Long-term Evaluation – 2012 BMW R 1200 RT: Jack of All Rides

Text: John M. Flores • Photography: John M. Flores, Sandy Noble

I don’t want to like this bike. BMW touring bikes, after all, typically appeal to people of a certain age, and liking the 2012 R 1200 RT is tantamount to admitting that I’m not as young as I used to be. That’s the stereotype at least, and stereotypes are powerful things–a kind of shorthand that we all use to simplify the world around us. 
But they can be cages too, trapping us in preconceived notions and simple mistruths. Sometimes it takes thousands of miles of seat time to shatter them.

First Impressions

The R 1200 RT looks like the opposite of a sportbike. It’s a big bike, especially the front fairing with its triple beam headlights, integrated mirrors, turn signals, and air intake. But once I’m aboard and on the road, the bike shrinks; it is, surprisingly, only 505 pounds dry. Fill the 7.6-gallon tank (another reason for looking so big), add a couple of accessories, and the bike will balloon to nearly 600 pounds–still relatively light for a bike with serious touring intent. You’ll feel the added weight as you push it into the garage, but on the road the bike is quite nimble. At 42.1 mpg you’ll be able to cross Pennsylvania, Utah, or any number of states on a single tank.

Ergonomics

The location of the footpegs on the R 1200 RT hints at its sporty side. Positioned directly beneath the rider’s hips, the pegs facilitate side-to-side weight shifts on twisty backroads. The downside is that the position can prove tiring on the interstate. The seat is long enough to allow some fore/aft movement, and the handlebars place the body in a neutral vertical position. (Tester is 5 feet 8 inches tall, 160 pounds on a good day, with a 30-inch inseam.)

Drivetrain

Forward thrust is provided by one of the most venerable motors in the business, the horizontally-opposed twin, now displacing 1170cc and featuring chain-driven DOHC, four valve heads, and counter-balancers. The cylinders are still finned, but an oil cooler assists when the going gets hot. This revised motor produces 110 bhp and 88 lb-ft of torque. The ponies are sent to the pavement through BMW’s Paralever shaft-drive rear suspension.

Suspension

Up front is BMW’s Telelever suspension, where damping and suspension duties are removed from the front forks and placed in a separate unit. BMW engineers wisely designed the front end to dive slightly under braking so that riders feel the familiar dive of traditional forks, but after that initial motion, the bike remains level no matter how hard you squeeze.

Rebound damping, rear spring pre-load, and rear spring rate are all adjustable via the innovative ESA II system (a 0 option). Use the button on the left grip to dial in the number of people on the bike (one or two), whether or not you have luggage, and what kind of riding style you desire (Normal, Comfort, or Sport). Tiny electric motors make the needed adjustments. Spring pre-load and spring rate can only be adjusted while at a standstill. The system is amazingly simple and effective; it makes very discernible changes in the behavior of the bike.

Options

The R 1200 RT comes with a range of standard features for tourers: excellent easy-to-use and waterproof panniers (the best I’ve ever used), ABS, center stand, and an electrically adjustable windscreen. Optional features abound: the ESA II system described above, heated grips and seats (for pilot and passenger), ASC stability control, cruise control (extremely accurate in testing), lowered suspension and seat, audio system with radio, SiriusXM, Bluetooth, and so on. Check as many boxes as you can, add a cool ,000 to the price, and have a bike to crush continents with.

Riding Impressions

On the road, the bike never felt out of place–from crawling in old Quebec City traffic, to carving twisties in the Smoky Mountains, to rough backroads north of the 50th parallel, as well as the high-speed interstates connecting them all. The motor is strong (you’ll be in triple digits before the bike runs out of breath), with the characteristic vibration of the opposed twin. Otherwise, it’s a quiet motor–I rode more than 500 miles before I realized that all the motor noise was on the intake side; the exhaust is very quiet.

Despite the generous torque, the motor likes to stay north of 5,000 rpm when ridden enthusiastically. South of that mark, the motor needs to build up a head of steam before surging forward. Additionally, the bike does not have the engine braking that you’d expect from a nearly 1200cc twin. Some suspect this is done for emissions purposes. Whatever the reason, it’s easy to adapt to.

Handling is quick and responsive. The wide bars make it easy to throw the bike into a turn, and the front and rear always feel solidly connected. It’s not wired into the rider’s synapses like a sportbike, but that’s what makes a sportbike simultaneously thrilling and tiring. Still, it’s an engaging ride, happily carving second-gear backroads all day long without dragging a peg or wanting for more power. Keep the revs up and you can surprise others on more sporty machinery.

Cockpit controls, general comfort, and wind management are excellent. The windshield is cut down in the center for visibility. As good as the bike is, however, it’s not without its blemishes. Most of the niggles are electronically related. The LCD information panel is hard to read during the day, especially when wearing a bright colored jacket; the reflection from the jacket makes the lower half of the panel illegible. The optional stereo is audible on backroads but distorts when played at volumes needed for the interstate. The bike’s security system sometimes gets confused and requires a quick key removal and reinsert to start the bike. In addition, the electrically adjustable windscreen stopped functioning on two occasions but worked after a restart.

Lasting Impressions

At the end of the day, I still didn’t want to like this bike. It’s big, the cylinders point in funny directions, and it has looks that only a mother could love. But darn it if this thing didn’t win me over with its broadband competency. It handled everything I dared throw at it and not just adequately. It is truly, shockingly, good at a lot of things. The bags are a treat, the cruise control is spot on, and the adjustable windshield is the best that I’ve used. It’s got a compelling combination of power, handling, comfort, and distance, and would be on my short list for any ride that required hundreds of highway miles before getting to the good stuff. It’s a bit of a q-ship as well, surprising cagers and unwitting sportbikers with its athleticism. Maybe, just maybe, liking the big Beemer shows that I’m not old, just older–and wiser.