Trying to find that perfect companion is difficult for many motorcyclists. Quite a few don't want anything to do with the increasingly narrow-focus offerings that are sitting on showroom floors. They're looking for a big-bore, four-cylinder bike that can fill multiple roles with some sportbike influence, without the pretension of racy full fairings-but they don't want their ride to be bare naked, either.
BMW is looking to chop up its four-cylinder K-bike market segment yet again, with the K1200R Sport. Essentially the same as the K1200R naked bike we tested back in Dec. '05 ("Exhibitionist's Delight"), the K12R Sport adds a frame-mounted half-fairing utilizing the headlight assembly from the R1200S. The rest of the bike-from its 1157cc four tilted forward at a radical 55 degrees to its innovative Duolever front/Paralever rear suspension-is basically identical.
Suzuki has finally resurrected the big-bore Bandit with the new 1250S for '07. An all-new, liquid-cooled engine now powers the Bandit, with a 5mm stroke increase boosting displacement from 1157cc to 1255cc. The redesigned cylinder head features larger valves (31mm intake/27mm exhaust, versus the previous 28.5mm/25mm) working through a revamped combustion chamber pumping a higher compression ratio of 10.5:1 (up from 9.5:1). Transmission is now a six-speed unit, with the clutch using coil springs instead of the old diaphragm unit for better feel. Stacked transmission shafts and tighter cylinder spacing make the new engine significantly more compact, even with the smaller and lighter (yet higher-output) generator being relocated from behind the cylinders to the left end of the crankshaft. A secondary balance shaft helps smooth out excess vibes. Replacing the old bank of 36mm carburetors is Suzuki's SDTV fuel-injection setup utilizing 36mm throttle bodies. The closed-loop system employs an O2 sensor in the 4-into-2-into-1 exhaust in conjunction with the company's ISC (Idle Speed Control) and Pulsed-Air systems to run clean enough to pass ultrastrict Euro 3 and U.S. EPA Tier 2 emissions standards.
The tube-frame chassis has the same steering-geometry numbers (25.3 degrees rake/104mm trail), but the larger-diameter downtubes increase torsional rigidity by a claimed 10 percent. Suspension is basically the same, save for minor detail changes, and a restyled frame-mounted half-fairing heads the list of styling changes. (The naked Bandit is no longer offered in the U.S.) The new Bandit's MSRP still comes in at a very reasonable $8299-although weight has unfortunately ballooned from 530 to 565 pounds wet.
We paired up the new Suzuki and BMW to see how the two half-naked machines from opposite ends of the financial scale would compare in overall performance. So without further introductory banter...
Both bikes fire up readily on a cold morning and warm quickly, allowing them to be ridden away promptly after startup. Although the Bandit's ergos are the more upright of the two, most of our testers preferred the K12R Sport's layout-but not by much. The Suzuki's conventional handlebar has a strange bend that is narrow and angled too far back, making you feel as if you're piloting a wheelbarrow. Its seat-while wide and cushy, plus featuring a nifty 20mm height adjustment-is shaped like a block, which begins to get a little uncomfortable on longer jaunts. Otherwise, besides some buzziness in the engine that seems to have carried over from the previous air/oil-cooled Bandit, the Suzuki's cockpit is very hospitable, with refined, easy-access controls (the overly large throttle tube occasionally rattles annoyingly on the handlebar while cruising) and decent wind protection from the moderately sized windscreen. The dash is nicely laid out and easy to read, although for some reason, Suzuki decided to omit a coolant-temperature gauge on the new liquid-cooled Bandit, with only a coolant-temp warning light to notify you of a problem; some testers lamented the lack of a gear indicator as well.
By contrast, the BMW's narrower seat is shaped better, and while the lower-set bars (basically identical to the K1200R's) are easier to get along with than the Bandit's, the K12R Sport's bar angle is a bit wide and splayed-out for some. The dual-counterbalanced powerplant is much smoother, and there is decent legroom to keep you from cramping up on extended rides. However, the BMW retains its marque's history of quirky control and dashboard layout. Despite being positioned centrally atop the dash, the tachometer is too small (some felt the same about the speedo as well), and the starter/turn-signal button location and operation are frustrating to deal with. Even though the levers are adjustable, their working range is still only suitable for Herman Munster-sized hands, and the clutch actuation is located in a narrow band at the far portion of lever travel. Wind protection from the windscreen is good, but the bar-mounted mirrors-while providing a decent rearward view-are positioned awkwardly, requiring the rider to look too far away from his forward field of vision.
The Suzuki is a much more amenable companion around town, with agile handling, crisp fuel injection and an incredibly responsive engine greatly easing the ability to zip through traffic. The Bandit's torquey yet quick-revving engine finally hits the mark that the original 1200 (and actually, the majority of Japanese standard/naked bikes in the past) aimed for all along: snappy, strong acceleration instantly upon demand, without having to couch that request with a downshift or two. The roll-on performance numbers are deceiving: Although the BMW's beefy motor eventually shows its muscle in top gear, thoroughly whupping the Suzuki in both 60-80- and 80-100-mph tests, the Bandit is much more responsive to throttle input at speeds below 70 mph. In any other gear at lower rpm, the Suzuki will leap ahead of the K-bike until the Bavarian beast gets wound up and moving, and by that time it's usually too little, too late. Both bikes can be lugged down to 2000 rpm and cruise at 2500 rpm all day without a problem, but when you call for some immediate steam from the engine room, the Suzuki's crisp fueling quickly gets the bike accelerating, while the BMW needs a bit more time (and getting past some gargling sounds from the intake) before it gets its legs moving.
The K12R Sport's fuel injection isn't nearly as polished as the Suzuki's, with an abrupt response from closed throttle, which we've complained about on the K12R and S models, albeit improved slightly from those two. Attempting to cruise at 3000 rpm or higher in the lower gears results in some surging, and there's a bit of driveline lash present during slower speeds that, combined with the abrupt off/on throttle response and the BMW's heavier flywheel effect, can make gearchanges more of a clunk than a snick. Getting any real acceleration requires a lot more throttle rotation than on the Suzuki, and a bit more rpm as well; make no mistake, the BMW is definitely the stronger of the two, but its power isn't nearly as accessible as the Bandit's.
The ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjuster) adds a significant bump to the K12R Sport's already heady price tag ($800 on top of a $14,925 base sticker), but its convenience and function are hard to ignore. Simply push the bar-mounted button to change the damping setting to "Comfort," and then once more to switch the spring-preload setting to the single-rider position, and the BMW becomes a plush sport-tourer, eating up highway frost heaves without a problem. (Sharp-edged bumps still get fed back through the front suspension a bit, however.) Then, when you get into some twisties, pushing the button a few more times changes the suspension to a setting more befitting a sportbike. Adding a passenger or some soft luggage? No worries, there are settings for those situations too.
The Bandit, with only spring-preload adjustability in the conventional front fork and rebound damping/spring preload in the rear, nonetheless has suspension rates that are thankfully much firmer and more controlled than the flaccid and wallowing character of the previous Bandit's units. There's plenty of compliance for long-haul comfort, yet when you encounter some twisty pavement and up the pace, the Suzuki is a willing-rather than retreating-accomplice. Still, limited adjustability means there are restrictions to how much you can ramp up the pace, so you have to be cognizant of that point (more on that later).
Both bikes feature 5.0-gallon fuel tanks, and with average fuel consumption hovering in the 36-mpg range, 180 miles to a tankful is the norm. Wick up the pace and start really twisting the throttle, and the BMW's more aggressive motor shows its thirsty side, dipping as far as 31 mpg.
Both of our test units came equipped with the ABS option, but there was a huge difference in price. Opting for ABS with the Bandit increases the sticker by just $500 (which is pretty amazing); asking for it with the K12R Sport, however, inflates the price by $1040-yikes. The BMW's latest Integral ABS II is a far cry from the somewhat clunky action of the previous generations, though; this ABS system is the best we've sampled yet on a BMW, and its performance is pretty darn close to the best Japanese units we've tried.
In fact, the K12R Sport's ABS is superior to the Suzuki's, offering up better power (although part of that can be attributed to the Beemer's better rubber-the K-bike's Michelin Pilot Powers have better grip than the Dunlop D218s on the Bandit) and less cycling effect. Once the ABS is engaged on the Suzuki, a definite pulsation can be felt through the lever, and brake feel pretty much goes out the window. The BMW's very sophisticated (and complicated) system utilizes a number of pressure sensors, modern hydraulic valving (variable instead of just on/off) and electrohydraulic pumps, all controlled by the ECU through a recirculating design to maintain a high level of line pressure at all times during braking. This allows much quicker cycling and creates much better feel at the lever, with far less pulsation. While both the Suzuki and BMW brakes require high lever effort for maximum braking power (both the ABS activation thresholds are pretty high, thankfully), the K12R Sport's ABS has some feedback to it when engaged, instead of everything going totally numb while braking is completely handed over to the ABS system.
The BMW's brake system is also integrated (hence the Integral II moniker); pulling on the front-brake lever also partially activates the rear brake, while pressing the rear brake pedal activates the rear brake only. The actual brake hydraulic systems are separate, however, so as not to rob any feel from the application of the front brake. When the front brake is applied, an electrohydraulic pump and valves apply the rear brake automatically according to a preset level determined by the amount of front-brake pressure. Thankfully, the system as a whole is more transparent than most other front/rear combined brake setups we've tried.
When the ABS wasn't called upon while braking, neither bike garnered any plaudits. The BMW no longer uses the dubious servo assist system on its brakes, but overall braking action is still very progressive during light usage; power ramps up quickly with only minuscule lever movement, yet serious braking power requires a good amount of lever effort. The Suzuki's brakes don't have a whole lot of feel and are pretty wooden in response-major stopping power requires a lot of effort in the same manner as the BMW.
CANYON TURN AND BURN
Corner carving is obviously not at the top of either bike's list of capabilities, but they handle the roles surprisingly well when called upon. Ironically, despite being heavier than the BMW by 12 pounds, the Bandit feels much nimbler in the tighter sections, surely helped by its more upright seating position and handlebar. Steering is fairly precise, ground clearance is very good (even with the centerstand that comes standard), and the suspension keeps everything well in hand at anything up to 7/10 pace. The Suzuki's responsive and torquey powerplant means you don't have to keep the rpm up to get good acceleration off the corners, and you can often just leave the Bandit in one gear while you negotiate a long section of curves. Because the 1255cc mill is tuned for low/midrange power, spinning the engine anywhere near its conservative 9500-rpm redline doesn't get you a whole lot in return. So don't try to ride the Suzuki like a GSX-R and expect tire-churning, wheel-standing antics off the corners.
In fact, trying to ride the Bandit like a GSX-R will have the Suzuki quickly letting you know that it is out of its element. The suspension begins to rapidly come undone at a certain point, with front-end feedback going numb, chassis pitch getting excessive and the D218 tires exhibiting a tendency to fall-in at maximum lean angles. But approaching that boundary-which is well outside of the Bandit's intended scope anyway-is pretty apparent, so you can rein in the enthusiasm accordingly.
The BMW has a slightly higher performance potential in this area, but it takes commitment from the rider. Despite its oceanliner wheelbase as compared with the Suzuki's, the K-bike can carve tight lines right with the Bandit. Tightened up to the "Sport" damping setting, the Duolever front end does a good job of absorbing midcorner bumps at speed and keeping steering accurate, while the Paralever single-sided rear end keeps chassis pitch associated with such a long motorcycle to a minimum. The 1157cc engine pumps out serious power, especially above 7500, where the K-bike really begins to gain some major velocity. Where the Bandit is letting you know the limit is getting close, the BMW can still venture a bit further.
The caveat to the BMW's performance is that in slower corners, you must work around the abrupt throttle response by using a higher gear in many situations, and thus twist the throttle more aggressively. Although the K12R Sport's Duolever front end has numerous advantages over a conventional telescopic fork, it still lacks the feedback necessary to really instill confidence entering corners. You know the Pilot Power tires have the capability, but there's little communication about what's happening at the contact patch on both ends. It's also difficult to get over the BMW's feeling of heft and size when flinging it through the corners-you're always wondering about the consequences, should things get out of hand. And while the latest-generation BMW brakes are much improved over previous versions, they still lack the feel and modulation that a properly set-up conventional brake provides.
While some may bemoan the fact that we compared a $16,765 motorcycle with a $8799 one, the additional advantages provided by the BMW K1200R Sport and its options offered a good counterpoint to the Suzuki Bandit 1250S's somewhat bare-bones-yet surprisingly capable-performance. (Actually, our BMW also came with the $275 "Sports wheels" package, which permits fitting a 190-size rear tire and includes $235 heated hand grips and the $50 white turn indicators.)
In fact, the BMW offers up a generous dose of power and handling that surpasses the Bandit, especially if your riding environment includes a lot of high-speed curvature. The K1200R Sport boasts an impressive array of technological features that actually do contribute to improved performance, and if you can afford the high sticker price, they're great features to have.
But the new Suzuki Bandit 1250S is significantly improved over the old version in virtually all aspects, especially the daily real-world all-around capabilities that so many American riders desire in a bike of this ilk. The Bandit's superb engine and refined manners make it an easy choice over the competition in this arena. And all that performance at a sticker price lower than those of the Japanese rivals-never mind far below the European ones-makes the Suzuki tough to beat.