I’ve always liked these naked Beemers. I remember meting a guy on a 2nd-hand R850R he’d just bought. I thought the bike was a good concept. It was a BMW (a good start!), it was comfortable, it had a good size engine, but it was also light, not being weighed down by acres of fairing and panniers etc. A good thing!
Of course the bike has evolved a long way from that. Now the capacity is up to 1200cc and it has all the latest electronics and so on.
When I did the Big-Bore Naked comparison I mentioned that I would like to have included the BM; but I didn’t. Partly because it was a bit more up-market than the others I was looking at, but also because demo models were hard to come by. But I finally got to take one for a test-ride when the BMW test fleet came to town.
First thing to say is that I reckon it’s a good looking bike. It’s very minimalist, in the true naked way, but it looks good! Especially with that BMW badge on the tank, it gives the impression of being both classy and aggressive.
The basic layout is typical BMW; the very trad-looking boxer twin (complete with blueing exhausts) sits high in the frame, and transmits through a shaft drive. The exhaust is a 2-into-1 system. There is the usual Telelever front suspension and Paralever rear. Twin disks do the stopping at the front, and a single disk handles the rear.
There are actually two models available; the standard R1200R, and the R1200R SE. The SE comes with a heap of added extras, like ABS, stability-control, electronic suspension adjustment, tyre-pressure monitoring, and on-board computer which gives you all the standard things plus info on fuel-consumption, distance to empty, average speed, ambient air-temperature, and even a warning for black-ice (not that you’re likely to encounter that very much in Australia). You pay an extra $3,200 for all this, but considering what you get, it’s probably worth it. And according to a couple of dealers I spoke to, it’s an option that most people take up. One dealer even told me that if you wanted a standard version it would be a special order; BMW just don’t bother importing stocks of the standard one. Still, it is a lot of money, and especially if you dip into the BMW options bin for other goodies, like a screen or some luggage, it does become a fairly expensive motorcycle. The model I rode was the SE.
BMW usually do ergonomics very well, and this is no exception. The riding-position is reasonably up-right, but with just a nice lean forward to the bars. It’s a good riding-position. All the controls (for both hands and feet) are well-placed and easy to use. Blinkers are operated by a switch at each end of the bars, and are self-cancelling. My only niggle was that I found it hard to manually turn the blinkers off.
The seat was a real surprise. BMW seats are usually superbly comfortable and supportive, but to me, this fell a long way short of the usual standard. Part of the problem is that it narrows at the front. This is a common trend with seats today, and is designed to allow the legs to reach the ground better; but to me, less seat means less support, and less comfort. Then there is the shape of the seat. There’s a sudden and steep upward-turn at the front, and together with the narrowing, this made it feel kind of cramped. And adding to the discomfort, the seat is quite firm, hard almost. It’s a long way from the worst I’ve sat on, but it stood out amongst the excellent perches of the other models. The seat on the K series, for example, is a revelation in comfort, especially for a sportsbike!
The instruments continue the minimalist look, with two analogue dials for speedo and tacho, and a big digital display for all the other stuff. The speedo reads to 240kph, and the tacho goes to 10,000rpm with the red-line at 8,000rpm. The digital display has all the info I mentioned before, plus a big gear-indicator. Very informative!
I liked the ambient temperature gauge. One of the things you notice on a bike is the changes in air-temperature; and it was interesting to feel these changes and watch the figures on the gauge. On my ride the temp varied between 19.5 and 23. 
Just one complaint before we turn to the actual riding; the mirrors are round and quite small. They’re well-positioned (no elbows appeared in the view!), but I’d prefer something bigger.
Fire up the big boxer twin and, if you’re not used to it, the effect of the engine can catch you. When you blip the throttle, or give it a rev, it rocks the bike sideways. That’s because the engine is mounted longitudinally; the crank is line with the bike, not across it as with most bikes. It’d been a long time since I’d ridden a BM, and I’d forgotten this little trick until I gave the throttle a quick twist and the bike bucked to the right. That was at idle, but you notice the effect out on the road too. Even down-changes or suddenly closing the throttle causes the bike to kind of wobble sideways. It’s only slight, and sometimes more a hint that it wants to wobble rather than actually wobbling, but you notice it, and it feels as if the bike is unsettled. A couple of examples. On a tightly twisting narrow mountain road, powering off for the approach to corners, then applying the power to drive through and winding it on harder for the exit, I feel the bike wanting to rock from side-to-side as the power comes on and off.  Then, coming down a multi-lane mountain road, around a left-hand sweeper in the outside lane with a concrete wall on my right and traffic on my left, I change down; and the bike wobbles vertically. Now, I only had a fairly short ride, and I’m sure you’d get used to it if you owned it (and I know some long-term owners actually find this a comforting characteristic!), but to me, it was one thing that stopped me from feeling really confident with it.
The big twin punches out some serious mumbo. If it had been part of my “Big-Bore Naked” comparison it would’ve just about been top of the heap; with only the GSX1400 putting out more torque, and the Moto Morini just shading it for power. BMW claims that the engine provides “exceptional acceleration right from idling speed”; and while it does pull away from 2,000rpm without snatching, it isn’t really happy until it gets to around 4,000rpm. It’s particularly content between 4,000rpm and 5,000rpm. Looking at the engine graph (which BMW provides in their brochure) tells the story. Power increase is pretty linear, although it doesn’t really take off until around 3,000rpm. From 2,000rpm to 4,000rpm it actually doubles in output; going from just over 20kW to about 45kW. Torque rises quite steeply to 4,000rpm, going from about 80Nm to nearly 110Nm, then flattens off and remains fairly constant right to the red-line. So you really need to get it revving a bit to access the power. When you do get the revs up and give it some stick, it really flies; but it left me with an impression of being good rather than spectacular. The gearing doesn’t help.
The bike feels quite high-geared. It isn’t particularly high, but the engine-characteristics make it feel as though it is. The 6-speed box goes from around 10kph per 1,000rpm in 1st up to just under 30kph per 1,000rpm in top. That's pretty normal for this size bike, but with the engine characteristics, it means that even in low you’ve got to be doing around 40kph before it starts to feel happy; so you spend a lot of time in the city in 1st and 2nd. In top, that “happy zone” starts at about 120kph; and by 5,000rpm, where it’s singing along very sweetly, you’d be doing about 150kph. And even in 5th by the time the engine really hits its stride you’d soon be well over the speed-limit. For a naked that’s just silly! For a sportsbike, or even a tourer, yes; but for a naked, which by definition tends to spend more time at lower speeds, then the gearing should be lower. Then you could enjoy it without spending all your time in the lower 3 gears – or, alternatively, having your head blown off or losing your license!
I have to say though, that if high speed cruising on the open road is what you like, the Beemer does it very well. For a naked anyway. The engine feels very relaxed, of course, and even the wind isn’t too bad; for a naked. The big twin is always smooth too, so there aren’t any nasty vibes to disturb the journey. It’s also pretty quiet – as all bikes are these days – although there is the occasional burble on the over-run, which is nice!
Getting back to the gears, BMW make big claims about the gearbox. They mention helical gears and a special sliding sleeve to make the gear-changes “smooth as silk”. Well, sorry, but this felt a bit clunky. It wasn’t bad, but more like denim than silk!
The ride is good. It’s kind of firm-ish, but compliant. I didn’t fiddle with the electronic suspension adjustment, but I reckon this would be a great feature, allowing you to change from “smooth-the-bumps” to “flip-flop-the-curves” as the road and your mood dictate. The test-route had everything from smooth highway to bumpy back-roads, with the afore-mentioned twisty mountain road thrown in. So I wish I’d had the opportunity to learn how to use the ESA and have a play with it.
Handling is good too. I suppose you’d expect it to be, and I must admit I didn’t push it too hard. When we got to that tight twisty mountain road I mentioned, the test-riders in front of me slowly disappeared into the distance, while The Old Bloke kind of wobbled along behind. Oh yes, the “wobble”. There was that. As I said before, it’s only subtle, and more a feeling that it wants to rock sideways than actually doing it, but it’s enough to notice. And enough to make me feel a bit tentative when approaching corners. But it holds its line well, and responds well to counter-steering.
Brakes are excellent! Almost too good, as the initial bite is quite strong. But with ABS to keep things under control you don’t really have to worry about hitting them too hard I suppose.
So, there it is, BMW’s entry into the big-bore naked class. It’s a good bike! It really is! But it would take a bit more time to get used to its quirky nature. And then there’s the seat, which I found pretty uncomfortable. And the gearing, which robs it of some of its performance and sporty character. The electronic whiz-bangery is great and puts it well infront of the bikes I included in my comparison; but you pay a lot more money to get that whiz-bangery! For me, even if I had included it, I wouldn’t have picked it as the winner.   

Engine: 2-cylinder horizontally opposed, 1170cc. Power: 80kW at 7,500rpm. Torque: 115Nm at 6,000rpm.
Gearbox: 6-speed.
Final-drive: Shaft
Fuel capacity: 18 litres.
Weight: 198kg (dry). (223kg ready to ride).
Seat height: 800mm. (Optional: 770mm and 830mm).
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 120 X 17, Rear: 180 X 17.
Brakes: BMW, twin disc front, single rear. ABS.
Price: $22,600 + ORC. (SE model, as tested. Standard model $19,400 + ORC).

Test Bike From: BMW Australia.

Ridden 2009

UP-DATE: 2013.
No real changes here, although BMW quote slightly different figures for power and weight. Power is stated to be 81kW and torque 119Nm. Weight (dry) is given as 203kg. I’m not sure if this indicates there have been any changes or if I just got different figures when I wrote the original report.
The instruments have changed though, and now comprise two circular analogue dials, one beside the other, with the digital panel between them, rather than the odd stacked layout of the test bike. A couple of other minor paint details that have changed and that’s about it. The price looks to have come down a bit, but this depends on what is available. These tend to arrive in showrooms with some “options” fitted as standard.

UPDATE 2015. Well, there have been a lot of changes for this year. Of course the styling gets an up-date to make it look different, but perhaps biggest news is the fitting of the liquid-cooled version of the famous boxer engine.
In Australia we don’t get the basic model (as I mentioned above), and on this newie the up-spec model gets Dynamic Damping Control that allows the suspension to adjust its settings depending on how the bike is being ridden. UPDATE 2015. Well there have been a lot of changes for this year. Of course the styling gets an up-date to make it look different, but perhaps biggest news is the fitting of the liquid-cooled version of the famous boxer engine. I’ve ridden this engine in the R1200GS, so you can read my comments about it there.
In Australia we don’t get the basic model (as I mentioned in the test above), and on this newie the up-spec model gets Dynamic Damping Control that allows the suspension to adjust its settings depending on how the bike is being ridden. (How clever!). For example, if you’re trying to scrape the pegs and banging the throttle open, it will firm up the suspension to give maximum handling; but if you’re cruising along, smelling the roses and taking in the scenery, it will soften it up so you get a nice plush ride to let you enjoy those roses and scenery.
As well as that you get cruise-control, tyre-pressure monitors, heated grips, traction-control, different power modes, and ABS. Phew! Bikes are getting technical nowadays aren’t they!
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