The Gentleman’s Roadster

Story by Costa Mouzouris// Photos by BMW
May 1 2015

The newest roadster to come out of Germany not only rules the corners, but can also do double duty as an efficient sport-touring bike

Spanish weather is usually fairly predictable. Confirming this notion, upon arrival for the launch of the 2015 BMW R1200R in Alicante we were told, “This part of Spain only gets three days of rain a year.” But the weather in southern Spain these days seems to belie all regular patterns. Alicante is a vacation destination for Europeans coming from Germany and France, and although we were in the off-season, the weather was nonetheless supposed to be temperate and dry with temperatures in the high teens. What we got instead were temperatures just barely breaking out of the single digits, and rain. And the temperatures would drop farther along our route into the surrounding mountains.

2015 BMW R1200R Although I’d have preferred to ride in more seasonable weather, the cold and wet conditions would allow a chance to try out this latest boxer’s new lean-sensing dynamic traction control (DTC), especially critical in this part of Spain, where wet pavement has about as much friction coefficient as a raw squid. DTC is but one of several new additions to BMW’s latest roadster, which is one of two new boxers to hit the market this year; the other being the fairing-shod R1200RS.

Ninety-Plus Years of the Boxer

2015 BMW R1200R Exhaust BMW has been making horizontally opposed twins since 1923, but through the natural course of product evolution, the German company now produces singles, parallel twins, inline fours and inline sixes, and even made triples for a while. By now you should be familiar with BMW’s latest boxer engine, introduced in the 2013 R1200GS, on which for the first time since the engine’s 1923 inception, BMW used liquid cooling. This engine later found its way into the R1200RT and R1200GS Adventure, and it now powers the R1200R.

If you’re keeping track of all things boxer, you should note that the only model left in BMW’s line-up that still uses the previous-generation air-cooled engine is the R nineT retro bike. Feeling nostalgic about BMW boxers? You might want to scoop one up before the engine, as it was originally conceived, disappears.

The engines in all of the above-mentioned liquid-cooled bikes are almost identical, with only their different airboxes and exhaust systems dictating the slight variations in tune between models. Horsepower across the models is 125, with torque peaking at 92 ft-lb. In the R1200R, however, the engine is tuned to produce a broader spread of torque, with more of it available at lower revs than the RT or either of the GS models.

Ditched the Telelever

The R1200R has an all-new chassis, on which you’ll notice that an inverted fork has replaced BMW’s trademark Telelever front end. This was the topic of some discussion at the launch, as the Telelever has become a signature of BMW boxer twins, first appearing on the 1994 R1100RS, and soon thereafter migrating onto other models. It eventually made its way onto all BMW boxers, except for a few special editions, such as the HP2 Enduro and the R nineT. The R1200R is the first regular BMW model of late to use a telescopic fork, as does the R1200RS, which is based on the same platform.

When I asked about the change, several reasons were given, including more dynamic handling characteristics with more precise front-end feedback. A fork was also incorporated to provide the additional room needed behind the front wheel for a single, central radiator. A Telelever, with its frame-mounted suspension arms, would have necessitated the use of dual, outboard radiators, which would have cluttered the styling. A fork gives the bike a compact, pared down, naked-bike look. Despite this change, I was assured that BMW has not abandoned the Telelever, and that the R1200GS and RT will continue to use it indefinitely, as will the firm’s touring sixes.

The frame is made of tubular steel, and a good portion of it is exposed aft of the engine, partly to emphasize the naked-bike styling. Steering geometry is more relaxed than on the R nineT, which really alters the handling between the two bikes, but more on that later.

Full Array of Electronics

Electronic Dash This latest boxer is also available with the latest electronics BMW has to offer, including the aforementioned DTC with bank-angle sensors, stability control, selectable ride modes, electronically adjustable suspension (ESA) and an electric shift assist, which, as on the R1200RT and S1000RR, permits both up- and downshifting without the clutch. And, of course, there’s standard ABS that can be switched off, though the front and rear are not linked.

The last BMW roadster I rode was the R nineT, and it was a very different machine. Whereas you sit atop the nineT in a very vintage-like stance, you feel as if you’re sitting inside the R1200R, even with the tallest of three optional seats installed. The handlebar is higher and narrower than on the R nineT, and you see more of the bike ahead of you when seated. The riding position is relaxed and upright, with standard seat height set at 790 mm. You can also swap the standard seat for one of two other options – ranging in height from 760 mm to 820 mm – at no cost when ordering the R1200R. I selected the 820 mm seat, which provided extra legroom without extending the reach to the ground uncomfortably. There’s also a taller 840 mm sport seat available as an extra-cost accessory.

The instrument panel is a new key-shaped item that has a round analog speedometer offset to the left, with a large, rectangular LCD screen stretching out to the right of it. There’s a lot of info available on the screen, divided into quadrants, and the info will vary depending on the electronics package the bike is equipped with. If the bike has all the bells and whistles, you’ll find ride mode selections (Rain or Road), ESA settings, trip meters, gear position indicator, fuel economy computer, temperature and other items, as well as a hard-to-read bar tachometer at the top of the display.

Our test bikes came fully loaded, including the LED daytime running lights, which are part of the optional Dynamic Package ($760), which includes the Headlight Pro option, DTC, Ride Modes Pro and a sport windscreen. The bikes also came with a keyless ignition, a $315 option that includes a key fob that must be within a couple of metres of the bike for the ignition to work. There’s a button atop the top triple clamp, below the instrument panel, and with fob in pocket, one push turns on the ignition. A unique feature I haven’t seen before is the locking, keyless gas cap. To open it, you just shut off the bike and lift the latch to pop the cap; otherwise, it remains locked, as it does if the fob is out of range. The fob also includes a switchblade key used to pop the seat.

With the engine fired, I immediately noticed another difference from the R nineT: the exhaust sound. Although rich and deep, the R1200R’s exhaust note is much more subdued.

Rain Mode

Since it was raining, I started the ride in Rain mode, with softened power delivery and increased traction control intervention. The temperature reading on the dash display read 10 C, so I also turned on the heated grips, which are standard on Canadian models and oh so convenient.

The optional Dynamic ESA was set to the softer Road setting. (Dynamic ESA is part of the $1,900 Touring Package, which also includes cruise control, a GPS mount, luggage rack, saddlebag mounts and a centre stand.) In that setting, the suspension was firm, yet comfortably compliant – and much softer than on the nineT. Without the ESA option, suspension adjustment is limited to rear rebound damping and preload, the latter adjustable via an easily accessible knob.
Clutch effort is super-light, and the gearbox slips into gear with just a nudge at the shifter. Our bikes were also equipped with the electronic shift assist, and as I’d experienced before with this system, it isn’t entirely smooth at low engine speeds, sometimes providing jerky shifts as well as a firmer shift lever, but it really shifts quickly and precisely when the revs pick up – and that includes the clutchless downshifting. It’s a $515 option that you should consider mostly if you plan to track ride the R1200R, which it’s perfectly capable of doing.

In Rain mode, the bike still felt strong off the bottom with very smooth throttle response, which is typical of this latest-generation boxer. Despite the slippery pavement, I rarely saw the traction control illuminate to advise me that the bike was saving me from disaster, though it did come on occasionally at some corner exits when I deliberately gassed it harder than I would normally. Switching to Dynamic ride mode really perked the bike up, with smooth, lively acceleration from nearly off idle that was absent of any abruptness. The engine also likes to rev, pulling hard in a linear manner all the way to redline, though visiting the upper rev range isn’t necessary owing to the engine’s muscular bottom end.

Aside from some mild throbbing, the counterbalanced engine was smooth throughout the rev range. I purposely switched the ride mode to Dynamic on the wet pavement, which provided more aggressive throttle response, yet found the bike as easily controllable as when in Rain mode. This is a testament to the boxer’s broad, flexible power band, but also a reminder that bikes once did fine without ride modes.

Dynamic Mode

As the weather improved and the roads dried, I set the suspension to the firmer Dynamic setting, which felt about as firm as it did on the nineT – great for maintaining control on smooth roads, but likely to lift you off the seat on big bumps. Steering is light and neutral, and the R1200R’s more relaxed steering geometry makes it more stable than its retro-styled stable mate. It also dives when braking, allowing you to tighten up your line through a turn with much less effort than its Telelever-equipped predecessor. It feels more planted and longer, and will likely be less fatiguing on long rides than the R nineT.
BMW had an R1200R on display dressed up with saddlebags and a top case; add an accessory windscreen and this bike will make a more competent sport tourer than the nineT. Its 18-litre fuel tank will be able to handle those long rides without too many gas stops, especially since the bike claims an average highway consumption of 4.7L/100 km.

New Tech, Same Price

The new R1200R has nothing in common with the outgoing model – except the price. At $16,050 for the base model, the price hasn’t changed from last year. There are three styling choices: the blue base model with black frame; Style 1 (an additional $540), which is white with tank graphics, and has a red frame, a mini-flyscreen and an engine spoiler; and Style 2 ($385), which is black on a dark grey frame, and my favourite of the three.

Although it wasn’t my initial intention to compare the R1200R with the R nineT, a mental comparison was inevitable, because they’re both boxer roadsters, and I like both these machines very much. The base model undercuts the R nineT by $150 and has standard (basic) traction control and heated grips, items that are absent on the retro Beemer. Despite the seemingly better bargain, I’d still have a tough time deciding between the two machines, because while BMW claims that the R1200R is the most dynamic boxer it’s ever built, the R nineT feels more visceral – and it has that nearly intoxicating exhaust note. The R1200R, however, is for the more practical rider looking for a longer-term relationship with the road, and for many, that will be the ultimate dealmaker.


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