It was a bit of a surprise being out in the middle of Arizona and seeing wet snowfall so thick that visibility began to drop down to less than 150 feet. And a glance at the ambient temperature gauge on the instrument panel showed a balmy 28.4 degrees Fahrenheit, accompanied by the apropos snowflake icon. Under normal circumstances my outer appendages would be screaming, “Frostbite!” at me, and I would soon be looking for someplace to stop in order to stop my teeth from chattering.
Instead, I’m quite comfortable sitting behind the copious fairing of BMW’s latest R 1200 RT—though having to wipe off the accumulating snow on the windscreen was growing annoying. I even had to turn down the heat level on the heated seat and grips to keep them from getting too toasty on this rolling lap of luxury. And yet hours earlier, I was having a blast scything down a mountain pass at a pace that would have many supersport bikes sweating—all while some nice jazz tunes from the onboard satellite radio serenaded me.
Following the debut of the latest-generation R 1200 GS last year, it was inevitable that the other boxer twins in BMW’s catalog would soon begin to see the trickle-down of technological upgrades, and the RT is the latest recipient. That means the same all-new DOHC 1,170cc boxer twin engine utilizing liquid cooling instead of the previous engine’s oil-cooling setup. The “liquid” term is a bit of a misnomer, though; the coolant is only routed around the combustion chamber, with the rest of the cylinder head and cylinders themselves still air-cooled (though BMW says the new wasserboxer has a higher liquid/air-cooling ratio at 35/65 versus the previous “oil head” engine at 22/78).
The new boxer engine shares little more than bore and stroke dimensions with its predecessor. To start, the cylinder heads have been rotated to a more efficient downdraft intake on top and exhaust on the bottom (instead of intake aft and exhaust forward). Doing so realized numerous benefits, including moving the intake plumbing away from the rider’s shins and keeping the cam drive from interfering with the intake ports. More efficient cooling meant that compression ratio could rise a half-point to 12.5:1, and the more compact combustion chamber allows the deletion of the previous dual-spark-plug arrangement to a single plug. As with the R 1200 GS Adventure tested elsewhere in this issue, the crankshaft gained 2 pounds for 20 percent more flywheel effect, with the RT gaining an additional 1.3 pounds rotational mass due to the larger, more powerful alternator. As with the GS and Adventure, the RT’s new engine is claimed to produce 125 hp at 7,750 rpm (15 more than its predecessor) and 92 foot-pounds of torque (3 foot-pounds more) at 6,500 rpm.
Another huge change is the transmission now resides in the engine cases just below the crankshaft instead of a separate assembly attached to the rear. The clutch is now a wet multi-plate unit (instead of the overheat-prone single-disc dry clutch) that now can be serviced from the front of the engine cases, rather than the massive disassembly required to drop and then pull apart the engine and transmission as before. That new clutch also has both a slipper function on deceleration and a power-assist setup under acceleration that allows lighter clutch springs.
The RT also receives the same “continuous” tubular steel bridge-type frame as the latest GS/Adventure that features increased rigidity for improved handling and feel. Its design provides a narrower area between the rider’s legs, allowing a slightly slimmer seat that makes it easier to reach the ground. The frame also permitted the entire ergonomic triangle (the distance/relationship between the handlebar, seat, footpegs, and ground) for both rider and passenger to be lowered 0.8 inch; this negated the need for the previously offered “low suspension” version of the RT, as the two-way-adjustable standard-height seat (31.7 to 32.5 inches) is available in an optional lower edition (29.9 to 30.7 inches), as well as a taller variant (32.7 to 33.5 inches).
The full upgraded electronics suite from the latest GS makes its way to the RT as well, in addition to some other new rider aid features. The previous ESA II (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) and ASC (Automatic Stability Control) traction control/ABS integrated system can now be bolstered by the optional Dynamic ESA semi-active suspension that automatically tailors damping settings according to riding conditions. Another option is Ride Mode Pro, which adds to the standard Rain and Road settings by offering the Dynamic riding mode, which provides optimum throttle response and higher threshold intervention from the traction control and ABS. Ride Mode Pro also includes the Hill Start Control, which activates the rear brake to help hold the motorcycle in place on an incline and allow easier movement from a stop.
The Shift Assist Pro (SAP) quickshifter is another option for the RT—but with an important twist. While the same clutchless/no-throttle-let-off upshifts as on other BMWs can be easily accomplished, the RT’s SAP now allows clutchless downshifts as well. When the rider nudges the shift lever, the RT’s ECU automatically blips the ride-by-wire throttle plates to match rpm to road speed for the lower gear.
As mentioned in the beginning, the redesigned fairing (with new twin high-beam/single low-beam headlight available with BMW’s signature Corona Ring lighting around the high-beam headlights as an option) does an excellent job of keeping you insulated from the wind and elements. The electrically adjustable windscreen offers a very good range of movement (there’s an optional taller screen), and although it automatically retracts upon bike shutdown, a memory function returns it to the exact position you previously selected once back underway. Aerodynamics show a lot of refinement, as there is very little trailing turbulence that pushes on your back with the windscreen in its tallest position.
Unlike some other full-color TFT (Thin Film Transistor) dash displays we can think of, the BMW’s panel is easily readable in daylight, and all the information from the onboard computer is nicely laid out and/or easily accessible via the menu toggle button and multi-controller ring on the left handlebar. The extensive menu can seem a bit intimidating at first, but as with most BMWs we’ve tested, it’s fairly intuitive, and navigating soon becomes second nature.
Speaking of navigating, all of the bikes at the press launch were fully loaded with most options, meaning ours was equipped with BMW’s superb Navigator 5 GPS unit. The instrument panel comes pre-wired and set up for the GPS unit (you can also get an RT without the dashboard set up for GPS) integrated into the top of the dash just below your line of sight. The touchscreen reacts to gloved hands, is easily navigable, its display is easily seen in daylight, and its GPS positioning and information provided at a glance was excellent 99 percent of the time.
The engine upgrades have created a boxer twin that no longer needs the word “flat” in its description. Like its predecessor, there’s plenty of instant torque available right off idle—but there’s a lot more of it—and the powerband remains smooth and seamless. Instead of power and acceleration tailing off rapidly toward the 6,000-rpm mark, however, the new engine continues pulling until 8,000 rpm with much more authority than before. No, the RT is obviously no supersport, and it doesn’t quite have the punch of sportier mounts like a Kawasaki Ninja 1000 or even larger bikes like Yamaha’s FJR1300; but getting to your destination as quickly as possible wasn’t in the BMW’s design brief. The new boxer powerplant has more than enough steam to move the RT along at a rapid pace, especially in the twisties.
Throttle response in the Dynamic riding mode is as its moniker suggests; acceleration is much livelier at initial throttle openings than the other two riding modes, Road and Rain, which are intended for highway/city and wet-weather scenarios, respectively. But the response is never abrupt off closed throttle or overly aggressive.
The new transmission is definitely smoother and less clunky than past boxer gearboxes, and the wet clutch easily stands up to more abuse than the previous dry unit. We liked the SAP quickshifter, especially in the canyons where it was fun to do rapid-fire downshifts without the clutch and listen to the auto-blip throttle do its job. The quickshifter isn’t as dialed in as the unit on the S 1000 RR, though; the engine’s abundance of flywheel effect makes the upshift between first and second gear an exercise in whiplash unless you’re past 50 mph (and even then it’s hard on the gearbox), so it’s best to use the good ol’-fashioned manual clutch method in the first three gears when cruising through the city.
Overall handling is very light and surprisingly agile for a bike that weighs some 600 pounds. Turn-in is easy and responsive, and the RT carves tighter lines than you’d expect for a bike with a 58.5-inch wheelbase. Feedback from the front is a little numb compared to standard telescopic forks, but once you get used to trusting the Telelever front suspension, the BMW can make serious time in the canyons. Ground clearance is very good despite the pegs being lowered almost an inch, helped by the Dynamic ESA’s ability to stiffen up the suspension damping at the right times during cornering.
Thankfully BMW has allowed you to modify each riding mode’s suspension firmness to your preference. Both spring preload (four settings) and damping rates (three settings) can be adjusted independently, and the difference is very discernible between each one. The Dynamic ESA really shines here; adjusted to its middle damping setting, you can float over bumps on the highway, yet the suspension stiffens up nicely once you start carving turns in the canyons.
Stopping power from the Brembo monoblock calipers biting on 320mm discs is very good, and feel and feedback are much better than you’d expect for an ABS-equipped brake system. Lever effort was a little on the high side but nothing obtrusive. The Hill Start Control feature is an interesting rider aid; pulling firmly on the front brake lever at a stop activates a hydraulic pump on the rear brake that holds the bike in place (it releases past a certain point), and the rider only needs to concentrate on clutch and throttle engagement to take off on an incline. It was a little unnerving at first to not have our foot or finger on the brake when starting off, but the system seemed to work fine.
The amount of technology packed into the new R 1200 RT is impressive, and it could’ve easily gone wrong had everything not been carefully developed to work together as a package. BMW has become very adept at doing this, and that technology has vaulted its latest boxer-twin sport-tourer from what used to be a somewhat staid, lackluster machine into a bike that’s a lot more fun to ride than many “sportier” mounts we can think of. For those able to afford the more-than-$20K sticker, it’s money well spent.
|2014 BMW R 1200 RT|
|MSRP||Base model $17,650/$21,750 as tested|
|Type||Air/liquid-cooled, DOHC, opposed flat twin|
|Bore/stroke||101.0 x 73.0mm|
|Induction||BMS-X EFI, 52mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.|
|Front tire||120/70ZR-17 Michelin Pilot Road 4|
|Rear tire||180/55ZR-17 Michelin Pilot Road 4|
|Rake/trail||26.4°/4.6 in. (116mm)|
|Wheelbase||58.5 in. (1485mm)|
|Seat height||31.7–32.5 in. (805–826mm) adjustable|
|Fuel capacity||6.6 gal. (25L)|
|Claimed wet weight||604 lb. (274kg)|