Can you imagine a BMW line-up without boxer engines? The emblematic image of the two bulging cylinders is inextricably linked to the brand. So probably BMW won’t bury their flat-twin any time soon. In any case, they continue developing it. Because the competition doesn’t stand still either of course.
One hundred years after the birth of the very first BMW boxer engine, the M2B15, BMW adds another chapter to its boxer book with the introduction of the brand-new 1250 two-cylinder. The new engine is available in four flavors: GS, RT, RS and R. With the latter you experience the flat-twin in its purest form.
All aboard the VVT train
The last 1200 boxer engine dated from 2013. With the development of the new 1250, BMW focused first and foremost on more muscle in low rpms. The engine displacement increased from 1,170 to 1,254 cc, the horse stable was expanded from 125 to 136 stallions, and the peak torque climbed from 125 Nm (at 6,500 rpm) to 143 Nm (at 6,250 rpm).
Next to those boosted figures, BMW makes its debut with the ShiftCam technology, also referred to as variable valve timing. While some brands have already been using this technique for years, the Bayern Boys are only now boarding the VVT train. The Euro5 standard seems to force them to look for ways to make their engines cleaner.
In 1980, Alfa Romeo was the first to use variable valve timing in a production car: the Spider with a two-liter engine. In ’83, the Honda CBR400 was the first production bike with a VVT system, but most motorcycle manufacturers didn’t do much more than some experimenting, due to the extra cost and weight. In the 90s, VVT eventually began to get more traction: the Suzuki GSF400V from 1991, the Honda VRF800 in 2002, the Kawasaki GTR1400 in 2008, the Ducati Multistrada 1200 and the Yamaha NMAX 155 (a scooter!) in 2015, the Suzuki GSX-R1000R in 2017 and the Ducati Diavel 1260 this year.
But enough history for now. Time to answer that burning question: what does BMW’s ShiftCam actually do? Simply put, the engine can vary between two types of cams, each with a different valve timing and valve stroke on the intake side. Which cams are chosen is determined by the speed and the load. The part-load cams make the engine running smoother while the full-load cams go for performance. You won’t notice the cam change, which sometimes happens to be an issue with other brands.
The BMW R 1250 R’s cam change may be seamless but the difference between the two cams is very noticeable. While you could clearly feel the 1200 engine beating sideways – certainly when idling and at low constant speeds – with the 1250 this has almost completely disappeared.
Although the boxer engine became more refined, it fortunately didn’t become dull. Just switch from the part-load to the full-load cams: when you ride at a slow pace and suddenly yank the throttle you’ll immediately feel the extra power compared to the 1200. And the previous flat-twin wasn’t even boring at all. In low revs, the R 1250 R is strong enough for very smooth accelerations, which even become super sports-like when you race towards the torque peak. In other words, the R is very fast.
So should you exchange your 1200 R for a 1250 R right away? I would dare to say that the new engine – although clearly better – doesn’t differ enough from the 1200 to justify such an investment. Unless you have some spare money you really need to get rid of …
For the expert’s eye
The visual upgrade isn’t a good reason to trade in your 1200 R either. The 1250 R hardly differs from its predecessor: in addition to new colors, the new front spoiler and cockpit cover catch the eye, if that eye is an expert’s eye. A missed opportunity if you ask me.
The R comes as standard with two riding modes (Road and Rain), ASC traction control, Hill Hold Control and a TFT color display. Of course – it’s a BMW – you can go wild in the option list. The test bike was as good as full-option with, among other things, the Style HP pack (hence the white paint job), Dynamic ESA semi-active electronic suspension, DTC (lean-angle sensitive traction control), ABS Pro (also lean-angle sensitive), a quick-shifter (up & down), pannier racks, a luggage carrier, a centerstand, Pro riding modes, cruise control, and so on and so on. Of course, this has a big impact on the £ 11,215 base price.
A lot of the technology of the R is already familiar. We’ve seen the excellent, very extensive digital display on the 850 GS last year, which is operated very intuitively with the controls on the handlebars. DTC and ABS Pro already convinced me a few times and the semi-active suspension is a nice bonus if you can cough up the extra money. The quick-shifter has improved a little since I tested the 1200 GS, but still requires some time to figure out its sweet spots. The six-speed gearbox has again received more finesse compared to the gearbox of the same 1200 GS. The loud BMW “clack” seems to disappear slowly but surely.
Now, let’s ride the damn thing! Of the four 1250s, the R’s built and equipment are the most fit for some cornering fun. Which it does very determined and accurately. Okay, you have to give the first steering impulse very decidedly because the R isn’t exactly a light steering machine. I would describe it as neutral but direct. Once you’ve given that first push, it takes little effort to take all sorts of corners tightly and stably. The steadfastness that I experienced before on 1200 models clearly remains.
The brakes perform very well, living up to what we got used to on BMW bikes. In this case the 1250 R was equipped with Brembo’s, but if you don’t pick the optional ABS Pro, you’ll get the standard, BMW branded brakes (which are of Hayes make). The rear brake of the R deserves a special mention. On the 1200 models I can’t remember anything noteworthy about it but on the 1250 R, the rear brake is just outstanding.
The category of muscled nakeds is very diversified, both in price and in character. At one side you’ll find the hooligans: the KTM 1290 Super Duke, Triumph Speed Triple, Yamaha MT-09 and others. On the other side, the design lovers dominate. Think of the Honda CB1100 EX or the Triumph Speed Twin. The BMW R 1250 R sits somewhere in between. Its design bears witness to taste with a meticulous finish, while being very sporty but not as striking as the aforementioned hooligans. Something that its soundtrack underlines: a round, deep hum that always remains very civilized.
BMW has taken a clear step forward with the new 1250 boxer engine. Thanks to the ShiftCam technology and boosted figures, the flat-twin is not only stronger but also more refined, which you’ll especially notice in low rpms. The BMW R 1250 R is therefore very sporty and fun to ride. Declaring that the letter R stands for rebel would be an exaggeration, but don’t worry, that doesn’t have to spoil the fun: the sophisticated chassis really levels up the cornering thrills. The only downside could be the option list, which contains a lot of fine but expensive technology.
Photography: Foto PK
+ The boxer engine clearly has improved
+ Outstanding handling and stability
– Too bad the design didn’t get a bigger update
– Pricey (but nice) technology
Type: Air/liquid-cooled four stroke flat twin engine, double overhead camshaft, one balance shaft and variable engine timing system BMW ShiftCam.
Bore / stroke: 102.5 mm x 76 mm
Capacity: 1,254 ccm
Rated output: 100 kW (136 hp) at 7,750 rpm
Max. torque: 143 Nm at 6,250 rpm
Compression ratio: 12.5 :1
Mixture control: Electronic intake pipe injection
Emission control: Closed-loop 3-way catalytic converter, emission standard EU-4
Alternator: Three-phase alternator 508 W (nominal power)
Battery : 12 V / 12 Ah, maintenance-free
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, front- and bolted on rear frame, load-bearing engine
Front wheel location / suspension: Telescopic Upside-Down fork; stanchion diameter 45 mm
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 at handwheel
Suspension travel, front / rear: 140 mm / 140 mm
Wheelbase: 1,515 mm
Castor: 125.6 mm
Steering head angle: 62.3°
Wheels: Cast aluminium wheels
Rim, front: 3.50” x 17”
Rim, rear: 5.50” x 17”
Tyre, front: 120/70 ZR 17
Tyre, rear: 180/55 ZR 17
Brake, front: Dual disc brake, floating brake discs, diameter 320 mm, 4-piston radial calipers
Brake, rear: Single disc brake, diameter 276 mm, double-piston floating caliper
ABS: BMW Motorrad Integral ABS (part-integral), disengageable
Dimensions / weights
Seat height: 820 mm (OE low seat: 760 mm; OE sport seat: 840 mm)
Inner leg curve: 1,840 mm (OE low seat: 1,720 mm; OE sport seat: 1.875 mm)
Usable tank volume: approx. 18 l
Reserve: approx. 4 l
Length (over mud guard): 2,165 mm
Height (over windshield): 1,300 mm
Wide (over mirror): 880 mm
Unladen weight, road ready, fully fuelled: 239 kg
Permitted total weight: 460 kg
Payload (with standard equipment): 221 kg