BMW K1200LT-E and Honda Gold Wing ABS

Text: Andi Seiler • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

There are only a few bikes that can claim to belong in the category defining the best long-distance bikes in the world. We tested two of them, the Honda Gold Wing and the BMW K1200LT-E - both outstanding touring bikes but very different.

Honda's introduction of the GL1000 Gold Wing in 1976 represents a major milestone for the company. Adding a full fairing and some luggage cases as stock features converted later models into serious long-distance bikes for iron butts. The bike's engine grew incrementally - 1,100cc to 1200cc then 1,500cc, and now the 1,800cc of the latest version. Meanwhile, the early four-cylinder boxer was exchanged for an even smoother running six-cylinder boxer over the years.

Boxer engines have been a specialty of another brand, BMW. The Bavarian brand gained much notoriety utilizing this concept, some of it owing to their racing success in earlier days. Working with two engine concepts now, the Germans have their R-models with flat twins, and the K-models firing up with strong inline-fours mounted lengthwise. The top model in this line became the full-dress touring bike, the K1200LT, introduced at Intermot Munich in 1998. Since then, the LT has created many customers thoroughly satisfied with its great comfort, sensitive suspension, and the details that make it a touring master almost capable of rolling in the Gold Wing's league.

When starting the engines, anyone can feel the first difference. Like its predecessors, the Gold Wing purrs smoothly. There's almost no vibration and still a nice deep sound, which snarls more impressively when you pull the throttle. Cat turns into catamount, baring its claws and teeth. In all probability, there's not another engine fitting any better in a real, long-distance bike than the GW's flat six.

The BMW K engine can't keep up with it, even if the inline-four is a more modern concept with two overhead cams (Gold Wing: one cam) and four valves per cylinder (Gold Wing: two valves). Usually less capacity pays off with less vibration. That's not so in the BMW, which runs rougher between 4,000 and 5,000rpm than its competitor - a range, incidentally, that's used a lot on public roads.
Judging by performance, the Beemer isn't even close to the Gold Wing. Its 87ft.-lbs. of torque (BMW) can't beat the Gold Wing's 126ft.-lbs., (and the Japanese bike is almost 50 pounds heavier). You couldn't say the K-engine is weak, but it does deliver its power too casually. Power kicks in later and the throttle response isn't as fluid and direct as the Honda's surge.

Other little things make a difference, too, like the K's throttle, which doesn't turn as easily as the Gold Wing's. Also, the K1200LT consumes more fuel at the same speeds. The Honda travels 47mpg, 12 more miles than the BMW at 35.4mpg. So it's no wonder BMW already has a new inline-four on the dyno to catch up with the guys from the Far East. The first RS-version pictures from Europe show a dohc-power plant that will be mounted crosswise as the Japanese generally do it.

We hope the Bavarians will also take care of the gristly gearbox. In most instances, it's a challenge to shift into first gear after a stop at the traffic light. The Honda box works more precisely and smoothly through all the gears.

The bikes exhibit different characteristics when hitting twisty roads, too. The Beemer needs a little bit of time to get used to the environment because there's less feedback from the telelever front end and its higher center of gravity. But the BMW offers more ground clearance and easy handling considering the amount of mass you have to throw around.

The Gold Wing doesn't take long at all to get acquainted. You sit on a low seat with a nicely shaped, narrow fuel tank and maneuver the bike without any problems right out of the parking lot. In comparison, the BMW feels top loaded and heavier, even if the latter isn't true. Honda must have invested scads of time researching the perfect ergonomics. There's a distinct feeling of confidence one gets when riding a Honda and operating its controls. Conversely, everything on the Beemer is harder to work and doesn't operate as smoothly - clutch, throttle, the brake lever, and brake pedal. Another example: Even at standstills in busy traffic, the Honda's foot pegs sit in a more practical position for better ease in getting your feet down easily and touching the ground safely.

In the twisties, it's a snap to handle the more compact Gold Wing, which follows a line more precisely and needs less input. Despite carrying all these touring accessories and 887 pounds of weight, the bike feels sporty - more athletic than the BMW. The brake lever can be operated with two fingers and the CBS-ABS offers great braking performance, but the BMW's Integral brake with power support decelerates even more impressively. However, on canyon roads with tight turns, a rider misses the necessary feeling for the modulation of the brake because the support kicks in too hard and almost unpredictably. As a result, you have to readjust more often and thereby run a less accurate line. Honda's combined system with ABS works great without power support, illustrating how a good brake doesn't need the feature.

Both bikes are equipped with all the great stuff that makes a longer trip comfortable. The fairings provide good coverage in wind and rain, and the windshields are adjustable to rider height and needs. Honda should have installed an electrically adjustable windshield - a detail you wouldn't think you'd have to ask for when paying almost $ 19,000. The BMW has it and a lot more. Big luggage cases and a rack (chromed but plastic) aboard the top case offer a range of loading choices. Unfortunately, after an overnight rain shower we discovered water in the left box and the top case the next morning. The Honda cases were still dry.

The seating position for rider and passenger is comfortable on both. There is a lot of space and the passenger can lean on a backrest mounted to the top case. The Honda rear seat has a bit more space in which to move. Turbulence effects on the co-rider at highway speeds are acceptable on either bike and won't bother one on longer trips. It only gets tougher when you run faster than the usual speed limits.

Practically everything the long-distance rider needs - cruise control and several gauges to keep track of what's goin' on - is supplied. In its E-version, the BMW plugged in a GPS navigation system. The Honda instrumentation is functional and easy to read. After a recall last year for overheating in extreme conditions (high temperatures at very low, parade-slow speeds with a lot of standstills), the Japanese made some fixes. It's better but still not perfect. But in normal riding conditions you shouldn't face any trouble. Who says you have to ride in a parade, anyway? During our test session, the bike ran perfectly - and even in busy L.A. traffic, not one overheating problem was encountered.

In our final reckoning, the Honda has its fairing nosed well in front of the BMW's. In most details, the GW is just a little bit better. One more example: Try to lift the bike on the center stand. The job isn't as hard on the Gold Wing as it is on the K12000LT. Whether it's engine performance, the handling of the chassis, or the operation of the brakes, the Honda does a better job.

The K model is still a good bike, but it's about time for some revision. And, since coming in second isn't an option for the Bavarians, the new inline-four and chassis hinted at in the photos mentioned indicate the direction BMW is heading for to cut the Japanese off at the pass.

In my view, the Gold Wing is the first choice when it's about long-distance riding. Sport-bike fan that I am, I honestly would consider buying one to share riding with my wife if only for the assistance it might provide in maintaining our harmonious relationship. Both of us would like the arrangements, the comfort, and the bike's character. And my test colleagues at RoadRUNNER felt the same as we rode...

 

TECHNICAL SPECS:
BMW K1200LT-S/-C/-E (tested version: E)

Retail Price $ 17,990 to $ 22,500
Warranty Three years or 36,000 miles
Maintenance Schedule 600/6,000/every 6,000 miles (1,000/10,000/every 10,000 km)
Importer/Distributor BMW of North America, Inc., P.O. Box 1227, Westwood, NJ 07675, Phone (800) 831-1117 - Website: www.bmwusa.com

ENGINE
Type 4-cylinder, inline, 4-stroke
Cooling water-cooled
Valve Arrangement 4 valves per cyl., dohc, cams chain driven, shim under bucket adjustment
Bore & Stroke 70.5 x 75mm
Displacement 1,171cc
Compression Ratio 10.8:1
Carburetion electronic fuel injection
Exhaust Emission Control catalytic converter

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox 5-speed+R
Clutch single-plate dry clutch, hydraulically operated
Final Drive shaft drive

CHASSIS
Frame cast aluminum-alloy front frame w/steel subframe
Wheelbase 1,633mm (64.3in.)
Rake 63 degree
Trail 109mm (4.3in.)
Front Suspension telelever w/single shock
Stanchion Diameter 35mm (1.38in.)
Adjustments no
Travel 102mm (4.0in.)
Rear Suspension single-sided cast aluminum-alloy swingarm w/single shock
Adjustments spring preload
Travel 130mm (5.1in.)

WHEELS & TIRES
Type cast aluminum-alloy wheels
Front 3.50 x 17
Rear 5.00 x 17
Front Tire 120/70 ZR 17
Rear Tire 160/70 ZR 17

BRAKES
Front Brake 2 discs, 4-piston calipers
Diameter 320mm (12.6in.)
Rear Brake 1 disc, 4-piston caliper
Diameter 285mm (11.2in.)
Combining Integral-ABS (combined Antilock Brake System w/power support)

DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES
Seat Height 770/800mm (30.3/31.5in.)
Wet-Weight 378kg (840lb.)
Fuel Capacity 24l (6.3gal.)

PERFORMANCE
(European measurements)
Claimed Horsepower (measured at clutch)98hp at 6,750rpm (US: 100hp)
Torque 11.7mkp (115Nm, 87ft.-lbs.) at 4,750rpm
Top Speed 200km/h (125mph)
Acceleration 0-100km/h (0-62.5mph): 4.9s
Fuel Consumption 6.7l/100km (35.4mpg)
Fuel Range 358km (224mls.)

EQUIPMENT
Full fairing, electrically adjustable windshield, dashboard w/speedometer, odometer, trip-odometer, tachometer, clock and trip-computer display, warning light for fuel reserve, emergency flashers, cruise control, key switch in the center of the dashboard, GPS navigation system, radio-/CD-player, heated grips, heated seats, two 12-volt outlets, Integral ABS, luggage hard cases w/mounting kit, top case w/back rest for passenger, mounting kit and chromed luggage rack, center and side stand. Mounted BMW accessories: anti-theft system w/remote control.

ROADRUNNER Test Diagram
Engine 3/5
Chassis 4/5
Brakes 5/5
Comfort 5/5
Luggage w/accessories 5/5
Equipment 5/5
Design 3/5
Bike for the buck 3/5

Honda Gold Wing/ABS

Retail Price $ 17,699 to $ 18,999
Warranty One year, unlimited mileage
Maintenance Schedule 600/4,000/every 4,000 miles (1,000/6,400/every 6,400km)
Importer/Distributor American Honda Motor Co.,1919 Torrance Blvd.,Torrance, CA 90501-2746,Phone (310) 783-2000 - Website: www.hondamotorcycles.com

ENGINE
Type 6-cylinder, boxer, 4-stroke
Cooling water-cooled
Valve Arrangement 2 valves per cyl., ohc, cam chain driven, shim under bucket adjustment
Bore & Stroke 74 x 71mm
Displacement 1,832cc
Compression Ratio 9.8:1
Carburetion electronic fuel injection
Exhaust Emission Control no
(Europe: catalytic converter)

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox 5-speed+R
Clutch multi-plate wet clutch, hydraulically operated
Final Drive shaft drive

CHASSIS
Frame cast aluminum-alloy frame, double beam
Wheelbase 1,692mm (66.6in.)
Rake 61 degree
Trail 109mm (4.3in.)
Front Suspension telescopic fork (air-supported)
Stanchion Diameter 45mm (1.77in.)
Adjustments no
Travel 140mm (5.5in.)
Rear Suspension single-sided cast aluminum-alloy swingarm w/single shock
Adjustments spring preload
Travel 105mm (4.13in.)

WHEELS & TIRES
Type cast aluminum-alloy wheels
Front 3.50 x 18
Rear 5.00 x 16
Front Tire 130/70 R 18 63H
Rear Tire 180/60 R 16 74H

BRAKES
Front Brake 2 discs, floating, 3-piston calipers
Diameter 296mm (11.7in.)
Rear Brake 1 disc, floating 3-piston caliper
Diameter 316mm (12.4in.)
Combining Dual CBS-ABS

DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES
Seat Height 740mm (29.1in.)
Wet-Weight 399kg (887lb.)
Fuel Capacity 25l (6.6gal.)

PERFORMANCE
(European measurements)
Claimed Horsepower (measured at clutch)118hp at 5,500rpm
Torque 17.0mkp (167Nm, 126ft.-lbs.) at 4,000rpm
Top Speed 200km/h (125mph)
Acceleration 0-100km/h (0-62.5mph): 4.1s
Fuel Consumption 5.0l/100km (47.0mpg)
Fuel Range 500km (313mls.)

EQUIPMENT
Full fairing, mechanically adjustable windshield, dashboard w/speedometer, odometer, trip-odometer, tachometer, clock and display for fuel level and other information, cruise control, key switch in the center of the dashboard, radio-/CD-player, heated grips, Dual CBS-ABS, luggage hard cases w/mounting kit, top case w/back rest for passenger and mounting kit, center and side stand.

ROADRUNNER Test Diagram
Engine 5/5
Chassis 5/5
Brakes 5/5
Comfort 5/5
Luggage w/accessories 5/5
Equipment 5/5
Design 4/5
Bike for the buck 4/5