BMW K1200GT and BMW R1200GS

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith, Kevin Wing

As I sweep through the delicious medley of flowing curves that climb to Fairfield Ski Resort just outside Flagstaff, Arizona, I run through my mental checklist. Power delivery: smooth; brakes: smooth with a nice bite; gearshift: crisp, yet smooth; clutch: light and smooth…damn it - my critique of BMW's new K1200GT is starting to sound like a beer commercial!

Smooth Operator
But that one word - smooth - keeps popping into my head no matter which aspect of BMW's new sport-tourer I'm considering. The 1157cc motor has none of the occasional harshness of its more powerful iterations in the K1200R and S. Its bodywork is designed to slip stealthily through the air, and its progress on all but the roughest roads is, with the ESA electronic suspension adjustment on its 'comfort' setting, anything but rough.

GT Reborn
The new K1200GT, with its transverse in-line four-cylinder powerplant, replaces the previous longitudinal-engined K1200GT, which traced its lineage back to the K75 and K100 'flying bricks' of the mid-eighties. No question that the long-stroke 1200 mill was showing its age: rubber mounting was needed to damp out its buzzy vibration; the bike was ponderous and relatively underpowered against the new class of Japanese sport tourers; and there were some reliability issues.

The new GT is a blend of the running gear from the K1200S modified to suit its new application, and the luxurious appointments expected of a top-flight touring iron. Comparing specifications with the K1200S, the GT is surprisingly similar: the engine uses the same valves, throttle bodies and compression ratio as the S, but with the single snorkel intake from the K1200R instead of the S's dual snorkels. Presumably, changes to the camshafts are therefore mostly responsible for the GT's milder 152hp output, compared with 167 for the S and 165 for the R. Overall gearing is also taller to provide more relaxed highway riding.

The similarities extend to the 5-gallon fuel capacity, Evo Paralever and Duolever suspensions, and the dual 12.6' front and single 10.4' rear brakes. The wheels, however, are different: elegant, cast-magnesium alloy with five pairs of spokes replace the S model's spiral spoke design. The rear hoop is narrower, at 5.5', to take a 180/55mm tire instead of the 190/50 item on the S. The GT's steering angle is also a slightly more relaxed 4.5' of trail. But those are the only acknowledged differences in the technical department.

It's in the accommodations that the differences abound. Not surprisingly, given its intended role, the GT is equipped with a full touring fairing and a more upright riding position than the S, and with the bonus of easily adjustable handlebar height. There's also an optional one-inch lower rider's seat (the 'pillion' has a separate fixed squab), and the windshield can be raised and lowered electrically. Two binnacles hold the analog tach and speedometer with an LCD panel between them with rider information such as odometer, trip (choice of two), fuel level, plus other telemetry from the on-board computer (average and maximum trip speed, gear position, coolant temperature, ESA setting and so on). My test model was fitted with this last option, BMW's Electronic Suspension Adjustment ($ 775), as well as heated grips ($ 200), heated seat ($ 270), cruise control ($ 310), and the aforementioned on-board computer ($ 215).

Owners who want all of that, adding $ 1770 to the basic MSRP of $ 18,800, will probably want to protect their investment with the optional $ 225 anti-theft alarm, too! Included in the price, however, is BMW's oxymoronic-sounding Partial Integral ABS braking system and a pair of hard cases. Because BMW has commendably kept the Peterbilt-size muffler underneath the cases, luggage space is uncompromised, and either bag will accept a full-face helmet. At last!

'It's about the ride…'
Though noticeably less hefty than its predecessor, the new GT, like all three K bikes, is no featherweight, and it takes a determined shove to roll it off the center-stand. But from there on, everything is goodness and light. There's not as much grunt from the motor as I expected, however, and the engine needs some revs to get underway without stalling. Clutch, shifter, throttle, all work precisely - and, with a purposeful whirr, the revvy motor soon hurls the GT forward like it was attached to a giant rubber band.

There's all kinds of performance available from the willing powerplant, and from the absence of wind noise, I'd judge the aerodynamics to be unusually effective for a touring bike, allowing for relaxed high-speed cruising. And though ventilation behind the fairing is limited, little heat rises from the engine - a problem that has plagued some of the GT's competitors.

Spinning out of our base in Sedona toward Flagstaff, we ride H ighway 89A as it wriggles along the meandering course of Oak Creek and its yawning canyon. The GT handles the hairpins and switchbacks with aplomb: steering is light, and the bike feels exceptionally well planted on the road. The combination of ABS, low-mass wheels and the dive-free Duolever front end makes for unequalled sure-footedness. With the ample power, idiot-proof brakes and light, neutral steering, I get the feeling I could embarrass quite a few sportbikes.
Though it comes close, the GT is not quite perfect. The LCD display is indecipherable unless the sun is in the right quarter, and the turn signals seem to sometimes self-cancel and sometimes not. I'm also a little nervous about the servo-powered brakes. I know all cars have them, but in most cases those are operated by intake vacuum; so as long as the engine is spinning, you've got brakes. With BMW's electric servo, a power failure could leave you a little light on the anchors. I also found that the system took a second or two to kick in after I'd fired up the engine. Maybe I'm being paranoid, but…

Overall, this is an outstanding sport-touring bike that can carve with the best, yet leap whole continents in a single bound - or a few tanks full of gas, anyway.

The Off-Road Runner
At the same press event introducing the K1200GT, BMW also officially launched their latest tundra tamer, the R1200GS Adventure. Based on the acclaimed R1200GS, the Adventure incorporates many of the options and factory accessories available for the plain-Jane GS, and adds a few of its own. Spoked wheels with off-road tires, engine guards, bash plates, hand protectors, heated grips, luggage rack and a center-stand are all stock on the GSA, plus it has an upgraded electrical system, jump-start connection point and two alternative engine maps to meet the quality of available fuel.

There's an impressive list of more options, too, like saddlebag mounts (as though you would order a GSA without them) for $ 350, foglights for $ 375, and the onboard computer - hardly an option either - at $ 215. You'll doubtless want the $ 225 alarm. And though the switch-able ABS, at $ 995, is probably only for full-time street pilots, it's not what this beast is about.

Mounting the fully-equipped GSA, I feel like I'm docking with the International Space Station: it's all tubes, brackets, switches and pipes. I don't so much climb on as plug myself into it. It's not for wimps. Even without luggage, a committed grunt is needed to lift it off the side stand, and you'll need a 35.2' inseam to flat foot it from the seat. With a sideways lurch, the big boxer fires up, and with a gossamer touch on the clutch and shifter, we're easily underway.

It's true that, like almost all motorcycles, the GSA's considerable mass is less noticeable when rolling - on tarmac, anyway - and the big Beemer shows delightful road manners. The riding position is classic GS, high, wide and upright. There's less low-end punch from the boxer motor than I'd expected, with the engine needing 5,000rpm to really sing. Confident steering is helped by the wide bars, though with the added leverage, careful rider inputs are needed, and there's some squirming from the off-road tires when cornering.

But this piste-basher isn't about tarmac, and our test route sends us on a rollicking ride over 30 miles of gravel, sand and streambed down to the Rio Colorado. It takes some confidence to wind up the GSA on a shifting surface, and getting it to turn is a little like maneuvering an oil tanker. The bike's considerable inertia resists being re-directed, just as Newton told us it would. But if you have a good line and commit to keeping the throttle open, the GSA rewards with excellent stability. The big motor is also happy to plug along without snatching below 2,000rpm, allowing me to soft-shoe over trickier terrain without the rear breaking away.

But the GSA is happiest cruising over open gravel roads, soaking up potholes and flying over washboard at highway speeds. With my own not inconsiderable mass standing on the pegs, the Adventure feels much more stable and turns much more readily. This, then, is a truly impressive and versatile machine that I'm sure would take most road and trail conditions in its stride.
And with 15 more horsepower than last year's 1150 Adventure and a claimed 26lb weight reduction, the 1200 Adventure is 'one small step' in the right direction. But after watching Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman being defeated by the sheer heft of their loaded 1150 Adventures in Long Way Round, I wonder whether the bikes in this category have just become too sophisticated, complex and warehouse-sized.

BMW's top gelande/strasse models have grown from the 409lb (wet) R80G/S of the 1980s through the 609lb R1150GSA (fully accessorized) to the only slightly lighter 1200 Adventure. Though the Adventure is a superb machine, I think I would also consider the 50hp, 425lb F650GS Dakar…or wait for the F800GS variant of BMW's new parallel twin that must surely be in the pipeline.

After all, which would you rather have fall on you?

TECHNICAL SPECS:
BMW K1200GT

+ powerful and sophisticated, fast and sure-footed; ABS brakes
- LCD display illegible in difficult light; expensive; ABS brakes

Distributor BMW Motorrad USA - www.bmwmotorcycles.com
Engine transverse mounted,inline 4-cylinder
Displacement 1157 cc
Bore x Stroke 79mm x 59mm
Carburetion fuel injection,46mm throttle bodies
Power 152 bhp @ 9,500rpm
Cooling liquid cooled
Ignition BMW Engine Controller - BMS K
Transmission gear primary,wet multiplate clutch,six-speed, shaft final drive
Frame composite aluminum
Front suspension BMW Duolever, 4.5in (114mm) travel
Rear suspension BMW EVO Paralever,5.3in (135mm) travel
Steering angle / Trail 61° / 4.5in(114mm)
Brakes front/rear 2 x 4-piston calipers/ 1 x 2-piston caliper
Tires front/rear 120/70 x 17 / 180/55 x 17
Dry weight 549lb (249kg)
Wheelbase 61.8in (1570mm)
Seat height 32.3in (820mm)
Fuel capacity 6.3 gallons (24liters)
Fuel consumption n/a
Colors deep blue metallic, dark graphite metallic, crystal gray metallic
MSRP$ 19,025

BMW R1200GS

+ Round-the-world capability right out of the box…
- …but renew your gym membership first

Distributor BMW Motorrad USA - www.bmwmotorcycles.com
Engine 2-cylinder Boxer
Displacement 1170cc
Bore x Stroke 101mm x 73mm
Carburetion fuel injection,47mm throttle bodies
Power 100 bhp @ 7,000rpm
Cooling air/oil
Ignition BMW Engine Controller - BMS K
Transmission single plate dry clutch,six-speed, shaft final drive
Frame cast aluminum/steelwith engine as a stressed member
Front suspension BMW Telelever, 8.3in (210mm) travel
Rear suspension BMW EVO Paralever,8.7in (221mm) travel
Steering angle / Trail 63.8° / 3.8 in (97mm)
Brakes front/rear 2 x 4-piston calipers/ 1 x 2-piston caliper
Tires front/rear 110/80 x 19 / 150/70 x 17
Dry weight 492lb (224kg)
Wheelbase 59.5in (1488mm)
Seat height 35.2 in (895mm)
Fuel capacity 8.7 gallons (33liters)
Fuel consumption n/a
Colors alpine whitewhite aluminum metallic
MSRP $ 16,775