BMW K1200R – Your Brain on K!

BMW K1200RIt’s as if all the frustration and repression in the fatherland were suddenly given an outlet through this engine, and that should be terrifying.  Except this is a Beemer, so it’s not. This, the BMW K1200R, is civilized madness, a new designer drug to which you are instantly addicted.  The collection of letters and numbers read like an illicit formula, a concoction of motion, power and speed.

Bumping the rev-limiter in second thoroughly trounces every speed limit in North America.  The sound is phenomenal, a deep basso “hoon” singing from the 1157cc transverse in-line four, pouring out a dopamine wash of 165hp across your brain and at the rear tire.  This is a BMW?  As far as I’m concerned this is a watershed, shaming any of the Roundel mark’s previous interpretation of the concepts of “sport” and “motorcycle”.  This is the BMW K1200R and it’s effortlessly shifted my considerable mass to 160kph – in seconds and second.  It would all be intimidating except the chassis, suspension and drive train lay it all down to the road so nicely, so sensibly.

Whack the throttle and you’re rewarded with an instantaneous rush of gratuitous adrenaline and acceleration in near perfect linear proportions.  There is no fear of power wheelies, no nonsense, just go… and go… and go.  The response is a methamphetamine prod to the psyche and the world seen through a pinprick pupil of acceleration; all without the messy side effects of deep-frying your gray matter in an ammonia based bouillabaisse of constituent chemicals, followed by the need for an extended care ward for the clinically insane.  Fear becomes a demoted emotion, completely displaced by the BMW’s confidence and the irrepressible grin of naked bike addiction.

Pushed hard no sketchiness ensues; the K1200R refuses to twitch, wallow, or even get upset over the worst the roads throw at it.  The para-lever and duo-lever working in a synchrony to smooth out the roughest trip and permeate the handling with mellow.  There is no sense of getting on this bike’s nerves, no concern of front wheel lifting coming out of the corners, or rear tire spin after a bit too much throttle.  The Metzler Sporttec M-1’s hook you up, and lock to the road, perfectly matched to the bike’s weight and power.

Pick your pace and the handling feels a mockery of physics, with the K planted and solid almost in complete defiance of the vectors acting on it.  In small part this may be due to the reduced trail of the K1200R, which is 11mm less than its older sibling, the K1200S.  Where the “S” feels bigger and soft, the “R” feels tight, taunt and nimble.  The duo-lever is a marvelous mystery of physics, abstracting the braking forces from those acting on the suspension – the upstart being the wheelbase doesn’t fluctuate under braking due to the front forks compressing.  This keeps the K1200R in large part from wanting to stand up braking hard in the corners, and lends a surreal sense of calm to driving hard out of them.

This is an immaculate rush; ride the K1200R hard, push it and it just keeps getting better.  Lean into the corners with abandon; the turn in is neutral.  In synchrony the front end offers good feel through the duo-lever and the K1200R’s wide bars give plenty of leverage.  In aid of keeping the center of gravity low, the 1,157cc inline four crouches to a near horizontal 55 degrees to the vertical as if ready to pounce, and it works.  There is none of the toppling school of handling found on previous generations of K, like the K1200RS.  There is a feel of solidity and weight as if the 229kg (505lbs) K1200R and the road share a special gravitational attraction – the term planted is an understatement.

Through it all the seating position is mellow enough, even for the tall at 820mm (or an option 790mm free of charge), that once you slow down and get your license back, you could just settle down and enjoy a cruise all easy and smooth.  At 5000 rpm in 6th the engine feels to be idling; it’s civilized, calm, and strictly speaking still illegal in most of North America.  You could spend an entire tour here, reveling in the fact that the world’s most powerful production naked-bike has optional factory luggage and 19 liter tank for range.

Er… right, not likely.  Addictive cues abound… seducing you away from mere recreational use.  Airflow is smooth and clean, belying your velocity and the stock fly-screen’s diminutive surface.  Below 5000RPM the engine is smooth and near silent; a perfect gentleman idling though the landscape.  Then you slip past over five and the noise slides into an enticing and fabulous base throb of cylinders heterodyning thru your skull, like Hunter S. Thompson’s words written “on a head full of acid”.  The soundtrack intoxicates and soon you’re bellowing along, the inline four snarling and singing nefarious intentions.  The engine’s drive is still smooth and powerful until the real pitch and moment comes on at 8000 rpm.  Suddenly the “R” means up, and the rush kicks in with the bike laying down full torque of 85 ft-lbs @8300RPM (estimated).

It’s a feast of sound and feel.  A guttural, throaty intake snarl attempts to devour all the air in the world, through the single opening aside the headlights.  By ear, when you think it’s time to up-shift it’s not; glancing at the clocks you realize you’ve almost got half the rev range to go.  10,000 RPM sees peak output of 163 hp (claimed), and the thunderous soundtrack carries you through to 11,500 and rev-limiter with massive, smooth propulsion. This is what a jetfighter would be like… without the cockpit.  Though this upper range in-line four vibe percusses the bars and blurs the mirrors, there is heart and soul here, and unlike the K1200RS there will be no complaints about the bike being so even tempered that you don’t know what it’s up to.

Moving through the twists and the ratios, shifting is a smooth affair.  Still, when compared to superlative-inducing offerings like Suzuki’s GSX-R1000, the manipulations come off a bit heavy and notchy.  This is not the dry clutch cardio workout of earlier BMWs however, as on the “R”, Beemer has opted for a wet clutch with hydraulic actuation.  This results in an increased frequency of oil changes in comparison to previous K bikes. There is a comforting trade off here; the valve services occur a staggering 42,000 km’s apart thanks to some F1 derived technologies.

Low speeds may fail to capture your attention on the K1200R, the engine feeling hemmed in by mere traffic speeds.  Clutch-less up-shifts inspire the speedometer to shoot briskly upwards towards top speed attempts.  Hugging the tank and laying flat sees you reach 240kp/h with much more engine to go.  Stronger people could go beyond this self-imposed limit, but you’re being force-fed your helmets chin bar, and there’s a stout Bavarian man standing on your chest – and he’s celebrating Oktoberfest.  Throughout it all the incredible windblast remains clear, clean and smooth despite the minuscule fly-screen.  You may be out in the elements, exposed, but it doesn’t feel unprotected or unpleasant – just like your arms are about to be ripped out of their sockets.

The allure of a naked bike, even one such as the K1200R with engine crammed into every corner of frame, is that you feel the velocity.  That encourages you to slide down to more rational paces, even if the “R” is capable of far more through the twists.  Our tester, unfortunately, was not EAS (electronically adjustable suspension) equipped, but the stock suspension is firm enough to be sporting, and plush enough to not be punishing.  Over roads where you’d be suffering a GSX-R 1000 wedgy, the K1200R eats up the bumps and wallows.  Which is expected, this after all is a BMW, and no matter how much sporting is added to the recipe the creature comfort of the ride must be accommodated.

Ripping you out of the rush are the K1200R’s binders.  Much has been said about BMW’s semi-integral ABS braking system.  In the end, complaining about BMW’s servo assisted brakes is like whining that 101 Dalmatians has too many dogs in it.  Luckily with the K1200R you don’t have to.  The servos have much better feel than previous generations, with the brakes easing on, gently at first, and then delivering immense power as the servos sci-fi whir into full action, coursing fluid through the steel-braided lines.

Spoiling the buzz, so to speak, is the brake operation when the bike is off.  Deprived of the servo assistance the brakes become 20% of their former selves making parking lot and walking maneuvers dodgy.  The fueling at low speed is also questionable. Luckily you’ll likely never be doing low speeds on this bike.

Coming down from speed by letting off the gas you get a slight surge after the fact.  In a hands-off test, allowing the bike to decelerate naturally without throttle, it came down smoothly from 11,000 rpm to 3000, where K1200R received an extra bit of fuel, accelerated again, and then continued to slow.  Pick-up is also an issue.  From a closed throttle, and when transitioning from open to close, the transition is a bit harsh and jerky.  In light of the excellent fuel injection on less costly fare like the GSX-R 1000, one has to wonder why BMW can’t round of this excellent package with a brilliant throttle control to boot.

Making up for it all is the looks.  The K1200R sits there staring you down in an angry squinty Clint Eastwood sort of way, and there’s no doubt that this is BMW’s new tough guy… from a company that brought you… Wait, no, they’ve never brought us a tough guy before.  “Go ahead, make my track day.”  Frame protectors are present and accounted for, stock, encouraging you to consider such a proposition.

There are more details, which create a design syntax that works into some elemental archetype of a raging mad naked bike.  The gauges are simply art; at night the red back-glow to the dials is menacing and easy to read at once – evil has a new tach and it looks good.  The 10-spoke rims, in their complex and whirling geometry, invoke thoughts of a jet-turbine.  While the center-less rear hub extends the metaphor, a product of form and function meeting in an elegant single sided swing-arm.  Even in flat grey the K1200R draws crowds, swarms of the acquisitive swan by in business suites and leathers, the “R” uncompromisingly tending the gardens of their avarice.  Everyone wants to try it, but not all have the courage and all should fear this new addiction.

The K1200R is no hooligan through it all.   It’s a grown-up and refined sort of criminal, one that’s been to anger management, kicked the habits and has gone on to something better.  The fury and edge is here, but wrapped in enough civility to transform random scatterings of corners, connected by pavement, into something more aggressively lyrical.  It assaults the senses and then coddles you when you need it.  The “R” threatens with its stance and massive output, but that rage is channeled to the road.  You are left with no thought of the fury turning on you.  Being a naked sport-bike and a BMW, it could have been an impossible tangle of horsepower and deluded marketing efforts, instead of random scatter the BMW K1200R works in a challenging and complex way, augmenting the intensity of your riding consciousness, transfixing and mesmerizing.

What follows riding a bike like the K1200R is recovery.  It’s 5:45 AM the day after returning the “R” and I’m ruined.  Back on my own VFR800, I keep attempting to restart the engine and honking the horn – the Beemer’s switchgear has corrupted me… as has every other aspect of the K1200R.  The power, oh do I miss it, I turn the VFR’s throttle and there is no electric rush of torque.  Like an addict I need a fix.

Having once referred to the K1200RS as the “Special-K” I realize that I was totally wrong.  The white-line snorting K1200R is the real road party drug, and giving it up is the hardest thing to do.  Luckily we’ve got some methadone handy – next month we’ve been hooked up… with the Ducati 999.

Methadone?  Maybe not so much…

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Nathan says:

    Best review ever of the K1200R, I picked my K bike up for a song from an investment banker who admitted he was terrified of the bike and haven’t bothered looking back since that day…


  2. Daniel says:

    Loved the review and the writing style! I just got an ’06 “R” and can’t get over the differences when compared to my FJR1300. I thought that bike was quick and agile for a sports tourer. This thing is a land rocket on rails!


  3. Dave says:

    Awesome writing, I can almost feel HST guiding your thoughts in places, but your own style wins through and stamps your own mark on the piece. As an owner of a K1200R, I salute you for catching the soul and essence of the bike completely.
    Well done.


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