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2009 BMW K1300R: MD First Ride

Power corrupts and there’s no better way to exemplify this than giving the new BMW K1300R to a quiet, law-abiding citizen and watch him turn into a fiery devil. There’s no need to go into subtleties here, when you give industrial quantities of power to an unassuming soul (as myself), someone who usually praises middle-weight scoots championing brain over muscle, ugly things happen. People develop a sudden addiction to authority, and the new K1300R with its 173 claimed horsies gives you looooooads of authority. If I hadn’t experienced this strange metamorphosis myself, I would have never believed such a disgusting power addiction could develop so suddenly. Months later I am still shocked.

So how do you describe to others the sheer joy of being an almighty emperor for two weeks? Maybe by mentioning the fact that, with Mister Bavaria, there’s no need to look for the power, the power will find you. At any time, in any gear, no matter what day of the week it is or whether the moon is in klotz or not, twisting the throttle results in a crazy, unending and unyielding drive that pushes your bum hard against the seat step and tightens up you arm and neck muscles to their limits.

Let’s go by the numbers, OK? At 3,000 rpm the German sumo wrestler is thrusting with a solid 72 foot-pounds of torque. Really want to know what it is like when the hulk flexes his muscles? How about a minimum of 86 foot-pounds between 5,000 and 10,000 rpm, with a peak of 100 ft./lbs. at 8,000? It’d be one thing if this nuclear power station was coupled to a long-geared sport tourer (like the new K1300GT), but it’s actually the other way around. In order to celebrate properly the increase in engine capacity from 1,157 to 1,293cc, the KR got shorter overall gearing that further enhances the meaty power delivery.

Need I explain the kind of humiliation that the 1300R can inflict on other public road users? It’s pretty embarrassing to see liter tools struggling to stay with the Big K. How about 2.9 seconds for 0-60 mph and 7.9 for 0-120? These results have been obtained by the utterly scientific Motorrad magazine of Germany and it would take an extremely skilled rider on a SuperSport 1000 to match them. Thanks to the generous 62″ wheelbase and the traction control system, making perfect launches is quite easy and you can hit WOT almost immediately after releasing the clutch. At that point, the 1300R becomes a raging bull while emitting delighful sounds from its airbox and tail pipe.

Time to shift into second? No worries mate, just keep that rubber thingie on the right twisted real hard, give the shift lever a light dab and the quick-shifter system cuts engine power for a split second, lets the cogs slide in and presto, the fun continues. Let the engine rip this way from first to sixth while upshifting at 11, 000 rpm and the ensuing acceleration becomes a transcendental, mystic experience. Oh-my-god, the way this thing squirts speed is getting under my skin.

So then, traction control: check, quickshifter: check, the latest generation of BMW’s ABS: check, full ESA II sport package for on-the-fly suspension adjustment: check. The best functioning front suspension ever: check. Enough technology for you? Did I hear a no? Must be because I’ve forgotten the tire pressure monitor on the LCD display. Saved my bacon on my last day on the K, no Kidding. For an oldskooler like me, this should be total overkill, only it isn’t. Wish I could say that this trickery is utterly useless, but heck, it works and how!

Never liked the telelevered Beemers, but the front duolever suspension has been a favorite of mine since the launch of the original K1200S in 2005. Think about those days when you aren’t in a really sporty mood and wish your sportbike would be softer over bumps, or be right for two riders and bags. Just press the button and the 1300R transforms itself.

The smart systems on the 1300 can behave quite stupidly at times, too. Unlike the one on the new 1198 Duc, the Beemer’s traction control cuts in quite abruptly if you, for example, hit some gravel. On a fast sweeper, my rear hits a highway slab, gets airborne and again, the engine cuts. The ABS system might have broken some braking distance records, beating Honda’s sporty anti-lock CBR setup, but the rear pedal just acts strange, its activation height changing constantly. BMW’s still got some work to do with their two systems.

During the last few years, I have had the chance to check out the other across-the-frame BMW fours, and I have no doubt the R is the best and most compelling of the lot. On the GT tourer, I appreciated the comfort on a three-week tour of Eastern Europe, but it’s basically a big whale and, as such, not a real partner for dirty dancing. The S is more like it. At the launch event in 2005, I found myself dragging knees on public roads from the word go, enjoying the immense precision of the front end.

But this 1300R, with its “lighter weight” and higher handlebars is simply magic. The thing might weigh 480 pounds dry, and is no Supersport 600, but it can still rock in the canyons. The linearity with which it responds to steering input mixes well with the endless torque, and turns any twisty road into big fun, regardless of the Harley-like 62″ wheelbase. In medium to high speed bends, the 1300R delivers a very unique riding experience, and when you feel like turning up the heat, the electronics don’t get in the way. The ABS lets you get away with very late braking, and cranking up the ESA to the sportiest setting keeps the R tracking right. This unlikely fellow could perform wonders on a track day . . . it’s that sporty.

What do we have so far? An outstanding dragster, a more than decent canyon carver, guess it’ll be a lousy city dweller then …. not so fast. BMW tuners have worked not only on max HP and torque but also solved the nasty off-on throttle response that the old 1200 unit had at low speeds. The steering remains light enough, and by putting the ESA on its softest setting, the suspension irons out Milan’s cobblestoned streets with aplomb. Even with 98 degrees outside, the hot air expelled by the fan never hits the rider. The gear change has improved compared to the 1200 mill but it’s still no match for a typical Suzuki box.

Surprisingly for a BMW, the R doesn’t shine over long distances. While cruising at 85-95, a light but irritating vibration sets in at the bars and numbs the fingers after an hour. The softish saddle that felt so inviting at first turns out to be too soft, and induces some pain in my back. Might be worth checking if there are alternative saddles in BMW’s hefty options catalog. The little bikini faring does help, but at speed it vibrates in a very un-German-like manner. Other oddities? The foot lever’s height is extremely hard to adjust. On the positive side, this Beemer finally has a normal turn signal button!

How do we sum up the new BMW K1300R? A flat, across the frame power unit that seems to hang on for dear life from a weird frame, a strange front-end suspension that until 4 years ago nobody would touch with a ten foot pole, tons of electric gadgets that somehow work, and a hard to digest design by an eccentric American that looks like a Harvard math professor (David Robb). Need further proof that they do it differently in Bavaria? Perhaps, not . . . yet it adds up to a wonderful machine. The previous version of this bike, the lower tech K1200R, has already attained cult status in Europe. Something that its only direct competitor, the Suzuki B-King, can only dream of. This new 1300 is bound to expand on this success story.

Who could have believed that this techno-design mix could work so well? Certainly not me. Work well enough to put this bike on my very private short list of the top five bikes I’ve ever ridden. So yes, power does corrupt and I’ll never be the same after my two weeks on the 1300R. But there’s so much more to this bike, those 173 hp are just the icing on the cake.

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MD Readers Respond:

  • First of all, I love seeing stuff by Schvetz; all of your writers are
    good, but there is a unique flavor to his writing that makes me read
    his pieces even if I have no specific interest in the particular
    hardware he’s writing about.Second, especially when you scoop other online pubs, could you PLEASE
    include a line or two about worldwide and US availability? It’s down
    to this or an S for my next bike, and my local dealer just says “maybe
    this fall or winter” for US deliveries. If BMW is handing out keys,
    even in Europe, could your writers hesitate just a second or two
    before handing them back to ask about that??Thanks for a great read! John
  • To bad you didn’t get any pictures *before* you crashed it. Brent
  • Bought a K1300S. The motor stalls. BMW dealer says that there is no fix. Look at the number of K’s with low mileage for sale on E-bay. Nice heritage, but a poor engineering effort engine wise. Perhaps it is the new Jaguar. TZ