Text: Andi Seiler • Photography: Christian Neuhauser
BMW's boxer models are quite popular, and the GS, GS Adventure, RS, RT, and R of the 1150cc range are highly regarded as great touring and all-round bikes. Each of them typifies BMW comfort. This year another thrilling theme was added to the Bavarian brand's boxer lineup. They call it the R1150R Rockster.
Concept & Transformation
Bavarians are known for their directness and for dealing with things in their own way. Their traditional motorcycle and car brand isn't any different. In bikes, they've proved their individuality with fresh, young, innovative designs. This uncompromising stance means motorcyclists either like it or don't. When the first R1100GS came out in 1994, quite a few people criticized the front plastics for resembling a duck's beak. But many liked and bought it - and its successor, the R1150GS - in big numbers. Changes in the looks of other examples in the range have also been dramatic; but the fact remains that the BMW guys go their own way and that perhaps, more than anything else, makes the brand so successful.
Building a new version around the big displacement boxer, the crew led by chief designer David Robb, an American, has created the R1150R Rockster. While basic parts (engine and chassis) come from the R1150R, design-wise the bike presents a distinctive street-fighter profile, which is a very popular look in Europe. And even here in the U.S. these designs are gaining popularity.
Boxer means BMW. There's no way around it, even though the brand also offers inline fours in their K-range. But the typical flat twin has been connected at the hip to the brand since the legendary R32, the first motorcycle BMW built, was presented at the Paris motorcycle show in September of 1923. It's no wonder the Bavarians, known for preserving the best aspects of tradition, still manufacture boxer engines.Engine & Transmission
The Rockster uses the same power plant in the R1150R. All boxer engines except for the 1200 come with dual-spark ignition (beginning in 2003), which makes for a big improvement over former models that jerked when throttled in a constant position at lower speeds and rpm, as in downtown traffic. Thoroughly modified, this behavior disappeared this year, judging from our experience on the test bike. The dual spark also provides better combustion and lower emissions. The men (and women) from Munich have modified the six-speed gearbox again for better shifting comfort, too. And it seems they've exceeded their goal. Like never before, switching gears has become as easy a task as it is to operate the single-plate dry clutch.
The air- and oil-cooled twin is fun to ride to boot. It pulls strong from low rpm, gets a second kick at 4,000, and revs quickly up to almost 7,000. With no flat spot exhibited in the power curve, you feel the bike makes more than the claimed 85 horses. That fits its street-fighter character. The modern fuel injection deals with all kinds of changes like altitude, air pressure, cold, or heat. Even if the thermometer dips into the 30's and 20's, the bike starts without hesitation. You still have to adjust a choke lever, even with the fuel injection, but that's not a big deal. Just wait a few miles before taking it completely back.
Chassis & Brakes
Changes to the chassis were made at the periphery. The stanchion tubes for the forks come from the sport boxer R1100S as well as the 5.5-inch rear rim and the front fender. This rim allows the mounting of a wider 180/55 ZR 17 tire on the back (R1150R: 5.0 inch rim, 170/60 ZR 17 tire), which offers a great com-bination of flawless handling and good grip. Generally, compared to a 190/50 ZR 17 rubber, it's the better deal for public road use in most cases - and certainly so if you mount outstanding tires like the Metzeler Sportec M-1's on the Rockster. On canyon roads the bike showed great performance, running a clean line and offering plenty of ground clearance. The wide, low, and slightly bent handlebar (another feature that differs from the basic R model) exhibits perfect leverage for steering into tight turns. Although on longer trips we would prefer the R hand-lebar, which is slightly higher and bent back farther for a more comfortable riding position.
Even though the shock springs of the Telelever system in the front and the Paralever unit in the back are painted white, they are the same as found on the R model. So the Rockster's suspension provides the same degree of comfort. If you want to push harder, you can stiffen the rebound damping on the front shock as well as the spring rate (by an adjusting knob) and rebound damping on the rear shock. We were satisfied with the standard adjustment - most impressive in swift riding on bumpy back roads. Compared to other BMW models ridden at the same time the brake support for the antilock system didn't affect our lines on curvy roads that much. Overall, our test team still prefers a standard setup without support because it's easier to modulate when you have to brake in between turns.
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For the complete article of the riding impression(s) and technical specifications, please purchase the September/October 2003 back issue.