The BMW R1200S: Unique, Awesome, Ultra-Classic
Before buying the BMW R1200S (on eBay!) I knew very little about it. I had googled a few reviews but hadn't found anything truly useful. So here's everything I've learned about it after a couple of thousand kilometres.
In this guide...
- Specs of the BMW R1200S. Powerful, but no inline 4
- A Brief History of the BMW R1200S and boxer sports engines
- The BMW R1200S Compared to its Peers (Ducati, KTM)
- What the BMW R1200S is like to ride — heavy handling, but predictable
- Maintaining the R1200S — the maintenance schedule (simplified)
- What to pay for a BMW R1200S — cheaper than you'd expect
Specs of the BMW R1200S
Here they are, the basic specs, without going into exhausting detail. It was released only in one model year — 2006.
- Engine: A 1170cc horizontally opposed ("boxer") twin, pushrod-actuated valves (i.e. no overhead camshaft), air-cooled, fuel-injected
- Drivetrain: Single-plate dry clutch, shaft drive, single-sided swing-arm
- Power: 89 kW (122 hp) @ 8,250 RPM
- Torque: 112 Nm (83 ft-lbs) @ 6,800 RPM
- Wet weight: About 220kg fully fuelled/with all liquids
- Options: ABS, heated grips, Arrow exhaust, upmarket suspension
- Tank capacity: 17 litres (4.5 gallons), with 4 litre (1 gallon) reserve, at which point the range starts counting down (from about 80 km/50 miles)
The particular model I have came with a full Laser exhaust system, which is a not-uncommon mod on this motorcycle, a Power Commander III, and heated grips. I bought it with 45,000 kms (about 30K miles) on the odometer, but only 500km after it had received a full service.
A Brief History of the BMW R1200S
BMW has rarely made sporty boxers, and today in 2019, it doesn't have any in its line-up.
The predecessor to the BMW R1200S was, predictably, the R1100S. This was another sporty boxer engine motorcycle, but more really a "slightly sportier" version of the decidedly touring-oriented R1200RS. It was slower (100hp), heavier by about 10-20kg fully fuelled, and had a more upright position. But the R1200S was made for longer (1998-2005) and was thus more successful commercially as a stand-alone model.
The successor to the BMW R1200S was the BMW HP2 Sport. These produced around another 10hp with slightly less weight, thanks to a dual overhead cam setup, an evolution of the R1200S pushrod setup. It was produced from 2008-2012, and was the last boxer sports motorcycle from BMW, as they focused on the much more successful (and better in basically every technical way) S1000RR.
The modern alternative, the BMW R1200RS is a more "sports touring" type motorcycle, like a Multistrada. It has a more upright position, and being more modern, it comes with fancy features like panniers and Bosch "Cornering ABS" to save you from doing the wrong thing (which, honestly, we constantly do).
The BMW R1200S Compared to its Peers
When you read comparisons of the BMW R1200S online, it's often compared to the Ducati 999, its sports contemporary. This seems like kind of a crazy comparison to me. The 999 is both more powerful (140 hp) and a LOT lighter (can't find reliable specs, but about 20-30kg lighter it seems).
Someone buying a used BMW R1200S, like me, is directly comparing it to motorcycles like the following:
- Ducati Supersport 1999-2007: This seems the most sensible comparison to the BMW. It's another "premium" motorcycle, sporty but also designed to go the distance. They make less power (e.g. 63 kW/85 hp for the 1000DS variant), but are loaded with character, look amazing, and are very fun to ride.
- Honda VFR800: Honda's venerable V4 sports tourer, equipped with VTEC from 2002 and smoothed out by 2006/7. These make a bit less power (about 75 kW/100hp), but are one of those motorcycles that people say make them fall in love with motorcycling all over again.
- BMW R1200GS: The full-on adventure version of BMW's boxer twin. Almost needs no introduction. These are one of the most popular motorcycles of the last 20 years for their comfort and versatility. They hold their prices too, mostly because they look and smell like adventure.
There are others too, like BMW's naked R1200R, Ducati's sports touring range (which are far more "sports" than "touring").
Compared to all of those — well, the BMW has advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of the BMW R1200S Over its Peers
- Engine simplicity: It's an almost-naked opposed twin with no water cooling. There's very little to fix, and it's easy to access. If you need to do a valve job there's nothing to remove and you can do it very quickly compared to a Ducati, for example. The Honda will need all its fairings to come off, and then you have four cylinders.
- Sportiness: Compared to the BMW R1200GS, the R1200S is a lot sportier. It's much more suited to, for example, a track day or a day out in the mountains. Of course, the R1200GS is no slouch and a good rider could keep up. It was on my shortlist (but I didn't see a good one come up at the time I was looking).
- Style: There is almost nothing like the BMW R1200S on the market in terms of style. I'd put it up there with the Ducati Panigale!
What the BMW R1200S is like to ride
In summary: The BMW has loads of character, ample power for the street, but is happy cruising around 60-80mph without you feeling like it's under-revved. It's comfortable enough for long distances, and... it sounds amazing.
The R1200S is a sports motorcycle, but it doesn't have the high horsepower that leaves you desperate to wind out the revs.
Riding position and comfort of the BMW R1200S
The riding position of the BMW R1200s is forward-leaning, but not so aggressive that it hurts your back or wrists. I'm a 40 year-old man who is 6 foot tall and weighs 182 kgs and I did a 600km (400 mile) day without any issues other than general fatigue.
The R1200S controls are about 10cm higher than the seat position. This means that you don't have the feeling you have with some extreme motorcycles that you're in a racing "jockey" position, with a flat back and your bum high in the air. It's comfortable, but sporty.
The BMW R1200S doesn't get too hot. Some people have experience with exhausts under the seat and think that'll make them bake, but I have ridden it on days when it was 35 degrees outside (90F) in full gear, and even though I was warm, it wasn't my bum that was particularly so.
Power/torque delivery of the BMW R1200S
Again, I'm riding one with an exhaust and a PCIII, which affects the torque delivery and might bump up the peak power. But man, what power! Definitely more than enough for street riding.
All my riding has been street so far, with a mixture of traffic, highways, and backroad mountains. (No track yet.)
Torque comes on strong from very low — as low as 2,000 rpm. This is in contrast to some reviews I've read where they've said it's "wheezy" below 6,000 rpm. I'd never describe it like that.
By about redline in second gear you're doing 100 km/h (60 mph), but the natural shifting point is a little below that. Basically, it's unlikely you'll see the redline in second gear in legal street riding.
Versatility of the BMW R1200S — street, highway, and sport/track riding
At highway speeds the R1200S is happy cruising in sixth gear at about 3,000 rpm. You can accelerate quickly enough to pass while staying in sixth, but I always enjoy the jump of torque by downshifting back to fifth. Down to fourth and you might get a bit of wheel lift, something I don't really like to do on a highway.
In traffic, the R1200S is comfortable enough. It wouldn't be my choice for an hour-long commute through traffic, but then I'd always look for work/home closer than that, personally. It's not quite as agile as a smaller motorcycle (e.g. my Ninja 650) and I don't always want to push it between the lanes in Australia, which are narrower than what I was used to.
In sporty riding, the R1200S is a lot of fun. It's a little heavy to turn compared to a lighter sportsbike, but it turns fine. I find it a little difficult to do right hand turns, I think because as you accelerate out of a turn, the boxer engine makes the motorcycle lean left.
Sound of the BMW R1200S
I'll put up sound files soon. But in general, the sound of the R1200S with the twin sports exhaust is BOOMING.
I've owned a number of twins, including Ducatis (90-degree L-twin) and Triumphs with a 270 degree crank, and the BMW's sound signature is very similar. It purrs when idling and roars when it's on throttle.
Even though the R1200S has a dry clutch, it doesn't have the rattly sound that a Ducati does. I've never heard of a BMW owner using an open clutch cover, either.
"Character" of the BMW R1200S
The R1200S has a lot of character. LOTS.
The most character-filled motorcycles I've ever owned were Ducatis. It wasn't just that they were cantankerous bastards that broke down inexplicably, it was the sound — a throaty roar from parking lot speeds all the way to highway speeds. It was as true of the humble Ducati Monster as it was of the 916/996/998/999 Superbikes.
The vibrations of Ducatis was also part of the character package. Riding a Ducati Monster down the highway meant hearing and feeling the visceral roar of the engine at any RPM point.
The BMW doesn't have that much character, but it's in the same league. Here's three reasons why
- The sound is amazing. It's a huge twin engine with (quite often) a sports exhaust. Even though it doesn't have that V-twin offset rumble, it's still a great, blasting sound. The sound gets particularly intense as the revs wind up.
- The seat rumble is very obvious and sometimes even soothing. One thing that's identical with other big twins is what the rumble of the engine is like. It is calming, almost soporific (not a great thing for long rides).
- The engine wants to kick the engine over! This is unique to transversely mounted engines, but the torque from the engine wants to tip the motorcycle over. When you rev it at a standstill the whole bloody thing moves! I've never seen anything like that before. I don't actually love it, but it definitely gives it character.
- It is rare and looks very unique... This is for everyone who cares what other motorcyclists think. When you show up to any event people will stare at your machine, from the beautiful bodywork and frame, to the massive exposed rear wheel, to the chrome pipes. This BMW was only made for one year and few people have seen them.
For all these reasons, I'm keeping mine!
Maintaining the R1200S — the maintenance schedule (simplified)
Maintaining a BMW is a bit different because the owners manual clearly expects you to take it in for regular maintenance! But the maintenance is actually pretty easy. The only vaguely complicated things are greasing the final drive and gearbox.
But the R1200S just like any other motorcycle — and pretty easy. Even the valve inspection is easy... once you're good at it, you can do the whole job in less than an hour (this is no Ducati, where it took me a full day under supervision!)
Here's the simplified maintenance schedule.
Every 6,000 miles/10,000 kilometres
- Change oil + filter
- Change oil of final drive and gearbox
- Adjust valve clearance
- Inspect clutch
- Inspect brake pipes, hoses, connections
- Check/replace brake pads and discs
- Check/change brake fluids
- Check cables for kinks/chafing
- Check/adjust throttle synchro
Every two years, if you haven't done the distance
- Change oil of final drive
- Change oil of gearbox
Then every 24,000 miles/40,000 kilometres
- Replace generator belt
- Replace spark plugs
What to pay for a BMW R1200S
They're rare (especially in the USA) but they're not massively desired.
For one with ABS and heated grips, I'd pay about US$6,000 or A$9,000 (they're a bit more expensive in Australia due to shipping/import taxes). This is the lowest price you'll find, really. You can easily pay more!
If you like, you can buy mine for A$9,000 in Brisbane, Australia. It's in storage while I travel.