BMW K1200GT & Kawasaki ZZR1200

Text: Christian Neuhauser • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

BMW and Kawasaki have been active in the sport-touring market for quite a while. The German brand started out with the K series in the mid-eighties, and looking to produce a successor to the powerful ZX-10, the Japanese came up with the ZZR theme in 1990. Here, we've tested their latest versions, both with 1,200cc capacity and plenty of juice.

Concept & Transformation
If you've ever been running late in the countryside and tried to make up time on long stretched interstates, you probably know there is no better choice for the job than a powerful sport-touring bike. It's fast, and comfortable in terms of its protection, seating position and suspension. Based on these qualities, sport-tourers come in a little bit heavier than real sportbikes, but they make up for that with their wide range of usability. You could call 'em the dinosaurs of the motorcycle business: big, strong, and gluttonous - if we're talking about the miles they can swallow.

Within the last two years, BMW and Kawasaki celebrated a revival of their mean sport-touring species with two new versions: the K1200GT and the ZZR1200. So, lean back and get acquainted with two new, exciting residents of Jurassic Park.

The GT actually is a more comfortable version of the well-known RS. Taller handlebars, a standard electronic cruise control, wind deflectors added to the fairing, color-matched luggage, and an electrically adjustable windshield make up the biggest differences.

Like its predecessor, the ZZR1100 from 1990, the ZZR1200 bares its teeth through its Ram-Air mouth. The big block inline-four is surrounded by a double-beam aluminum frame and a sporty full fairing for special speed adventures.

Engine & Transmission
Since the mid-eighties, BMW has pushed up the capacity of their K series from 1,000 over 1,100 to 1,200cc - okay, actually the final version measures 1,171cc. But this might not be the end, since a new K is already in the pipeline. Unlike its competitor, the Beemer features a flat-four with cylinder heads sticking out to the left side of the fairing. This construction lowers the center of gravity, which theoretically contributes to better handling.

Power-wise, the Bavarian dinosaur is in a good mood. How else to describe an output of 130hp at 8,800rpm and 88ft.-lbs. of torque (11.9mkp; 117Nm,) at 6,800rpm? A counter balancer does its best to keep the steamy character at a low level of vibration while the fuel injection with 38mm throttle valves lets the giant breathe. A six-speed gearbox and a clean low-maintenance shaft drive transfer the forces to the rear wheel.

Throttle pulled, the Beemer roars through the power band like a hungry T. Rex crashing through prehistoric woodlands. At 5,000rpm, you can feel a little drop in power and acceleration, but it's not a serious issue. What bothers more is the clunky gearbox, which needs more effort to shift than the Kawi's and a certain treatment when you want to get it into first gear after a stop at the traffic light. It's the same old story told by other BMWs.
In this case, the ZZR does a much better job. You pull the clutch lever and it takes just a little move of your foot to shift up or down. Although the Kawi comes with conventional carburetors, it pulls stronger and cleaner from the bottom of the power band to the top. You can feel the steeper grade in its power curve, and in almost no situation is the BMW able to keep up. No wonder, the ZZR puts out 152hp at 9,800rpm and 93ft.-lbs. (12.6mkp; 124Nm) of torque at 8,200rpm. Top speed is an amazing 172mph (275km/h) compared to 153mph (245km/h) for the GT. Also, the throttle of the ZZR is easier to turn. In most riding situations, you just don't have to work as hard on the Kawasaki to keep it on the move.

Chassis & Brakes
Both bikes are made for speeds you will never reach on American highways if you want to stay out of trouble with the law. Understandably, the GT and ZZR behave very well on long-distance rides at 75mph, running straight without any shaking of the front end. And it doesn't really matter if you put more weight on them, whether a passenger or a load of "two-week luggage."

In terms of comfort, both suspension setups suit the needs of a sport-touring rider to a tee. The engineers of BMW developed the high-end telelever for the front and the paralever single-sided swingarm for the rear. At both ends, the Bavarians placed single shocks sensitive to the little bumps that easily "swallow" bigger holes in the surface too. It's probably the most advanced suspension technology you can buy.

The Kawi takes the conventional route. Telescopic forks in the front and a double-sided aluminum swingarm with a single shock in the rear try to absorb holes and dents in the surface. And they do the job real well. Even if the ZZR doesn't feature any suspension gimmicks, it's still a great performer on bumpy asphalt. Overall, it feels a little bit stiffer and bonded "tighter" to the surface. Reasons for that: the more forward riding position and the conventional forks, which expose the main difference with, and the only disadvantage of the Beemer: The telelever doesn't provide the same good feel for the front wheel the forks do because it practically eliminates all up-and-down movement of the front end. So, you can't feel exactly what's goin' on. But after an hour of riding, you get used to this behavior and enjoy the perfect comfort and sensitivity of the GT.

It's pretty much the same with the brakes. The BMW incorporates a high-tech antilock brake system with power support that supplies great braking power with just one finger. The disadvantage: You lose a bit of sensitivity for modulation. It's worse at lower speeds - for instance, in downtown traffic, or in "rattlesnake" canyons where you have to throw the bike from one turn into the opposite direction. Fine modulation of the brakes when needed is everything here. And the brakes of the Beemer usually do too much for you when you barely touch the levers.

Under those circumstances, the Kawasaki brakes are more predictable. It doesn't take long for the rider to feel safe and secure operating the four-pot calipers and the two discs in the front. But in fairness, we have to admit the antilock brakes of the BMW are untouchable if we're talking about safety. Its braking system fits every rider in almost every riding situation. The brakes just won't lock up on you. If you're not a well-trained racer with a special talent for hard-braking processes at the Kevin Schwantz level, you're better off with this highly developed system.

Accessories & Arrangements
The seating positions are different. For the more pampered customer, we would suggest the BMW with its higher handlebars and more upright riding position. The Kawi rider has to lean further forward and bear more weight on his forearms, but we wouldn't call the position real sporty. Only after riding these bikes one after the other could we feel the difference. Taste and personal riding style will decide the issue.

Riders and the contours of their rears will appreciate the perfectly shaped upholstery of each model even on longer trips. The foot pegs are mounted in easily assumed positions. Astonishingly, the BMW is the one on which you feel the high-frequency vibration of the inline-four more in the pegs and the handlebars at typical highway speeds around 5,000rpm. Originally, the rougher character of the Kawi engine suggested the opposite assumption.

The Beemer scores when it comes down to the stock equipment to carry luggage. Two side cases and a luggage rack in the back provide lots of space. As for the Kawasaki, you have to pay extra for the hard boxes (not included in the price for the bike). Also, we missed a luggage rack to tighten down an additional bag. Overall, the BMW comes with more equipment, examples being an electrically adjustable windshield, a clock and trip-computer display, emergency flashers, cruise control, heated grips, and heated seats.

Test Summary
If you like real sport-touring dinosaurs that are capable of gobbling miles and providing a high degree of comfort, then these bikes are the way to go. Neither will be able to keep up with super-fast modern sportbikes or fully equipped super-touring motorcycles. But you will get the pure gran tourismo sensation with a dash of adventurous character if you choose one of them. The BMW leans more towards the rider who prefers high-technology features and well-developed equipment. The Kawasaki suits the needs of the motorcyclist strictly interested in that big-bike feel mixed with sporty talents. Both perform well on long stretches and are perfectly at home among any of the other carbureted velociraptors roaming the global confines of our imagined Jurassic Park.

TECHNICAL SPECS:
BMW K1200GT

Retail Price $ 17,990
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, 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 11.5:1
Carburetion electronic fuel injection
Exhaust Emission Control catalytic converter

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox 6 speed
Clutch single-plate dry clutch, hydraulically operated
Final Drive shaft drive

CHASSIS
Frame cast aluminum-alloy, double beam
Wheelbase 1,555mm (61.0in.)
Rake 62.8 degree
Trail 124mm (4.88in.)
Front Suspension telelever w/single shock
Stanchion Diameter 35mm (1.38in.)
Adjustments no
Travel 115mm (4.5in.)
Rear Suspension single-sided cast aluminum-alloy swingarm w/single shock
Adjustments spring preload and rebound damping
Travel 150mm (5.9in.)

WHEELS & TIRES
Type cast aluminum-alloy wheels
Front 3.50 x 17
Rear 5.50 x 17
Front Tire 120/70 ZR 17
Rear Tire 180/55 ZR 17

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

DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES
Seat Height 820mm (32.2in.)
Wet-Weight 300kg (667lb.)
Fuel Capacity 20.5l (5.4gal.)

PERFORMANCE
(European measurements)
Claimed Horsepower (measured at crank)130hp at 8,800rpm
Torque 11.9mkp (117Nm, 88ft.-lbs.) at 6,800rpm
Top Speed 245km/h (153mph)
Acceleration 0-100km/h (0-62.5mph): 3.3s
Fuel Consumption 6.2l/100km (38.5mpg)
Fuel Range 331km (207mls.)

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, heated grips, heated seats, Integral ABS, luggage hard cases w/mounting kit, luggage rack, center and side stand.

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

 

Kawasaki ZZR1200

Retail Price $ 10,499
Warranty One year, unlimited mileage
Maintenance Schedule 600/4,000/every 4,000 miles (1,000/6,400/every 6,400km)
Importer/Distributor Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA,9950 Jeronimo Road,Irvine, CA 92618,phone (949) 770-0400,www.kawasaki.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 79 x 59.4mm
Displacement 1,165cc
Compression Ratio 10.6:1
Carburetion 4 carburetors, ø 40mm
Exhaust Emission Control no

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox 6 speed
Clutch multi-plate wet clutch, hydraulically operated
Final Drive chain drive

CHASSIS
Frame cast aluminum-alloy frame, double beam
Wheelbase 1,505mm (59.3in.)
Rake 65 degree
Trail 104mm (4.09in.)
Front Suspension telescopic fork
Stanchion Diameter 43mm (1.69in.)
Adjustments spring preload
Travel 120mm (4.7in.)
Rear Suspensiondouble-sided aluminum-alloy swingarm w/single shock
Adjustments spring preload and rebound damping
Travel 112mm (4.4in.)

WHEELS & TIRES
Type cast aluminum-alloy wheels
Front 3.50 x 17
Rear 5.50 x 17
Front Tire 120/70 ZR 17
Rear Tire 180/55 ZR 17

BRAKES
Front Brake 2 discs, 4-piston calipers
Diameter 320mm (12.6in.)
Rear Brake 1 disc, 2-piston caliper
Diameter 250mm (9.8 in.)
Combining no

DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES
Seat Height 800mm (31.5in.)
Wet-Weight 276kg (613lb.)
Fuel Capacity 23l (6.1gal.)

PERFORMANCE
(European measurements)
Claimed Horsepower (measured at crank)152hp at 9,800rpm
Torque 12.6mkp (124Nm, 93ft.-lbs.) at 8,200rpm
Top Speed 275km/h (172mph)
Acceleration 0-100km/h (0-62.5mph): 2.7s
Fuel Consumption 5.5l/100km (42.8mpg)
Fuel Range 418km (261mls.)

EQUIPMENT
Full fairing, dashboard w/speedometer, odometer, trip odometer, tachometer, digital clock, gauges for fuel level and water temperature, key switch in front of the upper triple clamp, luggage hard cases w/mounting kit (as an option), center and side stand.

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