First ride: BMW R1200RS review

There are better town bikes, touring bikes and sports bikes, but you’d have to buy one of each to beat the RS

A READER of this website summed up the appeal of a good sports-tourer pretty well with his comment that, “There are better town bikes, better touring bikes and better sports bikes but you’d have to buy one of each to beat an RS.” The guy was writing about this latest model’s predecessor, the R1150RS. But that elusive combination of pace, poise and comfort is what BMW is trying to achieve in bringing back the RS initials, this time with the benefit of the firm’s liquid-cooled boxer engine.

The R1200RS was part of a joint project for BMW, because it’s essentially the recently released naked R1200R with the addition of a half-fairing. Or, alternatively, the R1200R is the RS without its fairing, because the two bikes were developed simultaneously. The engine is even more widely shared because it’s the 1170cc, dohc unit that is also used by the R1200GS and RT, and has identical 125hp maximum output although the RS follows the R-model by producing slightly more low-rev torque, due to its different airbox and silencer.

It also shares the naked model’s main chassis parts, including the tubular steel frame, Paralever single-sided rear end, and a pair of upside-down telescopic forks in place of the old R1150RS’s Telelever set-up. Like the R1200R, it also comes with advanced electronics including multiple engine modes, optional Dynamic ESA electronic suspension, quick-shifter, traction control and plenty more.

Also like the R1200R, it’s available in three models, of which the most expensive is almost certain to be the most popular. Alongside the standard RS, which comes with two riding modes, ABS and basic ASC traction control, is a Sport model that has the more refined DTC traction control, and adds two extra riding modes, quick-shifter, heated grips, running light, tyre pressure warning and LED indicators. The top-spec R1200RS Sport SE adds Dynamic ESA, cruise control, centre-stand, chrome exhaust, luggage rack and the wiring for GPS.

All three models share the sharply shaped half-fairing, which incorporates a smallish screen that can be manually adjusted between two positions, by pulling up or pushing down to rotate it on a couple of metal arms. The handlebar is a sort of upside-down W and is almost flat, so the riding position is quite sporty. But it’s far from a race-replica crouch, and the moderately rearset footrests give a respectable amount of legroom.

There’s a fruity crack to the exhaust note, and after leaving the launch hotel at Mojácar on the southern Spanish coast the RS didn’t take long to show that it’s quick enough to live up to those initials. The liquid-cooled dohc boxer lump is a torquey and smooth-revving engine, with enough instant urge to give a kick in the back, and a smooth, rev-happy feel that gave plenty of encouragement to get the analogue speedo’s needle moving round the dial.

As standard the RS comes with two riding modes, Road and a softer Rain, but the launch bikes were mostly Sport and Sport SE models, so fitted with the Pro option that adds a sharper Dynamic plus a programmable Custom mode. As with the R1200R, I found that there wasn’t much difference between the main two modes, and that Dynamic was sufficiently smooth that I’d have been quite happy to stick with that, and struggled to tell which mode I was in without looking.

Those bikes were also fitted with the Gear Shift Assistant Pro quick-shifter, which works in both directions and I thought was well worthwhile. The change from first to second was occasionally slightly jerky, especially when I changed up early (when it was better to use the clutch), but most of the time it was great to be able to flick smoothly and effortlessly through the box with a tap of my left boot; and also to make clutchless down-shifts, with the bike adding a well-timed and tuneful blip of throttle.

The engine’s midrange grunt helped make the RS quick and easy to ride on the twisty, mostly smooth-surfaced and near-deserted launch route. A couple of riders mentioned a glitch at around 5,000rpm, and the torque curve shows a couple of slight dips around there. But I wasn’t worried by that, and found the boxer impressively flexible and happy to pull from low down right through to the 7,750rpm power peak and beyond. The respectably long-legged engine was well at home on the faster stretches, too, including the motorway, where the easily activated cruise control would be useful on a longer ride.

I was reasonably but not totally impressed by the bike’s wind protection, which was welcome but didn’t match the state-of-the-art performance of that original R100RS. On a mild, blustery day it didn’t matter that the rider’s hands aren’t fully protected (the heated grips would have helped if necessary). The screen diverted the breeze sufficiently well to allow effortless high-speed cruising, but the range of adjustment is only 60mm, and using it – which is very easily done, while stationary or riding slowly – did nothing to reduce the noisy turbulence that would have become annoying on a longer trip.

That was rarely an issue on the mostly twisty launch route, where the BMW’s sweet handling helped make it a lot of fun. The bike was respectably agile, bearing in mind that it has shaft final drive, a rangy 1530mm wheelbase, and a fairly substantial road-ready weight of 236kg. I was never under any illusions that it was a sports bike but it carved through the bends at a very decent pace, feeling very stable and making good use of its good ground clearance, powerful Brembo radial four-pot calipers, and the grip of its Metzeler Z8 tyres.

Steering was on the steady side as standard, but felt notably sharper with the rear preload firmed-up to the pillion setting, which can be done by pressing a button on the left bar while stationary. There wasn’t a huge difference between the suspension damping settings. As with the engine, I could hardly tell whether the bike was in the standard Road or slightly sportier Dynamic. Ride quality was pretty good in either, though one bumpy section of road made me think that the softer Road mode could usefully be made more compliant still.

Changing between the various modes was simple, and most of the launch bikes also had a Garmin satnav that could be controlled via the bike’s excellent click-wheel on the left bar. The digital display has plenty of info, and can be toggled between three views. But I found the monochrome display’s figures too small to be easily read, especially in bright sunlight when the shiny aluminium handlebar was reflected in the screen.

Practicality is otherwise pretty good, though the 18-litre capacity seems slightly stingy for a sports-tourer, given that fairly hard riding brought fuel consumption down below 40mpg, and realistic range to about 150 miles. (If you’re gentle you’ll manage nearer 50mpg and 200 miles.) The seat gave no hint of discomfort, had plenty of room for a pillion (who gets hefty grab-handles), and can be swapped for a higher or lower version at no extra charge, giving a useful range from 840mm to 760mm, although an adjustable seat would arguably be a better option.

It’s a BMW so inevitably there are numerous accessories even for the kitted-out Sport SE, not least the panniers and top-box that would make it a seriously useful tourer. As our bunch of journalists piled into the bus to head back to the airport, one guy was loading up an RS to ride 2000-odd miles back to Blighty. The RS has a few rough edges that might annoy me if I’d just spent 13 grand on a new Sport SE. But the fact that I wished I was riding one home too, preferably via a twisty detour in the Pyrenees, was a definite subconscious thumbs-up for BMW’s reborn sports-tourer.

Model tested: 2015 BMW R1200RS Sport SE

Power: 125hp

Torque: 92lb.ft 

Wet weight: 236kg

Tank capacity: 18 litres

Seat height:  820mm

Available: first deliveries May 16th, dealer launch June 20th

Price: R1200RS £10,920 blue/white, £11,155 grey; R1200RS Sport £11,955 blue/white, £12,191 grey; R1200RS Sport SE £13,000 blue/white, £13,235 grey

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