2016 BMW R 1200 RS: Sport-Touring With Grunt

Text: Florian Neuhauser • Photography: Kevin Wing, Jonathan Beck

“We’ll take it slow,” they said. “Keep it at a reasonable speed,” they warned. I guess words have a different meaning depending on when and where they’re spoken. Their definition suits me just fine. This thing is a blast to ride.

In the December issue we featured a test of the all-new BMW S 1000 XR. At the same press event, the German motorcycle maker also introduced the 2016 R 1200 RS. Whereas the XR’s testing day was dampened by steady rain, it was dry (enough) for the RS’ day. And boy does it feel good to open it up and air it out when conditions are near perfect. 

To say the RS is basically the same bike as the R 1200 R, just with a fairing, would be an accurate statement. However, the RS is such a capable touring machine, with a heavy emphasis on sport, that we decided it needs its own review.

Powertrain and Performance

The engine is an old friend and well known. The liquid-cooled, flat-twin boxer is the same as on the GS, GSA, RT, and R. It’s a solid power plant that has proved itself over time. Nothing new but it works well. The 125 horsepower and 92 lb-ft of torque make the RS one of the most powerful sport-touring motorcycles we’ve tested, weighing in at a ride-ready 520 pounds. Low-end torque has been slightly increased for the RS compared to the other R models, although it’s not really obvious while riding. A modified air box, air intake, and radiator wrap up the differences.

On the road the RS roars to life with the push of a button. The prominent and throaty boxer sound turns heads everywhere. Like other R models, low-end torque is sufficient to easily lift the front wheel. And that’s why we have traction control these days. 

A six-speed gearbox and oil bath clutch with an anti-hopping function are incorporated into the engine housing. A shaft serves as the secondary drive. It’s maintenance free, works well on the RS, and I didn’t detect much driveline lash. The clutch is effortless and gears slip in easily. The testing unit featured Gear Shift Assist Pro, which allows the operator to change gears without pulling in the clutch. I’m confident that BMW will refine this feature in the future, as noted in the previous XR review.

Chassis and Handling

Engineers specifically designed the tubular steel bridge frame for the RS, which uses the engine as a self-supporting member. It’s a solid foundation, coupled with an upside-down telescopic fork and EVO Paralever single-sided swingarm. The result is an extremely precise handling motorcycle that also stays planted well even on less-than-ideal pavement. The tubes of the upside-down forks are borrowed from the S 1000 RR superbike, and they provide extra rigidity during braking. 

Two radially mounted four-piston fixed calipers chomp down on 320mm discs in the front, and a two-piston floating caliper grabs a single 276mm disc in the rear. ABS comes standard. 

During the test, I encountered plenty of high-speed sweepers that highlighted the RS’ excellent stability. The road surface wasn’t perfect, but the BMW swallowed every imperfection and kept me on course. While following the test ride leader, who was familiar with the road after several days, I put my trust in the RS to the ultimate test. After a short straight, the road elevated enough to hide its progression, and the landscape didn’t offer any clues as to where it would lead either. For all I knew it would continue straight, but I watched the leader lean it in left before the crest. Completely blind. I figured (and prayed) that he knew the road and, at full speed, I leaned as well before cresting the hill and sweeping hard left. It’s one of those moments a rider screams with excitement inside his helmet. What this curve really demonstrated was how well-planted the RS stays leaned in going over a hill at high speeds. No loss of traction. No upset chassis. Pure riding bliss.

Features and Ergonomics

Riding position is upright with a slight forward lean. It doesn’t feel tight or cramped at the grips or pegs. I’m a 6-foot-2-inch guy with a 34-inch inseam and, after a long day in the saddle, I had zero complaints in the comfort department. 

Most motorcycle consumers know that at a BMW dealership it’s nearly impossible to get a bike for the base price ($ 14,995 for the RS). Add about $ 425 for the Style Package (special colors, spoiler, gold calipers, etc.), add $ 1,155 for the Standard Package (GPS preparation, heated grips, cruise control, saddlebag mounts), and ,900 extra for the Premium Package (keyless, Dynamic ESA, Pro riding modes, centerstand, etc.).

The RS comes with Road and Rain riding modes standard. The throttle response is one of the best I’ve felt. It’s easy to modulate and predictably precise. Rain mode delivers power much more tamely. The optional Dynamic ESA and Pro riding modes are nice to have, but I feel like the average rider won’t sense the difference. However, a great rider who pushes the RS to its limits will benefit from the additional fine-tuning. 

The instrument cluster displays a lot of information, to the point that it’s difficult to look at. A traditional analog speedometer is flanked by a TFT display, which automatically adjusts to ambient light levels. Additionally, three displays are available to choose from. Full Mode displays information the rider individually arranges. Sport Mode displays either a bar graph or a digital readout of the engine speed. Tourist Mode displays an additional speed readout, but digitally, and the rest of the pertinent info only shows up in the two panels at the bottom. I foresee a rather long learning period for just the onboard computer.

Flo’s Lowdown

The R 1200 RS is a motorcycle from a category that’s still going strong and combines two favorite aspects of riding: a spirited pace and tour-worthy comfort. Almost 40 years after BMW broke barriers with the R 100 RS, I’m delighted by this new iteration. A claimed fuel consumption of 57 mpg will have to be verified, but if the RS is indeed this economical, then it’s just another reason to consider it.