First Look: 2002 BMW R1150R and R1150RT

Super Power Brake Booster!

Austin, TX, March 30, 2001 -- After spending a considerable amount of time with BMW's R1150GS, we came to appreciate its engine and six-speed tranny and would always wonder when such amenities would find their way onto the rest of the "R" line-up.

Well, we wonder no more as the latest incarnation of the R1150R Roadster and R1150RT are here. The new R1150R has very little in common with the previous version. In fact, the only parts they share are the instrument cluster and headlight. The R1150RT is the proud recipient of a face-lift -- and a good one at that.

Most noticeable of the changes to the Roadster include the sharply inclined fender and oil-cooler ducts. The fender is shaped to highlight the "fly line of the bike (that's the perceived line between the front and back of the bike). The oil-cooler ducts aren't just for looks, though, as they funnel cool air directly through the coolers before directing the hot air away from the rider.

The R's Telelever front swingarm also receives a make-over. Instead of a single chunk of metal, the new arm gets a stylish top-piece across the sides of the arms. These pieces are welded on and, combined with the new design of the arm, actually decrease its weight. The front shock finally gets rebound damping and the steering damper has been removed. The wheels are just like the ones used on the R1100S but resized to 3.5 x 17 and 5 x 17.

  The Roadster sports a new engine and offers a claimed five more horsepower and one more foot-pound of torque. While these may seem paltry considering the engine swap, the "area under the line" for both graphs has increased significantly, increasing roll-on power throughout the rev-range. Bosch Motronic MA2.4 engine management software controls the fuel-injection and ignition and, as can be expected, performs flawlessly. The motor is lively and responsive with only light driveline lash and FI lurching detectable. Still, even that became almost imperceptible after some seat time.

Power rolls on very smoothly and, with the addition of an overdrive sixth-gear, high-speed cruising is a happy affair. How does 80 mph at 4,000 rpm sound? Brake for the corner, snick it down one or two gears to power out, and then cruise in sixth to the next bend. Repeat as necessary. While sixth gear was fun on the Roadster, it was a blessing on the RT.

The same engine as the R and GS graces the RT, albeit with slightly different internals. The compression is up to 11.3:1 and valve timing is also different thanks to camshafts borrowed from the R1100S. This translates to more power and torque. Although it's listed as 10 more horses and three more foot-pounds of torque than the old engine, we won't know for sure just how much difference there is until we get it on our own dyno.

  Aside from the RT's new upper fairing/headlight assembly, not much else is different. The headlight sports a unique tandem mounting of the high and low beams with integral fog lamps. The low beam resides behind the high beam reflector and, when on, appears as if it has two separate bulbs. The headlights also feature an attitude adjustment knob just like on the K1200LT. The fog lamps flank the low beam reflector and a dash-mounted switch turns them on. The fog lamps operate independently of the headlight.

Other changes include the radio system and rims. While the radio itself is an option, all the hardware necessary to make the radio a drop-in affair is included. The rims, just like on the R, are taken from the R1100S parts bin and have also been resized to 3.5 x 17 in the front and 5 x 17 in the rear as well.

Nevertheless, the big change comes from the braking system. When BMW first suggested they were going to a power-brake system, an few eyebrows rose. After all, these are motorcycles, not cars, and don't motorcycles stop well enough? Well, yes, motorcycles do stop well enough, but the problem occurs under less than ideal conditions. When the road surface is wet, oily or dirty, motorcycles generally can not stop as well as a modern ABS-equipped car. BMW changed that by incorporating their next-generation Integral ABS system.

   The system works like this: The rider applies the brakes and activates the control side of the circuit (the brake lever all the way to the control valve), the hydraulic pump kicks in on the wheel side of the circuit (the control valve all the way to the caliper) and completes the process. A bit simplified, yes, but you get the idea.

The pressure modulator contains the control valve, ABS and all the other necessary bits of hardware. In fact, the only parts of the braking system not within the pressure modulator are the hand and foot controls, caliper, rotors, wheel-spin sensors and master cylinders. All this and the complete pressure modulator unit weighs 9.16 pounds.

However, BMW doesn't just force one system to work for all their bikes.

They understand the "different bikes for different riders" philosophy and have produced two Integral ABS models to satisfy both needs, partial and full. The partial system links the front brake lever to both the front and rear calipers while the rear brake pedal only actuates the rear brake. The full system links both brakes to both lever and pedal.

The unique feature about BMW's linking system is that they feature an "adaptive brake force distribution" system. This system actively senses wheel speed and can modulate the amount of brake bias depending on the load condition of the bike. It does this by sensing when wheel-lock occurs on either wheel and transfers more power to the opposite wheel. This way, each wheel will receive the maximum amount of braking power available. Combine this with anti-lock and power-boosted brakes and you have a sure-stopping package. The system can sense and re-adjust as necessary as rapidly as one-tenth of a second.

  But how does the whole system work? The R1150R features the partial system and, to say the system worked seamlessly would be an understatement. On our test ride, speeds were routinely above the speed limit and hard braking was encountered on a number of occasions, some under less than ideal conditions. Braking on dirty roads really shows off how well the entire system works as a package. One finger is all it takes to haul yourself down from speed very quickly with very little fuss. This is particularly prevalent on the larger R1150RT which uses the full system. Even on this large touring bike, braking with one finger reveals gonad-smashing levels of braking power.

With all this dependency on technology, the obvious question is, "what happens if the electrical system fails?" Well, the entire system, from tail light to brake fluid level, is self-diagnostic. As such, it's very easy to take a quick look at the two trouble lights and determine which aspect of the system is malfunctioning. Should a complete failure occur during motorcycle operation, the rider can still stop using "regular" brakes, even though the rider will obviously have to use more force and lever travel than he's accustomed to.

With the use of computerized technology, it might seem silly to change rotors and calipers to add further improvement toward braking performance, but that's just what BMW has done with all their new models. They call their new brake system the EVO (for evolution) and feature a new master cylinder, calipers, brake pads ad 320 mm rotors. The brake pads are of the sintered variety and promise longevity while retaining excellent all-weather characteristics. The new calipers feature two 32 mm pistons and two 36 mm pistons. The entire system was developed jointly by BMW, Brembo and Tokico and will be featured on all new models.

The R1150R, with just a bit more wind protection (a fly-screen and full-screen are offered as options) would make it the perfect all-weather, do-everything machine. Also, those preferring the simpler days of braking can have the R without the Integral ABS system for a substantial price reduction.

We found the new transmission to be extremely slick and refined, much like its Japanese competition. In fact, clutch-less up-shifts are now possible. While the new engine does produce more power than previous iterations, it still won't win any horsepower contests. That's okay though, as every last bit of horsepower and torque is extremely usable.

Unfortunately, we didn't get enough seat time to adequately test the suspension on both bikes. But, with the riding that we did, we were pleasantly surprised. Rock solid handling from a naked bike isn't rare, but rock sold handling from a naked bike while leaned over in excess of 80 mph in a bumpy corner surely is. The R delivered this type of performance through every corner; and thanks to the wide bars and ergonomically friendly, upright seating position, mid-corner adjustments and body position changes are easy to accomplish. Combine this with the plethora of optional equipment (i.e. System bags, the aforementioned wind screen, solo seat options, the list goes on... ), the R truly become a technological powerhouse for everyday use.

Thats not saying the RT can't hold its own. With included hard bags, hand-warmers and luggage rack, the RT's one desire is clear: To go really fast while carrying lots of stuff. Pretty simple, eh? Although we found the full Integral ABS system to be a bit quirky when using the rear brake pedal, the bike still stopped better than any other large bike we've ever ridden.

The RT performed just the way the BMW press-heads said it would: Solid and without any glitches. While riding the RT through the same high-speed sweepers the R devoured, the RT would go through just as quickly, if not more so thanks to copious amounts of wind protection. At speed the RT is a fun, sporty, good-handling machine. But when the route took us back through Austin's traffic, the typical big-bike maneuvering dance took place. We were a bit surprised as it's easy to forget that the RT is still a big touring bike.

What would we change about these bikes? Not much, except for the rather steep price tags. At $9,990 for a non-ABS equipped model, or $12,190 with the ABS, the Roadster is in the upper portion of its respective price bracket. The RT is no different, though. At $16,290 the RT seems like a steep investment, but when you figure it comes standard with Integral ABS, heated grips, hard bags and a top case bracket, the price starts to make sense.

Look for further cosmetic revisions to take place to the K1200RS as well as the addition of the partial Integral ABS system.

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