EBass' BMW K1200RS Walkabout
The BMW K1200RS goes alpine in Lake Tahoe.
While the park roads offered delicious scenery and were passably curvaceous, the ample presence of hikers, bicyclists and cagers all with their eyes pointed at everything but the road, inhibited our need for speed. That and the exhorbitant penalties for getting caught being naughty on State Park blacktop. We were notified at the gate that all traffic fines were doubled, and that as an act of contrition, you would have to crawl on your hands and knees through a spanking machine of tourists before they would let you leave the park. Methinks Gray Davis has been watching too many Japanese game shows.
The bike is super-stable, and between the excellent suspension and smooth powerband, never felt as though it wanted to tuck the front, spin the rear, or wrestle me in any way.
Big as it was, and loaded with gear, it felt totally at home in rte. 120's cardiac carnival. The bike whispers along under 5000 RPM, but growls more and more aggressively as you urge it towards redline, delivering a satisfying roar as you drive out of a bender. Having just attended a MotorTrend test event that included BMW's flagship sedan, the 745LI, I can say that the two both provide a similar sensation of having total control over a lot of vehicle. Assuming you aren't sporting racing leathers, the K1200RS will give you everything you need in the way of zoom zoom for the curvy stuff. While the MO sport tourer comparo was a few months back, I'd put the Bavarian entry in my personal top three, keeping company with the Aprilia Futura and Ducati ST4S.
Emerging from the canyon, we re-convened at the on-ramp to RT. 49 and compared adrenaline levels. Having all survived a gauntlet of gravel gremlins, and having allegedly done so with such brilliant grace notes of élan and panache, it went without saying that something stupid was about to happen to someone. So as I raise my bike up off the kickstand, krrrrrrrrk, Bert wings my hard case with his own as he starts underway. So much for our perfect record ...and perfect cases. Groan! We continued through Gold Country and followed that all the way to US Rt. 50 in Placerville, where we pit stopped for dinner at Mel's Diner, around 11:00 PM. No there was no Mel, there was no Flo, there was no Vera, and there was hardly any flippin' food either! Half the items on the menu weren't available according to Bobbi Jo, or whatever the high school aged waitress' name was. Jonas (J-Rex the carnivore king to his friends) went for his second New York steak of the day and John moaned for coffee with his hair twisted up in full-on Alfalfa cowlicks. Despite being in the prime of her youth, our gal BJ moved slower than Sean Alexander writes. Tired, frazzled, and thirsty as hell, we were just about to stage a commando raid on the beer tap, when Miss Customer Service 2003 finally showed up with our beverages. Sheesh!
Having consumed our fill of what I assume was food (I was too tired to open my eyes) it was now `round midnight, and we seriously considered laying up for the night and finishing the final leg of the journey the following morning. After fourteen hours of riding, we were tired, it was dark, and there were about two more hours of demanding mountain twisties standing between us and our destination, so of course being mature, experienced professional motojournalists who would never let their egos get in the way of sound and sober good judgment, we decided to plow ahead to the hotel in Squaw Valley anyway.
We followed Rt. 50 up and over the Sierras, towards South Lake Tahoe. Once the reflector dots disappeared, and the only thing guiding us through the canyon was a dim yellow line, things got really harrowing. Going around tight turns, the headlights did a great job of illuminating the trees and cliffs immediately in front of the handlebars, but left one guessing as to exactly where the heck the road was going. There are blind curves, and there are blind curves, and in the pitch blackness of a moonless night, these were some seeeeeriously blind curves. Bert warned us to be aware that there were a couple of hairpins mixed in for good measure,and in fact there were about four that proved to be hairy indeed, requiring first gear, tippy toe approaches.
If you really want to take up the "a pro rider can brake faster without ABS" argument, take it up with someone else.
In situations like these, where the element of surprise comes into play around virtually every turn, the BMW's partially integrated ABS gives one the peace of mind that a patch of canyon crud or a stray country critter would be managed by the brains of both man and machine as the dual 12.6 inch floating rotors get pinched by two staggered diameter 4-piston calipers. I am convinced that this added confidence frees up rider attention away from traction issues to be spent on managing other aspects of a potentially dangerous situation. In my decidedly un-humble opinion, ABS rocks! Case closed. All you armchair road racers can go back to your pie charts and diagrams now. Oh, and try not to sit on that protractor.
Now in the course of any group ride, a pecking order of sorts evolves. Seeing as Bert had been to Tahoe many times before and knew the way, he took the point followed by Jonas, then John and I sort of swapped positions as the mood struck us. Jimmy, while ensconced in the creature comforts of the LT, was destined to bring up the distant rear.
Let this be said, however, Jimmy did a first rate job of managing the bike through some territory that it was certainly not the ideal riding tool for. I would readily concede that had we both been on LT's, I would likely have been eating his dust, assuming I could get close enough to taste it. But Big Jim was on the only full dresser, hence destined to always be playing catch up to the GT's and RS'.
In a rural area at this time of night on a weekday, there aren't too many folks on the road. You're pretty much down to tourists trying to get a jump on the weekend, bartenders going home from a hard night of pickling livers, and truckers tweaked out on speed or worse. So inevitably, shortly into the canyon pass, we got backed up behind a big ol' semi, whose driver had apparently forgotten to take his methamphetamine that eve. Is there something even blinder than a "seeeeeeriously blind curve"? Because peering around the butt end of an 18 wheeler into the blackness, it sure felt that way. Add to the equation the fact that with sea level over 6,000 feet down, the altitude was having a negative impact upon the bikes' carburetion, and your mind played all sorts of funny games with you trying to calculate whether you had the juice to make it past the front bumper, and the brakes to adjust entry speed in time to manage the mystery radius of the next curve. Not the kind of decisions you really want to be wrestling with in the pitch blackness of a twisty canyon, at 1:00 AM after about 15 hours of riding.
Bert and Jonas were eventually able to clear the rig, but left the rest of us jammed. I was finally able to summon the gumption to pass, and John later caught up to me, but Jimmy was understandably trapped for quite some time. Honestly, if I were going to try and pass that semi under those conditions on an LT, I would have needed a trap door in the seat and a "flush" button afterwards. John and I finally caught up to Bert and Jonas in the little town of South Lake Tahoe, where being the officers and gentlemen that they are, they had cordially pulled to the side to wait for us. We all tugged off our helmets, and got comfortable while we waited for Jimmy ... and waited ... and waited. I finally leaned back onto my gas tank and gazed up at the night sky, rich with all of the dim stars that we never see living amidst the city lights of Los Angeles. I felt the adrenaline of nocturnal canyon carving draining out of my bloodstream, and a sleepy, satisfied tranquility taking its place. I could sleep right here tonight.
And then, at long last, here comes a single headlight, yes, it's Jimmy ... and look! Jimmy's made a new friend ... in a fancy SUV ... with purty red and blue lights on top.
Sheeeet! Now that's just classic. The senior member of our group, on by far the slowest bike, getting busted for speeding, on a country road, in the middle of the night, while the peg scraping Rossi wannabees cackle on the side of the road. I mean, we're all grown ups here, and personally, I gave up any illusions about life being fair about the same time I gave up wearing pajamas with feet. But my first instinct was that we should all go over there and explain to the officer that we were all going a heck of a lot faster than poor Jimmy, and that he should write one of us uber-squids the ticket instead. Preferably not me, but one of the other guys would have been fine. My second instinct was that four bikers approaching a lone small town officer in the middle of the night, apparently to rescue their comrade, would probably not elicit the desired response. Images of Don Knotts back in his "Andy Griffith" days came flashing through my mind's eye, and I became eminently concerned about adding tragedy to comedy if one of our toes got shot off by a caffeine-injected Wyatt Earp wannabe fresh from his late night carbo-load over at the donut shop. Hence the decision was made to come to Jimmy's aid slowly and one by one. Well, actually, coming to Jimmy's aid consisted mostly of making overly loud comments about how, "It sure would suck if they find the drugs in Jimmy's luggage, man. Remember what those Columbians did to that dude Paco last time they didn't get their money!", offering Jimmy prison survival tips we learned from watching, "The Big House: No Place For Scofflaw Motojournalists", on Discovery Channel, and otherwise turning his embarassment into a well-documented Kodak moment. If I'm ever in trouble, do me a favor, remind me not to come to my own aid!
Crisis concluded, we took Rt. 89 North out of South Lake Tahoe up around the west shore of the lake, through Tahoe City and eventually, mercifully arrived in Squaw Valley, which is on RT. 89 after it leaves the lakeshore in Tahoe City. We reached the hotel at 2:00 AM, and collapsed into the decadence of our respective honeymoon suites, which were so opulent that I was almost surprised that they didn't come equipped with someone to "honeymoon" with. So I got undressed, slid under the covers, and lacking female companionship, did what a man's gotta do when he's all alone and needs to relieve a little tension before he can go to sleep ... flicked on Sportscenter. The Lakers scored Brian Cook and Luke Walton in the NBA draft. Righteous! Fifteen minutes later I was out like a light. Works every time.
I woke up at what felt like a bright and early 11:00 AM and made my way out to the 80th Motorrad event lovingly documented in Technicolor in a previous MO excluse.
With the hard cases up in my hotel room, I gained a true appreciation for how clean the RS looks without its luggage. The Bavarian designers get my vote hands down for the most unobtrusive brackets and stabilizers. It would be hard for the non-enthusiast observer to detect that they are looking at a sport tourer and not a liter class race replica. Friday and Saturday were spent alternating between documenting the rally and exploring the lake shore roads. The 89 paralells the western shore of the lake, winding from twenty yards off the coast, to well up into the cliffs overlooking the lake, and back down again. The 89 offers mild but fun curves with fabulous scenery. Speeds are limited by slow traffic and ticket happy constables though, so don't come here thinking Deal's Gap. The best way to experience the 89 is to take time to pit stop frequently and admire the scenic treasures revealed by every curve. A view of Meeks Bay, a roaring waterfall, the smell of burning sage in a tiny village. I asked several of the locals if they were as awestruck as I was with the beauty all around them, or whether they had become oblivious to it over time. Every last one of them said that they were still blown away, which is nice to hear. It's an absolute outdoorsman's paradise and a nimble sport tourer like the RS was about the perfect bike to explore it with. Since a picture says a thousand words, by my math, I can either just let you guys look at the nifty photos, or regale you with a billion word essay on the flaura, fauna, and topography of Lake Tahoe. Let's put it to a vote. I vote, pictures. Since this is a dictatorship, not a democracy, my vote is the only one that counts. Therefore pictures it is!
Normally, I like to take my time meandering back to base camp from press intros, but I had a prior commitment back in L.A. at 5:00 on Sunday, the be-shackling, errr I mean betrothal of an old college buddy to his lovely warden, errr I mean wife. Damn those Freudian slips! I'm sorry folks, but any man so whipped that his fiancée won't even let him have a bachelor party might just as well find a nice cozy cell on Rikers Island, curl up, and make himself at home. At least you get an hour of freedom on the exercise yard, and the food is probably better. Regardless, witnessing this blessed event meant getting back by 3:00 in time to shower, change, practice fake smiles in the mirror, and still make it to the church on time.
According to the Tahoe locals, the consensus was that sane people took ten hours to reach L.A. and insane people equipped with fast bikes could probably do it in eight. Figuring that the RS was plenty fast, and my lack of sanity has rarely been questioned, yours truly left the hotel at 7:00 AM figuring that oughta get me into L.A. by 3:00. No time for scenery on this leg of the trip. I just flicked on the heated grips (a truly divine invention), hopped on the 80 over to Sacramento where it connects to the 5, and set cruise control for warp factor 9, Sulu.
"Scotty, I need more power!"
"But Captain, I'm giving ya' all she's got! She'll break apart if I push her any harder!"
"Scotty, according to you, the engine's always gonna break apart any minute. You're supposed to be the frickin' engineer, what the hell are we paying you for anyway? Bones, get your cranky ass down there and wave that little thingamagig over the engine and get me more power, I need to be in L.A. in eight hours."
"Dammit Ebass! I'm a doctor not a crew chief!"
Whoa, man, if I had known I'd still be having these damn Star Trek flashbacks years later, I never woulda eaten those magic mushrooms at Rodman's party down in Newport. Well, anyway, I guess they're still better than the "Evans Brasfield in drag" flashbacks I get from time to time. Yeeeesh! So where was I? Oh yeah, grinding my way back to L.A.
I won't bore you with how borediculously boring the 80 and 5 freeways are. Suffice it to say, if time is no object, take the scenic route, any scenic route. For me, time was very much an object though, and at 2:00, a scant 7 hours later, I had arrived at my beachside bodega, and set by all accounts a new land speed record for Tahoe to LaLa. It's amazing how fast you can get someplace unencumbered by a carload of wife and kids and their selfish and unreasonable needs for food, water and waste evacuation. Just give me a fast bike, a full belly, and my trusty sneaky leaker and uh, you might not wanna tailgate me, amigo!
I have to say in conclusion, that the K1200RS made for a terrific travel companion, whether on droning freeways or country curves. If I were forced to nitpick, I suppose I could say something negative about the handle bar vibration, but I would be picking at a very small nit. Otherwise, the bike was a dream, and scored high marks in all departments. Don't buy a sport tourer without checking one out.