7000 rpm and the R1200S surges forward with a kick worthy of a sportsbike. 122 horsepower in an air-cooled twin is a BMW revolution. Nothing less, however no one else makes flat-twin Boxer engines. Fact is that the new BMW is more powerful than most liquid cooled V-twin sports tourers. Problem is that R1200S is not designed to be a tourer. We sampled the new BMW sports bike on South African mountain roads and on Killarney race track just outside Cape Town.
BMW R1200S is packed full with torque and Boxer power. The torque is very noticeable as the familiar Boxer torque surge sets in as soon as first gear is chosen. First gear is slightly higher than I would have preferred and a few revs are necessary to pull out from the lights. Quite a few revs are necessary for a race start which makes it difficult to keep the front down. I started the day in the misty mountains in the wine districts north of Cape Town. Because of the excellent roads here and the mountains the place had a European feel to it. R1200S is a much lighter motorcycle than the old R1100S. It still carries some bulk where the handle bars still feel oversized with gigantic handle bar weights. The Boxer engine will always give the R1200S a heavy look, but fact is that the dry weight has now been reduced to 195kg. This makes the R1200S the lightest road boxer ever. Only HP2 Enduro is lighter and that can hardly be called a roadbike. Still R1200S is a big motorcycle and a mammoth next to let’s say a Ducati 999 or 1000SS. With 85cc more, 24 extra ponies and 13kg less the R1200S is a huge improvement on the old R11S.
Despite the feel of a big motorcycle the R1200S handles like a much smaller one. On the mountain roads it felt like the easiest thing in the world to flick the big sportsbike from ear to ear. The new BMW will be delivered with several tyre options. Our test bikes were fitted with Michelin Pilot Power. They were not so confidence inspiring in the early morning on the slippery mountain roads. As soon as it had dried and I had some heat in the tyres they suited the Beemer very well. On the roads both tyres and suspension contributed to a neutral and stable feel. The front Telelever is now stiffer and particularly on the racetrack I could easily change the line mid-turn. The Paralever EVO has been lightened and a glittery Ohlins shock is attached to it. When I first entered the seat the suspension felt soft with quite a bit of sag. On the roads there were no doubt that R1200S can still be used as an alternative sports-tourer. The seat is comfortable enough and the rear ride height does not put too much weight on the arms. R1200S features a new ABS system that can be turned off. The system is not linked and there is no servo to save weight. It is remarkable how good the front brake is and using ABS there is hardly any pulse action at all. I have never ridden any other sports bike with such a good unlinked ABS system. It was so good that I forgot to turn it off at the racetrack!
After spending the morning on mountain roads I headed out to a sun drenched racetrack to put down as many laps as possible before the photographers arrived. Killarney racetrack is a short and easy racetrack with one sweeping left hander, two straights and several right-handers-perfectly suited for the R1200S really. The corner speed can be adjusted up quickly as the R12S is so stable both when turning in and when accelerating out of the bends. The only place I experienced instability on standard suspension set up was out of a big in camber right hander that lead out onto the paddock straight. I chose second gear here to ride the torque and then full power up to third and then fourth. Over some uneven surface on full throttle and rpms in third the handle bars moved from side to side a little. I short shifted to fourth a couple of times which calmed the chassis down a bit. However it was a great feeling to have a lively BMW under me so I stuck to third again later. BMW R1200S has got a steering damper which probably is a bit excessive, however that handlebar movement on standard suspension set up would have been amplified without the steering damper. I spoke to a couple of journalists that had not noticed the movement described, but had made adjustments to the rebound damping. For track use there is plenty of adjustability such as ride height. I preferred to circulate on standard suspension as I was racing no one but myself. That might not be entirely true as I rode my fastest laps at the end of the day when photography was out of the way and no one passed me on the standard set up Beemer R12S. Even with ABS on I could brake almost as hard as I wanted into the turns. I found it best to finish the braking and carry corner speed at most of the circuit even though some of the bends would lend themselves to deep braking and hard acceleration out. It’s easy enough to explore the full potential on the R1200S as it turns and steers beautifully. The Michelin Pilot Powers on 120/70-ZR17 and 190/50-ZR17 provided perfect grip on the warm surface and really absorbed the bumps brilliantly. The tyres were helped by very good suspension and also the fairly high weight that gives a stable feel over the bumps. On the main straight it was possible to either max out in fifth gear or short shift to sixth before braking for the fast left hander that followed. I saw around 230km/h on the speedometer a couple of times so I guess 250 should be easily achieved if the straight is longer. Because of the particularities of a flat-twin engine the whole motorcycle sort of stands up on the suspension when the torque curve hits the sweet spot. But less so on R1200S than other Boxer BMW’s. The dog-shift six-speed gear box gave me no problems at the track. The only thing might be that there are easier boxes to use without the clutch, or perhaps it is the Boxer-like torque pulses that intervene. To explain the latter BMW R1200S sort of surges forward in a jump when next gear is engaged without the use of clutch. Other than that the ratios seems to work well, particularly between 2-3-4th gear. To sum up the track test it is remarkable how fast something as peculiar and clumsy looking as the R1200S can be around a racetrack. All the time you have got this feeling that R1200S is too big to be a sportsbike, but still it’s as satisfying as anything to ride.
The new 1170cc engine descends from the big R1200GS update. The R1100S never got the 1150 engine and for this reason the R1200S is miles better than the old R1100S. The new horsepower has been achieved by extensive modifications to the cylinder heads in particular. R1200S also features new high load resistant conrods, modified camshafts, harder valve springs and new pistons. Compression rate is increased to a staggering 12.5:1 and is mainly responsible for the torqey feel despite of the high revving (8.800rpm) air/oil-cooled engine. Maximum torque is now 112Nm @ 6.800rpm. An engine like this can probably be tuned to around 135-140 bhp in race trim, so the 122bhp in the standard bike with air/oil cooling is pretty good. It feels good too, especially with full throttle opening the engine pulls like an ox from 7.000 rpm. It really is noticeable and evidence BMW has increased the rev ceiling to make the new R1200S as sporty as a Boxer can be. BMW has followed the US army motto; “Be all you can be”. R1200S is all that.
I am glad to see the new R1200S and the fact BMW is continuing its huge effort towards the more sports orientated market. R1200S is still a gentle giant compared to the K series 1200 engine, but for most people that can be a good thing. If you own an R1100S and have resisted the temptation to purchase something more powerful now is the time to upgrade. The R1200S is a huge update compared to the old R11S. It still takes most of the design clues, but in particular the rear end now looks more modern with the two pipes stacked under the pillion seat. But don’t expect your pillion to appreciate the new R1200S as the pillion position now with the new underseat exhaust is higher than before. The ABS brakes are great and as with any BMW you get great second hand value and no worries about maintenance. You just have to ask yourself this question; Is it a better deal than a cheaper and more powerful Japanese sportsbike?