Long a purveyor of motorcycles aimed towards a more sophisticated and less frenetic clientele, BMW has undergone a paradigm shift in thinking during the past decade. The company came to the realization that its formerly well-cultivated market share would eventually disappear unless it was replenished—and the only way to do that would be to produce motorcycles that would appeal to the younger generation. How? One sure-fire way is to build high performance motorcycles that can compete head-to-head with the established class leaders, something the company somewhat shied away from in its past. It's been an amazing reawakening for the brand that has a rich racing heritage from the early Grand Prix years, and one that has currently culminated in its return to racing in the World Superbike Championship. BMW is no longer looked at as a maker of sedate motorcycles.
Beefing Up The Top Beemer
When the K1200S made its debut in '04, it signaled the arrival of BMW to the serious sportbike category. There were no excuses made for this bike; with an all-new 1157cc liquid-cooled, inline four-cylinder engine cranking out a claimed 167 horsepower, the K1200S was no quirky engineering exercise like the company's past four-cylinders. It was aimed squarely at the leaders in the big-bore hypersports category: Suzuki's GSX1300R Hayabusa and Kawasaki's ZX-12R.
Unfortunately, the BMW came up a bit short of its goal. Some initial production problems caused a delay in its release, and then when it was introduced to the international press, there were numerous complaints regarding inconsistent throttle response, balky shifting, and driveline issues. Some post-release fixes helped solve most of those problems, but in the end it still wasn't enough. The BMW was less powerful, not quite as fast, and not as refined as its competition. Nonetheless, the K1200S was close enough for a first attempt that it served notice BMW was not in the class just to make up the numbers.
Since that time, however, both the Suzuki and Kawasaki have undergone some major revisions. Actually, the Kawasaki ZX-12R was replaced with an all-new model: the ZX-14 (introduced in '05), powered by a huge 1352cc four-cylinder (the 12R engine was "only" 1198cc) cranking out a true 175 rear wheel horsepower housed in a new twin-spar chassis. Meanwhile, the Hayabusa underwent a thorough revamp last year, including an engine displacement boost from 1299cc to 1340cc, allowing it match the Kawasaki in peak power and retain its torque advantage.
With Kawasaki and Suzuki upping the ante in the big-bore hypersports class, it was left to BMW whether to match the competition's bets, or to fall back on its old ways of creating its own market niche. The management decided the latter wasn't acceptable, and tasked BMW engineers with boosting the K-bike's performance.