2005 BMW K 1200 S

The '05 K1200S: Revolutionary!


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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.  

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