The BMW R18 (which BMW calls the “R 18”, insisting on spaces) is a massive 1802cc cruiser that caused a big stir when BMW launched it in mid 2020. It’s a thing of beauty — large, long, gleaming.
But the R18 is not the first cruiser that BMW ever launched. Years ago, in 1997, BMW launched the R1200C cruiser, releasing it in a few models, and even getting it featured in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies.
Pierce Brosnan wasn’t the greatest James Bond. But I felt a quick moment of empathy when he was arguing about whether to take a car in the motorcycle chase scene. “No! Motorbike! Motorbike is quick!”
I don’t know how they got the R1200C to do a wheelie though. That stunt rider has some mad skills!
Anyway, regardless of whether or not the R1200C would have been my choice for a getaway motorcycle in a busy Asian market… this is the story of the BMW R1200C — and a guide to buying one used.
Are you obsessed with motorcycles?
Well, I am. That’s why I created this site — as an outlet. I love learning and sharing what others might find useful. If you like what you read here, and you’re a fraction as obsessed as I am, you might like to know when I’ve published more. (Check the latest for an idea of what you’ll see.)
Background of the BMW R1200C
The BMW R1200C was one of the “oilhead” era of motorcycles. BMW initially released it in 1997, when most of their motorcycles were 1085cc (marketed as “1100” models).
It doesn’t take much to see that BMW was trying to take a stab at the American cruiser-obsessed market. But apart from the relaxed riding position, the heavy use of chrome, and the high build quality with attention to design and detail, there wasn’t much in common technologically between the BMW R1200C and the Harley-Davidson motorcycles of the time.
Most obviously, Harley-Davidsons are V-twins, and the R1200C is a boxer twin. The pistons lie flat, transverse to the direction of travel, and stick out the sides of the engine. Apart from having different engine character and sound, this means the R1200C can’t ever be as relaxed as a big cruiser with floorboards — because the cylinder heads get in the way! The same is true of the R18 today, by the way.
The re-tuned engine was quite different to the 1100 engine on which it was based. The R1100RS made more power (88 hp vs the R1200C’s 61 hp) and more torque, but it took longer to get up there, so the power was made higher up in the rev range.
The R1200C, on the other hand, makes a lot of torque down low. And it doesn’t taper off by much until it hits the (relatively low) redline. But it produces so much torque that you feel like you could tow a car on it. This is probably partly a factor of the gearing, too.
Other BMWs of the time were known for having a paralever-enhanced swing-arm that is mounted on the frame instead of on the gearbox. The R1200C has a much longer swing-arm, called the “Monolever”, than other BMWs. It’s a simpler design, but because it’s so long, it does a great job of damping the torque reaction from the drive shaft.
Core specs of the BMW R1200C
I won’t bore you to tears with the specs of the R1200C. But there are a few that you should know.
|Engine||1170cc boxer twin, fuel-injected 4 valves per cylinder, air/oil-cooled (an “Oilhead”, one of the last when it was finally in production)|
|Power (claimed)||44.5 kW / 61 hp @ 5000 rpm|
|Torque||98 Nm / 72 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm|
|Wet weight||265 kg / 584 lb (“in road trim” per the press release)|
|Front suspension||Telelever, central strut|
|Rear suspension||Single-sided swing-arm with remote spring preload-adjustable monolever suspension|
|Front brakes||2 x 305 mm discs, 4-piston callipers (ABS option)|
|Rear brakes||Single 285 mm disc, 2-piston calliper|
|Drivetrain||Five-speed transmission, dry clutch, shaft drive|
That’s not a lot of power, considering its weight! So the top speed of the BMW R1200C was a fairly uninspiring 178 km/h or 111 mph. In reality, people rarely take it north of 150 km/h.
But like many cruisers, it’s tuned for low-down torque, with a lot from 2,000 rpm and producing most of its torque around 2,500 rpm.
The engine has similar capacity to later 1200-series motors (the Hexheads). It’s a bored and stroked R1100 engine (which was 1085cc) with a new intake system, adding fuel injection and an automatic choke.
Riding the R1200C
The R1200C is kind of a cruiser, or kind of a relaxed standard like a Bonneville. It’s neither and it’s its own thing.
First and foremost, the BMW R1200C is not a fast motorcycle. It’s not slow, and it’ll boogie — it has enough torque to get you going well over 110 km/h (65 mph) when you need to, passing cars in top gear if you want without downshifting — although not at a blistering pace.
But the R1200C isn’t about going fast. It’s definitely a motorcycle about looking good. Every review talks about the style. The press releases talk about the style. And people coming up to you to look at it — and they will — will comment on the paint, the chrome, and the crazy fact that “This is a BMW?!”
This bike is named after Montauk, New York, because it’s a holiday destination. Say “Montauk” to anyone from the area and they’ll think of summer travel and lazy holidays of times gone past, and that’s the spirit that the R1200C is trying to evoke.
The R1200C shares a lot of the character of other boxer twins. Grab a handful of throttle at standstill and it’ll jerk over to the right, reacting to the centripetal acceleration of the engine. You do this a few times for fun and realise that it’s just part of the joy of having a big transversely mounted engine!
On the road, the R1200C is easy to ride. Once you convince yourself that riding a 250+ kg bike is going to be OK and you get going, you’re always in control. You’re low enough to the ground that flat-footing is easy (unless you are much shorter than average… in which case, you would have similar troubles on most motorcycles). It’s a vibey ride, but you pick a big cruiser twin because that’s what you after. And besides, the vibes aren’t of the frustrating, teeth-chattering type — they’re re-assuring, alive, and comforting. This is a big twin cruiser and it’s letting you know that it’s there.
The suspension is a little unusual — particularly on the Montauk with its wide front tyre. You don’t corner on this like you do on a superbike, diving into corners, body hanging off. But neither do you have to have the tentative fear of scraping that you might on a big cruiser with floorboards. The Telelever/Paralever do their job pretty well and can always keep up with the kinds of cornering speed you’re likely to throw at a big cruiser.
On the Montauk in particular, the Telelever suspension can feel a little vague. It doesn’t give you the feedback that forks do. But you never lose your footing, and you learn to trust it.
The question that will plague most people who want to buy an R1200C in modern times is “Is 45 kW or 61 hp enough?” And if you’re asking the question, the answer is likely to be know. The truth is if you’re used to revving up past 10,000 rpm (or even just past 6,000 rpm), transitioning to a low-revving, moderate power heavy cruiser is going to be hard. You don’t get on to an R1200C to flog it. You ride the R1200C to enjoy the scenery, and when you step of it, to admire it.
Choosing an R1200C then is mostly an exercise in style. What colour do you want? What amount of chrome do you want? And so on.
Thus, I can’t really convince you to buy an R1200C. Look below at some of the pictures. Think: Is this something you want to see in the garage when you walk in there? Is it something you want to be seen on when you head out to the cafe? If the answer is “yes” to both those questions, then the R1200C isn’t going to disappoint.
Variants of the R1200C
There were five variants of the R1200C produced. Or six, if you include the trike! I’ll go through them all below.
BMW R1200C “Classic” (1997+).
The original BMW R1200C became known as the “Classic” in later years. If you go shopping for one, you’ll see it called a “R1200C Classic”.
Telltale sign of the Classic: Big, swept back handlebars.
The base specs were already mentioned above. The engine stays the same as the model in the whole series, but a few things change for the Montauk and the CL — stay tuned.
On the base model, ABS was an option. I’d recommend finding one with the option, but do expect it to go awry at some point (and cost quite a bit to fix).
The base model Classic came in black (which I like), silver (which is fine), and beige (which I hate, but which seems to be the only one people sell… blergh).
Colours for the BMW R1200C Classic: The Classic was released in many colours over its lifetime. These included:
- Ivory (Beige), Dust, Flashtone, Night black
- Metallic colours: Mocha Brown Metallic, Sorrento Blue Metallic, White Aluminum Metallic, Peach Metallic
- Green: Oxford Green, Toscana Green, Boston Green
- Blue: Frost Blue, Stahl Blue, Pacific Blue
- Red (and violet): Canyon Red, Amarena Red, Techno Violet (Purple)
Not all these colours were imported everywhere.
BMW R1200C Avantgarde (1999)
The Avantgarde model was a gentle restyling of the Classic. It had less chrome and medium height bars. ABS stayed as an option, and it kept the wire-spoke wheels.
Colours for the Avantgarde were:
- Dust Metallic (with a black seat)
- Frost Blue metallic (with a black seat)
- Peach metallic
- Stiletto Black
Telltale sign of the Avantgarde: lower handlebars, but still wire-spoke wheels.
Who told them Beige was a good idea? When is beige ever a good idea for a motorcycle?
BMW R1200C Independent/Phoenix (in US) (2000)
BMW announced the R1200C Independent (known as the R1200C Phoenix in the US) late in 2000 with a few more changes, still all aesthetic.
- Single seat (passenger seat and foot pegs optional)
- Aluminium wheels, replacing the wire spoked wheels (why would you?)
- A little windshield
- Fog lamps
- White indicator (turn signal) lenses
Telltale signs of the Independent/Phoenix: Lower handlebars like the Independent, but aluminium wheels replacing the wire-spoke wheels.
Colours for the Independent included:
- Ivory/Bronze metallic (white and brown)
- Mandarin/Graphite metallic (Orange and Grey)
- Piedmont Red Metallic/Titan Silver Metallic
- Ivory/Orient Blue metallic (released later)
These days, wire spoke wheels are more in vogue, especially when the tyres are tubeless (as is the case here).
R1200CL “Cruiser Luxury” (2003)
The CL model is the full-dress bagger version of the BMW R1200C line. I It has the same engine, though.
Telltale signs of the R1200CL: All that bodywork and luggage!
Even though it has the same engine, the R1200CL got a host of upgrades, including
- Integrated hard luggage
- Spacious seating
- Improved dash, with tachometer
- A very different handlebar-mounted fairing
And aside from aesthetics, the R1200CL got a few new drive-train components, borrowing them from the more up-market K1200LT:
- Lighter six-speed transmission
- Redesigned Telelever suspension (for the wider front tyre)
- Stronger monolever rear suspension.
The CL came in an even fancier version called the CLC, with standard ABS, a CD player, a radio, more chrome, a deployable electric skateboard, satellite television, a washing machine, etc. etc.
Unfortunately, the CL also got a lot heavier. The R1200C was never a lightweight motorcycle, but 308 kg (679 lb) — about 20% heavier — the engine doesn’t really seem up to the task, especially compared to other heavyweight baggers of the day like the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide or the Yamaha Venture. It was also a little harder to ride, with the revised front suspension giving a feeling of vagueness in cornering that people didn’t like.
Colours for the CL included:
- Sapphire Black Metallic
- Capri Blue
- Mojave Brown Metallic
- Pearl Silver Metallic
BMW R1200C Montauk (2003+)
The BMW R1200C is a “beefier” R1200C, borrowing some of the redesigned components from the R1200CL, but shedding the weight from the bagger model.
Telltale signs of the Montauk: Bigger tyres, “turbine”-style wheels, stacked front headlights
The Montauk is named after the town in New York State, in case you were wondering.
Changes to the Montauk from the base model are
- A wider handlebar, similar to the one on the Independent
- Beefier tyres, including a wider front tyre
- Extended rake front-end from the R1200CL
- Revised telelever fork (same as the R1200CL) to accommodate the big front tyre
- Instrument and dash from the R1200CL (including a tachometer)
- Smoother gearbox from the CL, but only five speeds (which is fine)
- Small windshield
- Vertical stacked headlight
- A narrower but more padded rear seat
- Braided brake lines
- Standard ABS
Colours for the R1200C Montauk included:
- Black (“Black Sapphire metallic”)
- Blue (“Arctic Blue metallic”)
- Beige (which they call “Champagne metallic”… it’s definitely beige)
- Piedmont Red Metallic/Titan Silver
Which variant of the R1200C should you buy?
Reviewing all the options above, the choice is clear for me: the R1200C Avantgarde. It has lower handlebars and wire-spoked wheels.
The Montauk would be my second choice. The wheels aren’t wire-spoked, but they’re fine-looking. However, I’m a bit wary about reports of the handling being not as good.
In reality, it’s a little hard to find exactly the right R1200C. And even if I did, I’d be highly tempted to cut it back and make it a proper bobber. So I’d be open to any of them…
How much to pay for a used BMW R1200C
In the US, you can find good examples for under $5,000. The bigger challenge is finding one near you somewhere that’s a configuration or colour you like.
Luckily, because BMW owners are a nerdy bunch, the R1200C examples I’ve seen online are generally in pretty good condition. They just might not be terribly nearby. Have a hunt on Motohunt to browse Craigslist and dealerships nation-wide in the US.
In Australia, people seem to price them higher for no good reason. I wouldn’t pay above $8,000 for one with around 20,000 km on it, and ideally I’d pay around $7,000. Yes, they’re a “classic”. But when you look at what else $7,000 can get you, the competition is fierce. (At least, when the market isn’t distorted by a pandemic, which it currently is.) I see some listed for $10K but they won’t sell.
Maintaining the BMW R1200C
Since the BMW R1200C is a shaft-drive, air/oil-cooled motorcycle with very little bodywork, maintaining it is quite easy.
A few people put off things that are hard, including
- Adjusting the valve clearance (which isn’t hard, it’s just tricky)
- Adjusting synchronisation
- Replacing the fuel filter
- Replacing the alternator belt
When you’re buying an R1200C, check to make sure those have been done — especially the alternator belt. If it fails (when it fails), you’re out of luck. Luckily it’s cheap and easy to replace.
Assuming yours has had it’s running-in check, this is what you have to do.
Minor R1200C service — Every 10,000 km (6,000 miles)
|Change engine oil with engine at operating temperature, replacing oil filter|
|Oil change, rear-wheel drive (every 2 years)|
|Check battery acid level|
|Clean and greasing battery terminals|
|Check front and rear brake fluid level|
|Check front and rear brake pads for wear|
|Check front and rear brake discs for wear|
|Changing brake fluid, front and rear brakes|
|Check clutch fluid level|
|Change the clutch fluid (every 4 years)|
|Check operation of side-stand switch|
|Grease side stand pivot|
|Check condition of spark plugs|
|Adjust valve clearance|
|Check freedom of movement of throttle cable and checking for kinks and chafing|
|Checking spoke tension|
|Check tire pressures and tread depth|
|Check lights and signalling equipment|
Major R1200C service — At 20,000 km (12,000 miles), and every 20,000 km (12,000 miles) after:
|Change oil in gearbox, warmed to normal operating temperature|
|Replace the fuel filter (every 40.000 km)|
|Replace intake air filter|
|Perform visual inspection of the brake pipes, brake hoses and connections|
|Check rear wheel bearing play by tilting wheel|
|Check swinging-arm pivot mount|
|Replace alternator belt every 40,000 km (every second major service)|
|Replace spark plugs|
Resources about the 1200C
There’s a pretty devoted group of fans of the 1200C over at chromeheads.org. It’s an old website (it may even show up as an “insecure connection”), populated by older people. I liked the thread about colour options for example.