BMW R1200S: Boxer packs punch

Tim Luckhurst is knocked out by the style and power of a clever two-cylinder at a fighting weight
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Specifications

Engine: 1,170cc flat-twin, air cooled
Maximum power: 122 bhp (90 kW) @ 8,250 rpm
Maximum torque: 83lb ft (112 Nm) @ 6,800 rpm
Brakes: Front twin 320mm discs. Rear single 265mm disc.
Transmission: dog-shift six-speed gearbox. Shaft final drive.
Dry weight: 190 kg.
Tank capacity: 17 litres.
Price: from £8,955

The golden rule of racetracks is that you don't stop unless ordered to. At the Killarney circuit, on the outskirts of Cape Town, I was reluctant to start. The temperature was 30C and the tarmac shimmered under a dirty blue sky. Table Mountain looked far more enticing than racing through a series of tight bends on technology derived from the 1920s. And, make no mistake, that is precisely what the BMW R1200S is.

If riders did not worship them, BMW wouldn't still make Boxer engines. Air-cooled, horizontally opposed twins can never generate as much power as an in-line four. Boxers make sumptuous touring motorcycles, but making them more than moderately rapid is difficult. Respect, then, to the team at BMW Motorrad, who have squeezed 122bhp out of the fastest, lightest Boxer ever made. It will not win races, but this is a gentleman's sports bike par excellence.

Despite sumptuous surroundings and the pitchers of chilled juice awaiting me in the pits, I was seduced into doing several laps of the 3.2km circuit. Soon, the green-and-white trackside wall was flashing past, and I began to relish refined handling. At moderate track speeds, the R1200S is precise and stable. It tips in sweetly, holds its line under ferocious braking, and inspires adventurous cornering. This is the slimmest Boxer ever, and the most powerful. It is aerodynamic and instantly responsive.

From its asymmetric front headlight to its gorgeous LED tail-light, the R1200S screams modernity. The look is more than a tease. Snapping through the six-speed gearbox on the long back straight, I was thrilled by the peak power. At 190kg dry, the R1200S has shaved 13kg of its predecessor, the R1100S, while gaining capacity and torque. A new camshaft system, harder valve-springs and reinforced rocker arms allow the engine to rev to 8,800rpm.

The R1200S can handle track action better than any of its predecessors, but beware of one surprise. BMW calls it "progressively acting kinematic control", which means the throttle doesn't deliver power on a linear curve. The first 75 per cent of throttle twist gives smooth acceleration, but the final quarter delivers a huge wallop in return for little wrist movement. In third gear, on Killarney's double-apexed right-hander, this brought me close to grief.

But BMW's decision to deliver power at a variable ratio reveals what the new king of the Boxers is for. For all its track characteristics - including a maximum lean angle of 52 degrees - this is not a supersports motorcycle. The seating position is relaxed and a 17-litre tank permits respectable range. The R1200S is what Americans call a "canyon carver".

Where South Africa's R45 snakes through the pass between Franschhoek and Villiersdorp, motorcycling gets close to perfection. Thanks to the indulgence of the police, I can tell you that the R1200S flicks admirably and has tremendous mid-range torque. I suspect maximum speed is just over 150mph, but the rock face was approaching too rapidly for me to be precise.

Riders seeking the parallel- dimension performance offered by top-of-the-range three- and four-cylinder sports bikes will dismiss 122bhp as too modest for truly psychopathic riding. They'll be right. BMW caters for such power worshippers with its K series four-cylinder bikes. The R1200S is a real- world motorcycle, most at home where speed limits are intended for guidance and traffic is light. Only an exceptional rider can exceed its performance limits on the public highway, but good riders will have fun trying.

And don't imagine it's a tame bike. At a restaurant in Franschhoek, the manager told me that a test rider had lost control and crashed an R1200S into the gorge.

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