Review: BMW R 1200 RT

Of all current BMW motorcycles, the R 1200 RT probably has the most “midlife crisis” reputation. When I see it in the showroom, I soon imagine a settled fifty-year-old in the saddle, ready for a tour with the missus on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

But despite that reputation, the 1200 RT does extremely well in sales charts, and if you’re looking for a touring bike, this boxer so often seems the logical go-to answer. Is its stuffy image only a first impression? Could it change my mind in a week?

A trip to Austria, together with colleague Luc on his Triumph Tiger Sport, would be the ideal opportunity for an extensive RT test. 2200 km should be enough to form an opinion.

Personally I find the BMW R 1200 RT’s look quite a turn off. With its gigantic front you’d almost offer it a gym membership. The 17” front wheel even seems disproportionate. Fortunately the two round LED daytime running lights are pretty. A nice (but optional) wink to its four-wheeled family.

The finishing is also excellent. Meticulously and with an eye for detail. The dashboard is clear and informative. Two round analog meters (speed and rpm) with in between a beautiful TFT color display that informs you about autonomy, mileage, temperature and so on. Above the display there’s a bar with warning lights, and above that a mount for an (optional) GPS. Which is not very readable in direct sunlight. Some additional shielding from the sun wouldn’t be a bad idea for the next RT. Also: too bad the GPS can’t be locked so you have to take it with you every time you have to make a sanitary stop or enter a gas station shop.

You can easily control many settings from the handlebar. Most of them with your left thumb: scrolling through the extensive menu is peanuts with the multi-controller ring. Also handy: you can assign menu items as favorites. After selecting these you can go directly to, for example, the settings of heated grips or the GPS, instead of having to dive into the menu.

Broad beaked Beemer

I’ll admit it: I didn’t want to return the BMW R 1200 RT after my week’s test. What a splendid bike for endless days in the saddle. The windshield is without a doubt one of its best features. You move it up and down electrically with a button on the handlebar. The higher, the less affected by wind, rain and wind noise. Earplugs in, windshield up … what a peaceful experience!

The windshield does its jobs so well, that I could easily do 120 km/h with an open helmet visor. My 1,82 meters weren’t a problem for the windshield in highest position. If you accelerate to 150 km/h, you’ll feel the airstream circling back to your upper back and arms, giving you a small push. I can imagine some will find this annoying. Slightly lowering the windshield should help, but will increase the wind noise a bit.

Even the rain can’t spoil the fun on the RT. The broad beaked Beemer now plays its trump card: the big front keeps you pleasantly dry. The only downside: the higher the windscreen, the less easy water drops glide off. A solution is lowering the windscreen just below your field of view. You’ll get some drops on your helmet, but your suit probably won’t know it’s raining. Quite a difference compared to my (soaked) colleague Luc.

Such a large window of course has the disadvantage of transforming into an insect cemetery. So don’t forget a cleaning cloth when you leave on a long trip.

If you do a lot of mileage, a good windshield is nice but a pleasant sitting position is also indispensable. Praise the lord, the 1200 RT got it covered. The seat is large enough to move around if your ass or back starts complaining. I did 2200 km without a second of back or saddle pain. The legs neither have something to complain about.

Its strong touring capacities make the 1200 RT an ideal commuting motorcycle. Just its width could be an inconvenience. Especially when lanespitting, you should pay attention to the 982.8 mm width at mirror level. Also keep in mind that the panniers make the bike slightly wider (984.5 mm). Apart from that, the mirrors have a blind spot that’s simply too big for a bike that has been further developed for years and years.

Leisurely and sporty

The RT is a rather polite touring bike. The 125 hp twin engine peaks to 125 Nm at 6,500 rpm. In low rpm’s, you could blame the boxer for missing intensity, although in first and second gear you can trigger wheelies without much effort. From 4000 rpm on, the engine becomes more alert, and from 6000 rpm the fun really begins.

Riding the 1200 RT in a sportive manner is certainly possible, it’s just a matter of keeping it revved. The exhaust feeds the sporty feeling. A polite hum if you keep it calm, more temperament when you whip it.

When the needle moves to 200 km/h (herzlich wilkommen in Deutschland), the only place you’ll notice it is on the dashboard. Behind the handebars (and the windscreen) you won’t feel nor hear much difference between 100 and 200 an hour. Speeding is easy with the RT. The big fella doesn’t feel exhausted and stays stable at all times.

You’d rather take it easy? Then the RT is your buddy too. Do you forget to change gears? No problem. The engine easily turns a blind eye and resumes flawlessly from low revs.

With 274 kg the 1200 RT certainly doesn’t belong in the featherweight class. Maneuvering at walking pace requires your full attention. But as you gain speed, that bulky feeling disappears quickly. I would even dare to describe the RT as light. It’s striking how smooth it can be handled in all types of curves and how easy it wins your confidence. In fast corners, it really challenges you to push that broad beak hard towards the asphalt.

The six-speed transmission sometimes is a bit noisy. The rather messy clack when I shifted in first gear even reminded me of my own 2006 BMW 650 GS. You would think that nine years would be enough to develop a less noisy gearbox. Finding neutral isn’t always easy either.

The brakes can’t be complained about. They’re efficient and can be dosed precisely. The rear brake can be operated with a lot of feeling as well. And the ABS subtly intervenes, both front and rear.

On long trips, a fuel-efficient engine is a nice bonus. After my week’s test I arrived at an average consumption of 5.5 l/100 km (5.14 mpg imp / 4.28 mpg US). Keep in mind that the top case and panniers were mounted for most of the time. Also worth noting: I covered a lot of distance on German motorways, where riding incredibly fast is really nothing ordinary.

Making choices

BMW stands for long equipment lists, and that’s equally true for the BMW R 1200 RT. Although I have to admit the standard equipment is quite sufficient. ABS, ASC (Automatic Stability Control), two riding modes (Road and Rain), the adjustable windshield (yes!), heated grips, centerstand and large pannier (34 liters each) are all included.

The bike I rode had a bunch of extras: San Marino Blue paint, exhaust in chrome, top case, GPS, tire pressure control, alarm, 12V socket, Dynamic ESA, seat heating (driver and passenger), cruise control, Hill Start Control, Pro headlight, Pro riding mode, Gearshift Assist Pro, Keyless Ride, central locking system and an audio system. Which of course raises the price dramatically.

But are all those extras really necessary? On a trip to Austria they definitely make travelling more pleasant. With Keyless Ride, having the key in your pocket is enough to start the bike. If you walk away from it, the RT will shut down itself (and activate the alarm if you purchased that option, and set the alarm accordingly). The central locking system opens or closes off all panniers with one push on the button. The top case is quite amazing: it’s big (49 liters, enough space for two helmets), with hydraulic pumps, interior lights and an extra brake light. The cruise control is a relief when you do long distances.

The Rain and Road riding modes are standard. The optional Dynamic mode has a more direct throttle response than the Road, but the difference is subtle.

With Gearshift Assist Pro you can switch gears up and down without touching the clutch lever. You’ll switch gears faster and smoother, although it doesn’t always work perfectly. Take some time to discover the best suitable moments to use the quickshifter. Sometimes you’re just better of using the clutch lever, especially when gearing up. Downshifting is rarely a problem for the optional assistant.

ESA (full name: Electronic Suspension Adjustment) lets you control the suspension: soft, normal or hard. If you select hard, you will feel the RT getting sharper and stiffer. If you opt for soft, it almost becomes a bit too wiggly-wiggly. So there are indeed differences to be felt between the three settings.

Okay, which options should you pick? Of course your budget plays a major role, next to your plans with the bike. For those wanting to leave their city limits far behind them, I would definitely recommend the cruise control, the top case and the GPS. If you can spend more: ESA is cool, but I’m confident you could do without. The quickshifter is a nice option, but I’m confident you could do without. Keyless Ride is a neat gadget, but I’m … And so, and so on. In short: it’s personal.

Conclusion

I’ll never find the BMW R 1200 RT a sexy ride, but ride one and quickly you’ll discover what a persuasive bike this is for large distances, no matter the weather conditions. The marvelous windshield offers excellent protection against the elements and the overall ergonomics are topnotch. Finding your way in the extensive menu is simple and convenient with the multi-controller ring. The engine handles your demands very well, though it’s a bit lazy in low rpm’s. The GPS, mirrors’ blind spot and gearbox could be improved, but overall the RT is quite effortlessly a fantastic experience. If you can spend the budget, you’ll spend a great time with this touring champ.

Pros

+ Fantastic windshield (electronically adjustable)
+ Comfort and ergonomics
+ Standard equipment includes a lot, like heated grips, panniers and windshield
+ Remarkably smooth, agile and dynamic for its weight

Cons

– Pricetag
– Width when lanesplitting
– Gearbox lacks refinement
– Blind spot of mirrors too large
– GPS not well readable in direct sunlight and not lockable

What will the future bring?

Let’s brainstorm a bit about the next RT’s features. Because the equipment list never can be long enough, right? Here we go:

– Windshield wiper (with automatic and manual speed control)
– Adjustable handlebars (electrically powered)
– Adjustable seat height (electrically powered)
– Adaptive cruise control
– Blind spot detection
– Lane change warning
– Collision warning with emergency brake system
– Cornering lights
– Reverse gear
– Gesture and voice controlled functionalities
– Automatic gearbox
– Cup holders
– Head-up display (including integrated rear camera view)
– Internet radio
– Smartphone connection (including Find My RT function)
– Wireless smartphone charging box
– Air-conditioned seat
– Top case with built-in charging points
– No antenna but the typical shark fin its four-wheeled brothers has

Other ideas? Drop them in the comments.

Tech specs

Engine

Type: Air/liquid-cooled four stroke flat twin engine, double overhead camshaft, one balance shaft
Bore x stroke: 101 mm x 73 mm
Capacity: 1,170 cc
Rated output: 92 kW (125 hp) at 7,750 rpm
Max. torque: 125 Nm at 6,500 rpm
Compression ratio: 12.5 : 1
Mixture control / engine management: Electronic intake pipe injection
Emission control: Closed-loop 3-way catalytic converter, emission standard EU-3

Performance / fuel consumption

Maximum speed: over 200 km/h
Fuel type: Unleaded super, octane number 95 (RON)

Electrical system

Alternator: three-phase alternator 540 W
Battery: 12 V / 16 Ah, maintenance-free

Power transmission

Clutch: oil lubricated clutch, hydraulically operated
Gearbox: Constant mesh 6-speed gearbox with helical gear teeth
Drive: Shaft drive

Chassis / brakes

Frame: Two-section frame consisting of front and rear sections, load-bearing engine-gearbox unit
Front wheel location / suspension: BMW Motorrad Telelever; stanchion diameter 37 mm, central spring strut
Rear wheel location / suspension: Cast aluminium single-sided swing arm with BMW Motorrad Paralever; WAD strut (travel-related damping), spring pre-load hydraulically adjustable (continuously variable) at handwheel, rebound damping adjustable
Suspension travel front / rear: 120 mm / 136 mm
Wheelbase: 1,485 mm
Castor: 116 mm
Steering head angle: 63.6°
Wheels: Cast aluminium wheels
Rim, front: 3.50 x 17″
Rim, rear: 5,50 x 17″
Tyres, front: 120/70 ZR 17
Tyres, rear: 180/55 ZR 17
Brake, front: Dual disc brake, floating brake discs, diameter 320 mm, four-piston fixed calipers
Brake, rear: Single disc brake, diameter 276 mm, double-piston floating caliper
ABS: BMW Motorrad Integral ABS (part-integral)

Dimensions / weights

Length: 2,232 mm
Width (incl. mirrors): 982.8 mm (incl. panniers: 984.5 mm)
Height (excl. mirrors): 1,415.6 mm
Seat height, unladen weight: 805 / 825 mm (high seat: 830 / 850 mm; low seat: 760 / 780 mm)
Inner leg curve, unladen weight: 1.810 / 1.850 mm (high seat: 1875 / 1915 mm; low seat: 1.740 / 1.780 mm)
Unladen weight, road ready, fully fuelled: 274 kg
Permitted total weight: 495 kg
Payload (with standard equipment): 211 kg
Usable tank volume: 25 l
Reserve: approx. 4 l

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