2005 BMW R 1200ST and R 1200RT
"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.
"To be sure I wasn't mistaken, I repeated the wheelie several more times ..."
After starting my R 1200 ST, it became apparent that it still has that funky rough boxer-twin idle with the occasional hiccup or hesitation when cold. However, it took all of two blocks for me to notice some drastic behavioral changes compared to the old bike. I figured I'd start the day's ride with a little wheelie, but I actually achieved a near-vertical mono-salute for BMW's engineers. It would seem that this bike wheelies with significantly less throttle and clutch than the old RS. I was suitably impressed and evidently, the rider behind me was suitably frightened, since he maintained an exaggerated gap for the rest of the "guided" portion of the ride. No kidding, the new bike's throttle response and light weight have completely transformed the R 1200's character.
To be sure I wasn't mistaken, I repeated the wheelie several more times and I think I heard another journo mumble something about "you can take the journalist away from the squids, but you'll never take the squid out of the journalist." 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
2005 BMW R 1200 GS
By Sean Alexander, 05/14/04
Photos by Alfonse Palaima, Sean Alexander and Lee Parks
BMW motorcycles have a loyal following and legions of admirers. However, aside from last year's Rockster, I haven't found a BMW boxer-twin that I truly like. That's what I would have told you a month ago, if you'd asked me what I thought about Beemers with cylinders jutting out of their sides. That was then... Ask me today, and I'm more likely to reply with something like "Man, that new R 1200 GS is a neat bike."
Though I have said less than kind things about them in the past, BMW was gracious enough to invite me to the intro for their new R 1200 GS "Adventure Tourer" and I'm glad they did. Aside from a few niggling development issues, this new GS is ready to compete with the latest adventure touring bikes from Triumph, Aprilia and Suzuki.
More than just an ugly new face and decal project, the new R 1200 GS is significantly lighter, faster and less quirky than the R 1150 GS it replaces.
It steers lightly, shreds twisties, does great wheelies, cruises comfortably, buzzes lightly and generally acts like a modern 85Hp motorcycle should.
Much of the credit for this newfound functionality goes to a thorough redesign of the entire power train, chassis and engine. BMW claims that the R 1200 GS makes 100Hp at the crank. MO dynoed our test unit and it put an honest 85Hp to the ground, so this number is completely believable.