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EBass' BMW K1200RS Walkabout
The BMW K1200RS goes alpine in Lake Tahoe
"Hey, EBass, BMW just called. They want to know if you feel like cruising up to Lake Tahoe for the 80th Motorrad celebration. They said they'll put you up in a honeymoon suite at the Squaw Creek Resort, wine you, dine you, and give you a K1200RS for the trip."
"Yeah, fine, whatever, I'll call 'em back as soon as I ... huh?! Tahoe? Resort? K1200RS? Gimme that post-it!"
For those who have never been, Lake Tahoe is a beautiful mountain area renowned for its year-round bevy of outdoor games and indoor gaming. The lake itself straddles the California and Nevada borders 6223 feet above sea level, and if you ever find yourself a contestant on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" and are asked, "If Lake Tahoe were tipped over, how many inches of water would the state of California be covered in?" The correct answer would be "14.5". Now you owe me one. I just saved you a lifeline.
I've visited the region several times during previous winters for the terrific skiing and snowboarding, and in fact at one time the alpine vistas of Squaw Creek served as the scenic backdrop as I rang in the New Millenium by making wild primordial love in front of a fireplace to Satan himself... back when she was my wife. And yet, I had never been to Tahoe during the Spring, nor by motorcycle, and so this was an opportunity not to be missed.
The K1200RS is the sportiest of three editions, which also include the fully dressed LT and the far more lightly encumbered GT. The K 1200GT was reviewed on this site back in January by resident go fast man, Sean Alexander with a sidebar by the Leisure World retiree formerly known as Motojournalism Legend, John Burns.
So I will refer you to said feature for basic technical info and primary riding impressions, as the GT differs from the RS in relatively insignificant ways. Those being that the GT is standard equipped with a power windscreen, color-matched saddlebags, handguards and fairing extensions for greater wind protection, a slightly wider rear tire, and handlebars and seat that put the rider in a more upright posture. The RS weighs in at 655 lbs wet, which is 24 lbs leaner than the GT. So by tacking an extra grand onto the K1200RS base price of $16,990, you get yourself the fancified GT version. The K1200 RS that I rode for the trip was stock, except for the hard luggage. The cases run about $850.00 for the set. Thus having excused myself from the draconian tech spec requirements of those who consider Clymer manuals to be light reading, I shall continue on with my touring tale aboard the K1200RS.
BMW wunderkind, Jonas Musson, had gathered three other journalists for the group ride set to leave L.A. at 10:00 AM Thursday morning: Bert Swift, Jimmy McCraw and John Aronson. Bert is art director for Road & Track, John does TV production stuff and Jimmy's a freelancer. At first glance, I was really impressed with the sportier look of the Alpine White RS with Orient Blue striping as compared to the more conservative all-blue GT we tested back in January. The paint scheme of the RS reminded me of a very stylish, futuristic police bike, kind of a next generation ChiPs pursuit vehicle. The chunky vertical stripes on the tail section executed far more successfully than those on the Rockster, which in all their rust/orange glory came off like a safety vest on a construction worker.
While the tantalizing prospect of Tahoe's picturesque byways was dancing in the backs of our minds, the front of our minds were occupied by how much it was gonna suck having to endure the 100 degree plus temperatures of the bullet-straight 5 freeway as it climbed out of the Grapevine and then droned on past about 200 miles worth of cow country. As fate would have it, when we passed a bank along the way, the bad news was 112 degrees. Dry heat, thank goodness, but still hot enough to fry an egg on the gas tank. Under the conditions, minor ergonomic complaints could have become major nuisances, but with the exception of some buzziness in the handgrips, the RS was a real pleasure to ride.
The GT's power windscreen would have been a nice touch, but the dual-position manual version kept me clear of undue buffeting when in the upper position. The pegs, seat, and bars provided a fairly neutral posture for my 5'9" frame without any undue pressure points. Arm and hand fatigue could be easily managed by either resting my abdomen on the tank, which sloped comfortably to meet it, or more conveniently by taking advantage of the cruise control, letting go of the bars entirely, and sitting up straight. I actually got so comfortable with the Beemer's excellent stability that as the trip wore on, I probably spent virtually all of my highway time letting the gyroscopic forces do their thing, not even bothering to reach down for gentle bends, as the bike steered just as well with a little lean and downward pressure on the same-side peg. Probably not something the kraftsmen back in Bavaria spent a lot of time thinking about, but a nice bonus nonetheless.
The 5 freeway had given way to the 99 and eventually, the fuel gauges began to spell "E" as the 5.5 gallon fuel tanks reached their limit, as did we, so we pulled off to refresh both the bikes and riders near Fresno.
Capricious whim drew us to a windowless bar/restaurant advertising steak specials and cold beer. More special still was the welcoming blast of supercooled air conditioning that greeted us as we opened the door.
The 60-ish Armenian waiter seemed a little taken aback when I ripped off my shirt, my boots, my jeans, collapsed onto the carpet in my Fruit of the Looms, went into convulsions, and began speaking in tongues as the ecstasy of AC salvation washed over my body, but afterwards he said it was no big deal, they get that from time to time, and that as long as I tipped big, the security camera footage would never see the light of day. Fair dinkum, I suppose.
We were seated in a jumbo sized horseshoe booth and convincingly informed by our host that the best thing on the menu was the New York Steak. "How are the hamburgers?" "Not as good, you order steak." "I'm thinking maybe a chef salad. Do you put chopped egg in ..." "You like steak better". Now it just so happened that Jimmy was in the mood for steak, and so was I, and so was John, and Jonas (being a carnivore of legendary proportions) followed suit. The pressure had been mounting like a big stakes poker hand being revealed as the eyes of the world (or at least the table) awaited Bert's decision. And he ordered ... chicken! The waiter's eyes began to glow, and slowly began searing a small red spot on Bert's forehead like an ant being tortured with a magnifying glass. "You don't like steak?" "No, I'll have the chicken". "Dammit Bert, your eyebrows are starting to smolder, save yourself and order the friggin' steak, man!" "You try my steak, you like." "I had steak last night. Actually I'll stick with the chicken, thanks". Our waiter slowly turned and stalked off and I could have sworn I heard a phlegmatic, "thhhhhwckckckck" sound as he reached the kitchen. Thanks Bert, I owe ya' one brutha.
A brief debate ensued as to whether we should press on to Squaw Valley, or detour via Rt. 41 north up into Yosemite Nat'l Park. There were some concerns about cars being backed up in the park and never being able to get the bikes out of first gear, but being a Thursday afternoon that didn't turn out to be a problem. We followed rt. 41 all the way to Yosemite Valley, where we bore witness to the glory of BridalVeil Falls, El Capitain and Half Dome. This was an especially pleasurable experience, as due to our schedule we were unburdened by the need to prove our manhood by actually climbing these edifices and could simply stand shoulder to shoulder admiring nature's majesty, mutter a few "yup, mmm hmm, yep, gol durn's", like the fellers on "King of the Hill", snap a few photos and tell all the folks back home we had been to Yosemite.
While the park roads offered delicious scenery and were passably curvaceous, the ample presence of hikers, bicyclists and cagers all with their eyes pointed at everything but the road, inhibited our need for speed. That and the exhorbitant penalties for getting caught being naughty on State Park blacktop. We were notified at the gate that all traffic fines were doubled, and that as an act of contrition, you would have to crawl on your hands and knees through a spanking machine of tourists before they would let you leave the park. Methinks Gray Davis has been watching too many Japanese game shows.
The bike is super-stable, and between the excellent suspension and smooth powerband, never felt as though it wanted to tuck the front, spin the rear, or wrestle me in any way.
Big as it was, and loaded with gear, it felt totally at home in rte. 120's cardiac carnival. The bike whispers along under 5000 RPM, but growls more and more aggressively as you urge it towards redline, delivering a satisfying roar as you drive out of a bender. Having just attended a MotorTrend test event that included BMW's flagship sedan, the 745LI, I can say that the two both provide a similar sensation of having total control over a lot of vehicle. Assuming you aren't sporting racing leathers, the K1200RS will give you everything you need in the way of zoom zoom for the curvy stuff. While the MO sport tourer comparo was a few months back, I'd put the Bavarian entry in my personal top three, keeping company with the Aprilia Futura and Ducati ST4S.
Emerging from the canyon, we re-convened at the on-ramp to RT. 49 and compared adrenaline levels. Having all survived a gauntlet of gravel gremlins, and having allegedly done so with such brilliant grace notes of élan and panache, it went without saying that something stupid was about to happen to someone. So as I raise my bike up off the kickstand, krrrrrrrrk, Bert wings my hard case with his own as he starts underway. So much for our perfect record ...and perfect cases. Groan! We continued through Gold Country and followed that all the way to US Rt. 50 in Placerville, where we pit stopped for dinner at Mel's Diner, around 11:00 PM. No there was no Mel, there was no Flo, there was no Vera, and there was hardly any flippin' food either! Half the items on the menu weren't available according to Bobbi Jo, or whatever the high school aged waitress' name was. Jonas (J-Rex the carnivore king to his friends) went for his second New York steak of the day and John moaned for coffee with his hair twisted up in full-on Alfalfa cowlicks. Despite being in the prime of her youth, our gal BJ moved slower than Sean Alexander writes. Tired, frazzled, and thirsty as hell, we were just about to stage a commando raid on the beer tap, when Miss Customer Service 2003 finally showed up with our beverages. Sheesh!
Having consumed our fill of what I assume was food (I was too tired to open my eyes) it was now `round midnight, and we seriously considered laying up for the night and finishing the final leg of the journey the following morning. After fourteen hours of riding, we were tired, it was dark, and there were about two more hours of demanding mountain twisties standing between us and our destination, so of course being mature, experienced professional motojournalists who would never let their egos get in the way of sound and sober good judgment, we decided to plow ahead to the hotel in Squaw Valley anyway.
We followed Rt. 50 up and over the Sierras, towards South Lake Tahoe. Once the reflector dots disappeared, and the only thing guiding us through the canyon was a dim yellow line, things got really harrowing. Going around tight turns, the headlights did a great job of illuminating the trees and cliffs immediately in front of the handlebars, but left one guessing as to exactly where the heck the road was going. There are blind curves, and there are blind curves, and in the pitch blackness of a moonless night, these were some seeeeeriously blind curves. Bert warned us to be aware that there were a couple of hairpins mixed in for good measure,and in fact there were about four that proved to be hairy indeed, requiring first gear, tippy toe approaches.
If you really want to take up the "a pro rider can brake faster without ABS" argument, take it up with someone else.
In situations like these, where the element of surprise comes into play around virtually every turn, the BMW's partially integrated ABS gives one the peace of mind that a patch of canyon crud or a stray country critter would be managed by the brains of both man and machine as the dual 12.6 inch floating rotors get pinched by two staggered diameter 4-piston calipers. I am convinced that this added confidence frees up rider attention away from traction issues to be spent on managing other aspects of a potentially dangerous situation. In my decidedly un-humble opinion, ABS rocks! Case closed. All you armchair road racers can go back to your pie charts and diagrams now. Oh, and try not to sit on that protractor.
Now in the course of any group ride, a pecking order of sorts evolves. Seeing as Bert had been to Tahoe many times before and knew the way, he took the point followed by Jonas, then John and I sort of swapped positions as the mood struck us. Jimmy, while ensconced in the creature comforts of the LT, was destined to bring up the distant rear.
Let this be said, however, Jimmy did a first rate job of managing the bike through some territory that it was certainly not the ideal riding tool for. I would readily concede that had we both been on LT's, I would likely have been eating his dust, assuming I could get close enough to taste it. But Big Jim was on the only full dresser, hence destined to always be playing catch up to the GT's and RS'.
In a rural area at this time of night on a weekday, there aren't too many folks on the road. You're pretty much down to tourists trying to get a jump on the weekend, bartenders going home from a hard night of pickling livers, and truckers tweaked out on speed or worse. So inevitably, shortly into the canyon pass, we got backed up behind a big ol' semi, whose driver had apparently forgotten to take his methamphetamine that eve. Is there something even blinder than a "seeeeeeriously blind curve"? Because peering around the butt end of an 18 wheeler into the blackness, it sure felt that way. Add to the equation the fact that with sea level over 6,000 feet down, the altitude was having a negative impact upon the bikes' carburetion, and your mind played all sorts of funny games with you trying to calculate whether you had the juice to make it past the front bumper, and the brakes to adjust entry speed in time to manage the mystery radius of the next curve. Not the kind of decisions you really want to be wrestling with in the pitch blackness of a twisty canyon, at 1:00 AM after about 15 hours of riding.
Bert and Jonas were eventually able to clear the rig, but left the rest of us jammed. I was finally able to summon the gumption to pass, and John later caught up to me, but Jimmy was understandably trapped for quite some time. Honestly, if I were going to try and pass that semi under those conditions on an LT, I would have needed a trap door in the seat and a "flush" button afterwards. John and I finally caught up to Bert and Jonas in the little town of South Lake Tahoe, where being the officers and gentlemen that they are, they had cordially pulled to the side to wait for us. We all tugged off our helmets, and got comfortable while we waited for Jimmy ... and waited ... and waited. I finally leaned back onto my gas tank and gazed up at the night sky, rich with all of the dim stars that we never see living amidst the city lights of Los Angeles. I felt the adrenaline of nocturnal canyon carving draining out of my bloodstream, and a sleepy, satisfied tranquility taking its place. I could sleep right here tonight.
And then, at long last, here comes a single headlight, yes, it's Jimmy ... and look! Jimmy's made a new friend ... in a fancy SUV ... with purty red and blue lights on top.
Sheeeet! Now that's just classic. The senior member of our group, on by far the slowest bike, getting busted for speeding, on a country road, in the middle of the night, while the peg scraping Rossi wannabees cackle on the side of the road. I mean, we're all grown ups here, and personally, I gave up any illusions about life being fair about the same time I gave up wearing pajamas with feet. But my first instinct was that we should all go over there and explain to the officer that we were all going a heck of a lot faster than poor Jimmy, and that he should write one of us uber-squids the ticket instead. Preferably not me, but one of the other guys would have been fine. My second instinct was that four bikers approaching a lone small town officer in the middle of the night, apparently to rescue their comrade, would probably not elicit the desired response. Images of Don Knotts back in his "Andy Griffith" days came flashing through my mind's eye, and I became eminently concerned about adding tragedy to comedy if one of our toes got shot off by a caffeine-injected Wyatt Earp wannabe fresh from his late night carbo-load over at the donut shop. Hence the decision was made to come to Jimmy's aid slowly and one by one. Well, actually, coming to Jimmy's aid consisted mostly of making overly loud comments about how, "It sure would suck if they find the drugs in Jimmy's luggage, man. Remember what those Columbians did to that dude Paco last time they didn't get their money!", offering Jimmy prison survival tips we learned from watching, "The Big House: No Place For Scofflaw Motojournalists", on Discovery Channel, and otherwise turning his embarassment into a well-documented Kodak moment. If I'm ever in trouble, do me a favor, remind me not to come to my own aid!
Crisis concluded, we took Rt. 89 North out of South Lake Tahoe up around the west shore of the lake, through Tahoe City and eventually, mercifully arrived in Squaw Valley, which is on RT. 89 after it leaves the lakeshore in Tahoe City. We reached the hotel at 2:00 AM, and collapsed into the decadence of our respective honeymoon suites, which were so opulent that I was almost surprised that they didn't come equipped with someone to "honeymoon" with. So I got undressed, slid under the covers, and lacking female companionship, did what a man's gotta do when he's all alone and needs to relieve a little tension before he can go to sleep ... flicked on Sportscenter. The Lakers scored Brian Cook and Luke Walton in the NBA draft. Righteous! Fifteen minutes later I was out like a light. Works every time.
I woke up at what felt like a bright and early 11:00 AM and made my way out to the 80th Motorrad event lovingly documented in Technicolor in a previous MO excluse.
With the hard cases up in my hotel room, I gained a true appreciation for how clean the RS looks without its luggage. The Bavarian designers get my vote hands down for the most unobtrusive brackets and stabilizers. It would be hard for the non-enthusiast observer to detect that they are looking at a sport tourer and not a liter class race replica. Friday and Saturday were spent alternating between documenting the rally and exploring the lake shore roads. The 89 paralells the western shore of the lake, winding from twenty yards off the coast, to well up into the cliffs overlooking the lake, and back down again. The 89 offers mild but fun curves with fabulous scenery. Speeds are limited by slow traffic and ticket happy constables though, so don't come here thinking Deal's Gap. The best way to experience the 89 is to take time to pit stop frequently and admire the scenic treasures revealed by every curve. A view of Meeks Bay, a roaring waterfall, the smell of burning sage in a tiny village. I asked several of the locals if they were as awestruck as I was with the beauty all around them, or whether they had become oblivious to it over time. Every last one of them said that they were still blown away, which is nice to hear. It's an absolute outdoorsman's paradise and a nimble sport tourer like the RS was about the perfect bike to explore it with. Since a picture says a thousand words, by my math, I can either just let you guys look at the nifty photos, or regale you with a billion word essay on the flaura, fauna, and topography of Lake Tahoe. Let's put it to a vote. I vote, pictures. Since this is a dictatorship, not a democracy, my vote is the only one that counts. Therefore pictures it is!
Normally, I like to take my time meandering back to base camp from press intros, but I had a prior commitment back in L.A. at 5:00 on Sunday, the be-shackling, errr I mean betrothal of an old college buddy to his lovely warden, errr I mean wife. Damn those Freudian slips! I'm sorry folks, but any man so whipped that his fiancée won't even let him have a bachelor party might just as well find a nice cozy cell on Rikers Island, curl up, and make himself at home. At least you get an hour of freedom on the exercise yard, and the food is probably better. Regardless, witnessing this blessed event meant getting back by 3:00 in time to shower, change, practice fake smiles in the mirror, and still make it to the church on time.
According to the Tahoe locals, the consensus was that sane people took ten hours to reach L.A. and insane people equipped with fast bikes could probably do it in eight. Figuring that the RS was plenty fast, and my lack of sanity has rarely been questioned, yours truly left the hotel at 7:00 AM figuring that oughta get me into L.A. by 3:00. No time for scenery on this leg of the trip. I just flicked on the heated grips (a truly divine invention), hopped on the 80 over to Sacramento where it connects to the 5, and set cruise control for warp factor 9, Sulu.
"Scotty, I need more power!"
"But Captain, I'm giving ya' all she's got! She'll break apart if I push her any harder!"
"Scotty, according to you, the engine's always gonna break apart any minute. You're supposed to be the frickin' engineer, what the hell are we paying you for anyway? Bones, get your cranky ass down there and wave that little thingamagig over the engine and get me more power, I need to be in L.A. in eight hours."
"Dammit Ebass! I'm a doctor not a crew chief!"
Whoa, man, if I had known I'd still be having these damn Star Trek flashbacks years later, I never woulda eaten those magic mushrooms at Rodman's party down in Newport. Well, anyway, I guess they're still better than the "Evans Brasfield in drag" flashbacks I get from time to time. Yeeeesh! So where was I? Oh yeah, grinding my way back to L.A.
I won't bore you with how borediculously boring the 80 and 5 freeways are. Suffice it to say, if time is no object, take the scenic route, any scenic route. For me, time was very much an object though, and at 2:00, a scant 7 hours later, I had arrived at my beachside bodega, and set by all accounts a new land speed record for Tahoe to LaLa. It's amazing how fast you can get someplace unencumbered by a carload of wife and kids and their selfish and unreasonable needs for food, water and waste evacuation. Just give me a fast bike, a full belly, and my trusty sneaky leaker and uh, you might not wanna tailgate me, amigo!
I have to say in conclusion, that the K1200RS made for a terrific travel companion, whether on droning freeways or country curves. If I were forced to nitpick, I suppose I could say something negative about the handle bar vibration, but I would be picking at a very small nit. Otherwise, the bike was a dream, and scored high marks in all departments. Don't buy a sport tourer without checking one out.