With its competition hard on the gas and more stringent Euro 5 emissions, noise and durability regulations looming on the 2020 horizon, for the 2019 model year BMW revamped all five of its boxer motorcycle models powered by the liquid-cooled flat-opposed twin. Bumped from 1,170cc to 1,254cc with a larger bore and longer stroke, the DOHC, 4-valve-per-cylinder boxers also received a form of variable valve timing (VVT) that increases power, broadens the powerband, improves fuel economy and lowers emissions and the required fuel AKI from 89 to 87.
Cost and limited space on motorcycles make VVT more common in the automotive world, and to date it’s only been used in a few Japanese and Italian motorcycle models to open additional intake valves or increase intake valve lift and duration at higher engine speeds. BMW’s Shift Cam VVT is unique in that it slides or “shifts” the boxer engine’s intake cams left or right, engaging either a partial or full-load cam lobe under certain loads at low speeds, or at 5,000 rpm regardless. The shift happens in milliseconds so it’s undetectable, but the result is a noticeable improvement in smooth grunt at low rpm and more power on top. The last Shift Cam R 1250 we tested in 2019 — which has an identical engine to the R 1250 R reviewed here — made 121.5 horsepower at 7,800 rpm and 92.5 lb-ft of torque at 6,600 at the rear wheel, a significant improvement of about 14% on both counts over the last R 1200 engine we ran on the Jett Tuning dyno.
The R 1250 R is the lightest of the five R 1250 models (a claimed 527 pounds wet for the base model, or 545 pounds gussied up with $4,645 worth of optional equipment like our test bike), so the additional power and broader powerband of the Shift Cam engine make a noticeable difference in the bike’s fun factor. Acceleration is crisp right off idle, and power builds gradually and is easily modulated at low speeds in any gear or riding mode. Once the revs break about 5,250 rpm the urge comes on urgently, until the engine is ripping hard near its 9,000-rpm redline. Whether two-up touring or solo sport riding, solid, usable midrange or screaming top-end power is never more than a downshift away. There’s no detectable flat spot or surge from the Shift Cam doing its thing at 5,000 rpm or anywhere else, just loads of smooth drive and great sound from the single muffler that ranges from purring kitten to racing twin. Some vibration creeps into the grips at higher engine speeds, but it’s of the low-frequency, twin-cylinder variety that isn’t intrusive, especially since you’ll need to be shifting quite soon at that point.
In addition to a special Option 719 seat and paint, our R 1250 R tester came equipped with the $2,950 Select package, which bundles hardware options like a centerstand, heated grips, TPMS, Keyless Ride, cruise control, saddlebag mounts, GPS prep and a chrome muffler. It also includes Gear Shift Assist Pro, an up/down quickshifter that works smoothly and easily between most gears except 1st and 2nd, where shifts are too abrupt to go without using the clutch lever. Power gets to the back via BMW’s Paralever shaft final drive, which reduces maintenance chores and keeps throttle changes from affecting the rear suspension.
We like BMW’s largest Roadster model primarily for its simple versatility. The R 1250 R’s seat height is moderate and can be dropped further with a low seat option; the seating position is slightly sporty but comfortable for long rides, with just enough forward lean to fight the wind; and its somewhat wide handlebar and sport-standard running gear lend it to just about every type of riding, from sport-touring (perhaps adding a windscreen and saddlebags) to commuting to sport riding. Our test bike was shod with premium Metzeler Roadtec Z8 17-inch radial tires that grip well and enhance agility, and the bike returns quick, neutral handling to any sort of steering inputs. It helps a lot that the super strong triple disc brakes, USD front and single shock rear suspension are up to any task (in our experience even on the base bike, which has the same fork and adjustable spring preload and rebound damping in the rear only).
Standard equipment also includes two ride modes, Rain and Road; ASC or basic traction control, Integral ABS (linked ABS brakes) and Hill Start Control, which holds the bike at a stop for you on inclines to ease starting out. Software upgrades in the Select package add ABS Pro and Dynamic Traction Control, which enable both at lean angles as well as straight up. Select also adds Ride Modes Pro, which brings Dynamic and Dynamic Pro riding modes (essentially sportier and customizable braking and traction intervention settings), Dynamic Brake Control, which prevents throttle application when the rear brake is applied, and automatic Hill Start Control Pro.
Suffice to say that I sampled most of this stuff and it all works quite well, especially ABS Pro, which keeps the bike from standing up while braking hard in corners. Perhaps the best aspect of the Select package is Dynamic ESA, or electronic suspension adjustment, which BMW has simplified on the 2020 boxer models to the choice of Road or Dynamic damping settings switchable on the fly, and Auto, Maximum or Minimum rear preload, which must be changed at a stop. Auto keeps the ride height correct in back regardless of the load and does its job well but firmly — when I wanted a softer ride and the lowest seat height I switched to Minimum. Dynamic damping mode keeps the bike well controlled in the corners with my 200 pounds and some gear aboard, but was too stiff for commuting, where I found Road mode was more comfortable. The damping changes accordingly when the riding mode is changed, but can be easily overridden with a switch on the left bar.
This is also home to BMW’s slick Multi Controller wheel for the menus and selections on the R 1250 R’s large 6.5-inch TFT display, the optional GPS unit and the BMW Motorrad Connected navigation app. In addition to vehicle and maintenance monitoring and a robust trip computer, the multifunction display offers Bluetooth smartphone, headset and media connectivity. There’s definitely a learning curve involved, but the display is super bright and easy to read, and once you figure out the basic controls and selections the rest is pretty intuitive.
Thoughtful details on the R 1250 R are easy to take for granted, but I came to appreciate them a lot living with the bike. Convenient right-angle metal valve stems are threaded into a spoke on each cast wheel, for example, where they’re easier to access. Both the clutch and brake lever are adjustable, and despite having halogen bulbs, the standard dual headlight is excellent night and day (as is, I presume, the LED taillight). I like having actual buttons versus electronic menu selections for the heated grips and riding modes, and the optional Keyless Ride system and its fob greatly simplify starting the bike, getting gas and locking the steering. Fuel economy is way up with the Shift Cam engine, too — though our average mpg is only 42.0 thanks to some spirited riding and lost receipts, we regularly saw upwards of 50 mpg on the trip computer, which would give the 4.8-gallon tank terrific range on regular gas.
No doubt many riders overlook the BMW R 1250 R roadster for its sexier, broader-based GS, RS and RT siblings, but even without all of the bells and whistles in the Select package (if you can find a bike without it), the R 1250 R is quite possibly the simpler, better choice for a lot of riders who don’t need more weight and complication in their lives. Isn’t that most of us?
2020 BMW R 1250 R Specs:
Base Price: $14,995
Price as Tested: $19,640 (Select package, Option 719 paint & Black/Dark Brown Seat)
Warranty: 3 yrs., 36,000 miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, longitudinal flat opposed twin
Bore x Stroke: 102.5 x 76.0mm
Compression Ratio: 12.5:1
Valve Train: DOHC w/ VVT, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Adj. Interval: 6,000 miles
Fuel Delivery: BMS-X EFI
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 4.2 qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Shaft, 2.75:1
Ignition: Digital electronic
Charging Output: 508 watts max
Battery: 12V 12AH
Frame: Tubular-steel bridge frame w/ engine as stressed member & Paralever cast aluminum single-sided swingarm
Wheelbase: 59.6 in.
Rake/Trail: 27.7 degrees/4.9 in.
Seat Height: 32.3 in.
Suspension, Front: USD 45mm fork w/ Dynamic ESA & 5.5-in. travel (as tested)
Rear: Single shock w/ Dynamic ESA & 5.5-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual discs w/ 320mm floating rotors, opposed 4-piston calipers & Integral ABS
Rear: Single disc w/ 276mm rotor, 2-piston floating caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.5 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.5 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Wet Weight: 545 lbs. (as tested)
Load Capacity: 469 lbs. (as tested)
GVWR: 1,014 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.8 gals., last 1.0 gal. warning light on
MPG: 87 AKI Min (avg) 42.0
Estimated Range: 202 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 3,250