BMW successfully reinvented their ’boxer’ twin powered bikes way back in the early 1990’s and have enjoyed soaring sales ever since. It seems that the torquey, chunky shaped two cylinder bikes can deliver the goods for many an experienced biker.
The R1100RS has been a steady seller for a few years now, but most would agree it was due a makeover, with the new 1150cc motor fitted and a host of detail improvements. Kevin Ash checks out the Mk 2 version of BMW´s flagship sports-tourer.
Funny how it’s now the fours which are a minority in BMW’s range – back in 1986 the Germans stopped production of boxer twins altogether as the future looked to be in its multi-cylinder K-series. But the outcry was so intense a decision was made to work on an entirely new boxer twin range, and the first fruit of that work was the R1100RS, a bike which offered plenty of radically new technology such as the high cam engine and Telelever forks, in the traditional opposed twin format.
It worked well at the time, but nearly ten years on it’s the oldest bike in BMW’s very young range and well overdue for at least a facelift. Well, that’s now happened with the new R1150RS which supersedes it, but the question is, has BMW done enough?
The bodywork is entirely unchanged aside from the fitment of a larger screen, but the bike now benefits from the same 1150cc engine upgrade already applied to most of its stable mates and there are some chassis changes which bring it into line with the rest of the range. The consequence is a 5bhp boost in peak power to 95bhp, while the torque is spread much wider with some 90 per cent of the maximum available between 3000rpm and 6500rpm. Despite this, there’s an extra ratio in the gearbox, although sixth is more of a tall overdrive for motorway use.
The chassis’ basic formula of Telelever wishbone-assisted front suspension with Paralever single sided shaft driven swingarm rear is unchanged and little modified, although the front brakes are some 20 per cent stronger and the wheels are lighter. The rear is also down from 18 to 17 inches with a wider rim, which expands the choice of tyre available.
It all amounts to the gentlest of makeovers, and it doesn’t feel like enough. The sports-touring category has been populated by a host of extremely capable machines since 1993, so much so that even in updated 1150RS form the BMW feels distinctly old fashioned. The engine which works so well in the R1150GS trail bike, the R1150RT tourer and the unfaired R1150R seems to vibrate more in the 1150RS, to the point where it can be unpleasant to use. Probably the extra power is to blame – in the 1150R it only makes 85bhp.
At high revs, spun up to the red line, its plain nasty, but even at typical motorway cruising speeds it can start to irritate. Still, the extra torque is welcome, requiring much less stirring of the gearbox, and the bike will even pull its tall top gear down to surprisingly low revs without making a fuss about it.
The bike is reasonably quick, but compared with the Aprilia Futura, Ducati ST4S, Honda VTR1000, Triumph Sprint ST and so on, its performance falls short, while each of the opposition also imposes far lower vibration levels on its rider. The BMW’s is an easy engine to use, trickling down almost to tickover in high gears without protest and responding predictably to the throttle, but it’s not an especially thrilling or even satisfying one compared to the alternatives.
There’s no compensation in the chassis, either, which feels decidedly dated even against other BMW twins. It’s very stable, but its security is spoilt by the vague movement in the `bars at higher speeds (due to the rubber mounting necessary to isolate the worst of the vibration). There’s very little meaningful feedback in cornering, so you have to take tyre grip on trust while doing without the tactile handling pleasures many of the rivals offer, and direction changes demand a big heave through the `bars.
But the worst characteristic is the ride quality, which compared with the seductive plushness of the Ducati ST4S and the taut control of the Triumph Sprint is just dreadful. Even on good surfaces the bike is fidgety, while rough, concrete motorways are harsh, tiring and noisy on the RS and potholes induce big, shuddering thumps throughout the bike.
The 1100RS might have pioneered Telelever suspension, but today its successor illustrates the limitations of the extra unsprung weight compared with telescopic forks (themselves pioneered by BMW in 1936). On BMW’s touring bikes and the GS with its long suspension travel, Telelever works well – there’s more sprung mass to compensate and control of dive under braking is more critical. But on the lighter RS it doesn’t come within a mile of performing like the best of the opposition, the inverted Showas on Ducati’s ST4S.
If you want another of BMW’s many production bike firsts, ABS brakes, this will cost an additional £750, although it’s part of a package which includes the new power-assisted set-up. This reduces lever pressure by some 50 per cent, but not only has this not been a problem in the past, it has also introduced an annoying non-linear action. You adapt to it after a while, but it really wasn’t needed, and occasionally you might be caught out by the lack of brakes with the ignition switched off. I wasn’t the only one…
Comfort is changed little from the old 1100RS, which means it’s good once you’ve tailored the riding position to suit you. The seat height is adjustable (and this is done very easily) and the handlebar position can be changed too, so if it wasn’t for the rough ride quality and engine vibration the bike would be excellent at covering really long distances, especially as the fuel tank, larger than before at 23 litres, easily allows more than 200 miles between refills.
But there’s not a lot of additional benefit from the larger screen, 8cm higher and 6cm wider than before. You can adjust its angle of attack with a knob in the centre of the dash, just above the clocks, but the main effect of this seems to be to increase the wind noise, which is high even with the screen in its lowest position. Raise it to the full and you add to that a buzzing turbulence, which vibrates your crash helmet.
Where BMWs used to be the expensive option, the 1150RS is now priced competitively. Instead, it’s lagging behind some admittedly outstanding alternatives dynamically, while the perception of higher build quality and corrosion resistance is something of a myth in my experience. You’ll be buying the 1150RS for the badge and faith in the boxer twin layout, but you won’t be getting the best modern sports tourer.
Get BMW bike insurance for the bmw r1150rs.
Engine Flat twin, four stroke, eight valve
Claimed power (bhp) 95bhp
Transmission 6 speed shaft drive
Suspension Front: Telelever. Rear: paralever, utilizing engine as main chassis member
Brakes 320mm front discs, four piston Brembo calipers, Rear; single 276mm rear disc. ABS optional.
Wheels/Tyres 120/70 ZR17 front, 170/60 ZR 17 rear
Top speed 125mph ( est )
Fuel capacity 26 litres
Current price GBP £7,995 OTR
Colours Met Blue Silver, Dark Blue