First Ride: BMW R1150 Rockster review

BMW's new Rockster is heavily based on the R1150R, but comes laced with a little more attitude, a snazzier paint job and a Marty Feldman headlight cluster

Click to read: BMW R1150 Rockster owners reviews, BMW R1150 Rockster specs and to see the BMW R1150 Rockster image gallery.

BMW caused a few arguments at last September's Munich Show when they pulled the wraps off a concept bike based on the R1150R roadster. With lurid paintwork and graphics, asymmetrical headlights from the dual-purpose R1150GS, and a bunch of cycle parts borrowed from elsewhere in the Boxer range, the prototype generated plenty of strong comments both for and against.

Enough people liked the bike for BMW's bean-counters to decide that the sums added up. Six months later the R1150R Rockster is in production to add a bit of edge to the Boxer range. BMW's standard R1150R was often described as the firm's bad attitude bike following its launch two years ago, but the Rockster's squint-eyed stare gives it a notably meaner look.

Along with the distinctive bodywork shapes inherited from the 1150R, this bike's orange and black paint scheme is an equally vivid alternative to the original lime green and black (which is an option). Above the headlamps is a small wind deflector that houses an instrument panel which, in suitably idiosyncratic fashion, combines a black-faced speedo and white tacho.

Most of the Rockster's components including its 1130cc, eight-valve aircooled engine come from the R1150R. This is the first of BMW's Boxer motors to be fitted with the new twin-spark cylinder heads that will be introduced throughout the range this year. They're claimed to reduce fuel consumption and emissions by giving more uniform combustion, but the motor's performance, including its peak power output of 85bhp at 6750rpm, is unchanged.

Chassis bits are also borrowed mostly from the R-bike, including the tubular steel space-frame with its Telelever front and single-sided rear suspension systems. Some parts are from the sportier R1100S, though, including the smaller front mudguard, the Telelever stanchions and the wider, 5.5-inch rear wheel, which wears a 180/55-section Michelin Pilot Sport in place of the standard model's 170. (The curious black cylinder to the right rear of the bike is for US emissions, by the way.)

Ergonomics are slightly altered by the Rockster's flatter handlebars and a seat which at 835mm, is 35mm taller than the R's. (A 40mm lower seat is available as an option.) At 219kg dry the BMW is not particularly light by naked bike standards, either, but its generous steering lock was helpful in traffic. In the outskirts of Daytona the bike was manoeuvrable enough to encourage me to trickle between two lines of cars and up to the front of the queue at the lights.

Perhaps the Rockster's look was too aggressive, though, because a Harley rider was staring at me from beneath his plastic helmet. "You can get a ticket for that," he called across, referring to my filtering to the front of the queue (illegal in Florida), and sounding as though he hoped I would get one. Next thing, the old guy in the car that I'd just pulled up alongside was joining in, beeping his horn and gesturing angrily at me to get back behind him where I belonged.

Best response was to ignore the fools, tread into gear with the reasonably smooth-shifting six-speed box, and leave them for dust when the lights changed. The Rockster is no more of a dragstrip king than the standard R model, but it stomped forward pretty rapidly when there were traffic-light battles to be won. It pulled cleanly from below 2000rpm, with a rather disappointingly flat note from its twin pipes, and worked best in the meaty midrange zone between about three and five grand.

From that point up the Bee-Em got a bit buzzy, and stayed that way until the redline at 7500rpm. But five grand in top is an indicated 90mph, so the Rockster was pleasantly smooth at a typical almost-legal motorway pace, with power in hand for brief bursts towards a top speed of about 120mph. By naked bike standards it's well suited to reasonably rapid cruising, too, as the flat bars and fairly rearset pegs give a roomy riding position.

Typical BMW touches include a generously sized seat for both rider and pillion (shame there's no grabrail though), and optional heated grips. On longer trips you're more likely to be annoyed by the motor's thirst, which has traditionally limited the R-bike's 20.5-litre tank range to less than 100 miles. Maybe the twin-plug heads will help fuel consumption slightly. I had neither time nor inclination to confirm this in America, land of the (nearly) free fill-up.

If the Rockster's straight-line performance was respectable without being razor sharp, then much the same was true of a chassis that gave the bike a very stable feel, plus enough agility to make for some fun in the bends. Much credit for that goes to the Telelever front end, which was a bit harsh on the wrists at slow speeds, but whose lack of brake dive made for solid and precise handling in the few Florida corners I found.

The single-shock rear end worked well, too, giving a fairly firm ride and soaking up most bumps effortlessly despite the extra weight of the drive-shaft assembly. Ground clearance was good enough that only the footrests touched down even when the bike was cranked over far enough to make the Pilot Sports work hard. There's a hydraulic remote preload adjuster, as well as adjustment for rebound damping.

The EVO brake system delivered its impressive blend of servo-assisted stopping power from the front combo of 320mm discs and four-pot calipers, too, with the occasional help of the optional ABS system to calm the sharp rear. Most other details were present, correct and typically BMW, including the small but useful mirrors, traditional annoying switchgear, and what promises to be an excellent level of finish.

One thing that's hardly a BMW trait is that at £7295 on the road (plus £925 for ABS and hot grips) the Rockster is priced very competitively, at £300 more than the standard R. An eccentric naked bike like this is not for everyone, but don't be misled by the styling. It's a bit of a public-school punk rocker, this Rockster - built for people who are attracted to a nasty image, yet deep down really want something polite and refined. If that's your bag, you'll love it.

Wild looks and quirky paint scheme conceal a competent and well-built bike that goes, handles and stops well enough to be a laugh. Price is good too.


1993: BMW revives Boxer range with R1100RS sports-tourer, featuring Telelever front suspension. Unfaired R1100R roadster version follows with same 1085cc engine.

2001: R1100R is replaced by R1150R, featuring revamped styling, 1130cc motor from 1150GS and EVO brake system.

2002/3: Rockster displayed at Munich show. Positive response persuades BMW to put bike into production. To mark BMW's 80th anniversary, the firm will also build 2003 units of R1150R Rockster Edition 80, with white paintwork, heated grips and ABS as standard, costing £1000 extra.


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BMW R1150 Rockster specs

PRICE NEW - £7295
POWER - 85bhp@6750rpm
TORQUE - 73lb.ft@5250rpm   
WEIGHT - 219kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 835mm   
TOP SPEED - 120mph
0-60     - n/a