Review: 2017 BMW R1200RS

After spending the better part of two weeks in the saddle of a 2017 BMW R1200RS riding the Alps and Dolomites of Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Austria, I have developed a pretty good idea of what this bike is about.
The R1200RS is Beemer’s sport touring bike that uses the ubiquitous 1170cc boxer opposed twin motor. The RS is essentially the faired version of the R1200R naked roadster. Similar bikes include the Ninja 1000, FJ-09 and Suzuki GSX-S 1000F. Or even the Motus or Energica E-bike.
You can familiarize yourself more with the specs and details of the RS at the BMW Motorrad website.

Pricing

The base price of the RS is around $15,000, but you’ll quickly find yourself nearing or exceeding the $20k mark after adding the Premium package and luggage.
The bike I rented from Moto Mader in Oberentfeld, Switzerland was equipped with the Premium package that includes among other things, Dynamic Suspension Adjustment (DSA) and Gear Shift Assist. The BMW site says the bike retails for $21,125 as it was equipped on my tour. See the screen shots for the price breakdown and a list of goodies you get for the extra $3k.

Weight

At 520 pounds wet, the RS is on the heavy side. That’s the same as the Ninja 1000 but is almost 50 pounds heavier than the Suzuki. Add another 30-40 pounds for luggage (and mounting hardware) and you’ve got a pretty hefty bike. Heck, the touring RT version is 600 pounds with luggage, so it’s not that much lighter than the full-on RT tourer, which is arguably a better package.

Engine Performance

The R1200 motor is a tractor. It produces 125 hp at the crank and 92 ft pounds of torque, so it’s no slouch. And it pulls from under 2 grand (rpm). The motor vibrates a fair amount at highway speeds, but it’s character is quite appealing. It was happy motoring down the Autobahn at 100mph, as well as pulling us up the first gear uphill hairpins.
The fueling from the ride-by-wire throttle was spot on, except for a little bit of “hunting” on deceleration on long downhills. It’s not as bad as on my Tiger 800, but I did notice it.
Shifting is reasonably smooth and the Gear Shift Assist allows upshifts without using the clutch or rolling off the throttle. The system worked great from 3rd-to-4th, 4th-to-5th, and 5th-to-6th, but was too rough when shifting in the lower gears. Clutchless downshifts are also rough, because it does not include the auto-blip feature found on the S1000RR. Still, it was nice to rip through the upper gears like a roadracer.

Handling

One word describes the RS’s handling: stable. But that stability comes at the cost of agility. The RS handles sweeping turns, both smooth and bumpy quite well, but when the it comes to tight, slow hairpin turns the RS felt cumbersome.
And slow speed maneuvers had the bike feeling unbalanced. It took me a few days to get used to the slow speed manners of the RS, which is about 2 and a half days longer than it usually takes for me to adjust to a new bike. To be fair, most of the time I had my lovely wife, Caroline in the passenger seat, which added to the unbalanced slow speed feel.
One highlight is the ESA- (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) feature. The dynamic ESA really works and makes the premium package worth considering.
I selected the “dynamic” suspension setting using the handlebar toggle switch and managed to stumble through the complex menu to select the appropriate mode for having a passenger. The bike comes with the typical rider modes (Rain, Road, Dynamic and User) which are easily accessed by a button on the right control pod.

Two-Up Performance

As I mentioned, I spent most of my time with a passenger on board. The bike has plenty of power to handle two people and full luggage. But, the RS is not the best bike for passengering. In contrast, the RT felt perfectly balanced with Caroline on the back. Go with the RT if passengers are your thing.
Riding solo, the bike is much more predictable and nimble enough for me to rip down the Stella pass with confidence. See the video below. But, the F800GT I rode would be my bike of choice from the Beemer lineup for the tight stuff.

Comfort and Protection

I chose the RS over the naked R for the extra wind and weather protection. This proved to be a good move, since we experienced some rather epic rain over five consecutive days.
The wide and relatively flat windscreen provides a decent amount of wind protection. It has a high and low setting that created little buffeting at slower speeds but was very loud at highway speeds at the high setting. Keep in mind that I’m 5’9″, so your results may vary.
The seat is quite comfortable, allowing me to be squirm-free for most of the day. I did need relief after long days in the saddle, but overall, it’s quite good. Caroline was happy with the passenger seat.
The heated grips were terrific when we encountered torrential rain and 49 F temperatures for hours on end. I envied the RT riders who also had heated seats and greater protection from the Alpine rain.

Luggage

The $1,100 optional side cases are standard BMW units that open sideways. They held plenty of stuff and were waterproof. The latches are a bit cheap-feeling and a couple of the other riders had trouble with their topcase locks failing. We had no such problems.
Speaking of topcases, the small Beemer item was fine. But, at over $900.00 (I assume that includes the mounting hardware) I’d look for a bit larger Givi or Shad box for a lot less money.
The small BMW tankbag is secured with straps and costs a lot of bucks for what it is. It’s not waterproof, but has an inner drawstring bag to help keep things semi-dry. My recommendation: Get a SW-Motech /Bags Connection bag that is much sturdier and uses a slick locking ring system.

Compared with the RT

I switched bikes with another rider on the tour to see what the RT is like in comparison to the RS. I had been dismayed with the RS’s cumbersome handling and was a bit apprehensive about riding the even heavier RT.
But, to my surprise, the RT was much more balanced. Slow speed maneuvers and negotiating the tight hairpins is a breeze. And seeing the way the solo RT riders were hustling their bikes around shows just how capable the RT is with or without a passenger. At least one rider plans to buy an RT after they got home. I can see why.

Niggle

One little thing I found perplexing is that the self-cancelling turn signals stay on too long. Long enough that I didn’t think the bike had the feature. Come on BMW.

The Takeaway

The RS is a beautiful bike, especially in the blue and white color scheme. I like the way the exhaust looks and the asymmetric headlights are cool. The bike sounds great and the motor is powerful and grunty.
I could definitely grow to love the RS, but would likely opt for a lighter weight FJ-09 with it’s raucous motor and cheaper price.
I enjoyed my time on the RS, especially after I got a better feel for it’s awkward slow speed handling. The bike rails through fast and medium-fast sweepers and hustles down the highway comfortably. And even though it’s not great in the hairpins I managed fine. Here is a video of me on the RS descending the Gardena Pass in Italy.

Tell us your thoughts below.


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Ride Review: 2015 BMW S1000RR at COTA

Kevin Wing Photo
Kevin Wing Photo
This is Part 2 of a series documenting my experience riding the new BMW S1000RR during the North American Press launch at the world-famous COTA racetrack in Austin, Texas. Check out Part One if you’re interested in learning about my first experience as a jetset moto-journalist.

Early last February, I got a text from Steve Lita, editor of Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture asking me if I was available to attend the 2015 BMW S1000RR media launch. Why yes, I am.

COTA-track-informationThe Circuit of the Americas

The opportunity to ride the 2015 BMW S1000RR is certainly huge. But equally huge was the fact that I was going to ride the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) where the official North American Media launch was to take place.
When I flew into Austin, I got a birds-eye view of the 3.4 mile track with its 251-foot viewing tower and sweeping turns bordered by massive amounts of red, white and blue paint. What I wasn’t able to see from so far up was the 130 foot change in elevation. Photos and on-board videos do no justice to the hill approaching turn 1.
COTA_airThe track is fast with many triple-digit corners and a 3/4 mile back straight where I saw 175mph on the digital speedo. Many people say that the track is difficult to learn. I found it not too challenging (I found Barber to be trickier).
It took me two sessions to get the turn 2-7 series of Ss figured out, but I never found consistent reference points in the turn 8/9 blind chicane and the turn 17-18 segment confounded my lack of discipline to stay wide until just the right time. Another two sessions would have done wonders (we had 4 sessions, total).
In the end, I got along with the track just fine. My lap times weren’t great, but hardly embarrassing either. And I didn’t crash…not every journalist was able to say that.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 12.08.47 PM
Uber-fast guys, Nate Kern and Roland Sands (yes, THAT Roland Sands) pass underneath me.

Know Your Tester

Anytime someone shares their impressions of a bike’s performance you should find out a bit about who is doing the reporting. Without the context of the rider’s experience, you may end up with a false impression based on biases or lack of real-world knowledge. A reporter who has little experience on a supersport machine will come to conclusions that may not be useful or accurate. On the other hand, reading a review written by a professional road racer may not be meaningful if you never plan to take the bike to the track.
I am a street rider, track day instructor, occasional road racer and motorcycle safety professional who focuses primarily on advancing riders’ skills. This means that I’m able to evaluate a motorcycle from many different angles (pun not intended) and convey the bike’s capabilities, not only as a track bike but also as a potential street mount.
Since this was a racetrack launch and performance review, I needed to ride the S1000RR hard enough, but not risk tossing the $19k machine down the track. I had ridden S1000RRs before…the one I crashed (read Part 1) and another one that I didn’t crash. I’ve also ridden a handful of top-shelf liter-bikes on racetracks on the East coast, but nothing approaching 200hp.
I may have been seconds-slower than the faster guys, but the data on the instrument cluster indicated that I was using a decent amount of deceleration force and the fancy lean angle gauge said I achieved a respectable 54 degrees of lean to the right, but only 51 degrees to the left.

BMW_S1000RR-DynoRiding the S1000RR

The S1000RR is both a wolf in wolf’s clothing and a sheep in wolf’s clothing. The headlights, turn signals, heated grips and cruise control say “streetbike”, while the space shuttle power, ultra-light throttle action and racey geometry say “race weapon”.
Thankfully, the 2015 RR is a sweetheart when it comes to power delivery. The fueling is impeccable and linear. Still, we are talking about a 199hp (claimed at the crank) bike that weights 457 pounds soaking wet.
Compared to the first two generations of S1000RRs, the 2015 model is a comprehensive redesign of engine, frame, electronics and performance. The Pirelli SuperCorsa SP street/track day tires took a couple laps to warm up in the very humid 60 degree Texas morning air, but then provided confident grip and stability.
Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 6.17.29 PMThe first time accelerating down the long back straight took my breath away. 160, 165, 170. Holy shit. And the throttle wasn’t even quite fully open. Subsequent laps saw the speedo top 175 mph and there was more power that I was leaving on the table.
The Gear Shift Assist Pro helped me reach this lofty speed with clutchless upshifts delivering uninterrupted power from second gear to 6th. The clutchless downshifts are a RR exclusive for 2015 (others will offer this feature very soon, I predict), allowing me to bang down on the shifter (or up for GP shift) as it auto-blips the throttle for mostly seamless shifts.
The upshifts worked great once I stopped pre-loading the shifter (it confuses the electronics). But, the downshifts were less cooperative no matter what I tried with one of the bikes not downshifting without doing it the old-fashioned way. Also, the shift lever felt vague, causing me to wonder if the tranny actually made the downshift or not. The transmission is buttery smooth, BTW.
Here’s the on-board video:

Good Brakes, Thank goodness

OK, high speed runs are exhilarating but don’t hold my attention for long. The 2nd gear hairpin at the end of the straight…now THAT got my attention! At that moment, my focus was 100% on braking power and stability.
Thankfully, the Brembo calipers (and 320mm rotors) provide wonderfully powerful and precise lever action, allowing hard, fade-free braking as well as precise trailbraking control and feedback. The RR is so stable under hard braking that it felt almost like cheating. The electronic Race ABS surely plays a role in instilling confidence, but it’s the ABS in concert with the anti-lift (stoppie) control, slipper clutch, semi-active electronic suspension damping and the superbly balanced chassis that really raises the bar.
Not that I ever really noticed any of those things…not because I wasn’t pushing hard, but because these e-aids are so finely tuned. I did notice when the anti-lift control was shut off as the rear tire skimmed the tarmac during one particularly aggressive corner approach. Race ABS and anti-lift can be set for various levels of intrusion using either the rider modes or by selecting a’ la carte under User mode. More about the electronics can be found below.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 9.54.17 PM
Kevin Wing photo

It Handles, Too

Swinging a leg over the RR immediately reveals a lithe package. Once underway, the bike felt to me like a slightly heavy R6, and at 457 pounds (wet) it’s only 40 pounds off. That seems like a lot, but the power and chassis engineering mask that weight. The agility became apparent in the fast Ss, the blind chicane and the switchbacks. The chassis was dead stable when trailbraking and cornering at fast, knee down speeds.
The fully adjustable suspension on the base model is more than good enough for most people. But I’d spend the extra dough on the Dynamic Damping Control. It responds in milliseconds to changes in braking, cornering, accelerating and road surface. It’s like having an on-board suspension expert tweaking the clickers as needed for the best grip, drive and stability.

A Possible Street bike?

I didn’t get the chance to ride the bike on the street, so I can only speculate on how the RR will perform as a day to day companion. But, in my estimation I bet the combination of light weight and impeccable balance will make the RR a sweet day-to-day mount.
It wasn’t long ago that I would think someone was crazy who suggested that an almost 200hp bike would make a decent street bike, but the S1000’s fueling is so good and the power so controlled that it is indeed viable.  It has all the right features to make a fine street machine…gobs of easy-to-use torque, a ton of electronic stability aids and a reasonably comfortable ergonomic package. The cruise control and heated grips also help.

BMW_DDCLiving with Electronics

Electronics have become a huge part of modern motorcycle engineering and the RR has ample amounts of e-technology. The RR has Lift (stoppie) Control Stability control and Race ABS to help going from 175 to 35 an almost drama-free experience. More intervention happens in Rain and Race rider Mode (This should be called Street Mode, IMO) and very little interference in Slick Mode (the mode I rode in most of the day).
Stability Control (base model) and 14-step Traction Control (Standard and Premium Packages) also intervene appropriately to match the 3 (Base) or 5 (Optional) rider modes. The Premium packages include “User” mode which can be customized almost infinitely to combine rider modes, TC and ABS settings.
All this manifests into a very sophisticated machine that can mitigate (and mask) the consequences of some mistakes. This gives a lot of confidence, but make no mistake…you can still crash this bike, so don’t get too cocky.
With this number of electronic options comes a learning curve. It will take a dedicated and savvy owner with about a season of track time to discover all the potential of the RR. I also wonder how the electronics will fare over many miles of normal exposure to weather and time.

Kevin Wing photo
Kevin Wing photo

In Summary

Buy one. You’ll spend $15,500 for the base model, which is a good value for an excellent machine. For $16,795 you get the Shift-assist Pro, cruise control, heated grips and upgraded TC. But, I suggest you fork over the $18,695 for the DDC and forged wheels. It may mean you eat spaghetti out of a can for a while, but you won’t regret it, especially if you ride on the track.
Please look for the article I wrote for Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture where I go into greater detail about the electronics and features.

BMW S 1000 RR COTA PRESS LAUNCH from mybmw on Vimeo.


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Living the Life of a Moto-Journalist

MotorcycleMagazine-coverEarly last February, I got a text from my newest best friend Steve Lita, editor of Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture asking me if I was available in March to attend a new bike launch. Um, sure. Tell me more.
It turns out that Steve and all of his go-to editors were previously engaged and he needed someone who can both ride and write. I can do that. A few more texts later, I learned that the press launch was for the 2015 BMW S1000RR uber-sportbike and was being held at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) world-class racetrack in Austin, Texas! Be still, my heart!
Since I write the monthly Street Savvy column for Motorcyclist Magazine, I wasn’t sure that Editor-in-Chief, Marc Cook would give his blessings. It took a tense 5 minutes for Marc to return my text giving me the okay! It looked like I was going to finally live my dream of being a motorcycle journalist who gets to ride other peoples’ bikes in cool parts of the world…and get paid to do it!

Living the Life

I’ve been writing safety/skills articles for 15 years for Motorcycle Consumer News as a freelancer, but this job never included riding new bikes in cool places. Like many of you, I always wondered what it was like to live the life of a jet-set moto-journalist. I was about to find out.

Pre-Event Nerves

Even though I have total confidence in my ability to ride, there was a part of me that couldn’t help thinking how much it would suck to either be the slowest guy on the track and/or crash a $20,000 motorcycle in front of the most well-known journalists in the industry.
As a track day instructor, I am often asked to give the newest model a few laps to see what I think, so I have a lot of experience riding other peoples’ bikes. I adapt quickly to new machines and have never had an issue with control. Except one time. I was riding Twisted Throttle’s brand new 2010 S1000 when I tucked the front tire on a cold and slightly damp turn 11 at Loudon. It took me months to shake off that embarrassment and I wasn’t about to let it happen again.
AGVIn the coming weeks, I read up on the S1000 and watched on-bike videos of COTA and waited for brand new leathers, boots and gloves from Alpinestars and an AGV Corsa helmet to arrive. Understandably, gear manufacturers are eager to have their riding gear on the cover and in the inside pages of national magazines whenever possible. Dainese sent me boots and gloves for the event, but didn’t have leathers available, so we went with the full A-Stars setup. Product reviews of the riding gear will appear with the S1000RR review.

The Junket

Apparently, not all press junkets are created equal with some little more than a basic track day or a street ride that includes lunch. The BMW S1000RR junket was going to eclipse these austere events in a big way. Arrangements were made for flight, hotel, meals, and airport drop off and pick up. No, I did not get first-class seats, but I did stay in the posh 4-Seasons hotel in Austin and ate very well.
COTA-ScheduleArriving in Austin, I was greeted by Matthew, my limo driver who handled my luggage. Thankfully, my Ogio gear bag appeared on the conveyor in no time and Matthew drove me to the hotel while I sat dutifully in the back seat where all self-important people sit. A porter carried my bags through the lobby and up to my room. He refused my tip, saying that BMW was taking care of everything. OK, I’m starting to get it.
Often, the marketing people from the bike manufacturer give out nice SWAG bags…not this time, but I did enjoy the gift basket. Yum…beef jerky. Seriously, not having sweet SWAG was fine with me. I was more than happy just to be treated to the venue and first-class treatment. Thanks, BMW!
I wandered around the hotel and then got ready for the welcome cocktail party. I nervously descended the stairs to find about 30 people sitting and standing around an outdoor patio open bar, chatting about this and that. Since many of these men and women are regulars on the bike launch circuit, they know each other well enough to ask about their spouses and kids and get caught up on recently discussed professional matters. At first I feared being the proverbial wallflower, not having much previous contact with these folks. But, a quick glance told me I would fit in just fine, being acquainted with maybe 6 or so others in attendance.

COTA-cocktail
Kevin Wing Photo

An hour or so later, we were escorted to another room where we sat for a presentation highlighting the notable new features for the 2015 RR. Some introductions were made, including the attendance of special guests; Keith and Dylan Code (California Superbike School), Roland Sands (ex-250GP star and custom bike builder), Jesse James (West Coast Choppers), and singer Lyle Lovett who would join us the next day.  Nate Kern, BMW’s S1000RR ambassador-extraordinaire, gave some insight into the significance of certain features that he wanted to make sure we paid attention to.
Dinner was then served in a private dining room. Ari Henning (Motorcyclist) and I had the absolutely delicious Salmon. Unfortunately, Ari had a rough night as his system struggled with the fish.
COTA-present-1
Kevin Wing Photo

After the presentation, the bar was re-opened, but I know better than to consume much alcohol before riding on the track so I went off to bed. I, thankfully, slept remarkably well.

Launch Day

We were instructed to be in the breakfast room early to grab some chow before getting on the bus to the racetrack. The bus driver was stuck in traffic, so we got a late start. After a 30 minute drive we were deposited in the paddock where our gear was moved to a changing area in the garages. The journalists were escorted to a classroom for the marketing/press briefings on the new line of BMW riding gear and another presentation on factory accessories available for the S1000. A fully-kitted RR was on display with over $11,000 worth of goodies.

COTA-present-2
Kevin Wing Photo

We were divided into two groups. Looking around, I could see that I was put in the “slow” group. That was fine with me…and understandable. As a first-time freelancer I’m an unknown quantity to BMW and it meant that I would be one of the faster riders on the track. Besides, it ended up that the guys in the other group were ripping faster than I was willing to go.

Suiting Up

LyleAfter the presentations, we got suited up. This is when things got a bit bizarre. Here I am wrestling to put on a set of brand-spanking new Alpinestars leathers when I glance over to see Lyle Lovett wriggling into his custom “Lone star of Texas” Vanson leathers. “Hey, I know you.” Lyle is world famous and one of my favorite all-time musicians, but today we were just two guys getting ready to ride.
Go-Pro was there loaning out cameras and attaching mounts to the bikes. There was also a drone hovering around with a camera as the first group set out for a session of follow-the-leader behind Nate Kern. All but two journalists had ridden COTA before, so we were mostly in the same boat.

COTA and the S1000RR

This is getting mighty long (for the Internet), so I am splitting this into two parts. Read Part 2 where I will reveal my thoughts on COTA and riding the 199hp 2015 S1000RR.

Final Thoughts

In the end, this was a fairy tale experience. But like most things, there are ups and downs. Listening to the seasoned journos talk about their struggles with travel and time spent away from home, I realized that apparently it’s not all fun and games.
Watch this video interview of my new acquaintance, Jeff Buchanan, talking about what it’s like to ride for a living.

After all was said and done, I had a great time meeting new industry peeps, getting reacquainted with not so new acquaintances and living the life of a real moto-journalist for a couple of days. I hope people enjoy the article (look for it in a mid-summer issue of Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture). I also hope more offers to test bikes happen in the near future. It sure was fun. I’ll be awaiting your next text, Steve.


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