Motorcycle review: This BMW is an easy rider – USA TODAY
Looks can be deceiving with BMW’s R1200RS.
The 1,170 cubic-centimeter sport tourer looks like a sizable beast, especially with its boxer engine sticking out the sides. The motorcycle stands at about 4 feet at its highest point and runs 7 feet in length. It weighs about 520 pounds, what might seem like more than a match for my 5-foot, 2-inch, 120 pound frame.
BMW did fit my test bike with its lowest seat, giving it a seat height of 29.9 inches (they go as high as 33 inches). Once I swung my leg over the bike and pushed it off the kickstand, I was surprised at how easy it was to get it upright.
Once I got the bike moving, it felt superbly balanced. The four-stroke, flat-twin boxer engine actually lowers the center of gravity, making it feel even lighter and easier to maneuver than my 2007 Ducati S2R1000, a naked street bike that weighs a little over 400 pounds wet.
One thing about the bike’s appearance that are not deceiving: It is as fast as it looks. Effortlessly so. A slight twist of the throttle, and the bike just pulls, even in lower RPMs. At 65 miles per hour in sixth gear, I could roll on the throttle and quickly pass a slower vehicle without downshifting. In fact, I rarely found the need to downshift for power. BMW says the bike puts out 125 horsepower.
The RS has many options. The one I rode was equipped with the premium package, which adds $3,175 to the base price. It also equipped the bike with keyless ride, dynamic electronic suspension adjustment, gear shift assist pro, cruise control, heated grips, a tire pressure monitor and other features.
Sure, all those buttons and switches on the handlebars seem intimidating at first, but BMW does a fine job of making them fairly intuitive. It doesn’t take long to figure out how the cruise control works or how to operate the scrolling menu. And for those who already own newer BMWs, there’s very little, if any, learning curve.
This is the first motorcycle I have ridden with a “gear-shift assist pro,” which basically means you can shift up or down just with the foot shifter. You don’t need to pull in the clutch lever, which is actually very light and smooth. (Kind of a pity, since you don’t need to use it much.)
Because of the torque output, shift assist can be a bit jarring in the lower gears – going from first to second or second to third — but it really smooths out in the higher gears. Oftentimes I barely felt the engine shift from fifth to sixth. (I will say, with practice, you can learn the feel of the engine, and by the end of my test period with the bike, I was able to shift from first to second pretty smoothly with the shift assist.) Downshifting was just as smooth with the bike. It just took a while for me to stop instinctually grabbing for the clutch lever every time I started to brake.
Cruise control, another first for me, was also easy to use and it works on the same principles as cruise controls in cars. If you are prone to long trips, cruise control is wonderful because it allows you to rest your throttle hand.
I’ll use another cliché: Too much of a good thing.
BMW did an outstanding job with stability. Almost too good, because its stable, smooth ride (not to mention excellent wind protection) tricked me several times into thinking I was traveling about 65 to 70 mph – not 90 to 95.
BMW’s automatic stability control, which helps reduce uncontrolled rear-wheel spin, and dynamic ESA suspension, which continuously adjusts dampening, made highways, back roads and pock-marked city streets easy to traverse. The bike always feels well-planted and stable, whether you’re making hairpin turns or braking hard and swerving to avoid an object. The Dynamic ESA uses sensors at the front and rear suspensions and continuously monitors speed, braking and acceleration, helping to control the pitch of the bike chassis. I got none of the wobbly feeling when riding over imperfections.
The sure-footedness of the RS is a real confidence booster.
The bike also has settings for rain, road and dynamic (a sportier mode), and riders can choose from soft, normal or hard dampening. Spring preload can also be adjusted.
The seating position is a relaxed, fairly upright position. I may be a little more leaned forward than larger riders because of my short arms and torso. Riders accustomed to cruisers, adventure bikes or true touring motorcycles may find the position sportier, but BMW does put the RS in its sport category after all.
Keyless ride meant I always kept the key in my jacket pocket. You just have to be near the bike with the key and hit the start button (again, similar to how it works in cars).
The instrument cluster is easy to read and had digital and analog features. The speedometer is analog, while rpm, odometer, gear indicator, air temperature, clock, trip meter, range, fuel consumption and probably more than you ever need to know is digital. Of course, views can be customized.
I really couldn’t find much to gripe about with the RS. Some of my taller friends said they would likely swap out the adjustable windshield for a higher one since even in the “up” position, it left a lot of buffeting. I didn’t really have that problem with my smaller size. It’s easy to adjust, too. You just yank it up with your hands or push it down. Again, taller riders could adjust the windshield while on the bike. My reach was too short, so I could only adjust the windscreen when parked.
The 2016 R1200RS starts at $14,995, but you’d probably be hard-pressed to actually find a base model. With the premium package, it jumps to around $18,000. Some RS competitors include Honda’s 782 cubic-centimeter Interceptor, which starts at $12,499. Or Kawasaki’s 1,352 cc Concours 14 ABS, which starts at $15,499.
Overall, the RS is a great all-round motorcycle that would do well touring the country or picking through city streets. What excites me the most about the RS is that it’s a very capable, powerful, handsome full-size motorcycle that even smaller riders like myself can enjoy. And for my fellow women riders searching for viable upgrades, you might want to take the RS for a spin.
BMW 2016 R1200RS DETAILS
Engine: Air/liquid-cooled 4-stroke flat twin
Capacity: 1,170 cc
Horsepower: 125 hp at 7,750 rpm
Max torque: 92 foot-pound at 6,500 rpm
Electronic fuel injection with ride-by-wire throttle system
Gearbox: Constant-mesh 6-speed gearbox
Front brake: Dual floating disc brakes, 4-piston fixed calipers
Rear brake: Single disc brake, dual-piston floating caliper
Fuel capacity: 4.7 gallons
Standard seat height: 32.3″