Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 17th June 2008

Cruisers are bikes that evoke a strong reaction; most people either love ’em, or would gladly turn a blowtorch upon their chromium plated knick-knacks.

The BMW R1200C is especially controversial, mainly because it looks so damn weird.

But this 1920s inspired, art deco style statement, is genuinely easy to ride, with surprisingly sharp handling, meaty power and excellent rider comfort. It also stands out from the crowd because it definitely isn’t a Harley `wannabe ’ like so many other cruisers.
Fair play to them – the Germans are proud to do their own thing.

If you like the idea of something fun, yet practical, but also engineered to standards that many cruisers simply cannot match, then the BMW R1200C could be strangely perfect.

Whether you love it or hate it – and there are plenty of motorcyclists who fall into each camp – BMW’s R1200C is one of the most striking pieces of automotive design of recent years. Most bike firms, especially the Japanese, seem to think that designing a cruiser means copying market leaders Harley-Davidson. The result is a host of look-alike V-twins, all lacking a Harley’s authentic charm.

In contrast, the R1200C is a startlingly bold and imaginative bike that resembles nothing else on wheels. It’s certainly far removed from any previous BMW. Yet it could only have been produced by the German firm, which ironically was until fairly recently regarded as among motorcycling’s most conservative.

The feature that shouts BMW above all is the distinctive flat-twin engine layout, favoured by the German marque since its first model of 75 years ago. The shaft-drive ’boxer’ motor was a natural for the cruiser. Enlarged to a biggest yet 1170cc, softly tuned and with its cylinder heads chrome plated for added sparkle, the fuel-injected unit produces a modest 61bhp with a generous helping of low-rev torque.

And there’s much more that’s distinctive about the 1200C than its engine layout. David Robb, BMW’s American-born design chief, examined the whole cruiser style afresh and combined the necessary long, laid-back proportions with clever engineering.

The German firm’s familiar Telelever front suspension system is made a visual feature by using polished aluminium for the horizontal arm that works the single front shock absorber.

Neat details abound, from the large alloy ignition key, via the leather grips on the end of the cow-horn handlebars, to the pillion seat, which hinges up to provide a solo rider with both a backrest and a luggage rack.

The result is a bike that is either gorgeous or outlandish depending on your point of view (personally I think it’s both), but which is hard to ignore. The good news is that the R1200C is also great fun to ride, whether you’re cruising on the open road or rumbling along the High Street, surreptitiously checking your reflection in shop windows.

The riding position is pure Harley: arms up to the high bars, seat low to the ground and feet fairly well forward. First gear goes in with an audible clonk, and the BMW pulls away with a pleasant throbbing sound from its shiny twin pipes.

Straight-line performance is not spectacular but the big twin’s generous low-rev torque provides respectably brisk acceleration, especially away from a standstill. In BMW tradition the transmission is rather snatchy and the five-speed gearbox imprecise.

As you cruise along at a steady 70mph – anything closer to the 110mph top speed would soon become uncomfortable, although the backrest helps – the motor vibrates just enough to feel interesting rather than uncomfortable.

If the 1200C’s engine performance is adequate, its chassis is a revelation. Most large-capacity cruisers are big, softly sprung brutes that don’t like going round corners. At 256kg with fuel the BMW is hardly light, but its relatively firm suspension combines with grippy tyres and generous ground clearance to make a twisty road improbably entertaining.

BMW’s Telelever front suspension system is well-suited to cruiser use. It allows a compliant ride yet does not dive as much as most cruisers’ telescopic forks do when the excellent brakes – twin discs up front and one at the rear, all with ABS – are used in anger. And although the 1100C is long and fairly wide, its low centre of gravity helps make the bike surprisingly manoeuvrable in traffic. Quality of finish is vital for a cruiser, and again the BMW scores highly. This bike is beautifully built, with lustrous paint (whose traditional black or ivory colour adds retro appeal), deep chrome and gleaming alloy.

Mind you, the £9340 price does not include the host of optional accessories, which range from heated grips and saddlebags for the bike to co-ordinated jackets and pocket watches for the rider. Many motorcycles provide more performance for considerably less money than this BMW, but there is nothing on two wheels to match its uniquely outrageous style.

More to the point, the R1200C is great fun to ride. Of course it’s over the top – but beneath the chrome and the glitz, it’s a mighty fine motorbike too.

Vital Statistics


Engine Air-cooled flat twin
cc 1170
Compression ratio 10:1
Transmission 5-speed

Cycle parts

Front suspension Telelever shock, 144mm spring travel
Rear suspension Paralever system, single damper 100mm wheel travel
Front brake 2, four-piston calipers, 305mm discs
Rear brake Double-action caliper, 285mm disc
Front wheel 2.50 x 18in; wire spoke
Rear wheel 4.50 x 15in; wire spoke
Front tyre 100/90 x 18in
Rear tyre 170/80 x 15in
Rake/trail 29.5 degrees/86mm
Wheelbase 1650mm
Seat height 740mm


Top speed 115 mph
Fuel capacity 17 litres