2011 BMW R1200R

Road Test Review

BMW calls the updated 2011 R 1200 R model tested here a “roadster,” which I have to admit is much cooler sounding than “standard” or “naked” bike. None of those terms really describe the motorcycle, though; perhaps when it comes to a bike this versatile it’s easier to explain what it’s not than what it is. The 2011 R 1200 R roadster is not a big, gadget-festooned luxury tourer like the BMW K 1600 GTL, nor is it a wide, fully faired sport tourer with standard side cases like the K 1600 GT or R 1200 RT. It is not a hard-edged, mega-horsepower, super-light sportbike like the S 1000 RR, nor is it a tall, dirt-capable adventure-tourer like the F 800 GS or R 1200 GS.

No, the R 1200 R is not exactly like any of those bikes, but because it’s a BMW it’s a little like all of them, so you can enjoy it as-is…or magnify its different capabilities.

For example, a sporting rider could put on the no-cost optional sport seat, sport windscreen like our test bike’s, optional Akrapovic slip-on muffler…and perhaps leave off the stock centerstand and all the other options, creating a comfortable but capable naked sport (sorry, “roadster”) that weighs even less than our test bike’s 510 pounds ready to ride. Tires sizes are the nearly universal 120/70 and 180/55-17, so you can easily find and fit the gum­miest of gummies on those sexy new light-alloy wheels—perhaps using the optional paddock stand to do it. It won’t be ready for Superbike racing, but most riders would find it plenty capable in the canyons, maybe even for track days with some better shocks (more on this later).

On the other hand, for traveling the R 1200 R already has good Bridgestone Battlax BT021 sport-touring radials, remotely adjustable rear spring preload, a comfortable, upright seating position and no-cost optional Low or High seats. Available equipment includes a trip computer, tall windscreen, side and top cases, tankbag, heated grips, Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA), Automatic Stability Control (ASC), BMW Motorrad Navigator IV GPS and more. Whew! Add some or all of the options and you’ll have a great sport-touring bike with plenty of load capacity, one that still fits easily into a smaller space and weighs less than 600 pounds.

About the only thing you can’t really ready the R 1200 R for is offroad riding like a GS, though it has a much lower seat and can certainly putt down a dirt road if one becomes part of your adventure.

Sure, there are plenty of similar standards ready to be ridden as-is like the R 1200 R, in most cases at much lower cost. None are as easy to outfit for touring this comprehensively later on, however, nor do they have this level of standard equipment to start with—there’s nothing cheap or built-to-cost on this motorcycle. Like the BMW Telelever front end, which essentially separates steering and suspension for better performance from both. Shaft final drive is a low-maintenance bonus in itself, and it’s housed in the BMW Paralever single-sided rear swingarm, which prevents throttle inputs from being fed into the suspension and eases wheel changes. Optional anti-lock brakes and Automatic Stability Control (ASC), a.k.a. traction control, can save your bacon in a slippery situation and even help you navigate that dirt road. Then there are the little things, like a standard accessory electrical socket, ambient light-sensing instrument backlighting and an LED taillight, and equally rare options like tire pressure monitoring and an alarm system. Now you know why BMW wasn’t satisfied with calling the R 1200 R a standard or naked bike.

For 2011 the rockin’ roadster gets the engine upgrades introduced on the 2010 R 1200 GS and R 1200 RT, which give it a much quicker, smoother-revving feel and sound if not a small increase in urge. New radial four-valve cylinder heads with chain-driven, double overhead cams and two spark plugs apiece, larger valves as well as new pistons and 50mm throttle bodies vs. the former 47s boost power to a claimed 110 horsepower and 88 lb-ft of torque at the crankshaft. That’s an improvement of 3-5 percent over the former single-cam, pushrod head design. Redline is upped to 8,500 rpm from 8,000, with the same compression ratio of 12.0:1 and 1,170cc displacement. BMW has also added a servo-controlled valve to the 2-into-1 exhaust just aft of the catcon and forward of the muffler (which is 2 inches shorter for 2011). In addition to broadening the powerband, the valve gives the bike a great ripping growl under throttle unique to the R 1200 R, the RT and GS, without making the exhaust too loud at sustained high speeds (as on our 2010 GS test bike).

After firing it up the only real shaking you experience from this twin is when stopped at an idle; rev it and like all the opposed boxer twins with longitudinal cranks it rolls a little to one side. Ride away and the engine revs smoothly and quickly, with noticeably more urgency and less vibration than before until way up near redline, when the footpegs and grips start to buzz. A pleasant surprise awaits the power-hungry throttle-twister, too, as being the lightest of the production bikes with this engine it positively leaps into action when you grab a handful. On the Jett Tuning Dynojet dyno it made 99.62 horsepower at 7,700 rpm and 76.24 lb-ft of torque at 6,300 at the rear wheel. Sport or touring you won’t find any lack of drive out of corners or power on tap for passing or fully loaded, two-up riding.

Our test bike came with the no-cost optional Low seat, which is pictured in a lot of BMW’s promo material for the stock bike, so don’t confuse it for the 31.5-inch-high Standard one. The Low is just 29.9 inches high, shaped like an ice cream scoop and cradles your butt like a hammock. Even with my 29-inch inseam it allows me to get my feet nearly flat on the ground at stops, though its hard edges dig into my thighs. It’s fine for shorter rides but padded too thinly for longer ones and should be reserved for those shorter than I, as it also reduces legroom while underway. Footpegs are well positioned, neither too far forward, aft or high, and the tapered, flat aluminum handle­bar is a nice width and height, leaning you just slightly into the wind. Even without a windscreen I could ride this bike for hours nonstop—it’s that comfortable despite the thin seat. Passengers were happy with the pillion pad for day rides, and gave the rearward accommodations a thumbs-up overall.

Front suspension is improved for 2011 with much stouter 41mm “stanchions,” or fork legs, in the BMW Telelever setup, which uses a central shock absorber to control movement—the fork legs just have lubricating oil inside. In back the Paralever swingarm is supported with a single shock with a remote preload adjuster under the locking seat for easy adjustments. The rear shock has adjustable rebound damping, too, but try as I might I couldn’t find a preload/rebound combination that was a good compromise for differing road surfaces. Set up firm for winding backroads it was harsh on our bumpy urban freeways; set soft for them it was undersprung and damped on all but the smoothest back roads. The Telelever is better, well controlled and firm yet compliant in most situations, but would be more versatile if its shock offered some adjustment. Though it adds weight, the Electronic Suspension Adjustment option would likely make this bike easier to adapt to changing surfaces.

I had the opportunity to tour, fly and thrash the R 1200 R on just about every kind of road for as long as I needed, and came away most impressed with its handling. Except for the rear shock letting it step out a little in bumpy corners occasionally, it steers, transitions and holds a line like a sportbike, yet feels as planted as a larger touring machine on the highway. It helps that you can rely 100 percent on the partially Integral ABS brakes (linked front to rear only; the rear brake is unlinked), which haul the bike down to a stop so quickly it’ll bug your eyes out.

Nice new touches abound on the R 1200 R, from those in its styling (e.g. smoked fluid reservoirs, new twin analog instruments), paint colors and finishes as well as in its engineering (stainless-steel chrome exhaust and braided brake lines). In addition to the stock centerstand, accessory outlet, adjustable levers and comprehensive digital info display, there’s some storage under the seat, a pair of helmet locks and a good old steel gas tank that will hold any kind of tankbag. A seatbag mounts easily, too, thanks to the large passenger grabrails and tubular footpeg hangers. The bike runs just fine on the minimum required 89 PON fuel (though it likes 91 fully loaded in the mountains), and at our average of 43.8 mpg had a generous range of 210 miles.

Whatever you want the R 1200 R to be, it’s ready for the bolt-ons to make it happen really well, though BMW’s rockin’ roadster can also handle almost anything you throw at it as-is. Overall it benefits from being a little of this, a little of that…and a lot of fun.

[This 2011 BMW R 1200 R Road Test was originally published in the October 2011 issue of Rider magazine]