SHIVA RIDE REPORTS
2005 K1200S Review
< < < < < < < > > > > > > >
3/25/2005 - Update 4/17/2005
BMW K1200S with 1 Mile
OVERVIEW: The news of BMW's new Hyper-Sport broke in October of 2003. Germany's own Motorrad magazine due to lapses in security at the BMW design studio, published actual photographs of the Superbike's brand new frame, Hossack inspired Duolever front end, engine and new the body work <link>. For possibly the first time in recent memory, sport riders everywhere paused their usual "discussion" of which Japanese sport bike is the "real" king of the road and collectively adjusted their mental satellite dishes toward Germany. Imagine the sound of thousands of weather beaten and stuck, satellite dishes squeaking millimeter by millimeter toward a new source. That by itself is an achievement. Finally 17 months since that exciting news, the bike arrives on our shores, ready to be delivered to the very patient buyers. Why patient? Read on
CURRENT PRODUCTION HISTORY: Along the way the delivery date of this new awesome machine was delayed by about 4 months, due to last minute not so minor adjustments. BMW, correctly, decided to hold the release until they were satisfied with the machine's performance. Other manufacturers, may have released the bike prematurely and issued a series of recalls but not BMW. They deserve credit for a risky, but very classy handling of this situation. Since deposits were already accepted globally and actually some bikes (about 100) were delivered in Europe, each country offered their own unique fix to keep their customers happy. Italy supplied brand new R1100S BoxerCup edition motorcycles as loaners. Sweden offered loaner bikes as well. Holland returned the customers' trade in bikes temporarily and offered free service. Some countries offered refunds but to my knowledge very few, if any of the buyers forfeited their purchase. Luckily the delay was during the winter season in Europe, which made it less bothersome for serious riders to be without a bike.
The postproduction, but prerelease adjustments to the K1200S include but is not limited to the following:
1- Routine quality control tests conducted at the factory revealed that wear and tear was occurring at the camshafts. It had to be changed.
2- The circlip for the cam follower did not meet BMW Motorrad specifications. It had to be changed.
3- BMW made modifications in the combustion chamber, in the mapping of the ignition and injection levels and in the air box.
THE BIKE: The BMW K1200S Motorcycle is a Hyper-Sport. It is 500 lbs (dry), boasts 167HP, at a redline of 10,500RPM; with a first ever on any production motorcycle Hossack inspired Duolever front suspension. The options include also first on a production motorcycle an electronic suspension stiffness adjustment, which works quite effortlessly and can be adjusted in 9 ways as you ride the bike. The engine is a transverse (cross the frame), water-cooled, inline 4. The power from the motor is delivered to the rear-wheel via BMW's latest final shaft drive, which is maintenance-free for the life of the machine. The test bike was equipped with ABS, ESA and Heated Grips. It was provided for this review by Steve Sergi of BMW of Manhattan Motorcycles, with 1 mile on the odometer.
RIDER'S BACKGROUND: Current ride, 1999 BMW K1200RS, custom paint, Two Brothers Exhaust, K&N filter and all comfort and luggage features removed. About 30 lbs lighter and 14 HP more than stock, with 51,000 miles on the odometer. Last prior ride, K1100RS with Ohlins rear suspension, otherwise stock. He is the founder of two BMW Motorcycle web sites, a freelance motorcycle journalist and photographer.
PRE-RIDE: I was briefed by Steve Sergi, to be careful with this bike. It is brand new, the tires are totally fresh, the front brake disks have no miles on them and the engine of course is not yet broken in. He also mentioned that the Duolever behaves differently from Telelever in turns and hard braking would stand the bike right up and he again warned me about the awesome power of this bike. I nodded with my helmet on and sat on the bike and was ready to start the ride that I have been waiting for more than a year.
THE RIDE: The bike starts right off. I set the ESA to "rider+luggage" for preload and "sport" for rebound, in expectance of the type of test riding I was about to have. Put the bike in first gear and off I go. Hmmm, where is the power? This is almost too mellow. Open the throttle some more and ah, there it is just a hint of power at only 50 feet away from the dealership and 20 feet before the first stoplight. As I go through a few streets to get to a gas station (fuel warning light was on), I notice something very peculiar. I feel totally at home on this bike. I know where everything is and I can predict the bike's every move. I haven't been 3 minutes into my ride and I'm already doing my Manhattan Dance; zipping in and out cars, splitting lanes, crossing double-yellow, passing buses and taxis and this K1200S feels unbelievably just like my K1200RS that I have gotten so used to, except that it is somewhat lighter, more agile and with noticeable but slight vibration. I pull in to fuel up, and I get stopped 3 times by guys who wanted to know what kind of bike this was, how much it costs and how powerful it was. I was eager to fuel up and get on my way, but like a good press person that I am, I stood around for about 5 minutes answering questions: "as fast as Hayabusa," "MSRP only 15.5," "check out the front suspension." "yes, no chain." One of the guys gave me his card and invited me to join his bike club. This is kind of curious, I do get approached when I'm on my K12RS, but I had forgotten the lure of the new and hot vehicles.
This next point will only make sense to the K12RS/GT owners: as I fuel up, I notice that it is a lot easier to put gasoline into the S than the RS. On the RS, there is so much plastic around the fuel cap that I am always careful not to spill a drop. With the K12S, there is hardly any plastic around the cap and it is hassle-free to insert the nozzle (which it needed only 4 gallons, as it must have had a gallon in reserve).
HOW DID IT GET SO PLEASANTLY CIVILIZED AT THE TOP: Back on the street and onto the West Side Highway heading north, where I can open the baby up. 15 minutes into the ride and I am somewhat puzzled with the absence of mind blowing power, which I have been expecting all this time (please read on, it gets better). Could it be me? Have I gotten so jaded that a 170HP, 545LBS (wet) bike just doesn't get me excited any more? Where is the uncontrollable rush of speed? There as I push the rev above 8,000RPM and get a hint of extra power, it dawns on me. This is a gentlemen's Supersport and not a hooligan machine. I know what you are thinking: "I wasn't pushing it, I was too timid to really get to know the bike " Anyone who has seen me ride can attest to the fact that I redline my RS frequently and in all gears. At around 590 lbs wet and 125 rearwheel HP, my K12RS is not mild mannered. Don't get me wrong, the new K1200S is fast, but it is a kind of smart, controlled, civilized fast. I believe that is exactly the reason I love my RS. I can spend days on that bike, do on average 500 miles a day and enjoy the sheer sense of luxury, the beautiful dash (now adorned with Carbon Fiber thanks to the folks at Z-Technik), the stability, the 100MPH cruising speed and on and on. As I was working some turns I accepted the fact that the K1200S is a sweet cornering machine and it certainly corners much better than the RS, however that's not saying much since almost every lighter sport bike corners better than the RS. Nevertheless it is enjoyable to ride a lighter, more agile bike that still retains the values that some of us hold dear in the two-wheel world.
For serious riding speed and luxury is more fun than just speed or luxury alone. There lies the secret to BMW's new Supersport. It is the next evolution of this exact concept.
K1200RS COMPARISON: As I paused to take some pictures, I was reminded of my first test ride on the K1200RS back in 1999. Compare to my then K1100RS, the K12 was a revelation. It felt very quick, it cornered better, it was lower, the Telelever was a marvel and the lack of dive was simply sensational. Within 30 minutes I was blown away by the beauty and power of that bike. I had to have one and I did get one 4 months later. Now 6 years later, I am test riding the next generation K bike, the supposed K1300RS if we lived in a perfect world. The K1200S compare to the RS is lighter, corners better, faster, more agile, but it is also very similar in many ways. Is it possible that because I ride a hyped version of the K12 the differences seem less extreme? The familiarity was a major welcome, as I truly enjoy riding my RS.
ESA: ESA is on both front and back, rebound only on the front and rebound & pre-load on the back. During my ride I played with the ESA settings. The preload can be adjusted when the bike is stopped like at red lights, the rebound can be reset any time. I switched between Comfort and Sport and noticed a slight difference in stiffness. Switching to Comfort takes the edge off the suspension. I do need more time on the seat before giving you a valid comment on the ESA. Overall it is an ingenious invention, however as I write this paper I am not sold on it. I prefer my suspension settings on near max stiffness therefore I'm not a type who worries too much about plush rides. Note: It has been brought to my attention that the ESA has a break-in period and may need 1000 miles before showing it's full potential.
THE SEAT: The seat is simply marvelous for an OEM. But for my taste, a Sargent Cycle World Sport Seat with lower back acceleration support would be a must on this bike. One needs to be held in place on acceleration to avoid ending up on the rear seat.
RIDING POSITING, ERGONOMICS AND OVERALL COMFORT: The new K1200S is narrower than the RS and it is lighter by about 80 lbs, however its wheelbase is longer by just short of an inch. In a longer bike I should be even more comfortable but I felt cramped. I felt that I was a little too close to the bars nothing too bad or uncomfortable, but I prefer more distance to the bars and I also prefer them wider. The riding position on the K1200S is just slightly more aggressive than my RS, which is set to the original 1999 settings (no comfort bars, and the pegs in the high position). I felt very comfortable on this BMW and completely at home. The slight vibration was a surprise, as the RS is known for its silky smooth ride, however it is of no significant issue.
WINDSHIELD: The shield is very well designed. I'm 5 10" and found it to be surprisingly ideal. It provided just the right amount of coverage and made supersonic flights even more stable and quiet. No issues with the shield and wind tunnel testing has certainly paid off.
KINSHIP: After the I took some photos and video <link>, I decided to take this test ride more seriously. After all I'm supposed to be enjoying myself. The tires were scuffed in just enough and it was time to get more spirited. I began riding the K12S as I would normally ride my bike and the sweetness of the engineering and overall feel of the bike gradually grew on me. I felt a mental click that I normally sense only with my RS. I am not certain why it didn't shock me but this bike felt like an extension of my body in only a short 30 minutes. I felt a kinship that I do not share with other motorcycles in such a short time.
SPEED: Red line is at 10,500RPM, the rev limiter kicked in at 105MPH in second gear and at about 125-130MPH in third gear (one time at 125 and another at 130). I topped 135MPH in 4th gear before deciding to cool it. This bike is designed to handle the mid to upper triple digits in ease. It is at home in any speed over 120MPH, in some ways even more so than the 620 lbs RS. The new BMW K12S comes alive in those speeds. It is simply "solid." I can't give a higher praise than: solid.
Brakes: The bike feels planted and the brakes are sensational, I wish I could make up a word to describe the brakes alone. They are like dropping an anchor, or opening a parachute. The brakes are 100% mind blowing, and many times superior to non-EVO BMWs.
BAT OUT OF HELL OR THE GIXXER FACTOR: I decided to visit a friend
who rides an '03 Suzuki GSXR-1000 (he let's me ride his bike from
time to time) for a back-to-back comparison. I parked the S in his
garage and let him ogle over the "new" as I took his Gixxer
for a ride. (His bike is not stock, although it has no engine mods.
It does have the following alternations: Different gearing in the
rear sprocket: +2 teeth. Ferrodo track brakes, stainless steel -2
race brake lines up front. Ohlins steering dampener.)
Compare to the K1200S the Gixxer is a bat out of hell. There is immense power from the get go and with no end in sight. There is so much power that you are simply overwhelmed by this beast. Was I expecting the GSXR experience when I first rode the K1200S? I think so and that's why I was initially disappointed. Compare to the BMW the Suzuki is much smaller, lighter, narrower, more compact and truly outstanding in terms of power delivery. I had to be at my most focus when riding this bike. This machine just leaps into life from idle and the torque keeps building until redline. I managed 148MPH before slowing down without trying very hard (I was encouraged by my friend to be merciless to his bike). The Gixxer has all the speed you'd ever dream and it is quite a rush but it lacks the comfort and the luxury. Such as life...
After I got back on the BMW, it felt like a GT. Compare to a race-ready machine like the Suzuki, the K1200S felt like a magic carpet ride. And for me it is a better choice. The Suzuki GSXR-1000 is exhilarating and would make an awesome track bike but for me the K1200S is nearly as fast, corners very well with superior brakes yet retains the degree of comfort and luxury that I crave in a bike.
I understood the BMW even more after my ride on the Suzuki. I also realized that the factor that causes the illusion of mellowness on the S is the delayed introduction of massive power. In the S the real power kicks in at the higher RPMs but in the Suzuki it is available from idle.
DUOLEVER: The Duolever handles bumps better than the RS' Telelever. The short travel of the RS front suspension is an issue on rough roads. The Duolever solves that problem. It also removes some of the vagueness, by providing feedback. One interesting point, on the way back to BMW of Manhattan I got some air on the West Side Highway and I could tell you from experience nothing can lift the RS from the ground. So there's your 80 pounds difference. As for other comments including cornering I would like to reserve judgment until I have had the pleasure of riding this bike in the twisty secondary roads.
TRANSMISSION: Very impressive. The search for neutral is gone. For a longtime BMW rider the transmission is a joy. No comments really. It does what it supposed to. My RS got this smooth after 30,000 miles, that should pretty much wrap it up.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This bike is so hot and so new, it turns heads, causes people to stop on their tracks and walk up to you to inquire.
For the record at the end of my ride I had exhausted half of the tank. Although the fuel mileage is expected to get better with time.
I like to add that the new K1200S doesn't end the rein of the K1200RS, the way the later terminated the spark of the K1100RS. The K1200RS is still quite valid, for the following reasons: Its weight offers a planted solid feel that is amazingly luxurious on our roadways. The RS is silky smooth with zero vibration. The RS is lower, and has the advantage of nestling the rider inside the bike, rather than on the bike. The RS's dash is a classic and truly lovely to glance on long days of riding and for most of us, it is plenty fast with nearly too much power.
CONCLUSION: The K1200S is a successful and ingenious incarnation of the K range and a superb offering in the global Supersport market segment. Its combination of outstanding luxury, speed, comfort, brakes, safety and technology places it in a league all its own. Once again, BMW has managed to raise the bar for the motorcycling universe.
April 8, 2005
April 16, 2005