During the Battle of Britain, RAF Hawkinge in Kent was the British airfield closest to German occupied France. The intensity of aerial combat above it saw this part of the Garden of England nicknamed Hellfire Corner. Many young men died here, and the wreckage of their Messerschmitts, Hurricanes and Spitfires is still unearthed in fields. Many mechanical relics are on display at a museum that occupies part of the old airfield. It is popular with men fascinated by the technology in which Winston Churchill's "few" fought.
Perhaps I should have considered this before riding into the Hawkinge car park on a shiny German motorcycle. But the duty not to visit the sins of the fathers on subsequent generations was inculcated in me in childhood. Apparently that was not the case for one visitor. His stare radiated malice. To this nerd, who imagined the defence of democracy owed more to horsepower than willpower, arriving on a BMW K1200GT exhibited atrocious taste. Poor fool, if technological excellence is your Holy Grail, few can beat this luxury sports tourer.
BMW has long enjoyed a reputation for making comfortable motorcycles capable of covering huge mileages. Until recently they came in one format: large capacity, horizontally opposed twins, with excellent load-carrying capacity and agricultural performance. By the time the 21st century began, this reputation for building reliable camels meant BMW motorcycles were immensely popular among safety-first, middle-class types. Those for whom riding spells adrenalin, not ambling, chose Japanese, Italian or English mounts.
I thought, when I first rode the K1200GT at launch in Spain last year, that this was a BMW to shatter such prejudices. With its liquid-cooled, transverse, four-cylinder engine derived from the fearsome 165bhp unit installed in the K1200S superbike it could not feel lethargic if it tried. I had fun chucking it around narrow, rural roads and a brief motorway outing to confirm its straight-line speed. But it was not enough. To appreciate a top-class tourer, you must ride long distances on motorways. When they really work, such machines can make 200 miles on the M1 feel like fun.
So, when BMW offered to lend me a K1200GT for extended test I subjected it to grimly workaday conditions. On the first day it conveyed my son and me down the A2 from Chatham to Hawkinge and back in light rain. Next morning I rode it up the M1 to Northamptonshire, refuelled, turned around and went straight home. Next I squeezed it through busy London traffic. I was determined to find the point at which this handsome 150bhp prince begins to feel like a grouchy frog.
It doesn't. When the rain began to fall on a slippery motorway at night, I raised the windscreen, turned on the heated handle bars, and opened the throttle. The stability and agility I enjoyed in Spanish sunshine was no less impressive in a wet Essex in October. The K1200GT is seriously quick, boldly assertive and reassuringly poised. It rewards audacity, pushing towards the red line with rasping attitude and making £70,000 pound sports cars look like injured snails. True, any fast bike can do that, but few do it with such elegance.
The saddle is sumptuous, for rider and passenger, and weather protection is among the best in its class. Panniers and top box are capacious and, for really extended touring, there is an optional tank-bag. Thrashing the engine in a truly imbecilic fashion pushed fuel consumption to 43 mpg, but a good rider having fun can expect nearly 50mpg. That gives a realistic range of 250 miles. And, on this bike, you really can stay in the saddle for that long without experiencing numb-bum-syndrome. There are few machines on which I would rather ride 1,000 miles in a day.
A determined masochist could do that on old BMWs. The difference is that the K1200GT covers distance devastatingly fast, cruising at unrestricted Autobahn speeds without protest and still offering fun in the twisties. The engine is powerful and efficient rather than charismatic, but with first-rate ABS and electronically adjustable suspension on the model I rode, this is a blisteringly quick continent-crosser. Extended use more than confirmed my original enthusiasm. No bike in the BMW range works better. It gives the touring tradition a new lease of life.
Engine: 1,157cc liquid cooled DOHC four-cylinder
Maximum power: 152bhp @ 9,500rpm
Maximum torque: 130Nm @ 7,750 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, shaft final drive.
Brakes: Front twin 320mm discs, rear single 294mm disc, part-integral ABS
Seat height: Adjustable between 820mm and 840mm
Tank capacity: 24 litres
Price: From c. £12,000Reuse content