BMW’S R1200RT tourer has become one of the most technologically sophisticated motorcycles in production for 2014.
For a start it’s got BMW’s traction control system, called Automatic Stability Control, or ASC, with two riding modes: ‘Road’ and ‘Rain’.
There’s an additional optional ‘Dynamic’ mode for sportier riding, and a ‘Hill Start Control’ function to counter the unwanted influence of gravity. Upshifts and downshifts can be made without shutting off the throttle or engaging the clutch, with the optional ‘Gear Shift Assistant Pro’ system.
It’s got optional semi-active suspension, automatically adapting to conditions and riding. It’s got a new tubular steel frame and 1,170cc liquid-cooled boxer twin engine, based on those from the R1200GS.
And of course, it’s got ABS as standard. No doubt about it, the new RT is pretty advanced stuff. So does it work?
At the launch in Spain, BMW provided journalists with the ‘LE’ edition. It comes with a long list of extras including electronic suspension adjustment, assisted gear shift, heated grips and seat, an alarm, pannier central locking, cruise control, a chrome exhaust, and a high-resolution colour display. And breathe. The LE edition costs £15,390 on the road, £2,190 more than the base model.
On top of all that extra standard equipment, BMW had thrown the rest of the options book at the RTs they handed out. Extra extras included the ‘Dynamic Package’ (£365), with the hill-start thingummy and extra riding mode, and an audio system (£1,050. Yes, really). It brought the price of the RTs we rode to over £17,000.
I reached one conclusion before even getting on one: BMW needs to simplify its range of editions, options and ‘packages’ to something within the horizons of the human attention span. But that’s no grounds to judge the bike.
The new RT makes 125hp and 92lbft of torque, enough to move its 274kg bulk with impressive swiftness. Like all modern BMW boxer engines, it’s hugely tractable, something that can’t be conveyed by peak figures. In third gear, it hill haul the RT uphill from under 3,000rpm. It lets you leave it in one gear as you sweep smoothly from one corner to the next.
Then it gets going as the revs climb. With acres of screen and fairing shielding you from the wind, as you sit on a seat so plush you can feel it yielding over imperfections in the road, it feels like piloting a fusion-powered spaceship. As the needle rises toward the red line, I’m reminded of stars turning into streaks of light as the Millennium Falcon goes into hyperspace.
The Dynamic riding mode gives a more aggressive throttle response, and while the RT is too big to feel exactly sporty, it does add to the sense of drama.
The RT isn’t all about bulk though. Once you get going, it hides its mass well and becomes something you can point in and out of corners with surprising ease. With the suspension set to ‘Hard’, it’s composure under acceleration and braking is excellent, with minimal pitch. The brakes are more than capable. The Brembo monobloc calipers, which it shares with the GS, allow hard braking with one finger. I was grateful of the ABS.
You could almost forget you’re riding something big enough to ram-raid the Bank of England. It’s only as the corners tighten up and get closer together that you’re reminded this is no sports bike. You can’t blame it for that. Just look at the mass of gubbins-filled fairing over the front end. It’s a wonder it turns at all.
No, the RT is best enjoyed on sweeping bends, with enough space between them to nail it and use the assisted upshifts. The changes are remarkably seamless. Accelerating through the gears, you knock the selector up without shutting off, and it shifts up as smoothly as if you’d used the clutch, but probably more quickly.
It works best when you change gear in a predictable fashion. Or, in BMW speak, ‘in the load and rev speed ranges that are of relevance for riding’. In other words, change up at high revs while accelerating, or down at low revs while decelerating, and you’re in for an incredibly smooth change. Anything else, like a sudden decision to change down in the mid-range, and you’re in for a jolt, and better off using the clutch. And despite BMW claims, you can’t really change down without closing the throttle, at least not without another jolt. The system works well, within the parameters of common sense.
On longer straights, you can press a button and watch the screen glide and tilt upwards to well above eye level. Suddenly the wind quietens and you can better hear the rumble of engine. I’m 5’9” but another tester who’s well over six foot said the screen was tall enough for him.
Whack the stereo on, turn it up, and lift your visor to hear it even better, with the screen to deflect any flies or debris. The sound quality is excellent but, disappointingly, you can’t connect a mobile phone to it via Bluetooth. While the system has Bluetooth, it only works as an output to a headset, not as an input to play music from another device. You can still play music from your phone but only by plugging it in to a USB or 3.5mm socket inside one of the two fairing glove compartments. Considering the stereo costs £1,050, that’s regrettable.
But you can’t get too annoyed while cruising along a Spanish coast road on an RT. Switch the suspension to ‘Normal’ for an even smoother ride. Go for ‘Soft’ if you really want the five-star experience. Snatch an occasional glance at the sea. As Jeremy Clarkson might say about some car or other, it’s just a nice place to be.
If glancing at the sea sounds distracting, you should see the colour display in the RT’s dash. It’s where you choose most of the settings, including those of the heated seat and grips, traction control and stereo. It’s all very intuitive, operated by turning a wheel on the left bar with your thumb. But as a corner looms on a mountain road, you think: ‘Maybe I should stop tuning the radio now.’
I’m not sure about the hill start system either. Pull the lever hard at a standstill and the system will not release the brake again until you pull away, to prevent you rolling controllably downhill. But rolling uncontrollably downhill would probably the result of getting in a fluster and forgetting what to do. If that happens, you’ll probably also forget to pull the lever hard enough to engage the system.
Also, it then take extra gas on pulling away to disengage the brake. Too little and the bike could stall. Since the system only works when the engine is running, the rider would then find himself back where he started, rolling downhill. By the time he's mastered it, he'll probably have mastered conventional hill starts too. No doubt BMW has developed it in response to feedback from riders who say they’ve had problems on hills, but if it’s going to be of any real assistance, I think it needs to be a bit cleverer.
It’s not a deal breaker though. The RT is a high-tech luxury yacht of a motorcycle, capable of providing inter-continental travel in majestic comfort, whose commodious dimensions belie its speed and agility.
Model tested: BMW R1200RT LE
Price: £15,390 (base model £13,200)
Seat height: 805mm. Optional high seat 825mm
Colours: Metallic blue, metallic grey, metallic black