One boxer en­gine, four very dif­fer­ent bikes. BMW R-se­ries go head-to-head

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - Byjon Urry MCN GUEST ROAD TESTER

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.

Shock­ing cost

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.

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