Prior to the dashing red-and-silver streak before you, BMW’s twin-cylinder sportbike was the R1100S, introduced in 1999. It was a groundbreaker by virtue of having BMW’s most powerful opposed flat twin to date, with a claimed 98 horsepower at the crank and 500 rpm higher redline of 8,400. It was also the first boxer with a six-speed transmission. These features alone suggested that the German company was serious about the sporting intent of the R1100S, but this is also a class in which BMW will only go so far with its R-series bikes. Their traditional shaft final drives and BMW’s insistence upon long-distance comfort-or at least the intention of it-limits any boxer “sportbike” BMW produces to more of a sport-touring role, at least when compared to motorcycles most riders consider true sportbikes.
The same is probably true of the all-new 2007 R1200S, but if I hadn’t told you, you may never have found out. Once again we have BMW’s most powerful boxer engine to date, now with a claimed 122 horsepower and 83 lb-ft of torque at the crank, in the “hex head” engine introduced in the 2005 R1200GS. At 482 pounds ready to ride with a full tank, weight is down from the R1100S by a claimed 29 pounds, and cornering clearance is increased. Twin mufflers are stacked under that very businesslike tailsection in serious sportbike style, which only allows the addition of a seatbag-no hard luggage will be offered. Yet the bike retains a very reasonable seating position that is much more comfortable than the awkward ergonomics of its R1100S predecessor, and still has the trademark Paralever single-sided swingarm instead of a chain. Granted it’s the lighter and more aggressive-looking EVO version from the GS, with its top-mounted torque arm and 50mm hole in the final drive, but the number of current “sportbikes” with shaft finals can be counted on one hand. BMW says that because of these things its version is a “sportbike with character.”
More oomph is created in the R1200S primarily by new pistons and cylinder heads giving the engine a whopping 12.5:1 compression, but also revised cam timing and lift, larger throttle butterflies, intake manifolds and exhaust headers. The six-speed transmission is carried over without changes from the R1200 series, and those lovely cast aluminum wheels are from the K1200S. Hanging it all together is a two-piece, tubular-steel main frame `a la GS, with a bolt-on square-tube aluminum seat subframe (easily replaced after an accident) and magnesium front fairing support. This combination is far stiffer and lighter than the old R1100S structure, a quality easily felt in the new bike’s much-improved handling.
The first thing you notice about the R1200S is just how tractable the revised engine can be. So broad is the powerband that shifting frequency is vastly reduced compared to more high-strung sportbikes. Yet this mill really rips given a full twist of the throttle, with GS-like torque quickly giving way to more than 100 wheelie-pulling horsepower at the rear wheel. The bike’s lightness contributes to its brisk acceleration, of course, and the engine still has the boxer’s usual flywheel effect to rev past and some sideways twisting from the longitudinal crankshaft. But the ripping-velvet sensation and throaty bark of the power delivery is ultimately satisfying, and the six-speed transmission good enough now that it doesn’t get in the way, even gets the job done well both up and down (as long as you’re deliberate). Light vibration and some shakes at lower engine speeds are certainly present but are never bothersome, and there’s simply no suspension jacking from the final drive, just a tiny bit of driveline lash. To my mind this is justified by the lack of maintenance-that’s a lifetime oil fill in the final drive, says BMW.
BMW introduced the R1200S in South Africa on a day ride from Franschhoek to the Killarney racetrack near Cape Town, where we put the bike through its paces on the somewhat bumpy but interesting circuit and then rode back. Two things suggest even more sport seriousness on BMW’s part: Rather than a heavier, more complex setup, the $925 optional ABS for the R1200S is an upgrade of the lightweight (3.3-pound), two-channel, non-integral ABS without servo assist from the F650-and it can be turned off for track days or racing. In addition, our South African bikes were equipped with the $690 optional Öhlins suspension for the R1200S, which adds spring preload and rebound damping adjustability up front and a fully adjustable piggyback reservoir shock in back (not to mention a hearty dose of Swedish quality and those telltale yellow springs). So that we could ride them back-to-back, when the bike was introduced Stateside, I requested one with the standard suspension. It consists of a non-adjustable spring strut in front for the Telelever and a rear shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping, both made by Showa (with boring silver springs, ahem).
If you’re a heavyweight like me at 215 pounds and like to ride briskly, by all means get the √ñhlins package. Most riders will be happy enough with the Showa suspenders for regular riding, but in fast, bumpy conditions similar to Killarney where the √ñhlins bike was controlled and supple, the Showa-equipped one can wag its head and hop a bit in back, kicking harshly in the seat. I did not notice any change in the bike’s handling with the different suspension, as it’s quite stable either way, with vast amounts of cornering ability and sure-footedness on the Metzeler Sportec M-1 tires front and rear. Moderate-effort, comparitively slow steering with a heavy steering damper favor the rider in fast sweepers more than tight corners. The relaxed ergonomics and a deceptively comfortable yet sporty seat allow both long-distance comfort and hanging off aggressively-handlebar grips are placed just right for aiming the bike while your chin is on the tank, as well as cruising down the highway without too much weight on your wrists.
Stopping power on the R1200S is provided by the usual strong triple discs, the opposed four-piston calipers up front having good linear power and the rear pedal not too much. I liked this unlinked, non-servo-assisted version of BMW’s ABS best among its current offerings, as it doesn’t intrude on braking feel. The brake and clutch lever each have small adjusters for different-size hands, and the fluid reservoirs (including the rear brake’s) are remote for light weight and easy replacement.
Although you can carry a passenger on the R1200S by replacing the rear cowl with a diminutive pad, so far no one has volunteered. Those high passenger footpeg hangers unbolt easily, of course, and BMW has included a bright LED taillight on this model. There’s a small storage space under the locking rider’s seat, and the pair of analog instruments are a quick read, as is the LCD display with various indicators such as gear position, time and range remaining on the reserve fuel. Just don’t confuse the temperature gauge for a fuel gauge, as many of us did in South Africa, where getting stranded beside the road takes on a whole new meaning.
So which is it, sportbike or sport tourer? As you may have surmised, the R1200S Character Sport is both. On the gas the bike’s only limitations are the traditional BMW driveline-which has some lash and requires deliberate shifts using the clutch-and the harshness of the standard suspension, easily fixed by throwing some dollars in the √ñhlins package. A 6-inch-wide rear wheel for mounting a 190/50-size tire is available for incurable go-fasters, too. For getting there, the bike is far more comfortable than much of the competition, and is further enhanced in this area with that decent little windscreen, optional soft luggage and heated grips. Whether you look at it as a comfy sportbike or a racy sport tourer, the R1200S is a complete package.