Last but not least in BMW’s new line of liquid-cooled Boxers (and not even quite last since the RS variant will be here next year), is the lovely new thoroughly redesigned R1200R you see here. Where the GS and GS Adventure want you to dig out your Boy Scout neckerchief and head off into the boonies, and the RT wants you to abandon your life and make them all three-day weekends, the basic R is the bike for all reasons: This one’s designed to be great everyday urban transport but comfortable and capable enough for long distances with a passenger and luggage as well, and a reasonable dirt road wouldn’t be a problem either. It’s your basic Roadster, the most direct descendant of the first Boxer BMW built nigh-on 100 years ago.

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Its mostly new tubular steel frame was left exposed in many areas to show off the purity of design BMW says this market segment wants. It’s definitely different, due to the fact that this is the first naked Boxer that slurps its fuel and air from the top of the cylinder head instead of from behind it, and having the intake tracts so prominently on display is a little incongruous at first. With no plastic to hide behind, it was also a difficult motorcycle in which to package all the things we’ve come to expect, and there’s plenty of them here.

BMW had already been building Boxers for 13 years before it introduced the 1936 R5, with a 494cc Twin that could propel it to 86 mph.

BMW had already been building Boxers for 13 years before it introduced the 1936 R5, with a 494cc Twin that could propel it to 86 mph.

You can start with dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment just like on the other water-Boxers. As usual, the base, non-ESA model was even hard to find at BMW’s press launch, but you’ll recognize it by its silver-colored fork tubes if you ever happen to spot one in the wild.

Know the non-ESA R1200R by its silver-colored fork legs and rear-shock preload knob. Supermodel probably not included.

Know the non-ESA R1200R by its silver-colored fork legs and rear-shock preload knob. Supermodel probably not included.

The ESA on the R works just like on the other Boxers: Using the handlebar buttons and the thumbwheel on the left grip lets you choose and fine-tune suspension settings. If you’re worried about the long-term reliability, maybe you shouldn’t be. According to BMW’s suspension engineer Martin Hartinger, who was along for the ride, the only things that could go wrong really are two electric needle-and-seat valves in the left fork tube, which handles all the front damping, and another one in the shock. Expensive cars have been using similar valves for years and they’re highly reliable.

The base bike also gets ABS, Automatic Stability Control, and two standard power delivery modes, Rain and Road (Rain gives the full 125-horsepower, but more gradually). From there, the buyer can opt for a “Pro” riding mode that also provides “Dynamic” and fully customizable “User” modes. That might be overkill on a roadster, really, but you want it anyway because with Pro comes the latest BMW Dynamic Traction Control (they’re very fond of the word “dynamic”), complete with a bank-angle sensor like all the cool bikes have now, including the S1000RR superbike. When you’re leaned all the way over on the edge of the tire, the computer’s going to step in to limit tire spin almost immediately. The more upright the bike becomes, the more it’s allowed to spin the tire and the more heroic you feel (and the more intact you’ll remain, hopefully).

Edgar Heinrich, VP BMW Motorrad Design, says the Roadster was a tough one because it needs to look as minimalist as possible, but needs all the same things as the plastic-shrouded RT: “You should be able to ride 3,000 kilometers from here to Munich and enjoy it. Because of its heritage, it needs to hit people emotionally as well. Emotionality is why people want roadsters now.”

Edgar Heinrich, VP BMW Motorrad Design, says the Roadster was a tough one because it needs to look as minimalist as possible, but needs all the same things as the plastic-shrouded RT: “You should be able to ride 3,000 kilometers from here to Munich and enjoy it. Because of its heritage, it needs to hit people emotionally as well. Emotionality is why people want roadsters now.”

Bring on the Rain

It seems like every time I go to Spain to ride motorcycles because it’s always sunny and dry there, it rains. This rain was mostly intermittent mist, just enough to keep the roads wet, and was at least a perfect opportunity to play with the electronics.

“Style 2” is this black/gray version, without the lower fairing deals or flyscreen of the white/red-framed Style 1. The base model is Cordoba Blue. None were on hand … Full props to Dainese Gore-Tex gear, Sidi boots and Metzeler Roadtec Z8 rubber.

“Style 2” is this black/gray version, without the lower fairing deals or flyscreen of the white/red-framed Style 1. The base model is Cordoba Blue. None were on hand … Full props to Dainese Gore-Tex gear, Sidi boots and Metzeler Roadtec Z8 rubber.

BMW rates this 1170cc Boxer at 125 horsepower (same as the R1200RT that put out 110 hp at the rear wheel and 80 ft-lbs of torque in last month’s’ Sport-Touring Final Smackdown). If that’s not quite KTM Super Duke R territory (156 rear-wheel hp / 96.5 lb-ft), it feels closer than the numbers indicate, partly because the BMW’s torque peak is so low in the powerband, at around 5400 rpm on our RT – the torque really is the thing with the Boxer. Max horsepower arrives at 7750 rpm in this bike, according to BMW, who also say the R’s new airbox and exhaust let it produce a shade more low-rev power than the RT and GS. Bereft of sound system and baggage and fairing, it also weighs 509 pounds to the RT’s 604 (our scales had the RT at 617), the GS’s 525, and the Super Duke’s 469 pounds.

Specs-wise, then, the R’s not quite our MOBOTY KTM Super Duke R, but it’s close enough on a damp, twisting Spanish backroad and nearly everywhere else, too, especially since it has the same sort of confidence-boosting upright ergonomics and aluminum handlebar. At first, you tiptoe in to the corner carefully, and give a tentative exit twist of the throttle in Rain mode. By the first coffee stop, you’re still tiptoeing in, but giving the digital throttle cable big healthy tugs in Dynamic at the exits, to which the Boxer responds with really serious acceleration and an inspiring boomy exhaust note that’s now more barky than flatulent; now it sounds almost as nice as a 90-degree Twin, and a pack of Rs running together sounds like the Luftwaffe’s back in town.

It’s always good to have a spare.

It’s always good to have a spare.

With such good traction control, you sort of wonder why they bother with a Rain mode, though it does tame the throttle response noticeably. Spanish backroads are amazingly grippy and smooth even when wet, the bike’s Metzeler Z8s are likewise impressive, and you have to twist the throttle surprisingly hard to see the TC lights on the dashboard flicker. When it happens, it’s really smooth and unobtrusive. And when you look up it’s time to try the ABS, because all that torque has you at the next corner really quick. The Shift Assist – actually, this bike gets the Shift Assistant Pro – is really nice in the rain, too. When you’ve already got enough to think about modulating the brakes and wondering what’s better – Armco or thousand-foot cliff? – all you need to do is toe the shifter down (with the throttle closed) for a perfect smooth double-clutch auto-blip downshift. It’s part of the Pro ride mode option, also.

A 45mm fully adjustable fork much like the one on the S1000R takes up where the Telelever was hacked off, with damping in the left tube only.

A 45mm fully adjustable fork much like the one on the S1000R takes up where the Telelever was hacked off, with damping in the left tube only.

Another big difference is the use of a 45mm inverted fork instead of the usual Telelever front end. BMW says it’s for packaging and aesthetic reasons, but also “for optimum riding precision, as well as clear feedback from the front wheel.” Some riders have always complained the Telelever feels a bit numb at full lean, which never was much of an issue for most of us riding it on the street. Putting on a fork similar to the one it uses on the S1000RR (and unlike the one on the R Nine T) sends a message that the new 1200R is also meant to be a very capable sportbike.

In Rain, Road or Dynamic, the bike always felt well balanced with my 160 pounds on board. We did hit a few stretches of curves that were mostly dry, but never dry enough to really take up the cudgels. Though it’s got a lot of trail – 4.95 inches via 27.7-degrees rake – it seems like the R could be made to turn in really quickly. Ridden in the wet, though, it was nice and stable, and all the modern electronic aids swaddle you in a safety blanket you’re as thankful for as the warm, dry Dainese Gore-Tex-lined suit I got an excuse to wear. Naturally, the new bike comes with two-stage heated grips with their own dedicated control button … ahhh.

It’s a good place to sit, and in town I know from experience these bikes have no equal when it comes to repelling flank attacks from cars.

It’s a good place to sit, and in town I know from experience these bikes have no equal when it comes to repelling flank attacks from cars.

Comfort-wise, it’s sort of a sit-down-in bike with a high tank like the Super Duke R; the tank’s a good shape for gripping with your thighs, and also acts like a torso fairing. For me, the grips and footpegs are in excellent places, with different seats available from 760 to 840mm (29.9 to 33 inches). Of course, hard bags and a top case are options. How about I just list all the optional BMW parts at the end, since there is a shedload?

An analog speedo is accompanied by a TFT display packed with information from the onboard computer that you can reduce to not so much in “Tourist” mode. The tach’s too small to read, but who needs it with a big grunty Twin? A light sensor automatically adjusts for ambient light, and day and night designs.

An analog speedo is accompanied by a TFT display packed with information from the onboard computer that you can reduce to not so much in “Tourist” mode. The tach’s too small to read, but who needs it with a big grunty Twin? A light sensor automatically adjusts for ambient light, and day and night designs.

Why build a Boxer Roadster anyway, given that BMW already has the lighter, faster four-cylinder S1000R in its lineup, which lost by a red nostril hair to the Super Duke R in our Super Naked comparisons last year? Tradition, that’s why. It’s BMW’s signature architecture, and as such, Boxer-engined bikes still make up more than 50% of BMW sales. BMW’s original “Flying Brick” Four that was supposed to replace the Boxer 30 years ago is cold in the grave. The current inline-Four is a great engine, the 1600 Six is a scalp-tingling engineering marvel, but when it comes to establishing emotional attachment to a motorcycle, there seems to be no substitute, for many people, for a thing with two really big pistons you can trace to nearly the beginning of motorcycling. (Maybe there’s a mammalian connection? Why do we call them “jugs”?)

It’s completely modernized and better than ever, but the new R is still a great old highly civilized beast roaring free through a numbed-out world where people riding an Airbus 380 to Europe would rather shut the windows and watch awful movies full of choreographed car crashes and machine guns with bottomless magazines than see the world pass beneath them. Oh well. More dynamic fun for the rest of us.

+ Highs

  • Outstanding ergos and seat
  • Standard cruise control!
  • Optional Keyless Ride system lets you start
    the bike, put in gas, and lock the fork without taking the key from your pocket
– Sighs

  • A little TMI in the instrumentation department
  • Big motor looks even bigger with downdraft intakes
  • Someday I’d like to try a non-ESA
BMW R1200R Specifications Specs
Engine Air/liquid-cooled twin-cylinder Boxer engine
Displacement 1170cc
Bore/stroke 101 x 73mm
Compression ratio 12.5:1, premium unleaded (95 RON)
Valve actuation DOHC 4v/cylinder; 40mm intake valves, 34mm exhausts
Fuel delivery BMS-X fuel injection; two 52mm throttle bodies
Emission control Closed-loop 3-way catalytic converter
Alternator output 508 watts
Gearbox Constant-mesh 6-speed, back-torque limiting wet clutch
Transmission ratios I 2.438 II 1.714 III 1.296 IV 1.059 V 0.943 VI 0.848
Final drive Shaft, 2.818
Frame Tubular steel bridge frame, engine self-supporting
Front suspension 45mm inverted telescopic fork; 140mm (5.5 in.) travel
Rear suspension BMW EVO Paralever; 140mm (5.5 in.) travel
Rake/trail 27.7 degrees/ 125.6mm (4.95 in.)
Wheelbase 1515mm (59.65 in.)
Front brake Dual 320mm discs, 4-piston calipers, ABS
Rear brake 276mm disc, 2-piston caliper, ABS
Wheels 3.50 x 17 in., 5.50 x 17 in.
Tires 120/70 ZR17, 180/55 ZR17
Seat height 760, 820 or 840mm (29.9 to 33 in.)
DIN unladen weight, road ready 231 kg (509 lb)
Permitted total weight 450 kg (992 lb)
Fuel tank capacity 18L (4.76 gal)
Optional Stuff All optional equipment included in the packages can also be ordered
individually, with the exception of the onboard computer Pro.

  • Comfort Package comprising: chrome-plated exhaust system, heated
    grips, tire pressure monitor
  • Touring Package comprising: Dynamic ESA, preparation for navigation
    system, onboard computer Pro, pannier holder, centre stand, luggage
    grid with hand grips, cruise control
  • Dynamic Package comprising: riding mode Pro (including DTC), Sport
    windshield, LED indicators, daytime running light
  • Keyless ride
  • Gear shift assistant Pro
  • Anti-theft alarm system
  • High rider’s seat (820mm)
  • Low rider’s seat (760mm)
  • Sport rider’s seat (840mm)
  • Comfort pillion seat

HP Parts

  • HP milled clutch lever
  • HP milled brake lever
  • HP milled rider footrest system

Stowage range

  • Small tank rucksack
  • Pannier
  • Topcase 2, lacquer-varnish lid
  • Luggage grid with hand grips
  • Pannier inner bag
  • Topcase inner bag
  • LED indicators
  • Engine spoiler
  • Akrapović Sport silencer
  • Comfort pillion seat
  • Backrest for topcase
  • High windshield
  • Sport windshield
  • Tinted Sport windshield
  • Heated grips
  • BMW Motorrad Navigator V
  • Cradle for BMW Motorrad Navigator V

Safety

  • Retrofit anti-theft alarm system
  • LED auxiliary headlight
  • Engine protection bar
  • Retrofit Riding mode Pro
  • BMW Motorrad warning triangle
  • Large first aid kit
  • Small first aid kit
  • BMW Motorrad battery charger 230V
  • BMW Motorrad battery charger 110V
  • BMW Motorrad battery charger for UK
  • Repair kit for tubeless tyres
  • Centre stand

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  • JMDonald

    Long ago in an alternative reality I bought a R1150ra that I still own based in part on a review Mr. Burns wrote circa 2003. Reading this review I want to buy this new offering. It’s déjà vu all over again. I really want the new RS version but need to see it up close and personal to be sure. Let’s get a move on with that RS review. If not a RS a well equipped roadster may be the ticket. Well done as usual.

    • john burns
      • Old MOron

        Ha! That “Think Outside the Boxer” article was a strong motivating factor when I purchased my R1150R. I loved that bike. Put 60K miles on it in two years. Then it got stolen. I’ve never found another bike that I like as much.

        I looked at the new R12R at the moto show. I agree the new motor has cost the roadster some of its aesthetic. If the bike is that good, maybe I could get used to the look. But then there’s the price.

      • Steve

        I bought an R1100R new many years ago. It was an unreliable piece of crap. BMW continuously denied that they had fueling and stalling problems with the early oilheads and couldn’t fix it. Then, when they introduced the new 1150s they said “and we’ve solved the surging, ignition, and fueling issues we used to have with the 1100s.” Thanks a lot.

        Despite my bike sitting in the dealer’s shop for 6 weeks out of the first few months I owned it they couldn’t fix the intermittent stalling problems. In fact, they even denied it was a problem until the factory service rep almost killed himself trying to pull out onto the street for a test ride.

        I don’t deny that they have a great reputation… that’s one of the reasons I spent a premium to buy mine. It’s just that when they have a problem they put the customer in the middle and arrogantly refuse to admit that they made a mistake.

        • Price Action Guru

          If you can name one motorcycle manufacturer that puts the customer first, I would like to hear who that is.

          • Steve

            It’s hard for me to say. I’ve owned six other bikes, two of which were purchased new. I never had any of the reliability and safety issues I experienced with the BMW with any other motorcycle (and I owned a Triumph, a Harley-Davidson, two Hondas, and two Kawasakis). I have worked for two automotive OEMs, however, and I can say without hesitation that if I had a car with those issues they would have been taken very seriously and I likely would have had the car bought back under lemon law without a fight.

            Coincidentally, I owned a BMW 5-series car a few years later and had a ton of small niggling issues under warranty. The online boards seemed to agree that BMW cars just had a lot of small problems (dash lights failing, cup holders breaking if you used them, seatbelt retractors not retracting, etc.). The dealer was overcrowded, overpriced, and I would get my car back dirtier than when I brought it in. My old $12k Saturn used to come back vacuumed and washed after a $19 oil change.

            I appreciate BMW’s engineering. They are uniformly wonderful to ride and drive, but from an ownership cost and experience perspective they don’t even meet the basic standards set by inexpensive compact cars.

          • Dirk Lehew

            Kawasaki-several times for me. BMW is arrogant and overpriced, relying on snobbery for ownership. Kawasaki builds VERY reliable, solid, powerful bikes, as well as jet engines, military aircraft, bullet trains, and ships(as well as the fastest bike on earth-the H2. Nothing comes close…). Their technological prowess blows BMW away. And, they have the best extended warranty plan(and most economical) of any motorcycle manufacturer. No, I don’t work for them, or own stock. But I own a 2008 Concours 14 ABS and a 2009 Vulcan 900 Custom SE that have been the best bike in their respective classes that I have owned in 45 years of riding. Caveat Emptor and ride safe, regardless of your brand preferences.

          • Tinwoods

            “… relying on snobbery for ownership”? On behalf of the millions of working-class owners of BMWs… F-you, Dirk.
            I’ve owned 31 motorcycles (mostly Japanese, but five “exotics”). None of the Kawis fall in the Top 5, while two of the BMWs do. That said, Kawasaki makes a great motorcycle, but I’m not so ignorant, arrogant, and juvenile as to say one makes a better bike than the others. Ludicrous.

  • Rokster

    I really like this one, especially the available high seat and the tech stuff. This leaves one to decide if all that is worth maybe double the price of an FZ-09.

    • lenb

      OMG..it looks like the twin brother of the FZ-09…yes some less displacement and BMW three year warrantee is nice. Geez…something to consider!

      • Tinwoods

        Besides the countless other difference, one has an entirely different motor, so an entirely different ride.

  • dustysquito .

    I test drove a late 2000’s R1150R and fell in love with the bike. If this R1200R is the equal of that older bike, people are in for a real treat. I love that they included cruise control as a standard thing on this bike (though they better, for that price).

  • Andrew Capone

    The RS variant is on my short list, eager to check it out Friday at the NYC bike show. Nice review, john.

    • Sentinel

      I was in lust with that thing the moment it was announces, and seeing it and straddling it in person at the IMS recently only confirmed the lust.

  • Sato san

    Nice bike but R ninet still better

    • Tinwoods

      I sold BMWs. The R Nine T is a dog. Looks great, but doesn’t have much in the way of spectacular performance. But, arguably, it is better looking, yes.

  • Vernon682

    They kinda messed up the headlights. Not a big fan of em, but it’s an otherwise great looking machine. The one thing I’m concerned about is: does it come in blue?

    • Richard Gozinya

      The base model does. But with the other two, you can always paint to suit your tastes.

  • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope

    It’s interesting that you encountered rain, because it looks like you were riding in a mountainous area. It’s always been my understanding that the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.

  • lenb

    I like it but it’s lost a bit of the BMW heritage…very little distinction in styling from Ducati or Honda…own a ’11 R1200R…I’d marry the thing if I could, I like this bike and will probably get one in a year or two.

  • Stu Watson

    Great video and a pleasant write – up. But why do I get the feeling that having experienced BMW’s sumptuous hospitality – you are slightly reticent to criticise any aspect of the design.

    What I’d really like to know is ; What are its strengths and weaknesses? How does it suit someone moving up from say an 800. What is your view of its “value for money?”

    Also , I’ve found with previous BMW purchases the standard seat is only good for 80 or 90 miles at most and you have to pay £400 for the “comfort seat”. How does this bike fare in that respect?

    A report slightly bereft of opinion.