Text: Eric Bass • Photography: Chris Myers
It's rare air up in the hyper-tourer stratosphere. You've got the Suzuki Hayabusa, the Kawasaki ZX-12R, the discontinued-stateside Blackbird, and now, the BMW K1200S has joined the fray. Never known for speed and acceleration, the K series is nonetheless my favorite line of Beemers, and the only one that shares clear stylistic points of reference with their brawny yet luxurious automobiles. The only thing lacking, in my mind, has been the va-va-va-voom factor, and at long last, BMW has delivered the goods in that department.
Initially, observing the bikes lined up in front of our hotel, I was disappointed to find that the black-and-yellow graphic scheme went unrepresented amidst the indigo blue and granite grey testers. Frankly, the plain wrapper versions offer cheap-looking paint that lacks the richness (blue) or sparkle (grey) to do this bike justice; whereas the racy bumblebee design does an eye-popping job of accenting the bike's aggressive lines.
Climbing aboard, the wasp-waisted shape of the bike's seat reduced the "straddle effect" when standing, and allowed me to pinch in with my legs for stability in aggressive turns, thereby relaxing my arms for smoother steering inputs. The seat itself is thin but made of very resilient foam that proved to be far more comfortable than it looked. Overall, the ergoes proved well conceived for both cornering and distance work.
The beginning of that distance consisted of a twisty climb and descent through Mount Tamalpais in Sausalito, California. Having shaved 26 percent off of the dry weight of the K1200RS, and with a new Duolever front suspension that lowers its center of gravity, the K1200S is easily the best handling bike BMW has ever produced. The suspension sneered at the numerous rain-filled potholes I encountered, and was far more willing to tip into hairpins than I would have expected for a bike of its longitude.
One of the "must get" options available for the K1200S is the $ 750 Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA). This system allows you to calibrate front rebound damping, as well as rear preload, compression, and rebound damping using a simple grid. Configure the load for single rider, rider with passenger, or rider with passenger and luggage (available as an option) while parked, and then enjoy on-the-fly adjustments between sport, normal, and comfort modes. The verdict on ESA seemed unanimous among the testers: a great idea, and well worth the cost.
Later that evening, at our posh dinner destination, the relative merits of the partially integrated ABS system were a far more hotly debated topic, particularly by the ex-racers at the table. While ABS comes standard, the K1200S can be ordered without it for a $ 995 reduction in price. For mere mortals like me, however, the system provided a welcome insurance policy, particularly in the wet weather I encountered. As for the brake lever feel of the servo-assist, it does take some getting used to, but the pinchers most certainly did their job when asked.
Once clear of the mountain, the scenic sweepers of the Pacific Coast Highway provided a stunning backdrop for a test of the Beemer's real sweet spot, high-speed curves. With the stability of its length, the power-assisted feel of its steering input, and newly found mid-range gusto of its engine, the K1200S was really in its glory snaking along the shoreline of Tomales Bay.
That having been said, it isn't until you have enough uninhabited real estate ahead of you to punch through the gears with bad intent that you can fully appreciate the vein-popping power of the F-1 inspired 1,156cc across-the-frame inline-four. From a normal freeway speed, dropping the K1200S down into second and juicing through the gears had me disappearing into the horizon so fast that the local police department must have been deluged with UFO sightings. Winding the revs past 8000 rpm in sixth gear, the stallion really hit its stride, accelerating effortlessly as if powered by plutonium into a warp drive where everything just smeared and the sound of air being split roared like a jet taking off. Forget ABS, the K1200S should come stock with a case of Depends, and I mean that as the highest form of praise.
So where does this big, bad Beemer fit in the scheme of things? Heavier (499 lbs dry), longer (62" wheelbase), and 50 percent more expensive ($ 16,745 as tested) than either the Busa (478 lbs, 58.5" $ 10,999) or ZX-12R (463 lbs 57.1", $ 10,999) the K1200S makes up ground in the two-wheeled arms race by offering advanced features and options in the areas of safety (ABS), reliability (shaft drive), performance (ESA), and comfort (heated grips). James Bond would love this bike, as would anyone who has been a fan of the K1200RS or GT models but felt that they lacked a certain je ne sais quoi-ya-hoooo!
Well done Motorrad meisters. It took you long enough to make it "perfect," as you are so fond of proclaiming, but the K1200S has been well worth the wait.
Distributor BMW Motorrad USA
Engine Four-stroke inline four, DOHC, 16-valve
Bore x Stroke 79x59mm
Carburetion fuel injection
Front Suspension double longitudinallink, 4.5in travel
Rear Suspension EVO-Paralever, 5.3in travel
Rake/Trail 29.4° / 4.4in (111.76mm)
Brakes front/rear twin four piston calipers, 320mm discs single twin piston, 265mm disc
Tires front/rear 120/70ZR x 17,190/50ZR x 17
Dry Weight 515lb (234kg)
Wheelbase 61.9in (1572mm)
Seat height 32in (813mm)
Fuel Capacity 5.0 gal (19l)
Fuel Consumption n/a
Colors granite gray metallic, indigo blue metallic, indigo blue metallic/alpine white, sun yellow/white metallic/graphite metallic
MSRP $ 15,750