After four generations of RT, BMW’s elegant mile-muncher gets its biggest update yet thanks to receiving the latest water-cooled flat-twin and a raft of electric gizmos. Paul goes two-up to check whether 1200cc is still enough…
There was a time when 1200cc was a big engine, especially when you’re talking about a twin. But with 2-litre triples, 1800cc twins and BMW’s very own 1600cc in-line six, the latest RT starts sounding like it might be a little bit on the small side, especially when you take in the size of the fairing and the amount of gadgets mounted in front of the rider.
Tipping the scales at a 274kilos also adds to the feeling that a bigger motor might be better, but thankfully the latest incarnation of the BMW boxer powerplant features water-cooling that gives it an increase in outright power and torque, with a claimed 125hp combined with 125Nm of torque. Those are healthy figures if not earth shattering, but then do we really need 180+horsepower on a bike that’s designed to take two people comfortably and safely over a long distances…
With most BMWs fully-optioned by their owners, the RT is no disappointment when it comes to accessories, with a futuristic dashboard comprising of a large colour screen situated below a set of stylish analogue clocks. Set above the lot is a large colour GPS with touch screen that works extremely well even with gloves on.
Negotiating the colour screen is done using the ‘menu’ button on the left handlebar to pick the required section before using the innovative wheel system to scroll and click through the options. It could be complicated if it was done by anybody other than BMW. But their German efficiency shines through, and every option is managed simply.
Being the RT (or Reise-Tourer), the ever-so useful ASC, giving you increased safety on changing surfaces thanks to the anti-lock brakes and traction control, while the ESA semi-active suspension system is fitted to increase comfort thanks to the easily adjustable suspension. As I was planning a test with a pillion, I used the large colour display to dial in a setting of two-up without luggage, and instantly felt the rear suspension system pumping up and adding preload. This keeps the geometry the same, helping to make the already agile Beemer even more flickable while also protecting the pillion (not to mention the rider) from any major shocks up through the saddle. With the ability to then change the damping while on the move, I would swap between ‘soft’ when on the open road to ‘normal’ or even ‘sport’ when the corners tightened up, with the RT instantly feeling firmer as each sportier mode was selected.
Other technical features which add to the supreme of the RT are heated grips, while the saddle features a heater for both the rider and the pillion, again which can be adjusted via the screen. A decent stereo system keeps you entertained while counting off the miles, and an electrically-operated windscreen allows you both to sit in a bubble of still air when in the fully upright position. Looking through a visor and then through a screen always seems to upset my vision when cornering, so I’d always opt to drop it down when having a bit of fun, but as the adjustment is done via the press of a button I could set it at the perfect spot for decent vision above the lip but still with enough wind protection.
Letting you and everyone else know that you’re riding a Beemer is a cool set of daytime riding lights, with the option to just run with those or have the main light in the centre of the massive fairing illuminated. A sensor detects when it’s getting too dark to simply run with the riding lights and takes the option away from you, but it certainly makes the RT standout on the road as everyone seems to take notice of the distinctive front. Unfortunately for me, the driver who decided to pull out of a drive in front of me while I was travelling down an empty road at 100kph didn’t notice the cool round lights as he didn’t even bother to look in my direction before making his decision to pull out – the lack of traffic on a regular basis obviously making it good enough odds to gamble with mine and my pillions life along with what looked like his mother and children who were also in the car. Thankfully, anticipating that the bonnet appearing from behind a hedge might not stop already had me squeezing the front brake lever and moving towards the centreline, so that when the realisation actually arrived that he really wasn’t going to stop, I was already scrubbing speed and taking evasive action. He did eventually notice the 221kilos of German tourer bearing down on him, committing to the usual reaction of jumping on the brakes and stopping dead in the centre of the road, with the RT doing an outstanding job of coming to a halt in front of the bonnet.
It’s during moments like this that you get an appreciation of just how hard manufacturers work at making motorcycling safer, especially the likes of BMW who are constantly evolving and developing ideas and technologies between their various motorsport involvements. They’ve stood-by their Telelever front suspension system which uses the forks as sliders while the suspension and damping is taken care of via a centrally-mounted shock underneath the headstock, reducing dive from the front-end when on the brakes, making for a much more comfortable experience especially for pillions when scrubbing speed. The anti-lock brake system is another area where BMW have lead the way, and I will now confidently pull the front brake lever as hard as possible without fear of causing the front wheel to skid. You need confidence with anti-lock brakes as there’s no point trying to second-guess the system when there’s an emergency.
Flat ‘n’ Fast
The flat-twin engine is almost legendary, although the move to water-cooling was almost too much for some. In fact, the new motor has taken all the best parts of the DOHC twin and tweaked them, giving more power and more torque yet still retaining the character that BMW stalwarts have grown to love. The motor loves to sit between 3-4,000rpm, with the slick gearbox happy to be short-shifted up and down to keep in this place. Unlike the bigger capacity tourers which are designed for high-speed jaunts up and down the motorways of Europe, the gearing on the RT is perfect for sitting at or around the open road speed limit, with 100kph in sixth letting the motor cruise happily yet still not requiring you to shift down a cog if you want to make a quick pass. The GPS mounted just below the screen has a handy feature of showing your speed in red should you be travelling faster than the posted speed limit, which over the Christmas period of ‘zero tolerance’, was extremely useful, as was the cruise control function.
Of course, the 1170cc flat twin doesn’t mind being revved, and dropping a cog or two sees the RT transformed instantly into a sports tourer, especially when combined with firming the suspension. Different power modes change the reaction from the fly-by-wire throttle, with dynamic offering the sportiest feel, while rain reduces the power output and dampens the reaction from twisting the grip. No matter the weather, situation or road, the RT has you covered.
Handling is better than you’d expect from a tourer unless you’ve ridden other BMWs and already experienced how well they manage to perform when the pace hots up. The anti-dive suspension takes a bit of getting used to, with a slightly vague feel causing you to be a bit wary tipping in to corners until you learn to trust it. The standard Continental tyres offer a perfect combination of decent grip and longevity in all conditions, heating up quickly and offering good grip shortly into a ride which is handy as I live next to a gorge. With the majority of the engine’s mass held down low by your feet (i.e. where the cylinders are), along with the pistons moving sideways rather than up and down, it takes very little input to the ’bars to get the RT flicking from side-to-side, something that you possibly need to warn your pillion about if they’re used to travelling on a ‘regular’ tourer. The RT offers the same levels of comfort as the slower more sedate touring motorcycles out there, just in a sportier package that won’t see you left that far behind your mates even if they’re on sportsbikes. And they’ll certainly be jealous when you arrive at your destination refreshed and complete with a change of clothes, maybe a nice bottle of Pinot Noir and whatever you chose to stash in the smart, easy-release panniers.
Travelling In Style
It’s possibly the worst thing you can do with your pillion, as once they’ve been on a bike as comfortable as an RT, they’re hesitant to get back on anything else. Although not to the same extent, the same is slightly true up front, with the pace you’re able to keep up on a bike with ‘only’ 125hp making you think twice about why you need much more. And then there’s the convenience of luggage (complete with central locking), fantastic lights, push-button suspension adjustment and heated everything that although likely to make your mates call you soft, is very hard to give up once you’ve got used to it.
BMW are the masters of making this kind of motorcycle, their technology now as finely honed as the package. Like Apple have done with their products with such success, using the RT is completely intuitive, with riders of any age able to use and appreciate the gadgets (I shouldn’t really call them that as they’re so much more) without having to even glance at a manual.
Like BMW cars, the RT gives the feeling of executive travel but on two wheels. Also like their cars, the package from the clips on the panniers to the switches on the fairing simply ooze quality and functionality. The metallic paintwork of our test bike was lustrous, sparkling as the early evening’s sun rays caught the bodywork outside the cafés we couldn’t help jumping on the bike and heading out to. The RT makes you want to ride, explore and travel. Okay, the GS that the powerplant is taken from would let you venture even further afield, but for someone who has no intentions of leaving the tarmac, the RT gives the same BMW flat-twin character in a much more civilised package.
What Do The Buttons Do?
A button to open and close the central locking? Seriously? Yep, you get one on this executive transport. Another new button switches the lights from the same signature ‘rings’ you see on the modern BMW cars to the bigger, central light. The screen can be adjusted up and down, the heated grips adjusted, suspension controlled and speed set. Then there’s the motorcycle equivalent of a computer mouse, which let’s you scroll through the options on the colour screen. It all works so well.
The RT is fitted with the Quickshift Pro System which assists with up and downshifts without using the clutch. It works well once out on the open road but is hesitant in town. All models coming into NZ are full-spec unless ordered specially, as virtually all BMW owners want all the toys…
BMW R 1200 RT
Type: Air/liquid-cooled four stroke flat twin engine, DOHC
Bore x stroke: 101mm x 73mm
Capacity: 1170 cc
Rated output: 125hp (92 kW) at 7750rpm
Max. torque: 125Nm at 6500rpm
Compression ratio: 12.5 : 1
Chassis / Brakes
Frame: Two-section frame, load-bearing, engine-gearbox unit
Front suspension: BMW Motorrad Telelever; stanchion diameter 37mm, central spring strut
Rear suspension: Cast aluminium single-sided swing arm with BMW Motorrad Paralever; WAD strut (travel-related damping), spring pre-load hydraulically adjustable (continuously variable) at handwheel, rebound damping adjustable
Suspension travel front / rear: 120mm /136mm
Steering head angle: 63.6°
Wheels: Cast aluminium wheels. Tyres, front: 120/70 ZR 17 / rear: 180/55 ZR 17
Brake, front: Dual disc brake, floating brake discs, diameter 320mm, four-piston fixed calipers
Brake, rear: Single disc brake, diameter 276mm, double-piston floating caliper
BMW Motorrad Integral ABS (part-integral)
Dimensions / weights
Length: 2222 mm
Width: 985 mm incl. panniers
Height (excl. mirrors): 1416mm
Unladen weight, road ready, fully fuelled: 274kg
Usable tank volume: 25l