Not many people know that BMW once publicly declared they were finished with making flat twin powered machines, and saw their future bikes being exclusively fours and triples. But the K1200RS is proof that they made the concept work, even if BMW bike fans often preferred the good old fashioned twins.
Insidebikes.com editor Alastair Walker rode the 2002 model K1200RS to see if BMW´s flagship sportbike of days gone by still has something unique to offer.
I first rode the K1200RS about five years ago and to be honest, wasn´t greatly impressed. Back then, I found the bike a little ponderous, odd-handling on occasions and it simply wasn´t as exciting as the Yamaha Thunderace and Honda Blackbird machines which we stacked against it at Biker magazine. Even Kawasaki´s ZZR1100 seemed somehow faster, sleeker and more appealing than the big BMW.
It wasn´t just me either, because the bike wasn´t a great sales success in the UK, and of late, the new generation BMW twins have put the lone four cylinder Beemer in the shadows. That´s a shame, because when you ride this for a few hours, you soon realise it is now a very accomplished all-rounder, and blindingly fast.
How fast? Well, I´m not cracking on, but on a ride-out with the Williams BMW Team in Manchester, an embarrassed man on a Yamaha R1 gave up trying to stick with the K1200RS on a twisty road. Let´s just say the K12 is fast enough for any `enthusiastic´ road rider, both in outright top speed and its acceleration.
That surprised me, because the K1200 weighs in at a hefty 275 kilos fully fuelled up, which is the sort of lardiness you might expect from a full-on touring bike, complete with panniers and barn door fairing. Yet the fuel injected, 16 valve, four cylinder motor kicks out a claimed 130bhp and delivers it perfectly, with a breathtaking rush of speed at high rpm.
There´s plenty of lunge at lower rev speeds, making regular tap-dancing through the six speed gearbox pretty redundant most of time, but if you want to play fast and loose, the bike can handle it. Giving it some stick did start to use fuel quite fast however, (about 35mpg when seeing off R1 jockeys) although the large five gallon tank gives you a 200 mile range most days of the week, with 40-45mpg easily achievable.
The Suspension Gospel According To BMW; Chapter One.
In many ways, BMW ownership is a cult thing, almost a religion. The best example of this is the devotion that owners show to the Telelever/Paralever suspension system used on the bikes; both twins and fours.
In a nutshell, the conventional telescopic forks on the K12 merely hold the wheel in situ, as all the suspension forces are absorbed by a single shock upfront, which sits on a kind of reversed swingarm attached to the frame, from which the engine simply hangs. The clever stuff is at the back, where the driveshaft housing is also the load-bearing member that keeps the rear wheel in place. That the shaft drive is so smooth, even when bouncing up and down over twisty Lakeland roads, is very impressive – the thing works, full stop.
On the BMW Boxer twins, the front end requires confident steering input from the rider to get the best from the bike in the bends, and the on the heavier K1200RS, this technique needs to be amplified. There´s still a trace of vagueness, a feeling that the front wheel isn´t telling you everything, when you pitch the big K12 through the twisty stuff.
The odd thing is that once you get used to it, the bike can be slung about quite hard, almost like a big Supermoto machine – using loads of counter-steering – and you find yourself getting up to some serious corner speeds, despite the odd shimmy that the thing does in protest. The other benefit is that you can brake really late – for a bike this heavy – as the front end will not `dive´ like a conventional telescopic forked machine.
Again, it´s an odd feeling at first, but your confidence builds up until you reach the point where you´re braking hard and deep into corners, then using all your bodyweight to sling the bike right over onto its bulbous-looking sides. Other sports-tourers like say Honda´s VFR800, or the Aprilia Falco for example, require less effort to accomplish the same speeds. Yet in a perverse way, I really enjoyed making rapid progress on a bike which weighs a bit too much for such shenanigans.
Never Mind the Style, Feel the Quality.
With a massive alloy spine frame, wide cast wheels, meaty suspension system and a huge gas tank the Beemer is heavy, but beautifully constructed, as if the factory are determined that this engineering exercise should not only work well, but be seen to keep on working for many years.
Every detail looks durable. The paint is thick, the alloy control levers are nicely polished, the exhaust looks like it is three times thicker than the average Japanese motorcycle pipework. Personally, I thought the 2002 model looked better made than the original 1996 model (as well as I could recall anyway) and a cut above the current Boxer twin machines, not that they are made on the cheap.
Williams BMW had also fitted a Remus pipe to this bike, which gave the thing a nice, almost Cosworth-like, snarl to it, with the added bonus of looking long-lasting. Such durability matters to me, because I hate buying bikes which lose value quicker than a telecom company´s share price, as their cycle parts crumble in furry alloy scrap.
Engine vibration seemed less intrusive than on the older K12 to me. The fairing had altered slightly too, with the mirrors offering a better view now. The screen is still too low however, and I´m only 5 feet 9ins tall. Long-in-the-leg riders may also find the footpegs are still set too high for them, although for a relative short-arse like me, they were spot-on. The footpegs are also big enough to get your weight balanced safely when hanging off a little bit in corners; I hate the modern trend towards pegs that are the size of a runner bean and just as slippery.
At £9,345 (or £10,095 for the ABS braked model) the K1200RS ain´t cheap, but its depreciation is minimal compared to many of its rivals. People will always want to buy a used example of the K1200 I reckon, even if it carries a high mileage, because the thing is made well, and there are relatively few of them about.
It still isn´t as fast as a Blackbird, or a FJR1300. The K12 would be embarrassingly out-handled by an Aprilia Falco, or Ducati ST4 at a trackday. But on the open road – any open road – two people, plus luggage could make equally fast progress on this bike. On a 2,000 mile tour of Europe the sheer comfort this bike offers would be irresistible, plus you can forget about packing chain lube and adjustment spanners.
For me, the K1200RS has only one deadly serious rival; Honda´s astonishing STX1300 Pan-European, which reportedly goes extremely fast and handles damn fine too. Comfortable, a proven V4 engine, and it has shaft drive. Depreciation is minimal too – people love, and I mean love, their Pan-Euro bikes.
For me, it would be a tough call between the two, but I know which bike my wife would want me to spend ten grand on, and then tour into the distance. The Honda wins hands down for pillion comfort and BMW ignore the input that pillions have in this sector of the market at their peril. In that respect, and in its oddball styling, the K1200RS looks a bit dated.
There´s life in the `flying brick´ formula yet, but the K1200RS needs a complete makeover to stay in the sports-touring premier league. The question is, can BMW afford to devote the time and resources to developing a new K model, given the success that their Boxer range is currently enjoying, whilst also developing a credible GP bike to join the four stroke road racing party?
Get BMW bike insurance for the bmw k1200rs 2002.
|Engine||In line, four cylinder, liquid cooled, four stroke, 16 valve|
|Top speed (est)||150mph|
|Carbs||None, digital fuel injection system by Bosch|
|Claimed peak power||130bhp @ 9750rpm|
|Frame||Aluminium alloy spine type, using engine as stressed member|
|Front suspension||Telelever monoshock, adjustable|
|Rear suspension||Paralever monoshock, (adjustable)incorporating final shaft drive|
|Front brakes||Twin xxx discs, four piston Brembo callipers|
|Rear brakes||Single xxx disc, twin piston Brembo calliper (optional ABS)|