First ride: 2015 BMW R1200R review

BMW's new roadster promises 'pure, unadulterated riding pleasure.' We'll be the judge of that

IF you’re in the market for a naked BMW I can’t imagine there’s ever been a better time to buy new. 

Launched earlier in the year, the S1000R caters perfectly to sporty riders looking for a bit of upright comfort. Then there’s the R nineT, a retro naked which sold out long before it even reached dealerships - fair to say BMW’s styling department hit the nail on the head with that one. 

And now there’s the new R1200R which promises ‘pure, unadulterated riding pleasure’ through its punchier engine, updated styling and comprehensive electronics package. 

At first glance it would be easy to dismiss the new model as little more than a conservative version of the R nineT; However, a closer look at the spec sheet shows there’s a number of not so insignificant differences that set the two bikes apart.

For a start, the new R1200R uses the water-cooled 1170cc flat-twin boxer engine from BMW’s latest R1200GS. That means 125hp and more torque throughout the entire rev range than the 110hp air-cooled unit used in the R nineT.

Then there’s the different riding position, the cheaper price tag, and the endless list of electronic goodies which come standard on the R1200R but not the R nineT. 

And with over 50,000 examples of the first-generation model sold since 2006, it’s not like BMW doesn’t have a good reason to keep the R1200R in its line-up. 

But unlike its predecessor, the new model now features conventional USD forks instead of a telelever setup, a plethora of electronic rider aids and a much fruitier engine. Gone is the commuter styling and dull paintwork, replaced with sleek new lines, premium components and an optional extras list that can turn the R into a semi-custom bike capable of just about anything.

In fact, customising seemed to be somewhat of an underlying theme during the R1200R’s International press launch in Alicante. It all got a bit confusing to be honest. 

There’ll be three different versions of the bike ranging in price from £10,250 to £11,910 on-the-road. The base model is finished in ‘Cordoba Blue’ and gets ABS and traction control as standard. A Sport version is available in white with red accents and comes with a belly pan and fly screen, ‘Gear Shift Assist Pro’, stainless steel tank cover and extra riding modes. 

At the top of the range is the R1200R Exclusive which comes with just about everything, including gold forks with electronic suspension adjustment, cruise control, an on-board computer and a luggage rack with pannier fastenings. The Exclusive will only be available in metallic grey.

Journalists rode the Sport model upgraded to Exclusive spec with a number of optional upgrades including keyless start, heated grips and LED indicators.

With a wet weight of 231kg I was expecting the R to feel sluggish through corners, but it took only minutes of riding to reveal the complete opposite. The low-slung boxer engine helps keep the bike’s centre of gravity low; couple that with a perfect 50/50 weight distribution and it’s by far one of the most effortless bikes to ride quickly.

The benefit of that weight and long 1515mm wheelbase is added stability and predictability. Stick the front end into any type of corner and it’ll track around with oodles of accuracy and feedback. Not once did the bike feel snappy or skittish even when provoked. And for that added peace of mind there’s also a fork-mounted steering damper to tame any front end wobbles.

Another element of the R which also helps improve stability is the Gear Shift Assist, a quickshifter which works on both upshifts and downshifts. Whilst the main emphasis of the unit is to reduce gear change times it also helps keep the bike settled by providing perfect rev-matching for seamless downshifts. Banging down three gears in quick succession without using the clutch won’t feel right at first, but when you get used to it you’ll reap the rewards. Oh, and it also sounds extremely good.

The engine doesn’t sound bad either. It’s no RSV4 but catch an upshift just right and occasionally you’re rewarded with a satisfying pop and burble from the exhaust. That may not happen that often though as the water-cooled boxer lump could happily stay in third gear all day and carry out just about any task without shifting up or down. For such a big twin it’s incredibly smooth and makes decent power right up to its redline in each of the four riding modes. You can choose from Rain, Road, Dynamic or a Custom map - each mode permits the full 125hp but adjusts the fuel map to either soften power delivery or give the rider a more direct throttle response.

Two radial four-piston Brembo calipers carry out braking duties at the front, biting down on the 320mm twin-disc setup. I only ever had one finger covering the brake lever which was always enough to scrub off speed at a considerable pace and get the ABS system to chime in over most surfaces. The bike is fitted with decent Metzeler Roadtec Interact Z8 tyres in sizes 120/70/17 and 180/55/17, the same as most sports bikes, to help give the bike a large footprint on the road for extra grip.

The electronic suspension system also helps to increase grip by continually adjusting compression damping, rebound damping and preload settings on the fly. I can’t say I noticed changes in feel throughout the test ride but perhaps that’s sort of the point: it subtly takes cares of everything in the background whilst you concentrate on more important matters, like that fast approaching hairpin.

It’s not all German and serious though, there’s a playful side to the R1200R too. A quick push of a button turns off traction control which you’ll need to do if you enjoy the occasional wheelie. The wide set bars, light throttle and featherlight clutch all make it pretty easy to hoik up the front end for some one-wheeled action. 

For the more practical amongst you it’s worth noting that the bike is fitted with an 18 litre fuel tank. By the end of our ride we’d covered 110 miles and the digital dash showed over a quarter of a tank remaining. Managing just over 40mpg whilst being ragged across Spanish mountain roads, I suspect over 50mpg is easily possible under normal riding conditions. Long distance touring wouldn’t be out of the question either thanks to the comfortable seat and relaxed riding position, although a more useful screen to reduce wind blast wouldn’t go amiss.

From where I’m sitting BMW can do no wrong at the minute. The new R1200R is a fantastic piece of kit that felt more and more worth its price tag the longer I rode it. The understated looks may not immediately grab you but take a bit longer to admire components like the aluminium headlight surround, single-sided swingarm and candy red tubular frame, and you can begin to appreciate the high level of quality on offer.

Bring on the R1200RS - you know it’s going to be good.

Model tested: 2015 BMW R1200R Exclusive

Price: £10,250 to £11,910

Power: 125hp

Torque: 92lbft 

Wet weight: 231kg

Tank capacity: 18 litres

Seat height: 760mm to 840mm - standard seat height is 790mm

Available: February 2015

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