You know what’s funny? Calvin Kim posits, in his 2003 First Ride review of the BMW R1200CL, that people would end up buying this bike. Nevermind the, uh, ugly aesthetics, the R1200 backbone of BMW’s cruiser would be sure to persuade unorthodox cruiser riders that it was the way forward. Well, as history has taught us, there aren’t as many unorthodox cruiser riders as BMW hoped, and the R1200CL is remembered as a flop. Ugliness aside, read on to find out Kim’s overall positive view of the CL. And if you’re looking for a few more pictures, you can check out the photo gallery


First Ride: 2003 BMW R1200CL

Luxury Cruising, or Cruising Luxuriously

By Calvin Kim Apr. 20, 2003
Photos by MO and BMW NA

Biltmore Estate, North Carolina, September 3, 2002

When BMW came out with the R1200C five years ago, a lot of people raised eyebrows. Everybody knew how rough and tumble the cruiser industry was back then. It still is pretty hot if you think about it. Nevertheless, amidst the skepticism the C took off and has proved a success for BMW. In fact, the C has become so successful that BMW has produced four different variations of the beast.

Now, at the new-model intro at the Biltmore Inn in North Carolina the CL makes five.

Trying to capture another segment of the burgeoning cruiser market, BMW has decided to enter into the decidedly slower pace of the “cruising-tourer” or is that “touring-cruiser”? Regardless, what we have here is essentially a heavily modified C cruiser outfitted with BMWs best touring goodies. Integral ABS, lockable saddlebags and removable top-case, cruise control and, of course, those famous heated grips all come standard on the CL model. Upgrade to the CLC (Custom) model, and you get heated seats for two and a radio replete with a CD player. Unfortunately the only thing that’s not included is a more powerful engine.

Now, don’t get us wrong. For 99% of the targeted riders out there, this thing will be great. To be honest, there is enough torque and power to get things moving along at a proper clip. It’s just that you have to find it. Unlike a GS or an R, don’t think of looking for the power down low. It’s higher up in the rev range, where a normal cruiser rider wouldn’t think to look for it. The climb out from stop to past first-gear is a doozy. Clutch slipping is the only way to do it, and first gear is the only way to climb out of tight, off camber switchbacks. And even then it’s dicey. The motor, a stock R1200C powerplant, really comes into its own above 3~4k revolutions per minute and hangs onto what little bits of dignity it has all the way up to redline.

Caspian Blue in front of Biltmore Estate. Ahhh. Must be nice to be the son of an industrial mag-nate.

Thankfully, BMW did their homework in picking out a route that would highlight the CL’s high points, one of which is the controversial front fairing. With its scalloped top edge and unconventional headlight treatment, the CL is sure to turn heads. And heads it turned- but thankfully none of it was due to wind buffeting. That’s because the cutout was designed to offer maximum wind protection while not sacrificing any visibility. You really didn’t notice it till you’re cranked over and looking right through the cutout onto the road ahead, and not straight on the edge of the shield.

The headlights are another controversial aspect of the machine. While the outer two, low beam units are descendants of those found on the R80GS, the two centrally tandem mounted, smaller, high beam units are the same as those found on the R1150. Why they chose this setup, we may never know. But we do know why the rest of the fairing looks the way it does. Wind tunnel testing contributed heavily to the final design of the fairing. There are numerous soft edges and lines that are all there to help keep the front end stabilized during cruise speed. Even things such as water run-off patterns were studied to ensure that the rider would remain as dry as possible during rain storms, which is impossible, but we give them points for trying.

Surprisingly enough, the CL had gobs of ground clearance. Well, gobs for a floor board equipped cruiser anyway.

Aside from the appearance, the rest remains typical BMW. However, don’t think this is simply a well-equipped R1200C. Essentially, aside from the motor, everything has been replaced. Minor touches like a lengthened swingarm and relaxed fork angles and been incorporated. More blatant updates include the addition of a six-speed, overdrive transmission as well as a wider front tire. Interestingly enough, the wheelbase is actually eight millimeters shorter than on a C.

So what’s it like to ride? In a word, different. If you’ve ever ridden a large bike with a fork mounted fairing, you’ll know what I mean. Slow speeds are a bit hard to negotiate, but still doable. My only real complaint with the handling is in the front-end feel during medium and slow speed riding. There was no front-end feel to speak of, and for me, that was a bit disconcerting. Going into tight switchbacks felt like riding on ice. It didn’t help that the road surface was wet and gravel-strewn from a previous night’s storm. Regardless, as the day wore on, the senses got used to the feeling and the muscles started to adapt. In fact, it was downright pleasurable to operate at slightly higher speeds. It seems as if more loading on the front-end helps bring back the feeling.

The CLs dash layout is very clean and comprehensive.

Amongst all the glitz and glamour of a press-intro and the flitter of journo-speak, it gets difficult to remember who this bike was marketed for (you know who you are, mister 46 year old with $100,600 average income) and why it was even brought to fruition. Fact of the matter is that everything worked the way it was supposed to, including the revised power-assist brake system. It seems as if people were complaining about the abruptness of the first generation system, particularly when the foot pedal was applied. So, BMW fixed it, and now we’re left with a much more gradual power brake feel. In fact, brakes where fantastic overall. Quick stops using either lever or pedal can be achieved, and makes a maximum braking procedure, a procedure that was once shuddered to think about, a truly user friendly affair.

Touches, like floorboard and control mounting positions were all well thought out. The brake pedal is located just in front of the right floorboard. Although it looks awkward at first, the pedal is in the perfect location. From the floorboard simply slide your foot forward and press. It’s a similar process for the heel-toe shifter. While the controls functioned as designed, ergonomics proved to be a mixed bag. The seat to floorboard relationship was great. However, the handlebar reach seemed a bit excessive, putting the rider’s arms wide. In fact, the seat is actually 0.2 inches taller than a stock R1200C but maintains its “flat-foot” factor by creative use of seat design.

Unfortunately I didn’t really get to field test the bags or the lighting system as our ride only lasted a single day. But, in the little time I had, I found the bags to be typical of all the other BMW systems; well designed and fabricated. While the top case is removable, the side bags are designed to stay put.

CD or, Compact Disc, technology will revolutionize the way… what? This compact disc technology is already available? Goodness gracious, I must inform my dear friend T. Alva Edison.

Now, the main question remains is are people going to buy the CL? I think they will. And why not? The bike is built like a rock, and once you get used to the vague feeling front end, handles just fine. The BMW name, quality and attention to detail will be more than enough for the selling point. Luxury accouterments just add to its value. Sure its a little down on power, but when you’re just cruising the interstate, or rambling down a rural road this rig is perfect.

Specifications

Engine- Type: Air/oil cooled twin cylinder Bore x stroke: 101 x 73 mm
Displacement: 1170 cc
Horsepower: 61 bhp @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 72 lb.-ft. @ 3000 rpm
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Valves per cylinder: 4
Fuel: FI and electronic controlled by Bosch Motronic MA 2.4 w/ automatic choke control
Fuel capacity: 4.5 US gallons / 20.5 L
Charging system: 800 W
Drivetrain- Clutch: 165mm (6.5 in) dry, single plate
Drive system: shaft drive
Final drive: spiral bevel gears, 2.62:1 ratio
Frame and Suspension- Frame: Cast aluminum front-frame section, stressed engine
Front suspension: Telelever w/ coil spring, gas shock
Front travel: 5.67in/114mm
Rear suspension: Monolever, gas shock w/ preload adj.
Rear travel: 4.72in/120mm
Brakes- Brake system: BMW ABS-II
Front brakes: dual 12in/305mm rotors, 4 piston calipers
Rear brakes: Single 11.22in/285mm rotor, 2 piston caliper
Wheels and tires- Front: 3.5×16 in cast aluminum wheel, 150/80 16 tubeless
Rear: 4.0×15 in cast aluminum wheel, 170/80 15 tubeless
Dimensions- Length: 95.1in/2415mm Width: 42.3in/1075mm
Wheelbase: 64.61in/1641mm
Ground clearance: 6.25in/159mm
Seat height: 29.3in/745mm
Handlebar width: 33.6in/853mm
Steering angle: 56.5°
Weight: 679lbs/308kgs wet/648lbs/294kgs dry
Max weight: 1169lbs/530kg GVWR
Colors- Pearl Silver Metallic Mojave Brown Metallic Capri Blue Metallic
MSRP: $15990
Standard Equipment- Polished and chrome plated stainless-steel exhaust Electronically controlled 3-way catalytic converter Locking body-colored top and side cases; removable top case Four-lamp headlight system integrated into front fairing Heel-toe shifter and floorboards Hazard flashers Two power accs sockets Heated grips Cruise control Chrome package Radio prep Differences for CLC-
MSRP: $16490
Standard Equipment- Radio/CD player Soft touch seat Heated seat Available in dealers, November 2002

  • DickRuble

    And yet BMW doubles down with a POS bagger design (from their CA bozo fart works group, most likely).

    • JMDGT

      It does have the six. That might pull in some bagger guys. I’d rather have the regular K1600GT.

      • DickRuble

        Me too. However, if (big if) the bagger gets any customers it will be from the pool of potential K1600GT buyers, not from the much larger pool of Sons of Anarchy wannabes.

  • JMDGT

    In the stripped down version it is a beautiful bike. The new Kbagger, not so much. I’m not a fan of the bagger type bikes.

  • SRMark

    Uglier than a Suzuki Madura.

  • azicat

    I owned an R1200C for about a year. It was one of the least reliable motorcycles in my history of motorcycle ownership – random roadside stranding from a faulty Hall effect ignition sensor, flaking bubbling chrome, leaking clutch and brake master cylinders, and indicator stalks falling off. It also ran out of puff fairly quickly on the highway (I think it was rated at 55-60hp max, unlike the conventional R1150 models of the time).

    • DickRuble

      Thanks for the info! I remember the bike in 1996 or 1997 and it was looked at as some sort of power cruiser with a great design (at that time). Many people’s dream cruiser. I had no idea it was such a bad bike.

      • azicat

        Yes the first generation chromeheads had lots of problems that were eventually rectified by the early 2000s, but the competition had advanced significantly in those subsequent years. Interesting stuff like the Yamaha Star and Kawasaki Mean Streak delivered the goods for non-Harley cruiser shoppers for a much lower price than the BMW, and there was this little bike called a Triumph Bonneville that pretty much stole the remaining customers.

      • SRMark
        • DickRuble

          Ok..most of us weren’t born back when bikes had drum brakes upfront.. and that may be a Harley but it doesn’t look like one.. ask any Harley guy.. It does look good though..