BMW R 1200 RS Review: Reinventing Sadism



BMW’s R 1200 RS makes a sport touring rider’s life easy and looks great while doing so

SINGAPORE –  I’ve long ago come to the conclusion that motor-makers are sadists and we riders (or drivers) are sadomasochists. Sadists are those who enjoy inflicting pain, while the latter are those who enjoy receiving it.

Nothing else can explain the idea of sport touring. It’s as if someone high on adrenaline said to an equally-deranged friend: “Hey you know how cool blasting around on a sportsbike on track is? Let’s do that, except on public roads, slightly slower but for nine times as long!” “Awesome, let’s do it! You bring the panadol.”

That might not be the exact, true history of sport touring, but nobody buys a motorcycle of more than 600cc in capacity to hang around, really. Sport touring is a pursuit that demands a specific type of machine, one that’s been slightly overshadowed in modern times by the adventure craze. A sweet engine and good handling, a sporty but not sadistic seating position and general ergonomics that point towards performance without overlapping too much towards ‘pain’ on the Venn diagram.

BMW claims to have made the first stake in sport touring with the original 1976 R 100 RS, which it says was the first mass-produced motorcycle to feature a complete wind-tunnel designed fairing mounted straight to the frame. We should keep in mind that ‘superbikes’ of the era were essentially what we know now as ‘naked’, like the Kawasaki Z1, Suzuki GS and Honda CB and had no fairings.

Strangely enough, the newest RS boxer from BMW, the R 1200 RS, has a half fairing – the covers end when the cylinder covers start and while there’s a sharp-looking underbody spoiler, it still looks half rather than full-faired. Still that doesn’t stop the bike from being the modern incarnation of a enjoyable, twin-cylinder sport tourer

Like the H-D 48, it has that essential ‘motorbike-ness’ that impresses regular people, if that’s important to you. The lopsided ‘eyes’ of the headlights and the DRL light strip down the middle are cues to identify it as a ‘Sport’ family BMW, like the S 1000 XR and there are also two aerodynamic canards just above the front turn signals.

Powering the bike is the newer, water-cooled boxer twin engine that’s found in the other R models like the GS, although the closest relation to the R 1200 RS is the naked R 1200 R model. In both instances, BMW says, the 125bhp engine actually has more torque in certain situations than the GS, with power sent to a shaft drive. Like the R 1200 R, the main frame is tubular steel with the engine as a stressed member, the front suspension are conventional 45mm upside-down forks, with a Paralever ‘EVO’ rear and shaft drive.

As tested, the bike comes with a whole host of assist systems: Riding Mode Pro (variable mode maps – Rain,Road, Dynamic and User) with traction control, Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) adaptive suspension, and the gear shift assistant for both up and downshifts. Our test bike also came fully-loaded with a plethora of options.

A fairing does not a sportbike make, but having the R 1200 R’s bones to begin with gives the RS model a very big head start. Like the R model, the controls are all spot on: The pedals are placed well, as are the levers, while the throttle feels light and easy to manipulate. Compared to the R model with its taller handlebars, you sit leaned slightly further forward, although the wide handlebars are still well within reach and comfortable.

There’s a more aggressive bark at the start-up, thanks to the optional Akrapovic slip-on, a very welcome addition of more aural character. Clutch engagement and modulation is light and easy, and in fact, like most BMW boxers, the RS feels very nimble and simple to handle in a way that makes its 234kg weight disappear, even when pushing the motorcycle around.

Low speed manuvering is a cinch, thanks to the boxer’s low centre of gravity. Although there is a limit to lane-splitting, given the engine/cylinder orientation, the RS can do pretty well in Singapore’s tight urban confines despite being (relatively) big bike.

But it’s a sport tourer, so open roads and highways are truly the RS’s calling. It’s here that the flexibility of the excellent boxer twin engine can really be displayed. Our highway blast to Port Dickson proved that the RS is an eminently capable mile-muncher.

On highways it’s best to set the ride mode and suspension to ‘Road’ so you can kick back (kick forward?) and let the bike soak up the bumps. It’s stable well into triple digit speeds, so if you want to clear highway segments as quickly as possible, it can, especially in ‘Dynamic’ mode where a quick hit of the throttle rewards you with a boxer purr and copious forward acceleration.

The RS’s sleek profile means the windscreen feels a little low, though – it’s manually-adjustable while riding in two pre-set positions – and if you’ve a quiet helmet it’s better to set it in the low position and get clean airflow over it, if not, go for the higher position and emulate a racer’s tuck. It’s not painful to hold that posture though, as the knee and hip angles are nowhere near radical as a real sports bike’s.

B-roads are where a sport tourer should shine too, and the RS offers a thrilling edge to its comfortable side once you leave wide lanes behind. In Dynamic mode, the chassis sharpens up, and the throttle map becomes more aggressive, even giving a lovely sounding overrun when you’re off the gas. 125bhp sounds like little in this day and age, but in reality, the RS (and R) is a very high-performing motorcycles this side of a litrebike. If you need more power than this, it’s better to opt for a supernaked or something like BMW’s S 1000 XR or the Ducati Multistrada.

The RS feels perfectly balanced as a package, with the sporty riding position encouraging you to actively move your body when taking corners. It’s no supersport bike of course, but there’s more than a hint of that sort of edge to deliver the rider more thrills. The stock OEM Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact touring tyres don’t offer as much grip as we’d like in a bike as sharp-looking as this, but  they did well enough and hardly showed up any wear over the course of more than 300km of riding, plus it’s easy enough to change tyres.

But what the R 1200 RS offers is a lot of confidence. The ability to switch suspension settings on the fly, the safety net of traction control, not having to worry about downshifts when coming into turns, navigation, tyre pressure monitoring…the list goes on. Nay-sayers will think there’s more to go wrong with, but the true value of these things is that it leaves you more attention and mental capacity to devote to the actual riding.

Not everyone thinks nothing of doing a 500km tour in Malaysia, for instance, and we think that reality is likely the opposite. A capable package like the R 1200 RS doesn’t come cheap, but what it does it take the pain, and lots of worry, out of riding which leaves you more time to do what’s most important.

BMW R 1200 RS

Engine type                 1,170cc, 8V, flat twin

Bore X Stroke              101 x 73mm

Gearbox type               6-speed manual with shift assist

Max power                   125bhp at 7,750rpm

Max torque                  125Nm at 6,500rpm

0 to 100km/h              3.3 seconds (est.)

Top speed                   >200km/h (est.)

Dry Weight                  236kg

Seat Height                 820mm

Price                            $38,000 (OTR)

Front Suspension        46mm USD forks, electronic adjustment (DDC)

Rear Suspension         Adjustable rebound, electronic adjustment (DDC)

Front Brakes               Dual 320mm floating disc, Brembo four-piston, ABS

Rear Brakes                Single 220mm disc, 2-piston

about the author

Sabrina Lee