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.