R’S length certainly helps mask the Duolever front end’s difference in feel when compared to forks. You don’t get on the R and think ‘that feels strange’, you just get on and ride it. It’s a bit heavy steering, but so is the B-king or any large-capacity naked. But agility isn’t everything.
While you can ride the K1200R very quickly, you can also easily ride it in a relaxed fashion if you so wish and that makes it a very pleasant road bike.
Any obvious faults?
The major worry when buying an Esa-equipped K1200R is if the shock is working OK as replacing it is horrifically expensive. All seems well on this one and despite being quite grabby, the clutch doesn’t rattle and all the gears engage. The low mileage on this bike has ensured serviceable items such as the shock, ball joints, clutch and ABS are all in tip-top condition, but there is some paint missing from the Duolever’s lower plastic covers.
Or worthwhile extras?
The aftermarket exhaust on this bike makes a fabulous popping sound on the over-run, which is so UN-BMW and a great addition. The official BMW panniers are neat and fit the outline of the bike but the tank cover is a matter of taste, personally I’d lose it.
I never used to understand the K1200R’S purpose in life, but revisiting it has given me a fresh perspective. It’s a bit raw and unrefined, which makes it quite UN-BMW in feel, but I think that actually adds to its charm.
Part bike, part Patrick Moore tribute act On an ESA bike the shock can’t be rebuilt, so if it is worn you need to replace it for a new ESA unit for £1600 or swap it for a nonESA one. Sidestand can snap Never, ever, try to get the K1200R’S front wheel in the air by resting its full weight on its sidestand. The lug is prone to snapping and can write the bike off.