Nearly 40 years after the original R 100 RS, BMW launches the R 1200 RS into the sports-touring segment – but is it twelve times better?
Almost anything with the ‘RS’ suffix entices visions of über distinctive sporting excellence. So when BMW tormented us with the blisteringly sexual Roadster Concept – and the later promise of an RS version – we started to get excited. But we would never see such concept naughtiness reach the showroom floors and it turns out that BMW’s new RS isn’t a Cosworth-like rally-slag – it’s more of a 5 Series family saloon on two wheels.
Based heavily on the naked R 1200 R (developed in unison, too) the half- faired RS leans towards sports-tourer rather than roadster packed with attitude. That means it’s hardly going to make the catwalk in Paris, but thankfully this didn’t cease a day’s hooning around the hills of Almeria on some of the best roads in Europe.
The RS is more than happy fulfilling its sporty role…
Touring wise, the RS ticks all the boxes and tickles your toosh with typical BMW armchair comfort. There’s a lengthy reach to the ’bars that soon becomes accepted and a hectic but easy-to-read analogue/digi dash offering all you could ever wish for, with several different display options. Being a new-age BMW, the RS is laden with electronic options and safety aids. Needless to say, we were riding the fully- loaded Sport SE version complete with Dynamic ESA semi-active suspension, upgraded traction control and an auto-blipper among the many highlights. An auto-blipper? On a sports-tourer? Oh, yes.
Utilising the same 1,170cc Boxer engine seen in the GS and RT models, the RS packs a claimed 125bhp with added grunt at lower revs thanks to a modified airbox and revised intake funnels. The chassis is near-identical to the naked R’s, with a longer wheelbase for obvious touring connotations, but a racier castor angle is employed for the sports tagline.
It’s been a while since I’ve ridden a shaft- drive BMW, but the latest generation Bavarian kit is sumptuously smooth at any given part of the throttle. Pulling away from our hotel, the ride-by-wire throttle is light and crisp, picking up beautifully without a hint of snatch… Those of you familiar with Boxer engines will appreciate the linear, predictable power delivery. The RS is no exception, literally pulling from idle with a meaningful stride that doesn’t punish lazy gear selection. Such is the engine’s eloquent bottom end and exemplary ride-by-wire, that you can pootle along at idle in any gear and the throttle picks up with faultless, glitch-free precision. Boxer aficionados will also identify with torque steer issues, but this only appears at the traffic light GP or while attempting slow-speed mingers – hardly the bike’s more sensible remit.
Though I couldn’t distinguish the tangible torque increase over the GS’s motor, it’s also plenty fast enough for its responsibilities, embellished by the Boxer soundtrack that you’ll either love or hate. The last few revs are purely for effect and noise, so shifting between 8-9,000rpm proved fruitful for momentum.
Talking of shifting, this quickshifter/auto- blipper combo – which ensures the clutch is surplus to requirements when the wheels are in motion – is an absolute boon in the RS’s electronics armoury. Not only does it give some much-needed sporty edge to the 1200. The GS’s 1,170cc Boxer engine is used to power the RS. Like the older motor, it’s still a mix of air and liquid cooled. Much attention has been paid to the cooling system for better heat dissipation and ‘thermal stability’. Cylinder heads have been treated to flow work and an anti-hopping slipper-ish clutch is used to smoothen downshifts aboard the RS. To suit the sports-touring ethos, changes have been made to the exhaust, radiator and intake system, resulting in added bottom-end grunt for the faired RS. A fresh airbox and intake trumpets are also present.
The tubular steel bridge frame itself is identical to the naked R model, but with a longer wheelbase (via a longer swingarm) and sportier headstock geometry with a decreased castor angle. The rear subframe is made from steel and rider/pillion pegs are manufactured from forged aluminium. 45mm forks sort the front-end, with BMW citing ‘packaging benefits’ as the reason for swapping from the Telelever. The rear is looked after by the fabled single-sided Paralever arrangement. Brembo radial calipers bite 320mm discs and are mounted to 10-spoke cast wheels. Surprisingly, a 5.5-inch rim and 180-section rear tyre is used.
The analogue speedo exhibits a maximum of 150mph, with the RS proficient at cruising at well above a ton. However, I never found the perfect screen height to combat the buffeting my helmet received – like I get on most bikes of the RS’s ilk. At least the adjustable screen is a one-handed cinch to fiddle with on the fly, so long as speeds don’t exceed 30mph.
The RS is a bike that soon fills you full of confidence, with a mix of sublime mechanical grip and an electronic safety net that enables all sorts of piss-taking. At 236kg, there’s no hiding from the RS’s sheer bulk and presence, though this proves beneficial in lending planted assurance and stability. Despite day long provocation, the Beemer didn’t step out of line once and its rear-biased posture doesn’t interfere too often – 51/49, so say BMW.
When setting off behind our tour guide, ex- British champion and TT winner Steve Plater, there was a sense that things might get a bit tasty during the ride. True to form, I was soon wishing that I’d donned one-piece leathers instead of jacket and jeans – the slightly more appropriate option for a sports-tourer – as the pegs (and my toes) were carving chunks from the Spanish roads. There wasn’t much of the pegs remaining at the end of the day, which is a tribute to the RS’s handling capabilities, as is the evidence of a scuffed exhaust.
When applying the usual Fast Bikes testing criteria, the RS falls short on its outright sporting ability. It’s too top heavy (and too bottom and middle heavy) to trouble sportsbikes and doesn’t brag the most neutral of steering executions, but little effort is needed to get the RS on its side for such a pigeonholed steed. BMW even treated us to a few laps of Almeria circuit (behind Plater, for safety reasons) and other than shitting myself wearing jeans and dragging pegs at 100mph, the RS coped surprisingly well.
Under heavy braking (and unlike Telelevers) and regardless of the dynamic suspension setting, a huge amount of weight is transferred to the front, which heightens braking dynamics and makes the Brembo radials seem a little underwhelming. While we’re on the anchors, perhaps BMW’s sortie into the superbike segment has reaped rewards, as the ABS really has improved and wasn’t intrusive, proving invaluable on dodgy surfaces.
The RS favours smooth inputs and flowing lines, while hanging off like a twat unearths its weight issues. Beefing up the shock’s preload by pressing a button on the switchgear (like most touring-derived Beemers) and enabling pillion/luggage mode sparked a palpable upgrade to the handling, sharpening the RS’s outlook.
Metzeler Z8s have the final say in grip, but the truth is they have an easy time thanks to the BMW’s set-up and sure-footedness. We didn’t get to trial the standard suspension, sans the fancy Dynamic ESA semi-active stuff, but it almost goes without saying that bump management and the ride in general is exceptional. That said, these roads around Almeria are nothing like the UK’s pothole ridden surfaces and sterner tests will come in time.
So, she’s a bit of a heifer and hardly a looker, but what about the practical criterion of a sports-tourer, which really matters in this instance? With an 18 litre tank at the RS’s disposal, coordinated by astute BMW juice injection, you’d expect frugal economy. During more sweeping parts of the route, we were seeing 40mpg. Riding like utter full-spec twunts (it was all Plater’s fault) through the twisties displayed a more sadistic reading of 28mpg, so you do the economy math(s).
The pillion seat, as you’d expect, will cater for arses of all sizes and there are plenty of luggage options. Cruise control is an option, as is the sat-nav that’s handily controlled by a wheel on the ’bar. And what about the ever- increasing importance of seat height? The standard measures 820mm, although there are four options including a minion-friendly 760mm
and an 840mm for the lanky brigade. So let’s get down to business. At £10,835 for the base model and £12,915 for the fully-loaded Sport SE, the numbers can’t be ignored. These prices can also get a smidgen confusing, as you have to pay £85 for metallic paint – despite the fact only metallic paint is available. Figure that one out. As with all BMWs and Ducatis, the base model will be a popular as croup and the more lavish, pricier spec bikes are sure to lead the sales charts and offer greater residual value after a few years of ownership.
If I was having spinal issues, enjoyed trekking over to the continent with the Doris as pillion, and was edging into my middle years, the R 1200 RS might make my list. The aesthetics require a certain penchant for BMW curvery and it lacks authentic sportiness that’s essential in life. So on the basis I’m mid-30s (it was a tough paper round, what can I say) and don’t suffer from spinal issues (yet), it’ll have to be a second bike for me. I struggled to get thrilled by its dynamics, but the RS is very much a function over fashion implementation, and it’s tricky to berate such a competent bike. They say motorcyclists are aging – and as such this ain’t a bad retirement present.