Aesthetic beauty and BMW motorcycles are a bit like the Queen and Prince Phillip, occasionally seen together but not obviously ecstatic in each other's company. The K1200R Sport bucks the trend. Its neat combination of single-sided swingarm and shaft drive is as svelte as Kate Moss and only slightly less charming. It has been a few years since I have leered at a BMW before climbing aboard. This machine rewards intense scrutiny.
At the bike's unveiling, British journalists buckled up with mirth. Try saying R Sport quickly. When a German engineer explained that "The R Sport was perfected in a wind tunnel," the room erupted. Puerile, but a good pointer to the central question: what is the R Sport for?
BMW is good at making one bike and using minor alterations to create several models. Is the R Sport a BMW K1200R with a bikini fairing or a K1200S minus some weather protection? The comfortable, upright riding position owes more to the brutally naked Roadster R than the sports-oriented S, but that does not imply slothfulness.
In this configuration BMW's awesomely powerful transverse four-cylinder engine develops a claimed 163bhp and will propel a courageous rider close to 170mph. The sumptuous intake-snarl beyond 7,000 rpm sounds savage and ferocious. The same goes for the whole bike.
Never mind that you cannot decide whether it is a roadster tarted up to tour, or a sportsbike relaxed to relieve pressure on the spine. Expensive technology and good-time attitude creates a motorcycle that entertains without feeling thuggish. The duolever, double-wishbone front suspension feels agile and the R Sport turns into corners nimbly. It rockets out again in an avalanche of torque.
I felt confident about chucking it around after a few miles in the saddle. Stability under intense braking is excellent and ride quality, though firm enough to handle rough treatment, makes this a plausible long-distance mount. The 19-litre tank reinforces that impression. At 45-plus mpg, range is close to 200miles.
But above 7,000rpm, the engine begins to feel slightly rough and vibration is discernible through the handlebars. To riders familiar with BMW air-cooled twins, the experience will be hardly worthy of remark. Those who know four-cylinder Japanese technology and three-cylinder English engines will feel the difference. The K1200R Sport does not stay silky to the red line.
Similar imperfection mars the gearbox. It works efficiently, but as often with shaft-driven bikes, the shift is clunky. Yet it does not really matter. The gear-position indicator leaves you in no doubt which ratio is engaged, the clutch is light and precise, and once you have learnt to apply the right amount of pressure, very fast upshifts are achievable.
I started riding in bright, early November sun and encountered torrential rain while dashing from Canterbury to London on the M2. The R Sport felt so dependable in wind and wet that I happily kept going. This is a motorcycle on which agility and power are not compromised by any latent febrility. Even at its harshest the R Sport radiates rooted solidity. It feels expensive. And, like most of its stablemates, it is.
Does it justify the investment? On this BMW, look, sound and power add up to more than their parts. It is not flawless, but this is a charismatic motorcycle. Kate Moss was the wrong comparison. This is more Maggie Gyllenhaal, unconventional but clever, delightful and intensely elegant. One fellow reviewer has suggested its only direct rivals are other BMWs. I disagree; Triumph, Ducati and Moto Guzzi make machines with similar power, handling and personality. At this level you need to test and test again before committing.
Engine/performance: 1,157cc, four-cylinder four-stroke; 163 bhp @ 10,250 rpm; 96lb ft@8,250 rpm
Weight: 215 kg
Fuel capacity: 19 litres
Price: From £9,700