BMW K1200R: Better class of thug

BMW's venture into the muscle market has produced an aristocrat, says Tim Luckhurst
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Engine: 1,157cc liquid- cooled in-line four
Power: 163 bhp at 10,250 rpm
Torque: 94 lb/ft at 8,250 rpm
Transmission: six-speed gearbox driving shaft final drive
Acceleration: 0 to 60mph in 2.8 seconds
Price: £9,190

If naked muscle bikes were people they would be the type that the late Ian Dury called blockheads: loud and brash and full of energy. Blockheads know it will all go wrong in the end but, until then, they are determined to have a riotous time. You would not take them home to meet your mum because they might throw up in the kitchen, but blockheads can be fun to be around.

Modern blockhead motorcycles are designed to be as fast as they are impractical. They deliver dramatic surges of power but have nothing to keep the rain and wind off their rider. You can have spectacular fun on a Kawasaki Z1000, Triumph Speed Triple or Ducati S4R. But you would not ride one far. These are bikes to pull wheelies on, thrash around a few innocent lanes and then slide screechingly to a halt before buying a bag of chips on the way home.

Until now BMW has not ventured into this thuggish market. The German manufacturer has been associated with touring and technical innovation, but not brute force. The K1200R roadster is designed to change perceptions. At 163 bhp it is, technically, the most powerful production roadster in the world. It looks vicious and sounds like a furious dragon. But, if BMW want it to be considered nasty, they are going to be slightly disappointed. It is a bit too classy for that.

The K1200R is a stripped down version of the K1200S superbike that endured a spectacularly difficult birth. Independent readers will remember that initial models were recalled after problems with electronic fuel-injection and substandard crankshafts. The starting point is that BMW have now got their new in-line four cylinder engine right.

It is smooth, balanced and impressively flexible as well as massively powerful. One result is that a lazy rider can do almost everything in fifth gear. I passed coaches on winding Leicestershire B-roads without changing down. The engine pulled with dramatic effect from 45mph to 80mph in response to a single twist of the wrist. Of course, I could have accelerated faster, but the K1200R does in fifth what few sports cars can do in third. It pulls hard in sixth as well.

As impressive was its demeanour when I dropped down three gears and pegged the throttle open. I expected my front wheel to lift off the tarmac. Several naked roadsters are designed with that in mind. The K1200R kept tyres on the road and rocketed forward like a wire-guided missile. It handled like one too. From standstill to well over 100mph this BMW goes exactly where it is pointed. There is no twitching. It carves through sweeping bends as if on rails and turns into tighter ones with calm precision.

A track session at Rockingham race circuit confirmed that it also stays composed under serious provocation. There was a point when things started to feel ragged, but I was travelling at close to twice the legal speed limit when I reached it. This is a roadster, not a pure sports bike, but it has sports DNA. It is a little too heavy to compete with thoroughbreds, but it can race. To prove it BMW have launched a new one-make contest, the BMW Motorrad PowerCup, that will run on European tracks this season.

The version I rode came complete with BMW's latest technical innovation, electronic suspension adjustment. This permits the rider to switch between "normal", "comfort" and "sports" modes while moving. It works. In sports mode the ride was plenty sharp enough for high-speed track-riding. Comfort absorbed every bump on a piece of rutted lane.

ESA varies the damping on the front and rear wheels via a button mounted on the left handlebar. It is an optional extra on both the K1200S and K1200R. At standstill it can be used to adjust between solo and two-up riding and to compensate for baggage too. It will catch on.

The K1200R's brakes, suspension and transmission have been imported from the K1200S, but there are modest adjustments to the suspension geometry and the final-drive ratio is reduced to compensate for higher drag. The result is a motorcycle that handles well at low speed in towns as well as on the open road. There is immense power, but it is delivered progressively.

Push it hard and the K1200R is aggressive enough to set the most jaded pulse racing. But it is still a BMW, with few of the rough edges associated with naked muscle-bikes. You can ride a K1200R gently and still enjoy it for its technical refinement and comfort.

The K1200R is aesthetically aggressive, with clean modern lines calculated to convey a mood of menacing potential. They do not lie but, while it is lighter, fresher and more agile than BMW's traditional range, this machine comes from the same stable. It is a very aristocratic thug, more dashing young cavalry officer than blockhead, and should appeal to riders who believe that serious fun can also be responsible.

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