There are always those motorcycles you look back on fondly and wonder: why did I get rid of it? The first one of these was my first big motorcycle, the Honda CB900F Bol d’Or. But the most recent motorcycle that I miss is my “Colgate” striped red and silver BMW R1200S.
The perverse thing is that I wondered if I’d miss it even as I was listing it for sale. At the time, I knew I wasn’t in love with it. But I miss it anyway.
Before buying the BMW R1200S (on eBay, flying down to pick it up and riding it home!) I knew very little about it. I had googled a few reviews but hadn’t found anything truly useful. So here’s everything I learned about it to share with you.
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.
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- 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 Öhlins suspension
- Tank capacity: 17 litres (4.5 gallons), with 4 litres (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. It didn’t have ABS, though the ABS system apparently works quite well. I bought it with 45,000 km (about 30K miles) on the odometer, but only 500km after it had received a full service.
Specs are boring, but what’s really interesting about the R1200S is the interesting combination of specs that it has. It’s a sport bike, but with a shaft drive and optional ABS. It has a fairly considerable 120 horsepower, but it’s air- and oil-cooled. It has a gorgeous single-sided swing-arm, but it’s not a Ducati! It’s the combination of unique features that made the R1200S quite special.
A Brief History of the BMW R1200S
BMW has rarely made sporty air-cooled boxers, and today in 2020, there is nothing quite like the R1200S in there. The closest thing in recent times was the BMW R Nine T Racer, which was discontinued in 2017. But BMW in modern times puts all its sporting eggs in to the S1000 and M1000 baskets.
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.
The R1100S was slower (100hp), heavier by about 10-20kg fully fuelled, and had a more upright position. But the R1100S 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.
The HP2 Sport 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 “sport-touring” type motorcycle, in the same general vein of a Ducati Multistrada.
The R1250RS, similar to the previous R1200RS, 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).
Another modern alternative to the R1200S was the BMW R Nine T Racer.
The BMW R NineT racer superficially looks similar in some ways. It, too, has a 1170cc air/oil-cooled boxer engine (though with a double overhead camshaft now), is shaft-driven, with a dry clutch, and has a sporty chassis that looks (to me) really beautiful.
The BMW R Nine T Racer also came with a few upgraded bits over older motorcycles like ABS (though no traction control, and definitely not an IMU). But they also lost the duolever front-end suspension, switching it for an unexciting non-adjustable and conventional fork setup.
The BMW R Nine T Racer was a beautiful bike. But it suffered from having a riding position that was a bit too aggressive for the target market. My perspective is that people after a sports bike would get the much more capable S1000RR, and people after something vintage and nostalgic would likely be a bit older and would be happier with the traditional R Nine T upright bikes. So the R Nine T Racer was only sold between 2017 and 2019.
The BMW R1200S Compared to its Peers (at the time)
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).
The Ducati 999 is an evolution of the line of motorcycles that began with the Ducati 916, a motorcycle which set standards in both race-ability and style.
Someone buying a used BMW R1200S, like me, is directly comparing the R1200S 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, from Ducati’s sport-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: The R1200S is 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. The R1200S is 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 they’re always expensive, and 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 60-80km/h 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 183cm (6 foot) tall and weighs 182 kgs and I did a 600km (400 mile) day without any issues other than general fatigue.
You can really improve the comfort of the BMW R1200S with squishy gel grips, like Grip Puppies, and a Cramp Buster to keep the throttle in the same place for long periods without wearing out your wrists.
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 (like the Yamaha R1) 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 the R1200S on days when it was 35 degrees outside (90F) in full gear, and even though I was warm, it wasn’t my backside 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 back road 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 red-line 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 red-line 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 sportbike like a Yamaha R6, but it turns fine.
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 a bit different. What they have in common is that they purr at idle and have a booming exhaust howl on throttle.
But V-twins, L-twins, and parallel twins with a 270 degree crank have that “lumpy” roar that is a lot more aggressive than the R1200S’s sound. In comparison to something like a Ducati superbike with a Termignoni exhaust system, the sound from the R1200S is docile and gentlemanly.
My Ducati 1098S made me angry, like I was going to war. My BMW R1200S made me calm in comparison.
The other difference between the R1200S’ exhaust note and that of a Ducati is that that the BMW’s rhythm is more controlled. All my Ducatis seem to have slightly lumpy idles, occasionally missing a beat. The BMW idles like a turboprop warplane. I think of it like a Messerschmitt.
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. Not as much as a Ducati superbike, but those have so much character they become at times unpleasant to ride (on the street).
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 Ducati Pre-Panigale 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 R1200S has a lot of character:
- 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 motorcycle over! This is unique (or common) to transversely mounted engines, but the torque from the engine wants to tip the motorcycle over. If you’ve ridden another boxer, or a flat four or six from BMW or Honda, you’ll know what this feels like. 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’d love to keep mine — I’ll only replace it with something equally interesting but in a different direction.
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 for the BMW R1200S.
Every 6,000 miles/10,000 kilometres
I’ll put this in descending order of complexity.
- Adjust valve clearance. Thankfully you can always see the cylinder heads — this ain’t no Ducati!
- Change oil + filter
- Change oil of final drive and gearbox
- Inspect clutch (it’s a dry clutch, so you don’t need to drain the engine oil)
- 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 6,000 miles/10,000 kilometres
- Change oil of final drive
- Change oil of gearbox
Then every 24,000 miles/40,000 kilometres
- Replace generator belt (here’s my how-to — mine snapped at 48,000 km; I think the previous guy didn’t do it)
- Replace spark plugs
What to pay for a BMW R1200S
Thee BMW R1200S rare (especially in the USA) but they’re not massively desired. You can find them on the market, typically with north of 40,000 miles.
For one with ABS and heated grips, I’d pay about US$6,000 or A$10,000 (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!
You’ll pay more for things like an exhaust system, Öhlins suspension (in particular), a power commander, and good maintenance.
They don’t come up for sale that often, and when they do they’re not often nearby.
Most owners of the R1200S have an inflated sense of what they’re worth. They think that they’re collectors items, when in fact they’re just rare. It’s not unusual for me to see one with 50,000+ miles or 80,000+ kilometres with a ridiculous price — they won’t sell for those prices. You can either enter into a discussion with the seller, or move on.
Why did I sell the BMW R1200S?
As much as I loved the BMW R1200S, I sold mine. (Here are the details from when I put it up for sale — but it’s now sold.)
In a nutshell, it was beautiful to look at, and enjoyable to ride. It was my my introduction to sport bikes and it showed me just how much I could like them. It gave me a taste and I wanted more!
But on the other hand, the R1200S always seemed a little too “gentlemanly” for me. It just didn’t have the buckets of character I was hoping for from it. Other motorcycles like the Ducatis I owned absolutely roared, whereas the R1200S had a purr.
In the end, there’s an acid test for any motorcycle I own — how much I hate to see it leave. When I saw my Ducati Monster 900 leave I nearly shed a tear. But when my R1200S left in the hands of the right owner, I thought “it’s going to a better place”.
It’s not to say I don’t miss its gentle character. I’ll have that again in the future. But for now, I want to ride something more raucous.