I remember well the air of anticipation and excitement as I unloaded from the truck the wooden crate wrapped in clear plastic containing my new BMW R90S. The place was Malaysia in 1974, and I had purchased the motorcycle from the BMW concessionaires in Park Lane, London three months earlier. Those were the days when it paid to belong to the "Commonwealth Armed Forces" as I remember paying 1275 pounds plus 200 pounds shipping to Malaysia (retail price was 1900 pounds), and the Australian government devalued the dollar days after I transferred the money to pay for the bike, which made the purchase even better value. I had just been posted to Butterworth for 3 years with the RAAF.
Completing the pre-delivery instructions (I was given by BMW UK) in record time, I added fuel, plates and battery acid and charged the battery. I pressed the start button and the big twin purred into life. Quickly grabbing my AGV full-face helmet (taboo in Malaysia at the time - afraid I was a bank robber), I climbed aboard and headed towards Thailand on the main road.
I vividly remember the first acceleration through the gears, it was like I was controlling a giant elastic band as it effortlessly put me beyond the speed limit in the first few hundred metres. Up until that time I had owned a proliferation of Japanese bikes; Suzuki Hustler, Yamaha 350 and Yamaha XS2 650. They all had one thing in common - really sloppy suspension that got worse with age. So my first corner on the BM had me subconsciously visualizing the railroad tracks that I must be on, as it went where you pointed it. This was the start of a life-time love affair with BMs.
So how is this all relevant today? Well I have been a BMW rider ever since, having owned (over the last 32 years); R90S, R100RT, R1100RT, K1200LT and now the R1200RT, and my first ride on the R1200RT was the only time since the R90S that I had felt that same level of smoothness and stability in a BMW motorcycle... they have finally got it right... again. Don't get me wrong I still liked every BMW that I owned, except for the K series, which was a brief foray into disaster, but I will make that the subject of another report. However all the boxers since the R90S have always had an inherent buzz through the frame, which over large distances really becomes annoying, and in the case of the R100RT, caused most fairing-mounting bolts to eventually break away by pulling the thread from the fibreglass structure.
The First Ride
I kept a very close eye on the R1200RT since its release in December 2004, mainly to make sure the bike did not have any of the flaws of the K1200LT, something which nearly ruined my close relationship with BMs. In November 2005 I finally decided to test ride one and, after a nice little spin around Brisbane, I plonked my money down and ordered the show-room model.
So the day finally arrived when I picked up the new beast. The salesman is carefully checking off all the handover points on the running sheet, and all the while I are not absorbing any of it as all I want to do is get going and take a gentle spin up Mount Nebo. Probably one of the reasons why I enjoyed the first ride on the R90S so many years ago... no salespeople. I'm probably being a little unfair to salespeople here as our local guy tries hard to balance the requirements of his employers and getting his customers the best possible value for money, and does a pretty good job satisfying both. So the salesman finally gives up and hands me the key and the plastic spare and I head off. Really BMW what ever happened to two usable keys?
I love the running in period as it is the only time I know what it must be like to be a schizophrenic. "Now I'll just open it up a little... no no no... keep it under 4000... remember be gentle." The new bike from the first moment is all I hoped it would be. I spend the next two weeks taking it out on quiet country jaunts with little or no traffic around, except for the half-dozen police cars all over my favourite road up Mt Nebo.
Sure the R1200RT has only been out for a short period and may have some long-term idiosyncrasies... but I doubt it. From day one you get a really good feeling with this bike and I have not been disappointed so far. The inclusion of counter-balancing to reduce vibration really shows the first time you fire it up, and the first acceleration, silky smooth. I do not normally operate in the high rev range so the buzz that comes in at about 5000 is of no consequence to me, and I even like the feedback when you really open it up to pass that long line of traffic quickly. It makes the return to normal speed a relieving experience. Did I say 5000.. no I must have been mistaken as the "good" me is still being gentle.
The R90S, having conventional suspension, tended to have a desire to always point straight when cornering. On climbing onto my first telelever/paralever suspension (R1100RT) the bike tended to try to point into the corner. Really disconcerting at first. The worse case was with the K1200LT where the high centre of gravity made cornering an absolute nightmare at anything below 20 km/hr. Apart from moving the paralever mounting towards the rear of the R1200RT chassis, I do not know (technically) what the BMW engineers have done to the suspension... but it works. The bike maneuvers like a motorcycle only half its capacity. I guess the weight reduction has a lot to do with it, but the cornering has a neutral feel that even rivals the R90S. Still the real advantages of the telelever/paralever is that I have never experienced any; rear-wheel wobbles at high speed, front fork shimmy over bad roads, or the nose dive under heavy braking that you get with a traditional telescopic fork/swinging arm setup. Still at speeds up to 80 km/hr the R1200RT suspension is a little like being on a rocking horse, but once at touring speed this minor problem disappears. I suspect that fine tuning of the back suspension will eventually eliminate the rocking motion altogether.
But is the R1200RT perfect? Well very close, but it has a couple of "strange" things about it, but they are countered by a couple of niceties that I really appreciate. The first strange thing is the back brake lever. I do appreciate that it does act independent of the front brake (a real plus), but the roundness and length (similar to the gear shift lever without the rubber) makes it feel like you are operating it with the inside of the ball of your right foot. I found it difficult to exert sufficient pressure and I worry about slipping off in wet conditions. Two centimetres longer and a traditional flat face would have been better. However the inclusion of the tyre valve into the side of the base of one of the alloy spokes in the front wheel is pure genius, but should have been included on the rear wheel as well. Getting a service station tyre inflation device onto an earlier model was not only difficult, but I bet I'm not the only person to burn themselves on the exhaust or scrape a knuckle in the process. So a back wheel one would be nice (anyone at BMW listening?).
The new gearbox is the best I have ever used and the really nice thing is when you select first gear and try to push down again, you are unable to do so. A great feature that tells you by feel when you are in first, which allows you to have to stop looking at the gear selection number on the dash to make sure. The same applies to 6th gear. This would have been great on my R1100RT as you were always looking for another gear.
The clunkiness is still there and really needs the clutch lever all the way in or the clunk is even worse, but all shifting is positive with no false neutrals or double takes to get it in any gear. The clunks seem to be getting better as it wears in. The inclusion of cruise control is also a god-send as I loved it on the K1200LT.
I have never been a big fan of tank bags, but for those who are, the addition of an assembly to enable quick release of a tank bag with no scuffing of the beautiful paint-work is probably a blessing. But the jury is still out on how easy it will be to clean the tank properly, and my bracket will probably come off (if it can be done easily - but I doubt it). I also have a love/hate relationship (well hate really) with paint-work stickers. Add a couple of nice polishing sessions and the edges of the decals look like rubbish. I tend to heat gun these off when new so the paint-work does not get a chance to fade and leave an indelible impression.
Speaking of the paint-work (which is excellent), it will be an extremely expensive exercise to lay one of these down. Sure there are cylinder head protection mouldings, but once down, the panniers and fairing sections are going to suffer as well. The way BMW charges for spares and accessories it won't be pretty. While on the subject, over $1000 for a large top box... and $400 for a tank bag? BMW are trying to appeal to a younger market but pricing like this will be counter-productive. Checking on new motorcycle pricing we are already paying $3000 more than other countries on average for a R1200RT (who also have a GST, VAT etc.). Still I'm digressing, if you want the best motorcycle in the world you have to pay for it. But you will never increase market share under this policy, and BMW Australia needs to give us world pricing parity. Before I get an angry letter from BMW I must warn you that I am aware of the spin doctoring you can put on this (exchange rates, GST, isolation, small market, special conditions etc.), and yes, I did pass maths at school.
One thing that has plagued every BMW I have owned is the battery. In most cases I have been lucky to get two years out of any battery. The R1200RT uses a sealed unit and I have invested in a proper BMW trickle charger that should offer the best opportunity to keep the battery healthy during periods of inactivity. Time will tell on this one. Not having to worry about the overflow tubes spreading excess fluid over various parts of the frame will be a bonus. Also the two year warranty either indicates BMW has a handle on the battery life issue, or this may be an expensive exercise for them. I also appreciate the cadmium plated fairing screws. The colour coded and black anodized ones on other models looked terrible after the first fairing removal, no matter how careful you were.
Nicht glücklichen Jan
But here a few of the things I do not like, and in the words of an Australian TV commercial... "not happy Jan", or a well-known radio announcer, "shame... shame... shame." My criticisms are mainly bought about by the removal of a number of standard features that were the envy of the motorcycle world, and BMW deserves a kick up the proverbial Bavarian back-side.
- The toolkit is pathetic for a touring motorcycle - Once the best toolkit on any motorcycle, now a pile of inadequate junk. BMW will spin-doctor this by saying that the bike is more technical and therefore does not need a comprehensive toolkit, but then they list an optional extra toolkit, thereby shooting that excuse in the foot. I will be spending my money on a GOOD set of tools, and until this situation is reversed, I will make sure that all potential buyers know of this joke BMW calls a toolkit.
- No puncture repair kit... this is really stupid. They probably think that cars don't carry one so why should motorcycles? Well we don\'t have a spare... and this little black duck will not hesitate in calling road-side assist to come and tow me in... just hope I am on the Hay plains at the time. I wonder how many call-outs for flat tyres it will take before BMW realises that it would have been cheaper to have a puncture kit in the first place.
- New fairing mounting... just grab the fairing 10 cm below the BMW badge and give a tug. Way too flimsy for my liking and tends to buzz at certain rev ranges. Would have been nice to join the top and bottom mounting tubes and provide a stronger anchor point. This lack of strength in the mounting also causes the fairing (and hence the light and windscreen) to bounce up and down excessively (mainly on bumpy roads) ... to the point that cars start flashing their lights at you... thinking you are flashing yours.
- Seat height... being 178 cm tall I find I am in the grey area between the standard seat and the lower seat option. But instead of giving me a choice when I bought the bike, I get a standard seat only, and have to shell out big bucks for the lower seat option. Not a good policy BMW, and it needs fixing. A class action suit would be a nice option for owners who experience the occasional damage caused by a slip through excessive seat height.
- The pricing of all optional extras and accessories. It seems like the financial department at BMW are choosing a high price and doubling it. "There is no greater disaster than greed." (Lao Tzu - 531 BC)
I don't want to make this report appear too negative as BMW, with the R1200RT, have created a touring motorcycle that will be heralded a classic in years to come, much like the R90S. Everyone that has a desire to buy the world\'s best touring motorcycle will not be disappointed with the R1200RT, my only concerns are that the steady decline in the price and quality of all the peripheral items are going to sour a very positive ownership experience.
The improvements that have been made with the R1200RT are not (on the surface) earth shattering, but collectively they have produced a new benchmark for touring excellence. You need to experience that for yourself.