On a motorcycle we are titans, roaming a new and beautiful world, unsuspecting, innocent, and uncaring of the changes we will see, moving forward along interlaced roadways, and existing in the now of travel and motion. Nowhere has this been truer than riding the BMW Montauk; it is the bike that has given explanation to the entire cruiser genre for me.
The sun glinting off chrome offered a certain euphoric promise as I was walked through the pre-flight checklist before I set out on the BMW 1200C Montauk. I’m familiar with bikes bearing the propeller logo, so the quirks of signalling and integral braking are not new to me, but what is new is “cruising”.
I’m a sportbike and sport-tourer rider, though often those definitions blur, I’ve ridden only a few cruisers. So when John Valk BMW/Ducati offered up the Montauk for a test I approached the bike with a bit of trepidation. “It’s not a sportbike, you don’t go out on this aiming to pass,” iterated John, “it’s a different way of riding.” He is, of course, right.
The engine comes to life and with the vibration I’m reminded of something not motorcycle, but aviation. I’m hit with thoughts of a golden age of flight and adventure in a relaxed, and perhaps romanticized period, where people took the time to enjoy travel if only because that time was available. This bike is not a Harley clone, despite an engine re-tuned for more shake; it is an incarnation of travel, clad in chrome, deco cues, with dual vertically stacked Orient Express headlights, and unrepentant for a lack of top speed.
Working up the nerve to pull out initially was a bit of a challenge, as I said I’m not a cruiser rider by nature and this is a big bike. The seating position caught me off guard; after missing the forward set foot-pegs a couple times all was fine. In traffic it’s not a bike for sudden motions, but that’s not the soul of this machine anyway. The soul? That you find past the confines of the city on the open road.
Here the Montauk reveals its true personal geography; the engine’s twin vibe, the gentle flow of the wind over the screen, the leg-forward seating position, the wide set bars, the plush seat, deco billet dash… We are often defined by our desires and dreams and on the Montauk you want nothing more than to travel. You know it will take a while with a mere 61hp, but you really don’t care. You are at cruising altitude over the intricate network of asphalt that makes up the roadways of North America – even if only in your mind during a day run. This bike is named after Montauk, New York, maybe not because of the resort town the place is, no, because it is a symbolizes the spirit of summer travel and carefree days.
Where is this spirit of travel coming from? The dual-spark engine is relaxed and torques strongly. At a standstill a twist of the throttle will noticeably kick the bike to the right, almost off of its side stand. Here it’s character, on other bike it would be a quirk. In motion, the top speed is probably 150kph, but we didn’t bother to go there, that is not the point of this bike. The shake is comfortable and not overwhelming, it’s less a vibe and more an airport lounge massage chair. The wind-flow is gentle and facilitates singing in your helmet. “Head out on the highway looking for adventure…” might spring into most peoples minds not having ridden this bike, but it’s softer, more eloquent and less brash than that, maybe just hum the happy bits from Pink Floyd, and then in the corners…
It’s all “Ride of the Valkyries”, the paralever/telelever suspension (lifted from the R1200CL) and wide bars mean that slowing for the corners is strictly optional. The fat lady not only sings, but she can dance too. Not nimbly, but with a smoothness, grace, confidence and sure-footedness you’d not expect simply by looking at this piece of rolling art. Part of this assuredness comes from the Travel-Related Damping rear shock, which provides progressively more rebound damping as the spring is compressed.
Admittedly, the telelever leaves only a vague feeling from the front-end and its massive 150/80-16 front Metzler (only 20mm narrower than the 170/80-15 rear), but this is a cruiser, and for such the handling delivered is impeccable. You’re not sitting with your legs on the highway rests looking to push anyway, just to travel – but should you choose to cue up the Wagner, keep in mind that though the Montauk will lean, it scrapes early.
Truly though, the joy of this bike is a release from the performance anxiety of the sportbiker; how hard can you push, how far did you lean, how little are your chicken strips, these are not questions when piloting the Montauk. It is simply enough to ride and enjoy. The Montauk relaxes you, supports you, and keeps asking you if you wouldn’t mind going just a bit further… “What’s past that bend?” “I wonder what the next town is like?” “How would you like to see the real Montauk? Craggy rocks jutting out of blue abysses under azure skies…” You feel like you could go forever and relax the whole way. It doesn’t matter that the real Montauk, according to Frodor’s, is a fishing community that “doesn’t put on any airs, with its seaside hotels, thriving fishing and boating community, and surfer-studded beaches”. It matters that to get there you’ll pass through “rolling farmland and vineyards, spectacular mansions and ranches, and blue skies and sunshine.”
There is more to the Montauk just a romanticized sense of the golden age of travel recaptured; that sense is thoroughly augmented with BMW technology. It is a golden age made, better, safer, more comfortable and efficient. The Montauk is a heavy bike with a claimed wet weight of 584 lbs, which may put it in competition with smaller trains, but handily hauling the Montauk down from speed is the “servo-activated” EVO braking, with twin 305-mm four-pistoned calipers up front, and the single 285mm disk two-piston binders in rear. And just in case you’re not on your braking game, the integral ABS is there for you, applying force to the disks both front and rear regardless of which brake you activated. Other modernisms have crept into the design; the dual-spark engine is cleaner burning and about 5% more fuel-efficient than it’s predecessors and will keep the local greenery a bit healthier for your passing. The 5-speed gearbox with dry clutch is, after an initial clunk dropping into first, pure German dessert – which is to say just buttery, almost incongruously so given the heft of the rest of the bike. And those beautiful chrome pipes, double walled to prevent bluing and discoloration from the exhaust heat. Oh, yes, and with all that chrome, prepare to polish and be noticed – the Montauk stands out in a crowd with its handsome, refined good looks. It’s all very well thought out, except for a few niggles, most of from the view of sojourner’s comfort.
The bike as tested featured the optional rider and pillion comfort seats, and really for serious legs-on-the-pegs cruising a back support is needed, the bike coddles you in so many ways so why not this. A bigger windscreen to further decrease the breeze might interfere with the front end’s look, but the benefits to rider and passenger are clear. Ah, and then there is the engine… 61hp is… well a little under-whelming on a bike of this size. It really needs another 10 or so ponies to make it competitive in freeway traffic, but once out of the chaos of the city, back on the secondary roads it’s well suited for the habitat.
That point brings us back to what we loved about the R1200C Montauk. It is an escape from everyday life. The bike is simply an evocative experience from firing it up and feeling the engine torque under the throttle, to giving in to its subtle request “Let’s go a little further, lets breath a little,” it says, “lets enjoy the world a little more, lets go find a romanticized vision of Montauk.” And on the way, you may find yourself singing a bit – that’s alright, the resonant burble of the pipes will accompany you.
Thanks to John Valk BMW/Ducati for providing our test bike: http://www.johnvalkbmw.ca