Manufacturers with iconic engine designs sometimes rue the day when their creation takes on a life of its own. One case is Porsche’s flat-six. When Porsche wanted to retire the 911 in favour of the 928 back in 1980, Porsche purists howled with dismay and refused to let the engine, and the car, die.
This happened to BMW in the same time period. Having reached what they thought was the end of the design lifespan of the nearly 70-year old flat-twin, they came out with the flat-four ‘K’ in 1984. You could hear the gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth from Munich to Melbourne.
The 2015 BMW R1200 R is today’s prime example of what some consider to be an obsolete engine design, ill-suited for motorcycles, that soldiers on into the future, and does a pretty damn good job of it. The ‘R’ is BMW’s classification for the boxer engine, going all the way back to 1923 with the R32.
While the twin is pretty much a mainstay with the GS adventure touring crowd, sports riders and those who favour ‘normal’ motorcycles tend to be eclectic in their engine choice. V-twins, fours, triples, there’s almost everything and the kitchen sink to choose from.
The R1200 R is BMW’s take on a standard motorcycle that riders can use as they wish. Coming as a naked, various customisation options are available for the bike to be configured as the rider wishes. The boxer goes against other nakeds like its sibling the S1000R, the Ducati Monster, MV Agusta Brutale, Yamaha FZ-09, Aprilia Tuono, Triumph Street Triple, Kawasaki Z1000 and KTM Superduke.
Approaching the R1200 R, two things stand out. The massive boxer engine, and the red trellis frame. The humped 18-litre tank adds to the overall impression of direct, functional brutality, perhaps a result of Teutonic engineering efficiency.
Now, ‘naked’ in BMW Motorrad parlance does not actually mean stripped down to the bone. The R1200 R we tested came fully-loaded with all sorts of riding and semi-active suspension aids, coupled with BMW’s motorcycle ABS that is the best in the business. GS riders will testify to this.
Let’s start with initial riding impressions. The R1200 R comes with Keyless Ride as standard for this market. Working like Comfort Access for BMW cars, Keyless Ride allows the rider to unlock and start the bike with the key fob in the pocket. Access to the fuel filler cap is also keyless, and the switchblade style key is only needed if the seat is to be removed.
While the physical size of the R1200 R may look intimidating, getting on allowed a 170 cm tall rider to get his feet flat on the ground. BMW offers two optional seats – high and low – that raise or lower seat height by about 20 mm.
Pushing the start button lit the instrument cluster up like a Christmas tree, and the engine settled into the familiar boxer rumble. The rocking effect was a little noticeable, due to the engine now being a stressed member in the frame.
The most significant change between the 2015 R1200 R and the previous model is the weight loss. The bike went on a diet, and BMW engineers made it lose 45 kg along the way. This make the R1200 R belie its 231 kg wet weight.
Riding the R1200 R revealed the very torquey nature of the twin. A misjudged twist of the throttle in third gear was enough to hoist the front wheel. Professional rider on a closed course, no animals were harmed in the writing of this review, etc.
Riding was done on a mix of highway and trunk roads, with a foray up Fraser’s Hill to put the R1200 R’s handling to the test. On the highway, the R1200 R was fast enough to get way up the speedometer with no issues, the 125 hp and 125 Nm torque providing all the necessary grunt and urge.
Talking about torque, the curve is about as flat as a tabletop. Roll-on acceleration in the top three gears from about 80 km/h revealed no signs of stumbling or hesitation from the bike, just a smooth, almost turbine-like, surge of power.
The biggest change to help develop all the R1200 R’s 125 horses is a change in the traditional induction and exhaust layout of the boxer. The throttle body is is located above the cylinder, and the inlet drops vertically. Likewise, the exhaust port is now located below the cylinder and leads away under the engine.
Speaking of smooth, a noticeable buzz was felt in the handlebars a slightly over legal highway speed. It was there, and it was annoying, because the R1200 R feels most comfortable riding somewhat above the national speed limit. Increasing the throttle opening made it go away, as did closing it down, but this is something BMW Motorrad should inspect.
Being a naked, of course, meant wind protection was at a minimum. The small chin screen mounted above the headlight provided some shelter from the wind-blast when tucked in, but suffice it to say the rider’s arms and shoulders would soon tire out.
High-speed shenanigans isn’t the prime reason for the R1200 R’s existance though. Where this bike shines is in its capability to handle anything the rider wants it to do. A short foray strafing the corners at Fraser’s, at medium speeds, showed another facet of the R1200 R. With the low-down urge of the 1,170 cc engine, taking the sharp hairpins at Fraser’s was simply a matter of leaving the six-speed gearbox in third, and using the right wrist.
This was helped by the Gear Shift Assistant Pro. This clever piece of tech isn’t quite a quickshifter. What it does is automatically adjust engine speed to enable down-shifting, with no need to pull in the clutch or close the throttle to double-declutch and prevent grinding of the gears. Just tap down with your foot, the gears engage and engine braking kicks in.
The R1200 R encouraged a slightly ‘cut-and-thrust’ riding style up and down the hill roads, letting the bike handle the engine and gearbox, while the rider concentrated on the line. All this two-wheeled entertainment was looked after by a clever bit of wizardry called Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment).
Dynamic ESA is standard for the Malaysian R1200 R that monitors the optional semi-active suspension and sets the riding modes. The two basic modes are ‘road’ and ‘rain’ and two more options, DSC and Custom. In DSC mode, lean angle is also monitored, and the ride and engine response becomes a little more … aggressive. Custom mode lets the rider configure suspension settings individually, but if you think you can do better than BMW Motorrad’s engineering department and dedicated team of test riders, please feel free.
This suspension trickery counts for nothing without the forks and rear shock. Up front are a pair of USD 43 mm Marzocchi gold-anodised forks and a Sachs unit at the rear, all wired into the Dynamic ESA system.
As the rider twists the throttle and brakes, the ESA adjusts the damping on-the-fly to suit what is going on, and keep the rubber to the road. If incipient wheelspin or lockup is detected, the throttle is retarded and brakes applied to bring things back into line.
For an experiment, the ESA was was set to DSC, and throttle gunned in second gear. The rear wheel stepped out, as expected, but for barely a fraction of a second and not violently, with everything brought back under control in less time than it took to read this sentence.
All this capability lets the rider take to the roads with confidence, and the nature of the bike allows it to do many things. BMW Motorrad provides a long list of options for the R1200 R, including hard cases, top box, tank bag, Akrapovic silencers and navigation system. The optional hard touring cases for the R1200 R are RM1,209 for the small top case, and RM1,471 each for the left and right side cases. Prices exclude GST and installation.
The 2015 BMW Motorrad R1200 R comes in Thunder grey metallic, Cordoba blue and Light white uni (as tested). The version tested by paultan.org included Keyless Ride, windshield, engine spoiler, Dynamic ESA and Navigator V mount as standard for the Malaysian market.
Price for the 2015 BMW Motorrad R1200 R is RM98,900, while the RS model retails for RM101,900 and the RT with fairing goes for RM128,900. A rider wanting a bike in the litre-plus class that can commute, handle sporty riding on back roads, highway jaunts and simply cruising could do worse than giving the 2015 R1200 R a close look.