First Impression: 1999 BMW K1200LT

All the Pretty BMWs ...


I've been riding since dawn, but after two hundred miles I've stopped to rest at the Hilltop Café, north of San Antonio. The bright shining sunlight belies the slight, sharp chill in a breeze that blows steadily over the rolling grasslands and it's good to be inside for a short time. I'm alone at my table. Some moments pass and then a waiter, sun-burnt, approaches me, holding a coffeepot, friendly enough.

Usted quiere café, señor?

Sí, gracias.

Another pair of riders sits across the room, sipping their coffee slowly, drawing on half-spent cigarettes, and one of them with the pack rolled up in his shirt sleeve leans over and tips ash into the cuff of his jeans. Then they notice me and both nod at me gravely and I nod to them and then the waiter's back wanting to know what I want. I still have long hours left of sunlight to ride without stopping, so I order up some fried catfish and rice with beans and some tortillas with hot sauce and some more coffee and the waiter takes all this down without saying a word and then leaves.

She is at the table across from me to my left. There's no one in front of her, just a window facing the sun, but she's sitting still at the table and it takes my eyes a few minutes to adjust to the sunlight that's striking her through the window to see that she's been weeping quietly, or was a short time ago and now all that remains of that are soft, shallow pools in her eyes and shimmering tracks down her face. Her hair is the color of the daylight and for a moment the two lose each other in the air between her and me, everything is soft yellow, until she turns her head slightly and the light glints off the saltwater on her face and hurts my eyes, closing them.

I've seen her earlier in the day along my route with another rider and I've heard some talk about her and that rider, but he's not there now and it's probably best that she's alone. There's nothing I can do for her.

Through the window I check on my bike, BMW’s new K1200LT, a heavy mount at a claimed 834 lbs. wet, a luxurious mount to be sure with plush seating, cruise control, a six-disc CD player, heated grips, and heated seats in the Custom version. The bike comes in three versions in all. The main difference between the Standard ($16,900) and the Icon ($17,900) is that the Icon has heated grips, the six-disc CD changer/player, and an on-board computer that displays the outside temperature, average fuel mileage, average speed, and the number of miles left in your tank before it’s time to graze your mount. The Custom version ($18,900) has all the Icon has but also with SoftTouch heated seats, with separate controls for rider and passenger, and some chrome to show off the pretty lines of the long-distance ride.

The woman shifts in her seat a little and it takes my attention for a moment, but I go back to the bike in the window and force myself to think about the riding left for the day. BMW has led me to the wild, winding roads in this rural county in south Texas, led me here because the K1200LT can tame these roads like no other heavy tourer has done in the past. Power comes on low and strong, pushing the heavy, metal charger forward, toward the horizon, toward a tomorrow that is powered by the rubber-mounted 1171cc 16-valve DOHC powerplant derived from the K1200RS.

Low- and mid-range thrust has been boosted effectively with revised cams, intake, and exhaust systems coupled with a retuned Motronic engine management and the results suit the riding in this wild land that leads ever westward. BMW claims 85 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,750 rpm and 100 bhp at 6,750 rpm, with more than 80 percent of the torque being generated between 2,800 and 6,800 rpm. There's no way to know for sure, I have to take them at their word for now, but there will come a time when I will face those numbers, face them with all my heart, and then I will know the truth.

But for now they aren't hard to believe. This ride is too compliant, almost too easy for what looks to be a lumbering mount, large saddlebags protruding from the top rear and sides, but still graceful, still able to hold everything I might need for a dozen sunsets in the saddle, maybe more, while only needing a single key to open everything. Two helmets fit in the top bag, two helmets for two riders. Now she's become conscious of her surroundings again, now the sunlight and the color of her hair have parted ways while she searches through a small bag for something to wipe away the tracks down her face, to erase evidence of some parting, some small loss that places like this exact from time to time. The light is harsher now, revealing small lines around her eyes, lines which I trace down her face, the curve of her neck, her shoulders.

The chassis on the LT has proven so far to be willing and ready for any twist, almost any demand. A broad torque range means that for sweepers there's no downshift necessary, although it’s rare on these winding roads to be in the fifth, overdrive gear, which is a true overdrive on this bike. The suspension is nearly identical to the RS but for an extra 80mm of length on the Paralever to allow more room for the passenger and to accommodate the long 64.3-inch wheelbase which increases stability for straight and level flight.

But again, in turns, there is no restraint, simply roll back, gauge entry speed and lean over, lean over more, don't feel fear, this is all possible now. The bike is heavy but it is strong and willing and even when younger, faster sportbike riders are fast coming up, they will see this massive tourer leaning and they'll hold back because they can see what you know, that you are fast and that your ride will not be slowed down. You carry luggage because you stay in the saddle for days and because the road is your familiar and speed is your breakfast and speed is your intoxicant.

A steel tube rear subframe mounts off the rear of the main frame and provides strong support for passengers and luggage and steel-reinforced side points protect the bike's skin in a tip-over, a smart feature. There's a line in the girl's jaw that suggests a steel that many might not guess is there at first.

Because the LT can hold momentum and can hold a line it's possible to enter turns too hot, or almost too hot, but the brakes on the LT, ABS II standard on all LT models, are capable enough. The rear 11.2-inch diameter brake is clenched tightly by a four-piston caliper instead of the two pistons on the RS, but the twin front brakes, 12-inch floating rotors with four-piston Brembo calipers, are the same. This bike has a mustang's heart though it is a packhorse, a workhorse of fine blood, and slowing, coming closer to a standstill, is not in its nature. These brakes can be squeezed with some hard authority before you feel the wind die down a little, but this is only a cautionary note here, not a defect of design.

The grips are heated. The bike is lavish.

Before the ride, BMW's David Robb addressed all the riders and he spoke to us of luxury, and luxury's nature and those things that communicate luxury. "Luxury comes in many different forms, in different shapes, in different materials," he said. "There is a luxury of complexity and a luxury of simplicity." Here, with the LT, BMW has succeeded again, blending a host of technical features with a simple rider interface.

Graceful lines, lines that recall the rolling hills of Texas -- lines that recall her -- describe the whole silhouette of a bike that is almost completely adjustable. The windshield moves up and down by a switch at the handgrip, customizing airflow over the rider, brake and clutch levers adjust to fit the rider's hand, stereo, cruise control and computer controls are all close to the handgrips, easy to reach.

The seats are plush, but firm for long days, and adjustable to two heights, 30.3 or 31.5 inches. An integrated grab handle lends an easy grip for hauling the bike on its centerstand. The grips are heated. The bike is lavish.

A lavish bike for roads that are not, this is my thought as she stands up, though I pretend I don't notice, I drink my coffee. She walks out, passes me on the way and as she goes I stop drinking, lower my cup, inhale, trying to catch her scent but I miss it in the confusion of coffee and café aromas. She's gone now and soon I will be, too.

I have no complaints, no regrets about this ride. Perhaps, given more time, I might come to terms against some points on the bike, but it suits me for today, with only three hundred miles to go and everything working as it should. Simply, BMW has thought of most things as I can see, and the bike rides like no luxury tourer should, so I can think about the next hill, the next hundred miles and the next time I happen into a café where she is sitting.

Manufacturer:           BMW 
Model:                  K1200LT            
Price:                  $16,900 USD (Standard), 
   $17,900 USD (Icon), 
   $18,900 USD (Custom) 
Engine:                 Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, in-line 4
Compression ratio:      10.8:1  
Bore and Stroke:        70.5 mm x 75 mm
Displacement:           1171cc 
Carburetion:            Fuel-injection Bosch Motronic MA 2.4  
Transmission:           Five-speed, dry clutch 
Tires/Front:            120/70 ZR 17 tubeless
Tires/Rear:             160/70 ZR 17 tubeless 
Wheelbase:              64.3 in (1633 mm) 
Seat Height:            30.3 / 31.5 in (770 mm / 800 mm)
Fuel Capacity:          6.18 US gal including 1 gal reserve
Claimed Wet Weight:  834 lbs

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