We’ve seen the emergence of two stellar 600cc race-bred machines from Kawasaki and Honda. And the literbike war was heated up with innovative technical trickery such as the Yamaha R1’s throttle-by-wire and Suzuki’s switchable fuel mapping on its class-leading GSX-R. (Shame on you if you didn't read our 2007 literbike comparison!)
Lost amongst this and other good stuff such as Kawasaki’s nicely updated Z1000, upcoming Concours 14 and two new platforms from BMW (F800 and G650) is another spin-off of Beemer’s K1200 model line.
Continuing their tradition of squeezing as much life as possible out of a single engine and chassis platform, BMW gave us the K1200R Sport in late spring of this year with little fanfare. Let's step into the Wayback Machine for a minute to see where the K1200R Sport gets its roots.
In 2005 a new K bike, the K1200S, set the bike world buzzing with the most powerful engine BMW ever put into a motorcycle.
Later that year came the funky-looking, bare-bones (or as much as a Beemer can be) K1200R. It lacked a fairing of any kind, thereby exposing much of the frame and 1,157cc engine: the heart and soul of the bike. Save for a slightly smaller airbox that cost it roughly four horsepower and a couple of foot pounds of torque, it was chiefly a K1200S. Well, except for the funny headlight that, as Gabe said of it in his review last year, reminded him of Bender from the Matt Groening cartoon, Futurama.
Motorcycle.com has given full reviews on the K1200S and K1200R, and since the Sport is really just an R with a Zorro mask on (in the form of a half-fairing), we won't bore you with a full rundown of all the technicalities. But just to give you either a refresher or a quick briefing on what makes the K1200R Sport the motorcycle it is, we'll touch on the basics.
The engine is a liquid-cooled inline-Four with a bore and stroke of 79mm x 59mm which squeezes the fuel-injected charge with a compression ratio of 13.0:1. That, according to BMW, is good for 163 hp at 10,250 rpm and 94 ft-lbs of torque at 8,250 rpm at the crank. Expect about 140 horses at the rear wheel with 85-or-so ft-lbs of torque. That powerhouse is mounted transversally in a composite aluminum frame without the benefit of rubber; that is to say the powerplant is bolted directly to the frame as a stressed member. Front and rear suspension is a cutting-edge tech combo of a Hossack-style BMW Duolever up front and a BMW EVO Paralever single-sided swingarm shaft drive.
Braking is handled by what has heretofore come to be known as "BMW ABS." If you haven't ridden Beemers from the past few years, just know that they've developed a reputation of stopping, like, now!
Aside from the exposed, beefy engine, the next obvious thing most people note is the size of the bike. "Man, that is one long motorcycle!" people say. The wheelbase is unfashionably long at 62.2 inches, and the overall length (drum roll, please!) is a whopping 87.7 inches. Claimed dry weight is 474 lbs.
I hadn't been on one of these cruise missiles in some time, but it was only a matter of a day's worth of riding before I was reacquainted with the incredibly-fast-for-a-BMW experience that a current-generation K bike gives. The power the engine develops is enough to out-pony most any naked or standard on the market today. It makes long-distance freeway time a breeze as it will cruise effortlessly at triple-digit speeds.
“Keeping your license is going to be hard work when you can leave a traffic signal and hit 50 mph in about 2 seconds,”
Fonz observes, almost as if he has firsthand experience.
Unfortunately, the motor becomes buzzy starting around 4,500 rpm and comes on fully over 6,000. After a ride that stitched a series of canyons and freeways together, my hands and feet were tingling. Nearly as bothersome as the vibes is an annoying dip in the power that starts around 6,000 rpm and lasts somewhere near to 7,200 rpm. During my ride when I would concentrate on a sharp, decreasing radius bend more than what the tach was doing, the flat spot in acceleration was severe enough to break my thought process. "Oh yeah, there's that flat spot again," I would lament.
After I acquiesced to that motor quirk, I spent the remainder of my eval time on handling and braking. If it isn't obvious by the numbers for the wheelbase, let me make it clear that the Sport isn't a slicer and dicer. What it is, though, is an incredibly stable motorcycle in high-speed sweepers. Even when running up against the redline and into less-than-legal speeds, there was little in the road that could unsettle the chassis. It's as planted in turns as Robert Byrd is in the U.S. Senate. The K12’s steering geometry of 29.4 degrees of rake and 112mm of trail clearly indicate that stability was a greater goal for BMW than flickability.
“In the city the steering is slightly heavy,” Fonz admits, “but it is forgotten after a few miles. On the interstate, the solid and smooth comfort of the hyper-standard really comes out.”
Although the unconventional Hossack-type front end doesn't allow for superbike front-end feedback, I certainly didn't notice the lack of feel that so many others have often spoken of. There was a degree of vagueness over rough sections of pavement where an uneven surface may have caused the front to search for traction, but I never felt uneasy. After all, that's the nature of that suspension system; to isolate much of the harshness of the tarmac from the rider.
Lucky for us, our model had the optional (and by now, well-known) ESA or Electronic Suspension Adjustment system. With the push of a button, the rider can set the springy bits to accommodate for one rider or two, with or without luggage. Beyond that there are three primary modes that provide different front rebound damping, rear preload, rear compression damping and rear rebound damping settings. When you factor in the passenger and luggage choices, the ESA provides nine different set-ups. That should cover just about every scenario you can think of. It costs a hefty $800 but is indispensable if you’ve got the dough.
I implied above that the BMW ABS system is somewhat legendary in its ability to haul the bike to a stop. Unfortunately, it lacks feel and there is a very minute delay from first application of the lever to when the calipers squeeze down. When they do, you'll know it! It seems as if all at once you've applied more than 70% of the available stopping power for just a second or two even though you may not have intended to. Where this is particularly troublesome is in trying to modulate the brakes and throttle while in a series of tight twists. The ABS option ain’t cheap, at $1040, but BMW estimates 85% of the Sports will be ordered with the safety device.
By now you're probably saying to yourself, "We've already heard things like this since we've already read about the other K bikes last year. What does the new half-fairing do for the rider, yo?"
Naturally, the fairing offers way more wind protection than what you would get on the R model. Fonz, who has put more miles on our K than the rest of us, really appreciated the aerodynamic design of the 1200R’s new nose for its huge addition to rider comfort. And it does so with minimal buffeting. It looks pretty good on there too. What else can be said, I guess?
At a base price of $14,450, K1200R Sport is too steep for a humble working man to ever considering owning. Factor in the optional ESA, on-board computer and heated grips that our bike came with, and the bike simply wouldn't be on my radar.
All the more so when I found the engine buzzy, and the brakes and fueling were a little too unrefined. I'd have to become Editor-In-Chief, or something. Not all is lost, though. These K bikes have great ergos and can be ridden very, very fast if you wish. They have unquestionable stability and offer technology you simply won't find on other motorcycles.
“There’s a huge gap in technology between most regular brands and BMW,” notes Fonz. “To name a few, I’d top the list with stellar heated grips and seats, aerodynamic and ergonomic designs, and the strong brand identity, saturation and owner loyalty the Harley people already understand completely. The K12 is well balanced, fast, smooth and steady.”
Last year Gabe made an analogy of the K1200R being like a gorilla in a tuxedo. This year the gorilla got a top hat of sorts. As for me, well, I'll wait 'till the gorilla goes through etiquette school.