Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 17th June 2008

Long, long ago, BMW made a flat twin, four stroke engine which people liked and had the handy benefit of proving very reliable.

Eventually, BMW decided they couldn´t keep on making this Boxer twin bigger every couple of years, or one day they would need Fred Dibnah to advise on crankshaft journal sizes.

So they made a four-cylinder engine and set it lengthways in a hi-tech chassis. One variant was the K1200RS, which is perhaps one of the most adept motorcycles at covering over 500 miles in one day, at a surprisingly rapid average speed. Over the years, the K1200RS got more powerful, heavier, but comfortable too and remains one seriously under-rated machine.

If you can get your head around the concept of riding something German with chequered flag style decals on its bodywork, try a K1200RS. You might even like it.

The K1200RS would be a pretty spectacular motorcycle whoever had built it, but coming from BMW it’s a stunner. Bikes like the funky R1100GS have helped BMW liven up its dull-old-man image of late, and the RS takes that process a stage further. With its swoopy styling, aluminium frame, Telelever front suspension system and pokey four-cylinder powerplant, it’s every millimetre a modern superbike. And with a claimed 130bhp on tap, it finally blows BMW’s self-imposed hundred-horse limit wide open.

The K1200RS is also still very much a BMW, for all that. Unlike the majority of sports-tourers, the RS places as much emphasis on the touring side of the equation as the sports. This is a bike not for circuit days or even Sunday morning scratching, but for long-distance road riding where the object is to arrive fast, relaxed but with plenty of adrenalin shooting around in your bloodstream.

Even before leaving Barcelona that evening, the RS had shown some touches of class. In typical BMW fashion its bars, seat and footrests can all be adjusted. Raising the seat to its higher position gave my spindly legs some welcome extra room; short-arses would prefer the lower standard setting. The screen can also be set in one of two positions, the higher of which diverted the breeze from my head and chest efficiently, as I blatted north along the motorway towards the French border, although it allowed more wind noise than the best touring screens. I’d expected comfort from the RS but hadn’t bargained for the stunning performance of its engine, a revamped version of the longitudinally mounted 16-valve four from the K1100RS. Capacity is increased from 1092 to 1171cc by use of a new crankshaft with 5mm more stroke. Extra zip comes from lightweight pistons and valvegear, higher 11.5:1 compression ratio and ram-air intake all of which contribute to its peak output of 130bhp at 8750rpm. (Pity the poor old Germans and French, who get a gummed-up 100bhp lemon.) That makes the K12 by far BMW’s most powerful bike ever which is clear from the moment you wind open its throttle for the first time.

This bike just charges, stomping forward with an addictive rush almost regardless of where its tacho needle is aimed. BMW’s boffins have managed to combine its new-found high-rev power with the K-series motors’ traditionally strong midrange torque. The revised Motronic injection system provides instant, snatch-free grunt from well below 3000rpm even in top gear, from which point the RS just keeps pulling harder until its power starts to drop off towards the nine grand redline. Such is the motor’s midrange punch that there’s no point in revving it above 8000rpm, but sometimes it’s tempting to do so just because the newly rubber-mounted powerplant feels so smooth at almost all speeds. A slight tingle intrudes at about 4500rpm, ironically the 85mph-in-top-gear zone that’s handy on a cop-laden motorway. But the traditional K-series buzz is gone, and the RS feels mighty refined. It’s fast, too: clocking 140mph on the Spanish autopista with tank-bag and panniers, and good for a genuine 150mph without luggage.

Another reason for the K12’s relaxed feel is the taller top ratio allowed by its new six-speed gearbox, which is not just the best box ever fitted to a BMW, but the first to match Japanese standards. The change is quick, reliable and quiet a world away from the five-speed clunkers of the past. My only, very occasional, problem was hitting neutral by mistake when pulling away. A more serious complaint is that under hard riding the big four’s 35mpg thirst, combined with an inadequate 4.6 gallon fuel tank, results in a range of well under 150 miles. In fact the tripmeter read precisely 127 miles when I spluttered to a halt, at 1am on a pitch-black autoroute near the medieval town of Carcassonne in southern France. The BMW’s fuel gauge is accurate, but I’d rashly refused to stop for gas when the low fuel light had blinked as I approached a service station after less than 100 miles (most of them at 120mph, admittedly), and I’d paid the price.

Eventually I was rescued by a generous Ducati-owning local called Laurent, and found a hotel nearby. By 9am next morning I’d repacked the BMW’s big panniers (noting that the bag I’d bungeed to the seat was spattered with chain-lube though not from this bike) and was back on the road, abandoning the monotony and frequent tollbooths of the autoroute north of Toulouse in favour of the N20 highway that snakes towards Limoges and Orleans. On this narrow and quite busy road the engine’s instant acceleration made for effortless overtaking, and the K12’s chassis was just as impressive. The frame is an aluminium spine design, much more substantial than previous steel structures because the rubber-mounted K12 motor is not a stressed member of the chassis. Weighing about 260kg dry, and with a long 1555mm wheelbase, the K1200RS is a big bike, but is well-suited to maintaining a good pace on curving main roads. Its steering is quite slow but unfailingly neutral and precise. High-speed stability is good, too, although the rather worn rear tyre generated an occasional twitch of the handlebars despite the steering damper.

Front suspension is by a revised, frame-mounted version of the Telelever system fitted to the R1100RS boxer, and works very well. The system is ideal for a sports-tourer because its shock can be set to give enough travel for comfort, yet the inbuilt anti-dive set at 90 per cent, against 70 per cent on the boxers means you retain control (plus full benefit of the powerful headlight) when braking. And the K1200RS sure has great anchors. Twin-pot Brembo front calipers and 305mm floating discs combine with an ABS system that is better than ever since being revised to suit the Telelever set-up. The K12’s single-sided Paralever rear swing-arm pivots on the frame, rather than the engine as before, and works a single shock, placed diagonally on the right of the bike. The Bee-Em is a bit too soft and heavy to encourage knee-down stuff in tight corners, but it can corner pretty fast when requested. Both ends are reasonably well-damped, Metzeler’s new MEZ4 sports-touring radials (the rear a 170/60 cover on a 5in rim a 5.5in wheel is available as an extra) grip hard, and there’s plenty of ground clearance.

As I approached Paris, a road-sign for Le Mans reminded me that by chance the famous 24-hour bike race was taking place at that very moment. A few years ago I’d have been taking part myself (or inspecting a blown engine, more like), but I hadn’t time to stop. By now the cooler air of northern France had made me realise that the K12’s indicators, originally intended to hold the mirrors (instead they’re conventionally bar-mounted), don’t divert much air from the pilot’s hands. Fortunately this bike was fitted with BMW’s optional heated grips, so in mild weather it wasn’t a problem. That is evidence of less than clever design, but it’s one of very few examples on a very fast and classy long-distance motorbike. I pulled into the Calais ferry terminal at 9.30pm, having averaged over 55mph for the 700 miles from Carcassonne despite stops for food and photos; and not too long afterwards was home. After a similar trip on most bikes I’d have expected red eyes, ringing ears and an aching bum but all the normal symptoms of white-line fever were missing. More to the point, I’d enjoyed almost every mile of the journey. If I had to ride back to Barcelona tomorrow, I couldn’t help thinking, the bike I’d choose is a BMW K1200RS.


Vital Statistics

Engine Liquid-cooled in-line four
cc 1171
Claimed power (bhp) 130bhp
Compression ratio 11.5:1
Transmission Six-speed
Cycle parts
Front suspension Telelever single shock, 115mm spring travel
Rear suspension One damper, 150mm spring travel, adjustments for preload and rebound damping.
Front brake 2, four-piston Brembo calipers, 305mm discs
Rear brake Double-action Brembo caliper, 285mm disc.
Front wheel 3.50 x 17in; cast aluminium
Rear wheel 5.00 x 17in; cast aluminium.