Cape Town – From an engineering point of view, the BMW R1200 R is a technical tour de force. It has every bell and whistle you can dream of - including the ‘collar’ computer control we first saw on the K1600GTL, and which is even more inappropriate in this application than on BMW’s cruise liner – and a couple that you won’t.
But in real-world terms, it’s a R175 800 motorcycle at odds with itself. Naked bikes are the cool dudes of the motorcycling world. They’re straightforward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get machines, muscular, a little old-school, perhaps. A naked bike is one you get on and ride, not one that needs a 10 minute pre-flight check.
Muscular, it certainly is; the R1200 R has the latest version of BMW’s venerable boxer twin, with liquid-cooled cylinder heads and vertical throttle bodies. It’s rated for a cool 92kW at 7750 revs and 125Nm at 6500 - but it’s the way it delivers those kilowatts that would have had Max Fritz, designer of the original R32 in 1923, spluttering in his beer stein.
When I took delivery of the test R1200 R I scrolled through the menus and set both the engine and suspension modes to their sportiest setting (after all, my little red sports bike has more power than this 1200cc musclebike, albeit at a screaming 12 750rpm) and set off through the midmorning traffic to park it in our garage, less than a kilometre away.
But before I got there, I’d already stopped to reset everything to ‘Road’ mode; in Dynamic road the throttle response is as vicious as a striking cobra, and riding in traffic takes so much concentration it distracts you from what’s going on around you.
Road mode still gives you the full 92kW, but in far more manageable doses, while Rain mode caps the power at about two-thirds. More importantly, however, it ensures an almost perfectly linear throttle response, minimising any tendency the rear tyre might have to break away on wet roads.
Likewise, the suspension is too harsh for real-world roads; I was looking forward to using all the Dynamic modes during performance testing, but soon discovered I was getting better results on the median Road settings for every facet except top speed.
Crouched down behind the instrument pod on the Six-Kay Straight, I saw 222km/h on the speedometers with the silly little bar-graph rev counter hovering midway between 7500 and 8000. GPS readings later confirmed true speed as 213km/h, for a speedometer error of 4.2 percent – not great, but the best we’ve had on a BMW for a while.
With the suspension back on road settings but the ECU still in cobra mode, I buzzed through our ride and handling section at 138km/h where 120 is the pass mark for sports bikes. The R1200 R was rock steady through the sweepers but still more than agile enough turning into the tight stuff, quickly becoming an intuitive ride; even the ABS brakes, though a little remote in terms of feel, delivered plenty of Brick Wall Effect, rapidly instilling confidence.
Still, I was glad to get back on the highway in Road mode, more comfortable and somehow feeling more in control, to gather my thoughts and take stock.
Notably, as radical as it looks, the R1200 R is a remarkably comfortable ride; with a well-nigh perfect relationship between bars, seat and pegs. The only letdown was when I used the softest suspension settings on our bumpy test section, which induced some minor but unpleasant wallowing; halfway through, I stopped and reset to Road mode, which cured it.
The bike’s styling is very fragmented in the current ‘post industrial’ idiom but, thanks to an unlikely but inspired choice of colours, it all hangs together and grows on you after a while - except for the headlight, which looks as if it melted in the sun and slid down the fork legs from where it was supposed to be.
Fuel consumption worked out at 5.9 litres per 100km including performance testing and a week of commuting, significantly higher than BMW’s claimed 4.96 but still creditable for a 1200cc musclebike.
Even the key – which is not a key but a transponder that allows to you to start the bike by pressing a button, as long as it’s in your pocket - after a week becomes just one more thing you have to remember, rather than a serious nuisance, although I still have reservations about the electric steering lock.
BMW’s R1200 R has been burdened with inappropriate technology, but once you accept that it is going to spend practically its entire life on the median Road settings and that, with the exception of the ABS and, possibly, throttle modes, that technology is a waste of BMW’s time and your money, BMW’s roadster becomes just that – an intuitive naked musclebike that you just get on and ride.