Tested: BMW's top-end R1200RT
TWO FOR ONE: Whether your destination is across town or across the country, the R1200RT will take you there in comfort.
Author: DRIES VAN DER WALT
Back in the late 1970's BMW was the first bikemaker to offer a touring bike with a factory-fitted fairing. That bike was the R100RT and, in setting new standards for dynamic comfort and weather protection, it became the epitome of luxury touring. Today its spiritual successor, the much more powerful, much more nimble, R1200RT still has the characteristics that made its predecessor a success.
Having recently tested BMW's current top-of-the-range tourer, the K1600GTL, I was keen to go back to basics (in a manner of speaking, as the RT is certainly not a basic bike) to see what it's like to live with the boxer-engined tourer for a few days.
I haven't exactly been enamoured with the 1200RT's bulky front-end treatment, feeling (as I still do) that the R1150RT was a much more attractive machine. But with its midlife incorporation of performance mods straight off the HP2 MegaMoto, the 1200 is definitely the more pleasant bike to ride. Also, during the review period I found that its shape does actually grow on you.
Like all BMWs, the RT has an extremely comprehensive instrument panel, consisting of an analogue speedo and rev counter flanking a multifunction display that gives information about almost everything short of your bank balance. The display system is intuitive and the info is presented in an easy-to-understand fashion. However, in bright sunlight, it can be difficult to read.
This is especially true of the dashboard clock, which is often obscured by a shadow caused by the frame of the multi-function display.
The large panniers are easy to remove and offer a decent amount of luggage space, but proved a tad wide for confident lane-splitting. Unfortunately the review bike wasn't equipped with a topbox and, because I chose to spend most of the review period riding without the panniers, I resorted to using a cargo net to secure a soft bag to the convenient carrier. The pannier anchor points doubled as handy attachment points for the cargo net.
As can be expected of a bike that is designed for long-distance riding, the RT is extremely comfortable. The seat has just the right amount of firmness to prevent your posterior going numb after an hour or so. The seating position is almost perfectly neutral and the handlebars are within comfortable reach. This, combined with the fact that the controls are logically positioned, means you can relax and concentrate on the scenery during a long ride.
In typical boxer engine tradition the motor offers oodles of torque at low revs, pulling strongly from as little as 2000rpm in top gear. With the low-end torque the bike accelerates rapidly despite it weight. The engine (as befits a BMW) is smoother than you would expect from a boxer but it retains the character of the horizontally opposed configuration. In that respect, BMW's boxer-engine bikes are reminiscent of the original Volkswagen Beetle - they exude a level of charm that is hard to define but extremely appealing.
The clutch - like the one on the K1600GTL - is weighted, which means its operation is effortless. The test bike also had an extremely smooth gearbox, giving positive gear changes with no false neutrals to mar the experience.
Since its introduction the R1200RT has been praised for its nimble dynamics, and (again, like its heftier siblings) it surprised me how the bike's weight seemed to evaporate when you pull off. It's good but it isn't perfect: there is a fair bit of weight in the front end and it can catch you unawares if you forget that you are riding a full-dress tourer and not something considerably lighter (and such is the Beemer's dynamics that it is all too easy to make that mistake).
Front brakes are excellent, but the rear-wheel ABS seemed to kick in with the least provocation. This could be due to the weighty front causing the rear wheel to lift excessively under heavy braking. It is not really a problem, rather a minor annoyance.
All in all the R1200RT, like most BMWs, is an excellent all-round bike. Big, solid and comfortable on the open road, it is equally at home in traffic (if you remove the panniers). BMW boxers are not known for their fuel economy but, ridden reasonably, it is still a lot more economical (and quicker) than a car.
Less expensive (and smaller) than BMW’s K-series tourers, the RT is a good choice if you need a tourer and an everyday bike rolled into one.