2005 BMW K 1200 S

The '05 K1200S: Revolutionary!

story by Yossef Schvetz, Created Sep. 11, 2004
BMW might be regarded as a relatively conservative company but every ten to twenty years, they embark on mold breaking revolutions, while making Max Fritz -The inventor of the BMW "Boxer" engine back in 1923-, turn in his grave. In 1983, the K series shocked the Boxer brigade with its inline-four "flying brick" mill. Ten years ago, the F650 became the first ever non-shaft drive BMW motorcycle. Sure enough, it's 2004 and BMW is at it again.

The K1200S can be regarded as the most revolutionary BMW since the first Boxer shook the world at the 1923 Paris motorcycle show. Just in case you haven't noticed, it's got an across the frame in-line four engine fixed to a radical architecture frame that's mated to a truly alternative front en d. Before you accuse BMW of plagiarism (it's hard not to spot the R1 like engine layout), remember that BMW does know how to do their own thing, especially when it comes to four-stroke engine design. The 1,156cc mill is crammed with F-1 technology and other innovations. They way BMW sees it, the K1200S is a Supersport tool and big horsepower was a top priority. According to Markus Braunsperg, the project's leader, no "flat" engine

The rear half of the K1200S is light, airy and very technical looking, while the design language of the seat / rear light is almost organic.
configuration could have supplied the target power, because of the limited downdraft angle possible. The forward cant of an across the frame four supplies the required intake airflow performance, while providing a very low center of gravity, a sacred cow at BMW since day one. To achieve the desired low CG,          the engine is canted at 55° from vertical, something that also allows the twin spar frame tubes to hover above the engine. A twin spar frame in a BMW? Yes, and as per current Honda CBR approach, those rather thin spars rely on the engine to finish and stiffen the "cage".

At the front of those frame spars, there's a new front suspension system. It's based on an early 80's invention patented by Norman Hossack. Being a Formula 1 technician at the time, this bright Briton had the swell idea of turning the twin A-arm suspension of a single seat racecar around by 90 degrees, with these arms holding what looks like an upright rear swingarm. Two automotive type bearings allow the front fork to move up-and down, as well as to twist for steering. The unique geometry of the "Duolever" suspension allows the frame to be much lower (lowering the CG) and reduce the stress that is fed into the spars. The handlebars are mounted on a separate axis, with steering inputs fed into the fork via a scissors type linkage. Being separated, the handlebar's rotational axis can be made much steeper than the fork's rake. In theory, this should supply a sort of "power steering" effect. A single WP shock handles bump absorption duties and the front and rear shocks are completely electronically controlled.   The ESA system Two automotive type bearings allow the front fork to move up-and down, as well as to twist for steering allows switching between three basic set-ups, preload and damping settings can be changed too. The rear suspension/swingarm is pretty much a mirror image of the new hollow spindle unit found on the R1200GS.

 The new engine configuration might look familiar but have a closer look at the engine details and you'll see that BMW started with a blank page. The dry sump and special mixed chain&gear cam drive allowed the engineers to create an extremely narrow bottom end. When coupled with the dry sump, this lets the engine sit quite low without ground clearance problems. The dry sump also reduces internal power losses. By using short rockers to activate the valves, cylinder head dimensions have been reduced and indeed, it looks more like a 600, rather than 1200cc head. If you need further proof of how far BMW engineers were willing to go with the racy design parameters and advanced technology, you only need to look at the 21° included angle between valves. The 13:1 compression ratio in a big,          79 mm bore is possible only by using a smart, detonation-sensing engine management system. Then there's that 1.33:1 bore/stroke ratio. And to think that the K series was actually undersquare...

The unique geometry of the "Duolever" front suspension allows the frame spars to be much lower
To achieve the desired low CG, the engine is canted at 55° from vertical
Visually speaking, the K1200S is an extremely long and low platform
BMW's designers deserve a pat on the back for some amazing details. The whole rear drive/swingarm conveys a muscular-technical feel
My mental love-hate switch starts hinting that a major shift is in the air upon pressing the start button
At the end of the day, it isn't hard to see where five years(!) of development went. BMW wasn't afraid to tread new ground while defining their view of a "Supersport" tool for the new millennium. You can only imagine how much work must have gone into developing the back shed developed Hossack front end into a mass produced solution. Same for that dry sump engine. Yes, BMW might have that staid and sedate image but when they do decide to re-invent themselves, they do so wholeheartedly. May I take my hat off?

Writing a road test of this new Beemer is one hell of a chore. I have so many good things to say about it, where shall I start?  From its truly alternative front suspension that works so well? Or, perhaps I should start with that wonderful engine that keeps proper German manners, while trusting atomically hard at 8,000RPM? On the other hand, maybe from the fine ergos that left me fresh after a 300-mile day of sport riding? How about from the laser like tracking at 130mph on autobahn sweepers? A hard task indeed. The most revolutionary BMW since 1923 isn't perfect, but flies in the ointment were rather minor, pre-production issues.

My early impressions were not so good though. When we were shown Bavaria's newborn in the flesh, I wasn't blown away by our first close encounter. The classy launch event was held on the top floor of a tall glass tower in downtown Munich. Several naked K1200S' stood there to be examined, all of their secrets exposed. Yeah, it's crammed full of innovative tech. However, the visual-technical impact didn't even come close to the shock I felt upon laying my eyes on the cut-away R1 at the Milan show. The new Beemer has none of the wild and racy component compression of the R1, a bike which shouted performance and left me groggy, all at the same time. Have a look at the side view of the naked K1200S bellow, and you'll see.

The K1200S is, visually speaking, an extremely long and low platform, almost lazy looking. Considering its sporty pretensions, the proportions look wrong, even though it was never meant to be a CBR-RR / GSXR / R1/ ZX-10R beating race rep. The K1200S front end/headlight area is awkwardly wide and the whole fairing is a sort of sealed affair.  The rear half of the bike though is light and airy, very technical looking while the design language of the seat / rear light is almost organic. The resulting syntax is plain strange, 'kinda too long in the middle. During dinner, I sat next to David Robb, BMW's American chief of the motorcycle design department and pestered him about the S' looks, but even his educated explanations about the design direction did not manage to change my opinion. All the interesting tech bits are hidden from the eye, while there is something familiar about the end result. Did I hear someone say Super Blackbird? That said, BMW's designers deserve a pat on the back for some amazing details. The whole rear drive/swingarm conveys a muscular-technical feel. The way the rear footpeg supports cross path with the sub-frame tubes is mighty interesting, while the right side of the rear wheel is right up there in MV Agusta's design league. Mr. Robb claims that the design direction chosen was defined as "athletic high-tech" just in case you need a grip on it all.

I was hoping to get a better impression on the day after, in a more normal environment like BMW's parking lot, without the dramatic lighting effects, but no. In its Grey/Yellow color scheme the design somehow works, but the White/Blue scheme looks 1980's daft. Yes, BMW have that thing about producing strange looking devices sometimes, just look at the tail of the latest 7-series cars, or the S-Carver 650. According to Mr. Robb, it's a deliberate choice to differentiate them from the rest of the pack. Healthy sales mean that they certainly aren't wrong. Cutting corners quality wise on some details doesn't help the K1200S' case either. A Beemer's rear brake fluid reservoir fastened to the right footrest by two pop rivets? The black paint on the frame lacks luster and looks cheap, rather than high-tech. General screw and bolt plating looks dull. I wonder how other MO-ridians will rate this design.

To put me in the right mood, a deep purr emanates from the silencer, sexy and raw as the voice of a seasoned German porno star. Nothing to do with the traditionally muted sound of the BMW's we all know. A slight blip of throttle and the revs jump in a jiffy, hinting at big healthy German horsies hiding down there. This is somewhat confusing, is this really a Beemer? Blame sixty years of conditioning by mildly tuned Bavarian engines....

My mental love-hate switch starts hinting that a major shift is in the air upon pressing the start button. A buttery snick slides first gear in, yep, no big engine-speed flywheel on this one, a few loops in the parking lot and if I had been blindfolded, I'd swear there was a normal telescopic suspension at work. Behavior is linear and surefooted; none of the Telelever's strange slow speed manners are present. After a few more miles, I can definitely assert that the K1200S requires zero adaptation time for its original front end. It's extremely user friendly and my mental switch quickly flips to "love". Looks like I am going to have a very fine day on this K. The design-induced skepticism loosens its grip and I can start enjoying function rather than form.  Page2

Time to learn the German translation for "Supersport".

With such high levels of intimacy and trust from the word go, I twist the throttle hard as soon as my front wheel rolls over a few yards of German Autobahn. The K-S leaps forward with attention grabbing force but without drama. Not even a hint of a wheelie or rear tire spin, just forward thrust. It's pure and powerful acceleration, very different from that of the last crop of liter SS tools in its linearity. The K1200S is quite muscular everywhere. With 70% of max torque available at 3,000 rpm, it feels more like being flung from a powerful slingshot, rather than being kicked in the butt all at once. Nothing boring or mild, mind you. Keep the throttle pinned and the pull gets dead serious as the engine hits 8,000RPM, ZX12R/Busa' serious. Now, I'm catching cars that are crawling along at 90 mph way too fast. I chop the throttle some and upon rolling it back open, the way the engine shoots the bike from 90 back to 140 mph in 6th gear is mighty impressive. There is some real grunt at work down there.

While playing these silly throttle games, another thing becomes clear. Till now, I did not have to fight any windblast, tame any front-end nervousness or fold myself over to fit behind the bubble. Slightly canted into the wind, the wide fairing supplies plenty of protection, the tallish handlebars (positioned in "above the triple clamp", compared to a normal front end) diminish wrist strain and all-in-all, it's high-speed nirvana. The heavy traffic on the Autobahn though means that I have to stop my top speed runs around 170mph indicated, with a few hundred rpm's left before the 11K(ish) redline.

On long 80-90 mph sweepers, the K1200S loves crouching at high lean angles, safe and steady while you slowly roll on the throttle towards the exit Our route book says we should pull off the highway, so we head to some secondary roads that roll over the soft hills east of Munich. On these medium-fast bends, without much field of view (bends continuing over the crest of a hill), the K behaves quite nicely indeed. It is happy to trail-brake into turns in a high gear, lay down on a last second handlebar input and accelerate-out happily from 4,000 rpm. It's not CBR 1000RR quick in responding to these late steering inputs, but is still lightning-quick, when you consider its long 62" wheelbase. I am not carving at 45° of lean just yet, but the linear way the bike responds allows me to cover these flowing sections quite efficiently. In the mean time, the Duolever thing has won me over with its delightful balance between stability, accuracy and bump absorption. Furthermore, it is extremely fun to watch the exposed scissor-link work overtime over the tiniest of ripples. The progressive suspension in the back is a good match, though the questionable fit between drive shaft and super-sporty riding remains an open issue.

Just before stopping for lunch, I make a mental note of the high comfort level from the soft saddle. There are sport bikes on which you really need to take a break every hour or two and even then, your buttocks are not happy to meet the saddle again. Not here, after each fag stop, the K welcomed me refreshingly with its business class spaciousness. Another point in this age of genital frying under-tail exhaust systems is that engine heat management felt well sorted. The night before, Herr Robb told me about the hot air exits sitting very low in the fairing and indeed, I did not suffer from any heat-induced agony on this rather hot day.

It is also happy to trail-brake into turns in a high gear, lay down on a last second handlebar input and accelerate-out from 4,000 rpm After lunch, it's pose-for-the-cameras time. I've done a fair bit of corner carving for lens men before and it usually takes me a couple minutes to warm up to knee dragging angles. However, with this Beemer, I am dragging my pucks all through the left-right-left section, after my second pass. I know it's not a very scientific criteria, but it shows the speed with which you blend with the K1200S. The Metzler Sportecs felt very linear in their response and confidence inspiring at high lean angles, while the Duolever continued its star showing with good feedback and neutral manners.


I haven't mentioned the brakes yet, have I? There's a good reason for that, because I just hate the latest servo assisted BMW ABS. No feel, see?

Yet there comes a moment, when I should be eating my hat (or helmet) and adding a thank you. Our photo session soon draws a crowd of locals and some cars have created a small bottleneck exactly where we're shooting. Thing is, I don't discover that fact until a fraction of a second before throwing the bike into the first kink. Shite! Turns out, I have two possibilities: 1.) Run into the tail of a Renault Megane, or 2.) ride straight into the cows just in front of me. They do look somewhat softer, but after taking this crucial decision in their favor, I realize that there is some barbed wire separating us. This is a no-brainer. Just mash the brakes and cheers; see you in the emergency room. Seconds later, I'm standing with my front wheel inches form the fence, rubber-side-up, after traveling the last few yards on loose gravel. So, I still have a hard time admitting that a black box is better than I am at braking, but it's on these once-a-year occasions when you bow your head in shame and confess that ABS is not such a bad idea, reduced lever feel and all. (The lever feel is more a function of the servo-assist, than the actual ABS. -Sean)

Until now, the K has been supplying the goods rather nicely, but the itinerary chosen by BMW has gotten on my nerves. We hadn't had any proper stints long enough to really push the thing's limits. I persuade a fellow journo to forget about the road book and off we head into some proper Alpine roads. Another short Autobahn stint and finally we find a fast, furious and long road flowing next to a small river. As we get into the groove, I push the electronic suspension button (ESA) to "sport" mode and things get much firmer and sharper indeed. However, I must say that riding up to now on the "comfort" setting, didn't prevent me from gassing it rather hard and I ended up riding in "Normal" for the rest of the day.

Page3As it happened in front of the cameras, with the K1200S, the more you push it, the more it likes it. On long 80-90 mph sweepers, it loves crouching at high lean angles, safe and steady while you slowly roll on the throttle towards the exit. The engine responds lively in the mid range, there's a feeling of utter control and the Duolever isn't fazed by late braking antics. It dives a bit, giving "telescopic" like feedback, yet overall bike stance is maintained without any nasty weight transfers. My guess is that the low CG is the reason for the relaxed reaction to braking inputs. Yes, it also slows the bike down in fast esses, but the excellent longitudinal stability gives you peace of mind when you really start pushing. One problem did surface when trying hard and it was a slow to shift gearbox. The problem was some clunking accompanying downshifts. Pity, because other than that, gear lever operation was rather slick.

It's time to head back and I can revel in 70 miles of pure Autobahn adrenaline until I get to Munich's airport. The highway that leads from the Alps to Munich has some proper fast sweepers and throwing the K1200S into them at 120+ is pure joy. While passing cars crawling along in the middle lane through fast right-handers, I don't hesitate to place the K on the outside lane while the Armco flies close. The front end really gives you the feeling that you could thread the K into a needle's eye at these speeds.     As the landscape flattens, there are no more sweepers and in the boredom of droning-along, you notice that at certain throttle openings and gears, a rather noticeable vibration is transmitted through the footpegs and seat. This is strange, because the K has a balance shaft and it's intended as a long range BMW. This spoiled the hypersonic cruising experience for me. Another gremlin surfaced, as the traffic starts to clog: Rather erratic low-rpm, low-speed throttle response. At very low, steady crawling speeds, the engine seems to "hunt". It makes you wonder if BMW can really get away with not using a double butterfly system like the big four products use in their intakes. Upon returning the bikes, BMW technicians debriefed us and confessed to be working on the vibration problems (seemingly shaft drive related) and mentioned that the fuel injection maps aren't final.

Talking about low speed issues, one big question remains open after a day in the K1200S' company. Do to a lack of time; we did not have the chance to try the thing on the really twisty mountain passes that are typical of the Alps. Will this excellent package still be as exiting, in slow hairpins and through wild direction changes? We'll have to wait for a more thorough road test in a variety of environments, in order to cast a verdict on this issue.

Even after a day with the K, I wasn't able to fall in love with its looks. So what? The K1200S' blend of supersport and touring capabilities fits my current riding profile so well that I wouldn't hesitate to live with it for a few years. This new concept of "Elegant Hypersport" is not casual. I can foresee typical BMW owners that love ultra-comfy tools but also crave some mad performance making queues in dealerships. On the other hand, I can foresee supersport riders that are a bit fed up with the extreme discomfort of recent bikes being happy to move over to something slightly less focused without giving up on excitement. This is of course an extremely European blend, tailor made for no limits Autobahns, Autostradas and for the fast and flowing roads in Provance or Spain. However, that hasn't deterred many Americans from buying Super Blackbirds and ZX-12Rs, has it?

Watch out Japan!The K1200S brings a philosophical shift to BMW. ÊMunich's very special take on sport bikes, reveals their desire not to entrench themselves in esoteric niches and to compete head on with the Japanese. If my eyes don't deceive me, this mill can also be equipped with chain drive. Considering how well the K1200S version works, the K1200RR should be a real belter..... Watch out Japan.



Engine Type

4-cyl - 4 stroke inline 4


1157 cc

Claimed Horsepower

167 bhp @ 10,250 rpm

Claimed Torque

96 lb-ft @ 8,250 rpm




Dohc, 4 valve

Cooling system


Secondary drive



Aluminum frame

Front suspension

Double longitudinal link (Duolever)

Front travel

4.5 inches

Rear suspension


Rear travel

5.3 inches

Brake system

Partial integral ABS

Front brakes

4-piston 4-cyl fixed caliper

Front discs

2 x 12.6 inches

Rear brakes

2-cyl fist caliper

Rear disc

10.4 inches


Hydraulic, DOT 4 fluid type

Front wheel

3.50 x 17 cast alloy, five, double-spoke

Rear wheel

5.50 x 17 cast alloy, five, double-spoke

Front tire

Metzeler Sportec-M1 120/70 ZR 17

Bridgestone BT 014F 120/70 ZR 17

Rear tire

Metzler Sportec-M1 190/50 ZR 17

Bridgestone BT 014R 190/50 ZR 17

Overall length

7.26 feet

Overall width

33.8 inches


61.9 inches

Ground clearance

4.65 inches

Seat height

32.3 inches/31.1 inches

Steering angle

60.6 degrees

Front wheel trail

4.9 inches

Weight - Dry

515 lbs.

Load Capacity

448 lbs.

Maximum load

992 lbs. GVWR

Fuel tank capacity

5.0 gallons

Theoretical range before refueling (75 mph)

218 miles


Granite gray metallic

Indigo blue metallic

Indigo blue metallic / alpine white

Sun yellow / white aluminum metallic / dark graphit metallic

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