BMW R 1250 RS Review
BMW R 1250 R Review
Motorcycles Tested By Trevor Hedge
Images by BMW and TH
In the almost 100-year lineage of BMW motorcycles, nothing underlines the brand as well as the Boxer engine. Right from the start, this somewhat ungainly flat-twin design, born from industrial roots as a portable power-plant, has been the foundation of almost every significant generation of BMW motorcycle.
As engine design has moved with the times we have gone to four-valves in the ‘Oil-Head’ generation of the 90s, to the ‘Hex-Head’ counter-balanced iteration launched in 2004. Twin-cams came to the Boxer in 2009 and with it the pinnacle of the final oil-head generation in the delectable 128-horsepower HP2 Sport. 2012 saw the debut of the new 1170cc water-cooled generation and this year has seen the introduction of a relatively simple form of variable valve timing, ‘ShiftCam’. Increases in both bore and stroke sees the Boxer now displacing 1254 cc.
Of course more than a few of these changes have been effectively forced on BMW by ever tightening emissions regulations, this latest generation Boxer is ready for Euro5 and beyond. Some decry these restrictions, but effectively it has forced motorcycle manufacturers to increase the frequency of their engine development cycles and us riders are the winners. We generally get more power, more torque, smoother running and better fuel economy. If only noise wasn’t part of the restrictions then we would really be winners from every angle!
Generally it is the GS side of the BMW range that seems to get all the attention. That makes sense I guess as the Gelände/Straße is their biggest seller globally by a handsome margin. It is easy to forget that the Boxer can also be had in more tarmac focussed models such as the luxury R 1250 RT touring machine, the sports-touring R 1250 RS and the naked R 1250 R.
BMW Motorrad Australia recently staged a two-day strop in Queensland to showcase the charms of the new ShiftCam equipped R 1250 R and RS. Plying me with motorcycles and sunshine by day, washed down with beer and wine of an evening. How thou suffer for my art…
I had been intrigued to see if I could feel the transition between the different camshaft lobes but to be honest, I couldn’t. The system sounds really complicated but in reality it is pretty damn simple. A servo motor simply slides the inlet camshaft along from one lobe, designed for low-end torque, smooth low speed running and reduced emissions, to another lobe that has a higher ramp rate along with more valve lift and duration. Best of both worlds. The real magic is in the trickery that makes this transition imperceptible.
BMW ShiftCam Explained
BMW have done a better job of it than I thought possible and the Boxer charges harder up top than ever before, 136 horsepower at 7750 rpm and 143 Nm of torque at 6250 rpm. That is 10 per cent more twist than the 1262 cc Ducati Testastretta donk that also boasts variable valve timing.
But the BMW is deceptive, and never really feels ‘that’ strong up top. That’s pretty common in these days of fly-by-wire throttles that seem to hide a few of the horses somewhere, simply due to the smoothness of the power delivery. Still, to my mind the biggest benefits from the new engine are found in the basement.
The Boxer has always had pretty sizeable balls, but they were a bit fluffy off the bottom. The ShiftCam power-plant is not only better endowed, but has more urgency right from the first stroke, before thrusting stronger and lasting longer right past the 7750 rpm climax and up into the 9000 rpm red-zone.
The accompanying dyno chart seems to show it shifting lobes around 5000 rpm, but it is not a static pre-determined transition point on the road. ShiftCam transition takes place somewhere between 4500 and 5600 rpm, depending on throttle opening, gear selection and a few other parameters.
BMW ShiftCam Dyno Chart
The more impressive top end power does show itself in the upper gears, when really dialling it on exiting fast sweeping bends. The stronger top end also makes holding gears longer more enjoyable than before. But I still say that the new engine is most impressive in the way it fuels so beautifully off the bottom. I have always quite liked the bottom end of the Boxers over the past decade or so, but now the shudder is gone, the fluffy throttle response is no more and the engine feels so much more potent and responsive to throttle openings at low RPM.
And to be honest, in the real world that is where you are going to spend most of your time, short-shifting. Especially if your bike has the optional Gear Shift Assist Pro. If you wanted to be spending all your time higher up in the rev range then you would be better off with Motorrad’s S 1000 R or S 1000 XR four-cylinder machines rather than the Boxer twins.
Both the R 1250 R and 1250 RS get the impressive 6.5-inch full colour TFT instrumentation, complete with the Bluetooth functionality that is slowly filtering down to the entire BMW range.
Bluetooth pairing to your phone allows for simple navigation prompts to be displayed on the screen along with your current music selections, which can then be navigated through via the intuitive BMW Multi-Controller wheel on the left bar. It’s a great system, but not quite up to the outright brilliance of the Apple Car Play style functionality which has now started to appear on a few motorcycles. Forgive the quality of the image below, but I thought it more important to show the system out in real world use, complete with dust, than use a brochure style image.
The R model I rode had the optional Riding Mode Pro that includes yet another lay-out for the instrumentation that I quite liked. Along with a more conventional tachometer presentation it also displays lean angle measurements, levels of traction control intervention and maximum braking pressure for that particular ride. The inside areas of the bar charts show the readings in almost real time as you ride, the outside values are your maximums during that entire ride. 47-degrees was 10 less than I have registered at the track on an S 1000 RR, but I did manage to max out the traction control table by pulling a few skids on the dirt. Small things, small minds and all that.
Less than perfect road surfaces and Michelin Pilot Road 4 rubber though were not a good enough combination to max out the brake pressure readings before ABS intervention cut in thus I failed to clock the game on that score. The brakes themselves are radially mounted Brembo four-piston calipers gripping 320mm disc rotors up front. A twin-piston caliper clamps a similarly generously sized 276 mm rotor at the rear. BMW do brakes very well indeed, there is nothing to complain about here and the lean-angle sensitive ABS is tuned nicely. Bumpy roads and touring rubber are always going to provide the limits of braking performance, not the stoppers themselves.
The accompanying BMW App has plenty of functionality and is the best proprietary phone app I have yet sampled. These are screenshots from my phone that I paired with the machines I rode on the launch, to give you a brief example of the functionality. Even pre-planned GPX files can be entered into the app, although I didn’t get quite that far into it during my time with the bikes.
While the R and RS follow Boxer traditions in regards to engine configuration and single-sided Paralever shaft drive syste, they eschew the BMW Duolever or Telelever front ends in favour of a conventional set of inverted cartridge forks, adjustable for both pre-load and rebound damping.
The latest generation dynamic electronic suspension adjustment (ESA) system can be had as part of the ‘Touring Package’ and as it says on the box, the system provides adjustments at the touch of a button or automatically on the fly. It does a great job of isolating the rider from any kidney punches as they start to happen, responding in milliseconds to any big hits. When you want maximum comfort then just soften things up and enjoy the magic carpet ride. Ride height is also automatically adjusted as the machine senses the onboard load and sets itself up to suit, no intervention from rider required. Mint.
The steering head angle is identical between the bikes but the R 1250 R runs 15m more trail and a 15mm shorter wheelbase. The actual numbers are a 62-3-degree steering head angle for both, 126.6 mm of castor on the R versus 110.8 mm on the RS. Adding further confusion though is that BMW seemed to have their own system of arriving at their numbers compared to every other motorcycle manufacturer, so don’t get too lost in the digits.
On the road the difference is quite telling though as I find the R turns quite sweetly and holds a line well, while the RS steers a little lazily in comparison.
Different seating and bar positions also play their part but I felt as though I wanted to be more forward on the RS, when it came time to attack a set of bends with vigour. If you had a non ESA equipped RS it would be an interesting experiment to drop the forks through the triple clamps 10mm further, in order to see if that sharpened the steering enough to be worth bothering about. Can’t imagine that’s possible with an ESA equipped bike though… But both bikes have oodles of stability to spare and are also fitted with steering dampers.
For the record, I still think the Duolever equipped K 1300 R is the best front end for the road ever to grace a BMW motorcycle.
The touring part of the equation is well taken care of on both machines due to amenable riding positions and the fact that vibes are almost non existent in regular riding scenarios. The seats on both the R and RS are well sculpted and provide great support. The standard perches are 820 mm from terra firma, but options exist to push that down to a remarkably low 760 mm.
According to BMW, both bikes tip the scales around 240 kilograms, which makes them sound like right porkers. But all the weight is down low, thanks to the Boxer layout, and they really do feel as though they are a good 30 kg lighter than those figures suggest. Seriously, there is no way I would have picked them as being that heavy, as they actually feel relatively light.
As we have come to expect from BMW, the option lists are endless… BMW Australia have tried to make this easier in recent years by only bringing in fairly high-spec’ base machines, and then collating separate option packages that cater to different tastes. The good news for the R and RS is that all Australian delivered machines come with the ‘Comfort Package’ which includes heated grips, tyre pressure monitoring and a chrome exhaust.
The optional ‘Touring Package’ adds Dynamic ESA, Keyless Ride, Cruise Control, Pannier mounts, luggage grid and a centre-stand. Navigation preparation for the Garmin supplied BMW Navigator is also included, but with the bluetooth functionality of the dash providing navigation prompts, and the problems with the latest generation Navigator, I can’t really see the point. Without the optional Navigator unit mounted the cradle, it is pretty bloody ugly with the mount just hanging in the breeze right in the riders eye-line. I would remove it.
The ‘Dynamic Package’ then adds Gear Shift Assist Pro, Riding Mode Pro, Daytime Riding Lights and white LED indicators. Riding Mode Pro enables a rider to more specifically tailor the bike set-up to suit themselves, and also scores that extra tasty instrumentation mode. Gear-Shfit Assist Pro pretty much means you can forget to use the clutch for 80 per cent of your riding. The gearbox also works well without it, and is so much smoother than BMW gearboxes of old. Likewise any jacking reaction from the drive-shaft under acceleration is long dead and buried in the dustbin of history.
As you would expect, BMW Integral ABS and traction control systems are standard across all models, even in base specification, as are two riding modes. Hill Start Control is an unexpected addition to the standard specification though, and automatically applies the brakes for hill starts. That’s something that might come in very handy if fully loaded or riding two-up.
The naked R 1250 R is, predictably, slightly cheaper than the RS with a base entry price of $21,265, compared to a $22,565 starting point for the R. Add a couple of grand to each of those pricing labels by the time you ride it out of the showroom though.
By the time you get up to the Sport, Exclusive or Spezial variants of the machines, the ride away prices start to nudge their way towards 30 grand. However, you are getting a whole lot of motorcycle with pretty much every bit of top-end tech available in motorcycling. And compared to what you pay for an American cruiser….
You also have a motorcycle ready to tour Australia in comfort, particularly in RS guise thanks to its extra protection from wind-blast. Both have shaft drive and every rider aid known to man while retaining a light enough feel and agility that belies the scales.
Both are capable of carrying two people in comfort complete with panniers loaded. A lot of motorcycles that claim to have touring credentials have poor carrying capacities, sometimes being officially rated for payloads under 180kg. That is a couple of average Aussie humans dressed in riding gear and boots, before they even put an empty pannier on the bike…. The R and RS Boxer duo are rated for 220 kg payloads and really give the impression of sturdiness in their very business-like Germanic way of going about business. As though you could ride them into a brick wall, pick them up, dust them off, and continue on your way.
Another ace up the sleeve of the BMW machines is their now industry leading standard three-year warranty, which can be extended further, for a price. If maintenance costs are your worry there also pre-paid service packages that can cover you for the first three years and 30,000 kilometres, or five years and 50,000 kilometres, to add a little extra peace of mind. I think this is a great approach by BMW and the longer standard warranty period is a massive boon for the customer. However, I do think the kilometre limits on the servicing packages are a little stingy.
I prefer the sweeter steering of the R, and if choosing a bike for shorter hops and back-roads brawling then it would be my pick of the two. However, if doing a lot of long haul riding in all weather, then the extra practicality of the faired RS would win the day. Both though have extensive integrated luggage systems and when optioned up as such can carry as much luggage as full dress touring bikes.
Either of them would make a fantastic daily commuter to work, while then offering enough performance and versatility to go for mountain strops on the weekend, or even a full loop around Australia if you are lucky enough to break away from the grind for that long!
To many, unless its a Boxer, it’s not a ‘real’ BMW… And this is by far the best iteration of the Boxer yet.
BMW R 1250 R and R 1250 RS Specifications