The new R 1200 ST replaces BMW's R 1150 RS model and is aimed squarely at Honda's Interceptor (VFR), with additional targets being the Ducati ST-4S, Triumph Sprint ST and even Kawasaki's ZZR-1200, according to their chief designer. As you probably know, those are some lofty targets. To facilitate this newfound ambition, BMW has redesigned the old R 1150 RS so extensively that they claim it is "100% New". For contrast, BMW says the new R 1200 ST is 12% lighter, has 14% more horsepower and 17% more torque than the R 1150 RS. This works out to a *claimed* 110Hp & 85LbFt at the crank, coupled with a dry weight of 452Lbs. I may have been a bit skeptical during the presentation, but I was positively astounded to find that it actually felt more like a 50% power and weight improvement once I was on the road. Bravo!
*UPDATE* We just received an R 1200RT for further testing, and the first thing we did was strap it to our Dynojet. It appears that BMW was spot-on in their estimates; our new R 1200 RT just cranked out an honest 102.95Hp @ 7,300rpm and 80.95LbFt @ 6,250rpm at the tire. These are some mighty impressive numbers for an air/oil cooled boxer-twin, and since the ST shares the same motor tuning with the RT, these numbers should apply to both models.
That new found power is generated by an 1,170cc air/oil cooled boxer-twin similar to the unit in the new R 1200 GS, but tuned for more high-rpm power and equipped with a second oxygen sensor to provide better fuel mapping. Not surprisingly, the result is quite similar to the GS' motor, but with a bit more willingness to rev and a power delivery optimized for effective thrust in medium to high speed corners.
Chassis wise, BMW borrowed heavily from the new R 1200 GS, with the funky-techno-beautiful hollow hub + swingarm + shaft-drive combo dominating the bike's rear. Even though traditional round-tube semi-trellis subframes support the tailsection and upper steering pivot, they are mostly obscured by the bike's bodywork. Speaking of bodywork, I fear "nose" and "rhinoplasty" jokes will dominate any discussions about the ST's new fairing. I must admit, it is a bit awkward looking. Though it's unlikely to win prettiest bike at the ball honors, I think the ST looks best in the Dark Graphite / Piedmont Red combo, but you can use BMW's interactive R 1200 ST color guide to judge for yourself. Side and rear 3/4 views seem to be the most flattering. Aesthetics aside, the new R 1200 ST features adjustable clip-ons that move through a 25mm vertical range, allowing the rider to tailor them from a full-race low position to a top-clamp level high position. In addition, the rider's seat adjusts to three different heights and there is an optional extra-low saddle for those short of inseam. Further adjustments can be had by taking an allen wrench to the funky new windscreen, giving a manual adjustment range from (according to BMW) "race to touring". The $14,990 R 1200 ST includes typical BMW standard amenities like a 12V auxiliary power outlet near the rider's seat, a center stand, hazard flashers and a tool kit, plus a new set of cleanly-integrated side case mounts, though the bags themselves are a dealer-installed extra-cost accessory. The standard toolkit has been reduced from BMW's usually stellar kit, to something closer to what you'd expect to find on a Japanese motorcycle, they did this due to packaging limitations and to save weight. However, the more comprehensive BMW toolkit is still available as an extra-cost option. Speaking of options, my test bike was equipped with BMW's outstanding heated grips ($200) and their not-so-great partially-linked ABS ($995). Enough with the details, it's time to ride.
Unfortunately, it didn't take long to find out that the engine gets a little buzzy as it approaches its 8,000RPM redline. What's worse is that it slams into an abrupt rev-limiter as soon as the needle touches red. I wouldn't know this personally (oh no, not me), but I hear that if you happen to be doing a wheelie when this occurs, the front end slams back to earth with enough force to knock the wind out of you. Fortunately, most people don't buy BMWs just to do wheelies. Overall, this engine works wonderfully in the midrange with good thrust and a pleasant sound, as you scythe from apex to apex. On the open road, I found the gearing to be ideally suited for sustained high speed cruising, with a pleasant thrum letting the rider know they are astride a twin. Personally, I think that two or six cylinders are the only way to go for sustained highway cruising, since their harmonic vibrations fall into a more pleasant frequency range than that of most fours.
As the ride made its way out of Palm Springs and up into the mountains, I passed the guide and set off at my own elevated pace. My next startling revelation came about three turns into the mountains, as the bike happily leaned farther and farther over, until it was doing a passable middleweight supersport imitation. I immediately appreciated the new bike's light steering and excellent mass centralization, as it rolled effortlessly back and forth through the string of esses and hairpins climbing away from the desert floor. I found the ST's willingness to change direction a bit surprising, and though it has narrower "clip-on" style bars, I think its combination of sportbike tires and shorter suspension will probably allow it to outmaneuver the "handlebar" equipped R 1200 GS when the pavement is smooth. Another boon to handling is the fact that even though the bike is equipped with a center stand and two large oil-cooled magnesium crash protectors jutting out each side of its fairing, ground clearance will probably never be an issue on public roads. Sure, you could remove the center stand and scrape the cylinder heads if you really tried, but what's the point? Stock, the R 1200 ST will lean farther than 99.9% of its intended audience is likely to attempt.
After 25 miles of twisties, the highway straightened-out as it meandered through rolling farmland. This allowed for some extended steady-state cruising and enabled me to concentrate on comfort issues. For long distance riding and commuter use, the R 1200 ST's adjustable clip-ons are still too low, even when adjusted to their highest position. This can cause mild discomfort in traffic and other low-speed situations. The peg placement, seat quality and airflow management are well executed and with a 1" higher rise on the clip-ons this bike could challenge the established Sport Tourers for highway comfort. Overall, I'd say the ST isn't bad, but I think it's not quite as comfortable as a VFR; however, it's significantly better than most cruisers or race replica supersports for long distance work.
I arrived at our mid-morning pit stop about ten minutes before the rest of the group and took the opportunity to ask the event coordinators to shoot a few photos while I took a spin around the empty parking lot and weaved through the cones that BMW had set-up to denote our parking area. I was pleasantly surprised by the ST's ability to make tight turns at a slow walking pace and I found its overall parking lot behavior to be superior to other clip-on equipped bikes.
After the break, I took off for the tight/twisty side of Palomar Mountain. Palomar is one of those places where sportbike riders tend to congregate and plastic shards tend to fill the roadside ditches. Thanks to its tight nature, Palomar is ideally suited to dual-purpose bikes on street rubber or stubby streetfighters like the Buell XB series. Of course, you work with what god gives you and in this case, it was a BMW R 1200 ST. Funny enough, once I got to the top, I found myself relaxed and fresh, even though I had just dragged a big BMW along at a pace that would embarrass most pure sportbikes. My appreciation grows... I finished the day with another 150 miles of travel and arrived at my destination with tired wrists, but otherwise ready to do it all over again.
By now, you're probably thinking the ST sounds like the perfect bike for a mature rider who wants reasonable comfort coupled with decent high performance capabilities. However, all bikes have their issues and the new ST is no exception. My biggest complaint is that the optional partially linked ABS brakes seem to have a lower release threshold than is ideal for "sporting" use. I caught them feathering the line pressure on dry pavement, when I wanted total control of the brakes. Safety is great, but the power assisted linked-ABS nanny offers mediocre feel at best and can be dangerous when it intervenes as you are deliberately trying to trail-brake onto a tighter line. I learned this with startling suddenness, when I was caught by surprise by a much tighter than expected decreasing-radius corner. I was probably going a bit fast for the corner to begin with, but as I increased pressure on the front brake to help tighten my line, the ABS kicked in and the resulting release and pulsing of the brakes caused the bike to understeer at the worst possible moment. This caused me to do something that I hate... I crossed the double yellow into the oncoming lane. Luckily for me, there was no oncoming traffic and the only harm done (this time) was the embarrassment of having the bike go somewhere that I didn't deliberately choose. I know that if the ST had "normal" brakes, I would have tightened my line as intended and continued on my merry way without encroaching on the oncoming lane. I think partially-linked ABS is "ok" on larger touring bikes and cruisers, but I find it ill-suited in a sporting application. However, I also know that if there had been mud, gravel or ice around the next corner, I would gladly trade the response of non-linked non-ABS brakes for the BMW's electronic nannies and to be fair, the EVO ABS does offer good overall braking power. Too bad we can't (yet) have our cake and eat it too.
Aside from its frustrating optional ABS and clip-ons that could use another inch of height, the new BMW R 1200 ST is one stellar machine. Its engine power, chassis composure and weight loss have transformed it into a worthy contender for top sport touring honors. Sure, I may be getting older, but my newfound respect is due more to BMW's outstanding dynamic improvements, than the expanding and softening of my gluteus maximus.
2005 BMW R 1200 ST - MSRP $14,990