BMW R 1200 S

Sunday, April 19, 2009
Ever since we got wind of BMW’s desire to release a no holds barred sports Boxer twin, we’ve been itching to get our hands on the new R 1200 S. And so in late summer, the chance comes to take the helm of this flagship 120bhp sports bike and put it through its paces. And where better to explore it’s explore full potential but the wild and remote roads of the Scottish highlands and the Orkneys.

BMW R1200S (Image © Matt Whittingham)
BMW’s best looking bike ever?

BMW make attractive looking bike shock

First impressions of the bike, are wow, this has got to be the cutest BMW ever. In fact come to think of it, it’s the only bike they’ve ever made that does not look like the bastard off-spring of Helmut Monster. The R1200S is now un-doubtably the super model in the current BM line up. Slender framed, with it’s single sided swing arm housing the shaft drive, and in a stunning two tone Red and Silver paint job it’s a bike that manages to look retro and modern at the same time. Its looks belie its size, and were it not for the giant cylinder heads erupting from the sides of the power plant, the bike could almost pass for a 600.

The most powerful Boxer Engine ever

The BMW’s long running boxer engine has been at the heart of many of its motorcycling endeavours since the 1920’s when it made its debut in the R32 - an early bike which developed a piddling 8bhp. So with 80 years development I’m expecting something special. It looks promising on paper with a claimed max power output of an impressive 122bhp and maximum torque of 112 Nm or almost 83 lb-ft at 6,800 rpm.

BMW R1200S (Image © Matt Whittingham)
Bikers' paradise ahead

Throwing a leg over the seat and hitting the start button and the early signs are not auspicious. The engine sounds positively agricultural on tick over, and blipping the throttle the engine sounds rough and un-refined. Moving off I’m thinking that maybe 2000 miles on this is not going to be as fun as I thought. The motor is smoother once you get up into second and third, but it feels mild mannered bike and under whelming. Little did I know that in an hour or two, I’d be grinning like a demented power crazed demon, and wringing every last bit of power from R 1200 S’s soon to be discovered box of tricks

Clown fish (© Darryl Leniuk/Digital Vision/Getty Images)
Where do BMW get the ideas for their colour schemes?

Split personality

Scotland. What a country. Beautiful. Largely un-spoilt. Home of 100 malt whiskeys and some of the best roads in Europe. That’s nigh on perfect in my book. And once you’re off the main roads, hardly any bugger about, no speed cameras and very few coppers. Case in point – the awe inspiring A94 to Braemar. Sweeping left handers, lovely undulating road, breath taking scenery, surely one of the best biking roads in the country. It’s here that I really start to get the measure of the bike. Get it up to about 6000 RPM and it goes mental almost as if to make up for being so docile lower down in the range, and then has to go over the top to make up for it.

BMW R1200S (Image © Matt Whittingham)
Your reviewer receives some practical advice at the Scottish borders

The boxer engine seems to unleash most of its power in this 6-8k power band, and this can hurtle the bike suddenly up to some ballistic speeds. Coming out of a tight series of bends and I spot a group of blokes out on their R1s and Blades. Drop down a gear, power on, and the Beemer just smoked ‘em. Of course on a track some of those bikes would probably have the edge, but it’s the easy access to a lot of power very quickly that makes this bike such a blast to ride. And it quickly becomes addictive – dive into a corner hard, breaking late and taking advantage of the bikes astounding composure under pressure, then pile on the power band afterwards and it’s like being on the Starship Enterprise going at Warp factor 9.

BMW R1200S (Image © Matt Whittingham)
The BMW makes it to the Orkneys

The Orkneys

What an enigmatic and mysterious place the Orkneys are. Strange megalithic standing stones all over the place, Neolithic tombs older than Stonehenge, and no trees anywhere. Just long mile stretches of open road, then a single corner, then another couple of miles of straight road. The only real concerns to trouble the biker are the occasional tractor, and more unsettlingly, the thought of an errant sheep, suddenly popping up in one’s path.

BMW R1200S (Image © Matt Whittingham)
The BMW by a stretch of the brilliant A93 to Braemar

It’s a great setting to test the bike’s mettle and particular the sorted front end that this machine shares with the BMW K 1200 S we tested last month. The clever Telelever front suspension means the bike is never anything less than fully sorted when under strong de-acceleration, the only quibble being a slight disconnected feeling. Our bike also has the optional Ohlins rear shock, which while a little soft on our sample, is able to soak up any bump that these remote and windswept roads can throw at it.

BMW R1200S (Image © Matt Whittingham)
The Isle of Hoy. No cameras, cars or coppers

Cape Wrath to London – 800 miles in one stretch

By my fifth day and I’m running behind schedule which means embarking on an epic trip from the extreme North West of Scotland, straight back to London in one go, save for fuel and Red bull stops. This is not recommended - it took me almost 12 hours, and by the time I reached London I am half deaf from the wind noise, can barely walk, have blisters forming on my hands, and am covered in dead insects.

BMW R1200S (Image © Matt Whittingham)
Front fairing gives decent wind protection

I’m also mentally shattered. But it’s on this long trip that the R1200S reveals another strong hand. It’s not exactly sports tourer comfortable, but the relaxed riding position, good mirrors, decent wind protection and smooth suspension make it relatively easy going. The minus points are the rock solid seat and, perhaps as an effort to prove the bikes sporty credentials, a complete absence of useful luggage options or even or bungee points.

BMW R1200S (Image © BMW)
Telelever front suspension gives huge cornering ability


Superbly put together, this bike can almost do anything. Hussle the top flight Jap bikes, cover long distances without the need for a physio session at the end, and it even looks good. But what makes this such a great ride is that huge, glorious Boxer engine, and the addictive power range. The R1200S is destined to become a cult bike amongst those in the know. Not a cheap bike - £8995 without the extras including the two tone paint and Ohlins – but this accomplished bike is highly recommended.
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