Photography by Rich Cox/Slide Action
I rode one of those R1100RTs back to SoCal from the intro in Kalispell, Montana, in fact, with another journalist on an identical bike, and I couldn’t have been more comfortable. Along the way we were pulled over twice for riding 10-15 over the limit. In Montana, the friendly patrolman issued us $5 tickets for “wasting natural resources,” or something to that effect. The second time I’ll never forget—after he red-lighted us on the Snake River Parkway the equally red-faced Idaho cop said, “Do you know how fast you guys were going on those Ninja bikes? I thought for sure you were gonna run….”
After explaining that, no no, officer, these were touring bikes—see the saddlebags, the big windscreen, the upright seating?—and that us innocent touring types had no intention of breaking the law, we had just lost track marveling at the scenery, he let us go (which I understand puts us in a very small group among the many riders who have been pulled over on the Snake River Parkway). We had no intention of revealing, of course, that in a contest of handling, the RT was the equal or better of any sport-touring bike he had ever chased, and that mere moments before he spotted us…well, never mind.
In the thousands of miles I’ve put on the various models of the R-RT since, I can’t remem-ber anyone else mistaking one for a sportbike like a Kawasaki Ninja, but the Idaho cop’s confusion was understandable. The RT may be a touring bike, but to the average person that aerodynamic bodywork looks racy indeed, even with the bags on the back. And the new R1200RT will definitely surprise you from the saddle, too, the first time you challenge the bike to fulfill your Walter Mitty-type fantasies on a winding bit of road.
For 2005 BMW has completely revamped its iconic touring boxer, giving it a larger, more aerodynamic fairing and triple halogen headlight setup, an improved electric windscreen, new seats, a larger luggage rack and better detachable locking saddlebags. From the cockpit it looks even more the part of a mile-eater, with its trip computer display on the new digital Info Flatscreen, cruise control, wide mirrors and adjustable levers. Our test bike even had an optional AM/FM stereo radio and CD player, speakers and antenna up front.
Yet as we explained in our preliminary report on the new R1200RT from the Canary Islands intro in Rider, May 2005, the first time you bend the bike into a turn, the assumption that you’re riding nothing more than a sedate twin-cylinder tourer is blown away. The RT’s light-weight feel and razor-sharp handling give it an affinity for corners that most agree isn’t even shared by BMW’s own R1200ST sport tourer, tested last issue. And while the previous R1150RT was a bendmeister in its own right, the new R1200RT is a tad more neutral and quicker steering in tight turns, with greater stability in the fast ones.
A new chassis, wheels and revised suspension are responsible for the additional handling competence. When it redesigned the R1200GS adventure-tourer for 2005, BMW’s primary goal was to cut weight, so it went with a lighter and stronger all tubular- and box-section steel frame, eliminating the cast-aluminum chunks in the old skeleton. Up front a lighter forged-aluminum Telelever A-arm pivots on steel tubes now, and the new, lighter Paralever rear swingarm—with its 50mm hole in the final drive and torque arm flipped topside—pivots on the frame now as well, instead of the transmission cases. All of these improvements transfer to the R1200RT, with appropriate revisions for its touring mission and slightly tighter rake and trail figures than the R1150RT’s.
At the heart of the R1200GS redesign were changes to the opposed flat twin-cylinder engine intended to increase power and smoothness and reduce weight, all of which are incorporated in the new R1200ST and the R1200RT engine identical to it. Thanks to a higher compression ratio of 12.0:1 (vs. 11.0:1 in the GS), different cam timing and a 500-rpm higher redline of 7,500, both the ST and RT enjoy an even bigger power boost. On the Borla Performance Dynojet dyno our R1200ST cranked out 95.3 horsepower at 7,600 rpm and 74.2 lb-ft of torque at 6,250 at the rear wheel, an increase of nearly 14 horsepower and 8 lb-ft over our 2002 R1150RT test bike. If anything our R1200RT felt a tiny bit stronger, but we didn’t bother making a dyno run with its identical engine.
We covered the technical details of the ST/RT engine in the last issue, but some of the highlights bear repeating. Foremost are the engine’s longer stroke, for a displacement increase from 1,130cc to 1,170cc; and the addition of balance weights on the ends of the existing gear-driven sub-shaft below and parallel to the crankshaft. More power and solid engine mounting would result in some nasty vibes reaching the rider without the latter. The new engine is smooth enough, in fact, that BMW swapped the “overdrive” sixth gear in the transmission for a shorter top-gear ratio, which improves responsiveness and passing performance. New BMS-K engine management employs sophisticated integrated fuel delivery and ignition with two spark plugs per cylinder—none of our Two Spark test bikes have surged, and anti-knock control allows the use of midgrade fuel without engine damage, though premium is recommended.
Few changes were needed to the RT’s ergonomics to comfortably accommodate most riders, and in fact the handlebars are unchanged. The rider’s seat was the previous bike’s bugaboo, and it’s been replaced with a much more comfortable pad that’s still adjustable to two heights. A 1.6-inch lower, two-height unit is available as an option as well. In front of the rider, the new electric windscreen is wider, taller and a little farther away, so it can be angled better—the result is quieter airflow at a wider variety of heights. A clever new rail system on the plastic tank top accommodates an optional quick-release BMW tankbag (but complicates mounting others and leaves holes if removed), and in back the redesigned luggage rack is easier to use and larger—an optional 28- or 49-liter top trunk pops right on.
Our R1200RT test bike in the United States performed similarly to the unit ridden by contributor Kevin Ash in the Canary Islands. We also noticed that while it’s smoother lower in the powerband where you spend most of your time, ridden aggressively some additional vibration rears its head at higher rpm in the R1200RT, where the R1150RT had little or none. Our bike’s windscreen flapped around a bit excessively, too, even when down, and we also have to report that our test bike’s expensive sound system wasn’t very effective through the speakers (perhaps helmet headsets would work better, but we had no jacks). The CD player actually skipped over small bumps, too, a problem long since eliminated even in inexpensive portable units. I recommend using the spaces in the fairing reserved for the sound system for the optional pockets instead.
That’s the whole of the bad news, though—the good news is that everything else works brilliantly. Where the 1150’s power output could occasionally leave you wanting for more, say two-up and loaded passing uphill, the R1200RT has power to spare, and actually makes the dang thing downright exciting. Gear changes are smooth and effortless now, with none of the previous notchiness, and except for that slight bit of vibration up high there’s no engine glitchiness to intrude on the party at all. Taller riders knocked their knees on the fairing at times, but otherwise the comfort package on the R1200RT is first rate—an all-day bike with a whopping 7.1 gallons of fuel. We made several long rides on it both solo and two-up and couldn’t find fault with its comfort—someone was really paying attention this time. Passengers even benefit from the larger windscreen, and could easily tell the difference when it was raised into a higher, warmer, wind-blocking position or lowered for a cooling breeze and the best sight line in the corners. I don’t have space to laud the numerous little creature comforts, but I especially liked the new saddlebag opening and release mechanism and how they will hold a large full-face helmet now. The standard heated hand grips are awesome, as are the optional heated seats on our test bike.
A new option for the RT this year first appeared on the K1200S (which we will have a final test of next month). For $750 you get Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA), a hydraulic servo-operated system which allows you to change rear spring preload (when stopped) and front and rear rebound damping (stopped or moving) from the handlebar. In short it works wonderfully and is well worth the extra bucks, but is a luxury most riders can live without, thanks to the convenient remote preload adjuster under the standard bike’s seat and good factory damping settings (adjustable in the rear). ESA also raises the bike’s seat height 1.5-2 inches. That’s easily compensated for with the optional low seat, but you will lose some legroom underway.
The R1200RT’s excellent suspension is complemented by equally terrific triple-disc brakes with opposed four-piston calipers up front and ABS standard, the kind of stoppers that can slow the bike hard enough on clean pavement to make you nauseous from the negative Gs. Thankfully BMW has judged the R1200RT sporty enough this year to receive its Partial Integral ABS rather than the Full setup, so only the front lever action is linked with the rear brake—the rear pedal just applies the rear brake. Feel at the lever is much better these days, with unsurpassed strength and braking confidence, though we’d still like it to be more linear.
Upon weighing the R1200RT we discovered that BMW’s dietary claims depend upon equipment levels—a non-ABS-equipped 1200 without any options may be 70 pounds lighter than the previous 1150 with ABS, for example, but our 2005 R1200RT with Integral ABS, ESA, sound system, heated seats and anti-theft alarm weighed 630 pounds wet, just six pounds less than our 2002 R1150RT ABS test bike (which had no options). No matter, the new bike still feels much lighter than it is, and 630 pounds with all of that stuff compares nicely to, say, a Yamaha FJR1300, which weighs in at 649 pounds wet without ABS or options. Sure, the FJR makes 30 more horsepower, but who’s counting….
Overall the 2005 R1200RT is a major leap forward and well worth upgrading to from any previous year. In the touring and sport-touring universes its big load capacity, plentiful, functional accessories and extra standard equipment put the RT a rung above most of the competition (and make it more expensive, oh well), and the extra power this year enables it to run with the pack. And its handling—I can’t promise you’ll be able to talk your way out of any tickets, but it is quite novel to have this level of handling performance in a complete touring package.