2005 K1200S – A Solution That Just Obliterated the Problem

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p0015155Looking down at the gauges I realize I’m hardly even moving the tach.  The sci-fi whine that would not be out of place on the bridge of some of the galaxy’s better appointed battle cruisers accompanies my 5,000RPM amble.  The twisties are fast approaching, and the devil takes me…

And then the K1200S takes the corners, like no other bike I’ve ridden.  All accompanied to an engine note that has gone from sci-fi to something all together more bestial with an exciting twist of the throttle.

Actually I lied, it doesn’t take the corners “like no other bike I’ve ridden”… it takes the corners almost with the alacrity of a 600.  All the while giving you the comfort of a proper sport-tourer, heck maybe even a big tourer like the ST1300.  It’s a maddeningly contradictory mix to describe, but the K1200S may well be the answer.

To what you ask?  No, not to life, the universe and everything, but the Ultimate Riding Question…  The question that has plagued every sportbike rider who’s ever had to ride 300kms of flat and straight across the skin of this small blue-green speck to get to the really interesting bits of road.  You know the ones, designed by someone who likes tracing the crinkles of fjords, wrinkled hills, or crumpled maps.  A performance which often involves the wrist-wounding act of riding a screaming-engined banshee, chattering across crumbling city pavement and poorly maintained highways, in a seating position akin to the fetal position wrapped around a searing hot lump of metal.  At the words “lets go for a ride”, your wrists ache in anticipation.

After much deep thought, the folks at BMW came up with the solution.  “Let’s,” they said, “build a motorcycle with all the best handling attributes of a sportbike, but, and here’s the brilliant part…  let’s make it comfortable.”  At which point someone from marketing likely mentioned the K1200RS, and was promptly knocked unconscious by a beer stein.

p0015169This bike has the hallmarks of engineers who have run riot.  On-the-fly electronically adjustable suspension, now common on mid-range performance cars, has three modes (normal/comfort/sport), and makes an immeasurable qualitative difference to the butt/back/wrists.  Additionally, the ESA lets you select load settings of rider, rider with luggage, and rider with passenger and luggage while the K1200S is stationary. As an added bonus to the marketing folks this is veritable flypaper to the gadget freak in every potential K1200S owner.

Adding to the comfort is a plush seat that, at first glance, has you wondering how inviting it will be.  The reality is that the seat, like so many other elements of the K1200S, is symbolic of God being in the details.  It’s plush, supportive and nicely shaped for shifting and hanging off, as well as comfort.  The ergonomics again are details that leave you wondering why we’re so addicted to track-inspired riding positions to begin with; not too much pressure on wrists, and knees and ankles un-cramped.  Even the airflow has been refined; it’s smooth and clean and left me wondering if earplugs were truly necessary.  Sum it all up and the conclusion is this: you’re not wrecked when you get to the fun part of the road.

Now, we’ll shame-facedly admit that we thought the Ducati 999 was likely God’s own bike. But wrap the stunning power and handling of a 999 in the comfort needed for actual ongoing road use of oh, say…  riding across the continent, and you get a taste of paradise.  The 999 demands you be so far in excess of the law to have fun that the law need seem inconsequential to you, but with the K1200S, heck you’ll get off on simply listening to the sci-fi engine note cruising at near-legal highway speeds in second.

Lightsabres, it seems, are not the weapon of choice for those needing a bit of terrestrial based force, the K1200S’s throttle is.  The power delivery is smooth and linear to 8000, and then the darkside kicks in – ramping you a max output of 167bhp claimed at 10,250 RPM, and 96 lb-ft of torque on a very flat curve at 8,250rpm.  In actuality you don’t get much pull until 3,500 rpm, and by that point you’re ready for to forget WOT, and aim for LTF (faster than light), or LTL (faster than law).  All this is delivered smoothly, but with enough feedback from the engine note and feel that you know exactly what you are up to – unlike the uber-smooth K1200RS which we found so silky as to be un-informative until you smacked the rev-limiter like a bird hitting plate glass.

All this power is combined with tall gearing.  This means never really having to go beyond second gear for “legal” riding conditions. My first hard pull on the throttle was on a long straight stretch.  I ignored the tach until I thought it was time to shift, based purely on how long I had been pinning the throttle.  Glancing down came the shock; the K1200S was only a bit over 1/2 way to redline!  And the speed, not referenced here after a tortuous conversation with the legal department, already way surpassed what I would have expected from a Beemer.  There is no way of honestly comparing this performance to prior K bikes, only to the super-tourers of the day – Blackbird, Hyabusa, Kawasaki ZX-12R.

p0016302Coupling the stomping peak output with very impressive torque (even at low RPMs) means never having to kick down a gear to put the hammer down.  Even in roll-ons from 2,500-3,000 RPM in 2nd and 3rd, the delivery of power was very even to the redline, but with enough character that its not too “cold” or “soul-less”.  Oh, and arm-wrenchingly fast.

Lean surges seen in past Beemers with constant throttle at around 5500 RPM are unlikely to manifest since at that RPM you will already be traveling at “fun” speeds and are unlikely to be leaving the throttle alone.

The BMW’s own marketing materials make reference to wanting an extra gear.  That begs the question; where in hell would you ever use one?  Racing jet-fighters across Death Valley perhaps?  Even then you’d likely just rip the leathers from your back in shreds as you rip through the sound barrier.  Of course that is hyperbole, but the new K drives you to it.  Everyday linguistic nuances like “F&*K that’s impressive” just don’t do it justice, and that’s before we even hit the twisties proper.

In the curves the handing was very responsive and provided immediate assurance.  Flicking though the eases with near effortless lean is a delight, and oddly the more speed you carry the better the K1200S gets.  Even dead tired and sick, our editor quickly found it easy to easily double the suggested corner speeds, and then raise it just for fun.

The learning curve for getting used to the duo-lever suspension is shorter than the EVO Braking stopping distance.  At first the new setup feels a bit odd, vague and distant.  But do yourself a favor, ride the K over rough road…  carefully stand on the pegs and look down the forks.  While the duo-lever madly pogos, you are gliding in a world of calm and confidence.  Now sit back down before you get yourself killed you fool.

The great thing about the duo-lever is by the time you figure out the duo-lever’s slightly odd feel you’ll already have adapted.  Once I had the feel sorted I couldn’t detect what I thought was odd in the first place.

The only major derogatory aspect of the Duo-lever was a tendency to run wide in turns at parking maneuver speeds.  This is likely to be a pain in roundabouts, but there is a hugely satisfying solution… the throttle.

Brakes are hugely effective, especially coming down from supersonic, and the feel is neutral, unlike the Ducati 999 where the bike stands up quickly if braking while leaned over.  Still, they’re to be applied sparingly unless you are already live in a servo-assist world – one finger should do in all but the most extreme situations.  BMW, in a near unheard of act, has decided to trust riders with the rear brake again; the foot applies the rear and the rear only.  This is a nice touch of a company actually listening to riders after many gripes about the previous generation of integrated braking.  The front brake still works to ensure the “optimum distribution of braking force between the front and rear wheels”.

This statement may be true at speed, but things are different at parking lot speeds, in these maneuvers applying the front brake even softly is very abrupt.  This is especially noticed when paddling the K1200S backwards or walking it around with the system active.  Yes, we know we’re not supposed to paddle, but welcome to the real world.

The new wet clutch was very smooth for a Beemer, but still on the heavy side in comparison to Japanese offerings.  Flipping through gears left one feeling the throw was a bit long.  Since I wasn’t on the autobahn, however, there wasn’t actually a lot of gear-shifting, and I “only” got it up to 240kmh (150mph) before our legal dept. called.

Being a BMW, all the touring considerations have been taken into account, more than any other bike in this class.  The expandable saddle bags are a design that just screams cool, these pods start small and expand out enough to contain a 15 inch PowerBook G4, and some underwear… what more could a moto-journalist want?  A shaft drive? While others may snub this on a “sport bike”, sign me up; chain maintenance on the road is at best a chore, and at worst a greasy, messy pain.

When I got off the bike back at the dealership a few folks came right over and wanted to hear about the bike, typical question of the very Beemer-centric crowd: “would you take it on a long ride?”  The answer, “hell yes!”  Given the chance I would have ridden it home… and home was 3000 miles away!  They all smiled that knowing and slightly touched grin.

This bike reeked of the manufacturer “getting it right”, hitting the nail on the head… and they must have used a very big hammer, possibly one designed by Vogons for smashing small scuttling crabs, and the competition.

My first midlife crisis started at 25. Now after 20 years of riding, this bike threatens to bump-start another.

Pros (lots)
· Intoxicating power.
· Excellent handling and speed.
· Exceptional braking.
· Comfortable seat and ergonomics.
· Not as remote as the K1200RS, better feedback from the road and brakes.
· Great range for a sportbike.
· Dead sexy looks.
· Integrated bags (very cool in their own right).
· Shaft drive (for those who hate chain maintenance).

Cons (very few)
· Likely to be treated as a ST, so a reposition-able windscreen would be nice.
· Brakes too touchy for parking lot maneuvering.
· Duo-lever steers wide at very low speeds.
MSRP: $22,500 CDN
Web:  BMW Canada

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