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MD First Ride: BMW R1200S

The all-new BMW R1200S is packed full of torquey Boxer power. The boxer’s surge of torque is obvious from the moment you click the bike into first gear and accelerate away from a stop. First gear is slightly higher than I would have preferred, meaning that a mild dose of RPM is necessary to pull out from the lights.

At 7000 rpm the R1200S surges forward with a kick worthy of a sportsbike. 122 horsepower in an air-cooled twin is a BMW revolution, and the fact is that the new BMW is more powerful than most liquid-cooled, V-twin sports tourers. But the new R1200S is not designed to be a tourer, a fact made clear by BMW’s choice of venues for the bike world press introduction – we sampled the new BMW sports bike on South African mountain roads and on the Killarney race track, just outside Cape Town. I started the day in the misty mountains in the wine districts north of Cape Town. Because of the excellent roads and the mountainous terrain, the place had a European feel to it.

The R1200S is a much lighter motorcycle than the old R1100S. The Boxer engine will gives the R1200S a heavy look, but fact is that the dry weight has now been reduced to 195kg. This makes the R1200S the lightest road boxer ever. Only the HP2 Enduro is lighter, and that can hardly be called a roadbike. Still, the R1200S is a big motorcycle, and a mammoth compared to, say, a Ducati 999 or 1000SS. With 85cc more displacement, 24 extra ponies and 13kg less weight, the R1200S is a huge improvement on the old R1100S.

At a stop, the R1200S has the feel of a big motorcycle; however, it possesses the handling of a much smaller machine. On the mountain roads it felt like the easiest thing in the world to flick the big sportsbike from ear to ear. The new BMW will be delivered with several tire options. Our test bikes were fitted with Michelin Pilot Powers. These tires were not so confidence inspiring in the early morning on the slippery mountain roads, but as soon as it had dried and I had some heat in the tires they suited the Beemer very well. On the twisty mountain roads, both tyres and suspension contributed to a neutral and stable feel.

The front Telelever is now stiffer, and on the racetrack I could easily change my line mid-turn. The Paralever EVO swingarm has been lightened and a glittery Ohlins shock is attached to it. When I first mounted the bike, the suspension felt soft with quite a bit of sag, but once on the move it seemed to work well at the stock settings.

On the road there is no doubt the R1200S can still be used as an alternative sports-tourer. The seat is comfortable enough, and the riding position does not put too much weight on the wrists.

The R1200S features a new ABS system that can be turned off. The system is not linked and there is no servo (to save weight). It is remarkable how good the front brake is, and when the ABS kicks in there is hardly any pulse action at all. I have never ridden any other bike with such a good unlinked ABS system. It was so good that I forgot to turn it off at the racetrack!

After spending the morning on mountain roads I traveled out to a sun drenched racetrack to put down as many laps as possible before the photographers arrived. Killarney is a short and easy racetrack with one sweeping left hander, two straights and several right-handers – perfectly suited for the R1200S. The corner speed can be adjusted up quickly as the R1200S is so stable both when turning in and when accelerating out of the bends. The only place I experienced instability on standard suspension set up was out of a big on-camber right hander that lead out onto the paddock straight. I chose second gear here to ride the torque and then full power up to third and then fourth. Over some uneven surface on full throttle at high rpm in third, the handle bars moved from side to side a little. I short shifted to fourth a couple of times, which calmed the chassis down a bit. However it was a great feeling to have a lively BMW under me so I stuck to third again later.

The BMW R1200S has got a steering dampe,r which probably is a bit unnecessary, however that slight headshake would have been amplified without the steering damper. I spoke to a couple of journalists that had not noticed the headshake I described, but they had all made adjustments to the rebound damping. For track use, there is plenty of adjustability built into the suspension – including rear ride height. I preferred to circulate on standard suspension settings, as I was racing no one but myself. Although that might not be entirely true, as I rode my fastest laps at the end of the day (after the photography was out of the way) and no one passed me on my bike with standard settings.

Even with ABS on, I could brake almost as hard as I wanted into the turns. It’s easy enough to explore the full handling potential of the R1200S, as it turns and steers beautifully. The Michelin Pilot Powers (120/70-ZR17 and 190/50-ZR17) provided perfect grip on the warm surface and really absorbed the bumps brilliantly. The tyres were helped by very good suspension, and also the fairly high weight that gives a stable feel over the bumps.

On the main straight it was possible to either max out in fifth gear or short shift to sixth before braking for the fast left hander that followed. I saw around 230km/h on the speedometer a couple of times, so I would guess that 250 could be easily achieved on a longer straight.

Because of the peculiarities of a flat-twin engine, the whole motorcycle wants to stand up on the suspension when the torque curve hits its sweet spot. But less so on the R1200S than other Boxer BMW’s.

The dog-shift six-speed gear box gave me no problems at the track. The only problem I noticed was that the box doesn’t quite like to be upshifted without the clutch, perhaps due to the unique torque pulses of the boxer motor. Whatever the cause, the R1200S sort of surges or jumps forward when you upshift without the use of the clutch. Other than that the ratios seem to work well, particularly the spacing between 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gears.

To sum up the track test, it is remarkable how fast something as peculiar and clumsy looking as the R1200S can be around a racetrack. Even though you start out with the feeling that R1200S is too big to be a sportsbike, its as satisfying as anything to ride through corners.

The new 1170cc engine descends from the big R1200GS update. The R1100S never got the 1150 engine, and for this reason the R1200S is miles better than the old R1100S. The new horsepower has been achieved by extensive modifications, to the cylinder heads in particular. The R1200S also features new high strength conrods, redesigned camshafts, stiffer valve springs, and new pistons. Compression ratio is increased to a staggering 12.5:1, and this increase is mainly responsible for the torqey feel of the high revving (8,800rpm) air/oil-cooled engine. Maximum torque is now 112Nm @ 6.800rpm.

An engine like this can probably be tuned to around 135-140 bhp in race trim, so the 122bhp in the
standard bike with air/oil cooling is pretty good. It feels good too, especially at full throttle, where the engine pulls like an ox from 7.000 rpm on. It is evident that BMW has increased the rev ceiling as part of making the new R1200S as sporty as a Boxer can be. BMW has followed the US army motto; “Be all you can be” – and the R1200S is.

I am glad to see the new R1200S. It is more evidence that BMW is continuing to dedicate huge effort towards the sports market. The R1200S is still a gentle giant compared to the K series 1200 engine, but for most people that can be a good thing. If you own an R1100S, and have resisted the temptation to purchase something more powerful, now is the time to upgrade. The R1200S is a huge update compared to the old R1100S. It still takes most of the design cues, but the rear end in particular now looks more modern with the two pipes stacked under the passenger seat. But don’t expect your passenger to appreciate the new R1200S, as the passenger position is higher than before (due to the new underseat exhaust). The ABS brakes are great, and as with any BMW you get great second-hand value and no worries about maintenance. You just have to ask yourself this question; is it a better deal than a cheaper and more powerful Japanese sportsbike?

The R1200S should arrive at US dealers in June of 2006, carrying a US MSRP of $14,700. Check out BMW’s web site for more details.

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  • The most powerful air cooled Boxer ever
  • Brakes
  • Handling

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  • Price
  • Size (big bike for big people)
  • High first gear