BMW K1200RS review

Written October 31, 2003
Posted November 21, 2003


I took my Le Mans in today, to have the front tire replaced. While that service was being performed, I borrowed one of the recent trade-ins that Moto International has acquired recently. Micha tried to set me up with an F650 they had, but I complained and got myself switched to the K1200RS. This was both a blessing and a curse, as I will detail in this review.

Keep in mind for this review that I only had the bike for a day, and only rode about 20 miles on it. The review is necessarily limited.


The first thing I noticed about this bike, because I was anticipating it, was the engine. It's a 1200cc inline four, with the cylinders on their side, and running lengthwise along the bike, rather than the more traditional transverse mounting found on any of the popular 600cc supersport bikes. I think this is the bike that BMW claims makes 130 HP. I'd believe that.

The engine started and idled without fuss, requiring no pulling of any choke/fast idle levers. It's all automatic. The sound was smooth and refined, and very quiet -- even when accelerating hard, this engine hardly makes any sound. It's a real neighbor-pleaser that way.

Pulling away from the dealership, the engine pulled as hard as I asked, with no fuss, and no surprises. Power delivery was smooth and precise. There is no particular vibration to be felt. The transition from acceleration to deceleration was somewhat abrupt, but I was able to smooth that out with careful application of the throttle.

Getting onto the freeway on a particularly long onramp was a blast, and I was easily into extra-legal speeds with nearly no effort on the bike's part. I don't know that I ever hit full acceleration, because what I had dialed in was way more than enough.

Transmission and Clutch

For a BMW, the transmission on this bike (which had 15-something thousand miles on it) was extremely refined. It almost didn't exist, with effortless shifts. Even first gear at a stop went in almost every time, which is practically unheard-of in my experience.

The clutch was likewise very precise and easy to apply. I never had any hint of grabbing or juddering of any kind. On one fast take-off, I did notice what seemed to be the clutch slipping until I reduced power -- I assumed that it was likely a shock-reduction system built into the clutch to prevent me spilling the transmission all over the road like so many marbles. Other than that strangeness, the clutch was flawless. Even the lever pull was nice and light, for so powerful an engine.

Suspension and Brakes

This bike is equipped with the Telelever front end, which continues to grow on me. On the front end, the bike was very well behaved, and exhibited none of the annoying crack-following tendencies that I had noticed in an R850R I rode some years ago.

The rear suspension was alright, although it had a disturbing tendency to transmit the slightest road irregularity to the pegs, which I found disconcerting. At first I was half-convinced that the rear tire was completely flat, and I was riding on rims. Discounting the jolt-transmitting tendencies, the rear suspension was quite nice.

The brakes on this bike were very nice. They have a much more aggressive feel than the Le Mans brakes (which in turn outdo the Ninja 250 brakes by an order of magnitude), without being grabby or hard to modulate. The brakes on the Le Mans, which usually feel so aggressive and precise, actually felt somewhat difficult to engage after riding the K12RS.

Ergonomics and Riding Position

"So, what's wrong with the bike?" I hear you asking. I'll tell you. The seating position sucks! Granted, the bike was set up for someone else, but I was uncomfortable from the moment I got on it. The pegs are incredibly close to the seat, and the bars are improbably far from it. I actually damaged myself (pulling a muscle in my left hip) shifting the transmission while getting on the freeway. The only person who could possibly be comfortable on this bike would have to have torso and arms as long as mine, and legs a good 5 inches shorter. If the seat were 3 inches taller, it would have been quite comfy.

Ignoring my hips and legs cramping uncomfortably underneath me, the riding position from waist up was actually quite nice. A good stretch, and very sporty. The ever-goofy BMW switchgear was easy enough to accomodate after a few minutes of riding (and the near-obligatory honking of the horn when trying to cancel the left turn signal for the first time).

Riding Impressions

This bike handles well. It's a bit heavy with that big 1200 cc engine in there, but the balance is quite nice while stopped, and the weight all dissappears once you're moving. As I said, the brakes are flawless, with excellent feel, and serious bite if you grab the lever with any authority. The engine tugs you forward as if on a glider launcher, with perfect, smooth power that feels like it'll never run out.

The suspension behaved very nicely, if you ignore the precise translation of every pavement irregularity to the footpegs. I would have loved riding this bike, except for the unnaturally painful riding position.

I didn't get a chance to take this bike through anything like appropriate paces (that would require a racetrack, really), but it handled everything I threw at it with grace and aplomb. I would highly recommend this bike to anyone who fits on it.

Created by Ian Johnston. Questions? Please mail me.