BMW R1200RS Review & Ratings
- 17 February 2018
- Author: Nikolas Perseputto
Sporty yet comfortable, practical but fun… can the revived RS be a truly great sports tourer?
BE CAREFUL WHAT you wish for. I’ve been waiting for a new RS in BMW’s boxer line-up ever since the R1150RS shuffled out of the range a decade or so ago. True, we had the almost-a-sports-tourer R1200ST for a couple of years, but it was more of dumbed-down RT and never sold well in the UK. No, what I want is a proper RS – a sports tourer with the emphasis on the ‘sports’.
Practical but fun; comfortable but sweet-handling; powerful but reliable. On paper the new R1200RS ticks those boxes and I’ve been looking forward to trying it since I rode the naked R1200R (which shares most of the RS’s running gear) a few months back and loved it. The danger is, I might be expecting too much. I might be expecting perfection. Well, I’ve ridden it now and the good news is that while it may not be perfect, this really is a proper RS. The sharp-eyed among you will already have noticed that, like the R, the RS has ditched the Telelever front suspension used on boxers since 1993 (R nineT excepted).
Instead it has normal upside-down forks – BMW have so much experience with top-level conventional forks, thanks to the S1000RR, that there’s no point swimming against the tide for a sports-orientated model like this (though the RT and GS will retain Telelever for the foreseeable future). The test bike has BMW’s Dynamic ESA semi-active suspension. This is another reason for switching from Telelever, as BMW can simply buy the system (from Sachs, in this case) rather than having to have a specific version built. It’s easy to switch damping modes as you ride, though you need to be stopped and in neutral to change spring preload settings. On standard spring settings it’s not quite as nimble in the bends as the naked R version – a slightly longer wheelbase and greater trail figure courtesy of more fork offset (achieved with fork bottoms that pitch the wheel spindle an inch or so further forward, rather than any change in frame geometry) mean it rolls beautifully into slow- and medium-speed turns, but up the pace and it gets a little vague.
Not in a bad way, but you know it has a relatively long wheelbase and stable geometry. If you want to press on round serious twisties, you’re best off using the ESA to raise the preload to two-up settings, which sharpens up the handling a bit at the expense of a bit of choppiness over poor surfaces. On the non-ESA models you’ll be able to do the same with an extra few turns on the rear preload adjuster. Set up like that, it’s sure-footed and predictable, even at big lean angles – you could take this to a track and have fun. So we did. Three fairly gentle laps following TT and Supersport champion Steve Plater round Almeria circuit were enough to shorten the footrest blobs and show that if you really want to hit fast apexes you need to force it in the last couple of feet.
Then wind back on the fly-by-wire throttle (watching for the tell-tale flicker of the traction control light) to punch back onto the next straight, before hammering the powerful radial brakes into the next turn and using the quickshifter to bang down as many gears as you need, with a little bark from the exhaust as the system automatically blips the throttle on each downshift.
Fun – and it could do this all day, but it’s definitely happier on the road. We were mostly riding twisty, flowing roads, but a last motorway blast gave a chance to settle back, set the cruise control and have a proper look at the instruments and controls. I like the big analogue speedo, and the choice of digital dash styles is welcome, as it offers two stripped-down versions that are easier to read than the cluttered main display. There are three versions of the RS. The base bike gets only Rain and Road engine modes, but the Sport and Sport SE versions also get Dynamic and Custom modes. These also get the more-sophisticated Dynamic Traction Control, which uses a lean-angle sensor as well as wheel-speed sensors, so cuts in a little earlier when you’re on the edge of the tyre.
Weather protection’s pretty good, with a two-position screen. The optional panniers (only the SE comes with the mountings as standard) look a bit small to me, but it’s deceptive – you can fit a full face lid in each of them no problem. Nice to see that when removed there’s no ugly scaffolding. There’s also an optional top box. However, I was disappointed to find that not only are there no nifty little storage pockets in the fairing, but also there’s next to no room under the seat either. If you buy the Sport SE it comes with a mount and power feed for BMW’s own GPS, which sits on top of the top yoke (and for me it’s just too far out of the sight line). If you want to use a different sat nav, you’ll have to wire it in yourself, as there’s no 12v socket.
While I’m griping, I’d expected to see some level of adjustability for the riding position – the old RS had multi-adjustable bars and a three-position seat, but the new one has no adjustability at all, beyond changing the seat completely for one at a different height. The bars are wide and quite a stretch for my short arms, but there’s something about the angle which meant I always felt my wrists were a couple of degrees away from comfortable. Some riders agreed, others had no problems, so it’s down to personal taste. Still, I’m amazed there’s no adjustability built in, as it’s not like this is a cheap bike. The most annoying fault, though, is in the throttle response. It’s very good low down and it’s very good high up. It’s even fine if you’re accelerating hard between the two. But if you’re at around 4500rpm on a steady throttle, then wind it on, it starts to accelerate, then changes its mind at 5000rpm and waits a second or so before clearing its throat and getting on with it.
The trouble is, 5000rpm is bang on 90mph. So if you’re sitting at a relaxed 80-85 on the motorway, that flat spot is just waiting for you every time you go for an overtake. It has to be a mapping issue, as I don’t remember the R version doing this. If I had been expecting perfection, I’d have been disappointed. But on first acquaintance this is still a terrific overall package, and there are easy ways round most of my criticisms. It’ll take a proper long-distance test to verify the RS’s pure touring credentials – and I’m looking forward to organising that as soon as possible – but there’s no doubt about how good it is at the sporty end of the spectrum. I could find room in my garage for one of these, no question.