Suddenly Smarter Roadster
A simple but very good roadster is what it’s always been, but the latest revisions and a lengthy list of standard and optional features serve to bring BMW’s R1200R into the electronic era.
The pattern is now as predictable as the seasons. First comes a new GS, then one after one the other BMW’s R models get their similar updates. And since the R1200GS was brilliantly redesigned in 2013, much was expected for the next R and RT. The latter got its major update last year and for 2015, it’s the R’s turn.
The profile is unmistakably R, and yet, something at the core is different. The R has always been classic and classy. Humble. Restrained. Unassuming. And unquestionably brilliant and intelligent. This much never changed with each passing generation, with maybe the exception of the twin-eyed 1150 Rockster, which attempted a sportier look a few years ago.
For 2015, the R certainly hasn’t lost its class, but the classic part has definitely (and very carefully) been tampered with. Styling is now classic with a subtle modern twist. Gone is the traditional round headlight, replaced by a complex piece with a cool LED/regular reflector mix. The gas tank and few body parts are edgier, the tailpiece is thinner and the analogue/digital instrumentation looks much more current than the old dual round pods. But of all the changes to the R1200R’s looks, none are more significant than the disappearance of the trademark Telelever. BMW officially says it was a packaging decision.
The centrally located radiator of the new liquid-cooled Boxer Twin needed the telelever’s place. The latter having been an integral part of the R series DNA for over two decades, I was very surprised to see it go and asked if maybe the latest trend of wanting to attract younger riders wasn’t behind the decision to remove this “thing” a newer crowd might have not understood. I mean, a radiator can be moved. But the BMW personnel present at the bike’s introduction to the motorcycle press in Alicante, Spain were adamant that this was not the reason behind the change. Rather, the word ‘dynamic’ was referenced often in the explanation: a more dynamic look and a more dynamic handling were wanted and a standard fork without the natural anti-dive properties of the Telelever was part of the path to get there.
The rest of the bike is literally a complete revision forced by the adoption of the much more compact new generation water-cooled Boxer, here in its 125 horsepower configuration. Standard equipment includes Road and Rain riding modes, ABS and basic traction control called Automatic Stability Control (ASC) and heated grips. Available as options are Dynamic and User riding modes, Dynamic Traction Control with lean angle sensor and Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA), BMW’s semi-active suspension technology. And the list goes on with a new keyless system with fob, a “Pro” headlight, electronic-assist shifter, cruise control and plenty more to convince buyers to inflate the basic model’s reasonable $16,050 MSRP, the same as last year’s model.
Completely renewing a very good motorcycle isn’t an easy feat. And it’s risky. Nonetheless, just as it did with the R1200GS a couple of years ago, BMW has been able to brilliantly achieve that with the new R1200R, producing a machine that is mechanically all-new, yet offers a very familiar feel. In terms of proportions, weight, riding position and engine character, the new R remains very close to the previous generation. In the case of, say, a supersport, this kind of observation would be negative, but as it is with the 1200GS’s, you actually want the new bike to keep the majority of the personality of the old one, simply because the previous R was such a pleasant combination of smart characteristics.
That being said, the new gen R1200R is unquestionably more than just a reinterpretation of the old concept with added water-cooling. For instance, the engine is considerably healthier with 125 vs 110 horses. Torque goes from 88 to 92 ft/lb. and is particularly generous at low revs, letting the R happily lug near idle on higher gears, then pick up without the slightest hesitation once the throttle is opened.
Offering a combination of surprising performance coming from the 125 horses, of remarkable flexibility, of very well controlled and measured pulses, and of the endearing deep Boxer drone, the new (partially) water-cooled motor is an absolute gem. The six-speed transmission now works very well, something I’ve never been able to say about the one in the oil-cooled Boxer. The quick-shifter option can be fun, but a must it ain’t.
I may get a few stones thrown my way for saying so, but I sort of feel the same about the Dynamic ESA. The advantages of this automatically adjusting system are just not that obvious to me. The rider can choose between the softer damped Road or firmer Dynamic settings, which does change suspension action noticeably. In either mode, handling is superb. The 45mm upside-down fork makes the R behave more like a normal motorcycle than does the Telelever front end, mostly because it dives anytime the brakes are applied instead of remaining practically flat. I always liked how different yet exquisitely competent the previous generation felt, so I wouldn’t say the new fork is better. However, I would say it feels more normal and that it works flawlessly. Although it’s the furthest thing from a track bike, the new R handles beautifully with grace and stability. On a winding road, its solid and precise chassis, light steering and powerful brakes transform it into a machine that’s fast, easy to ride and a lot of fun thanks to the gobs of available torque and a throaty Boxer exhaust note.
The new R1200R is ergonomically smart (buyers can choose from four different seats with heights ranging from 840mm down to a very low 760mm). It’s designed with taste and in two versions: the sportier “style 1” and the more subdued “style 2.”
It’s powered by an engine with a genuinely wonderful character (and torquey and fast). And it’s blessed with handling that feels just as fun, inviting and stable touring as it does ripping up twisty backroads. Obvious flaws? None, really. Though maybe the simple naked that the R1200R always was is getting a little complex when all the boxes on the option list are checked. The good thing is they are options. Buyers can still get a plain and remarkably competent basic R1200R if they choose to. I will not be advising against it.
-Bertrand Gahel, Issue #309, March 2015