The stellar success of the K1600GT, an inline-6 that has won awards worldwide and set new standards of sport-touring excellence, caused concern among some BMW disciples. They feared the company might focus less on the R1200RT, a beloved, long-running sport-tourer powered by a boxer twin. That engine configuration, of course, has fueled BMW’s legacy since the 1930s, but as far back as the early ’80s, the company also began producing other types of powerplants.
Loyalists needn’t have worried. Not only are five boxer models still in the lineup, but the 2014 R1200RT has been the beneficiary of significant upgrades, including some technology developed on the 1600. Most important, propulsion for the RT now comes from the same new liquid-cooled, dohc, counterbalanced opposed twin first seen last year in the R1200GS adventure bike. The result is a sport-tourer that needn’t take a back seat to any other, including its big brother.
On the open road, the RT motors along with the same soothing, low-frequency engine thrum that has endeared BMW’s opposed twins to so many riders for so long. Rolling open the ride-by-wire throttle at practically any rpm, though, results in strong, linear torque and deceptively quick acceleration. The RT is only three-tenths of a second and a mere 3 mph slower than the 1600 in the quarter-mile—not bad for an 1,170cc twin. And because the RT is 131 pounds lighter than the 1600, its performance also demonstrates the importance of power-to-weight ratios.
Among the many options on our test unit was BMW’s Dynamic Riding mode, which adds to the stock Road and Rain settings and provides slightly more aggressive engine response. The bike also was fitted with Shift Assistant Pro, which allows clutchless shifting both up and down. It even matches engine revs to road speed during downshifts.
Nothing shabby about the handling, either. The low center of gravity provided by the flat-twin engine allows the RT to feel much lighter and less intimidating than other 587-pound bikes might. The seat is not significantly lower than the GT’s, but the RT is narrower between the rider’s legs; and that, along with the light feel, gives shorter, smaller riders added confidence, especially when stopped.
Not surprisingly, the RT is a blast when chasing corners on a back road. It dives into turns willingly and easily, even making quick side-to-side transitions a snap. Credit that not just to the low CG but also to the crankshaft’s fore-aft orientation, which does not cause the gyroscopic resistance to leaning that’s a factor with across-the-frame cranks.
BMW fitted our bike with its optional Dynamic ESA, which, within fractions of a second, electronically adjusts the Telelever front and Paralever rear suspension settings according to road conditions and how you are riding the bike. Although the system worked nicely on most surfaces, the damping sometimes felt a bit soft over consecutive roller bumps; otherwise, D-ESA provided an excellent compromise between ride comfort when cruising and chassis control when riding aggressively.
If comfort stokes your fires, you’ll be plenty warm on the RT. The ergonomics put the rider in an upright, natural seating position, with footpegs just high enough for generous cornering clearance but not too high or far to the rear. And the handgrips have you neither crouched forward nor leaning backward. The rider’s portion of the cushy, supportive seat is two-position adjustable over three-quarters of an inch; the fixed passenger segment is wide, long, and sufficiently padded to keep an all-day smile on your ride-along companion. Thanks to the bike’s 6.6-gallon gas tank and mid-40s average fuel mileage, gas stops are a welcome occasional respite instead of a frequent annoying interruption.
Then there’s that big, Transformers-looking fairing topped with a long, electrically adjustable windshield and fronted by an imposing trio of powerful headlights—one low beam, two high. Even though the fairing looks like it’s only half-length, it works with lowers that are behind the cylinders to keep the elements—as well as heat from the engine and radiator—off the rider. When the shield is all the way down, it allows an unobstructed view of the road ahead and produces very little turbulence around the helmet; when it’s all the way up, the rider sits in one of the most quiet still-air pockets provided by any sport-tourer, including the K1600GT.
In that cozy cockpit are instrument, electronics, and sound packages very much like those of the 1600 but with several small improvements to make certain features more user-friendly. An optional Garmin GPS receiver snaps neatly into a recess just above the speedo/tach cluster. Accessing most settings—trip data, sound system, optional heated grips and seat, suspension, traction control, Bluetooth connectivity, GPS display, etc.—is accomplished through either the same rotating-ring “mouse” next to the left handgrip as premiered on the 1600 or a single Menu button. Once you learn the operational sequence of these systems, which doesn’t take long, you can quickly and easily tailor most aspects of the RT to your liking.
Such adjustability is important on long trips, as is carrying capacity, and the R1200RT excels here too. The standard saddlebags are spacious, quick-detach units that are dead simple to load and access. Plus, two small, lockable compartments, one on each upper side of the fairing, provide room for the likes of toll change, toll-road transponders, and smartphone connection cables.
All of this combines to make the R1200RT an extremely competent, thoroughly enjoyable motorcycle. Among the rest of the offerings in the wide and ever-expanding realm of sport-tourers, it ranks right up there with the best of them. But it gets the job done in its own inimitable way, using composure and subtlety to sneak up on excellence rather than sheer size and banshee-wail rpm to stampede it.
Thus, the RT doesn’t threaten the K1600GT. Rather, it complements that bike, offering an alternative with almost as much performance and just as much luxury in a package that is less expensive and not as physically imposing.
Any motorcycle is, of course, much more than just its engine. But something has made BMW’s boxers seem special in the minds of thousands upon thousands of riders for the greater part of a century. Whatever that something is, it’s still alive and well in the R1200RT.