Faith in it’s own product: that’s the message from BMW which chose to set a far tougher test of its new 2001 machines than that imposed by the typical bike launch. And as far as the new R1150RT is concerned, the faith is justified.
BMW gathered the UK bike press at its UK headquarters in Bracknell, sat each of us astride the revamped tourers and with maps and GPS systems to make sure that we would arrive – eventually – pointed us at Albi in the south of France.
Much of the new 1150 is unchanged from the old R1100RT, introduced at the end of 1995 as BMW’s highest spec tourer until the flagship K1200LT came out in 1999.
Although it looks substantially different the changes are fewer than you might expect.
Chief of BMW motorcycle design David Robb explains: “We wanted to give the 1150 a more purposeful look than the 1100, where the headlamp was a little lost in a sea of plastic at the front and the face too flat.”
He’s altered only the upper fairing, but it’s affected the look of the whole bike:
“The nose has been brought forward and now has a central ridge, which improves aerodynamics but which also gives it a sharper, more aggressive style.”
Inside the screen the uppermost panelling is now coloured matt black which disguises the height of the bike, imparting the impression of an altogether more balanced, less dumpy machine.
Now the 1150RT looks snappier, and that’s appropriate as it’s pleasingly agile without compromising its prime role as tourer. Even faced with a motorway half the length of France it carries the rider along in immense comfort – the riding position is quite upright and at first feels quite compact, but it works outstandingly on really long stints.
12 hours in the saddle with just a lunch break and occasional fuel stop confirmed the initial impression that the seat is luxuriously comfortable. Just as well, as the combination of 26 litre ( 5.7 gallon Imp) fuel tank with the 44mpg being achieved at some very high speeds results in a realistic range of 400km (250 miles), while more typical gentler riding will see you close to 480km (300 miles) per refill, if you’re brave enough to run it near to dry.
The taller top gear no doubt helps economy as well as giving the bike a more relaxed feel, and the new six-speed gearbox also swaps ratios more co-operatively and quietly than the old five-speeder, although it’s still short of the sophistication of the best Japanese bikes.
Whether or not you need the extra ratio is debatable as the bigger engine sports a wider spread of torque, although you won’t want to rev the engine beyond 6000rpm as the vibration is dramatically bad from here to the 7500rpm red line, attacking all your contact points with the bike. In the lower rev range it still buzzes but not so that you’ll complain, as long as you’re not expecting it to be as smooth as a Ducati or even Moto Guzzi V-twin. Another characteristic of the boxer twin is the way the bike kicks to the right in response to the accelerating longitudinal crankshaft when you blip the throttle, but the RT’s considerable mass damps that down to barely noticeable levels.
In other respects the motor’s much more refined, the fuel injection providing a soft and predictable throttle response with no sign of the low rev surging some BMWs have exhibited. While it does pull away from 1500rpm even in the higher gears, really you need something between 3000rpm and 6000rpm to be displayed, where there’s plenty of go for exciting performance even loaded with passenger and luggage. It also sounds good, the mellow inlet burble a dependable companion while lost in the dark, in the wet, on foreign roads with lethal slippery surfaces… oh yes, we had it all.
BRAKING NEW GROUND
The RT is the first BMW to feature the company’s new integrated ABS system which not only links front and rear wheel braking, while combining it with ABS, it also provides servo assistance through some clever extra valving and electronics – the first on a mainstream production motorcycle.
This last feature does rather smack of solving a problem we didn’t know existed, as braking power has rarely been a concern to date. There’s also a step in the application which makes modulating medium strength braking difficult – the bike suddenly slows more than you intended. It’s not dangerous, just irritating.
However, there’s no doubt it’s possible to haul up the RT with eye-popping ferocity even in unpleasant conditions with remarkably little drama.
Like all current BMW twins, the engine doubles up as the central chassis component – there’s no frame as such – with front and rear suspension bolted directly to the motor. At the sharp end is the company’s unique Telelever set-up, a combination of telescopic fork and car-type wishbone, which cuts front end dive under braking by some 90 per cent. The rear comprises shaft drive in a single-sided swingarm, and it all works well on the RT. Both have a greater unsprung mass than conventional suspension but the RT’s a heavy bike anyway and all you notice is a slightly fidgety ride on motorways, while its composure in emergency stops is exemplary.
A typical trait of Telelever is exceptional stability. The very low speed steering is heavy and direction changes are unhurried but despite its soft springing, bulky bodywork and the bane of aerodynamicists, a pair of panniers at the back, the RT has a granite-like unflappability. Blustery crosswinds, potholes, passing trucks, high speed corners or all of these at once and still the RT tracks your path with unwavering faith.
SO DOES THE R1150RT SET A NEW STANDARD?
Dynamically it all hangs together extremely well, but there’s also a character and involvement often lacking in touring bikes which really endears the RT to its rider. Hopefully the susceptibility of one or two bolts and fittings to corrosion – already in evidence on our test bikes and something my long term K1200LT suffered from last year – won’t take the shine off a longer acquaintance.
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Engine Flat twin, four stroke, eight valve
Claimed power (bhp) 95bhp
Transmission 6 speed, shaft driven
Suspension Telelever front suspension, Paralever rear, utilizing engine as main chassis member
Brakes 305mm front discs, four piston Brembo calipers, with ABS, plus linked servo assist.Rear; single 276mm rear disc, ABS, linked servo assist.
Colours Red, Silver, Blue
Top speed 125mph ( est )
Fuel capacity 26 litres