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Writer’s Rides: 2004 BMW K1200RS

Posted in BMW, General, Motorcycle, Writer's Rides by Kurt Ernst | April 20th, 2010 | 9 Responses |

BMW riders call the paint scheme the zebra

Nothing in my early motorcycle riding experience led me to believe I’d become a BMW guy. Their bikes of the time were slow and quirky; sure, they were comfortable, but who’d want to spend that kind of money to buy a bike that the German’s themselves labelled a “Gummikuh” (rubber cow)? I rode the occasional R100 or K100 borrowed from riding buddies, but neither kept my interest for long.

And then came the 1999 BMW R1100S. For me, it was love at first sight; I’d never seen a bike before that hit me in quite the same way. The lines were stunning, even if the body consisted of acres of plastic over a barely concealed frame. The motor was BMW’s traditional R version, a horizontally opposed twin, but now tweaked to produce 98 horsepower and cooled by both air and oil. It was beyond my budget at launch, but I anxiously monitored eBay until the prices came into reach. When they did, one test ride was all it took to convince me.

Touring on my old R1100S, somewhere in New York state

My R1100S was a great bike, but it had it’s shortcomings. While fine for solo touring or riding, it was a bit cramped and underpowered for the two up stuff. My wife and I did the occasional motorcycle tour, so after a few years with the R, I decided it was time to look for something with a bit more grunt and a little more leg room.

Before I rode the K1200RS, I’d always written it off as too big, too ungainly at low speeds. The damn thing weighed over 600 pounds, nearly 200 pounds more than my R; how good could something big enough to have its own gravity handle? One day, when my R was in the shop for service, I made the mistake of test riding a 2004 K1200RS.

I love the lines of the K1200RS

Preconceived notions soon went out the window. Was it big? Sure as hell was. Was it ungainly? Once you were moving, not at all. I quickly fell in love with the near seamless power delivery of the big sport-tourer. Where I’d have to row the gearbox on my R, a quick pass required nothing more than a flick of the wrist on the big K. The windshield gave me better coverage than the one on my R, and the seat was actually comfortable (the seat on the BMW R1100S was designed by Torquemada during the Spanish Inquisition). Where the R was a bike to ride up a canyon road at triple digit speeds, the K was a bike to ride cross-country at triple digit speeds. I ended my test ride thinking, “I wonder if I can make the numbers work for me”.

Instruments: everything you need, nothing you don't

My dealer made the decision easy, giving me more in trade on my R than I would have gotten in a private sale, then discounting the K since it was the last of the ‘04s. I ordered up a set of hard bags, a passenger backrest and headed home, wondering if I could fit a motorcycle the size of a compact car in the garage.

You’d think that I’d know a thing or two about BMW motorcycle history, and you’d be correct. BMW launched the original K series in 1983, and it’s “laydown” four cylinder engine featured pistons that traveled horizontally, not vertically. Dubbed the “flying brick” for it’s unconventional motor design, K bikes were the first BMWs to feature liquid cooling. BMW K bikes also had a single-sided swingarm, used a shaft drive instead of a chain and featured an unconventional front and rear suspension. The front suspension, dubbed “Telelever” in BMW speak, uses a single shock absorber located between mounting points attached to a telelever arm. The advantage to this setup is that it reduces unsprung weight and eliminates dive under heavy braking. The tradeoff is reduced road feel compared to a traditional fork setup. It takes getting used to, but a rider quickly learns to trust the ability of the telelever, even if it doesn’t feel quite right in the twisty bits.

Bags mount in under a minute

BMW K bikes used a “Paralever” rear suspension layout that reduces the effect of torque as the suspension weights and unweights (under acceleration and braking). Like the Telelever front suspension, this can take a bit of getting used to, especially for those new to shaft-drive motorcycles.

As a 2004 model, mine is the last of the “flying brick” K1200RS motorcycles. The motor puts out 130 horsepower and 85 ft-lbs of torque, and the bike is stopped with servo-assisted linked braking and ABS. It’s got the sport suspension, heated grips, a height adjustable windshield, cruise control and a rear luggage rack. The detachable hard bags carry enough for a long weekend getaway, but the left bag loses quite a bit of space to make room for the exhaust.

Bags in place, baby got back

So five years later, what do I still love about it? I love the bike’s silky smooth power delivery and it’s day-long seat comfort. I love the adjustable windshield, especially for wet and cold weather riding. I love the heated grips, great for extending your riding season and making early morning or late night trips more enjoyable. I love the “ripping raw silk” sound of the motor as it winds out to the 9,000 RPM peak, especially when compared to the R which just sounded like the world’s most powerful sewing machine.

What don’t I like? The riding position gets hard on the knees after a few hours, even with the seat in the highest position. Ditto the handlebar position, which could benefit from a set of aftermarket risers. It’s heavy in stop and go traffic, and the exhaust’s catalytic converter dumps a whole lot of heat on a rider’s left leg at stop lights. The servo assisted ABS takes getting used to at low speeds, and more than one new owner has dropped their K in a parking lot when the front rotors grabbed harder than expected.

Yours truly, with his trusted steed

Love is blind, and it’s easy to write off these negative points as part of the K1200Rs’ personality. The pre-2005 K bikes remain popular in the used market, in demand for their bulletproof reliability, good looks and adaptability.

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9 Responses

  1. Dave says:

    Great read Kurt. I’ve always wanted a bike, but knowing the way I drive my car, I could never get one. That K1200RS looks very nice too. Sporty and fast looking (even sitting still) but without being OVERLY crotch-rockety, if that makes sense.

  2. Kurt says:

    Thanks Dave! It’s never too late to start riding, and track days are a great way to get the hoon out in a controlled environment.

    You nailed the essence of the K1200RS – it goes plenty fast in both a straight line and corners, yet you can throw hard bags on and tour with it.

  3. Keiith says:

    I liked your review. I have been drooling over K1200RS’s for some time now after riding one.

    I especially like the color schem on yours.

  4. emmet schmelig says:

    Thanks for the review, guess I should have read it before I bought the 2004 K1200rs I just drove home. I didn’t even test ride the thing, I had a 03 K1200rs and liked it and fell in love with the zebra paint job on my 04. I love the bike and think it’s improved over the 03 i owned. Seems to shift smoother and as you noted power delivery is awsome. Waiting for good weather to really get to know my new maching. thanks again

  5. Vernon N. Hatley says:

    Bought two in April 2010 – 2004 model. Sent one to my son in Dubai, UAE. Only get to ride mine on Fridays here in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. BUT, and this is the key, I bought both brand new, never been on the road. The local BMW agent had a number of them and only recently (as in two months ago) sold the last one. I love it to bits – she has been called the “red devil/hot stuff” (bike colour is red), and has an appropriate sticker on the windshield – remember the comic strip hot stuff of many years ago?
    Also, your review captures the essence of the bike!

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Thanks Vernon!

      • Pat Stone says:

        After looking at K bikes for 6 months I bought an 03 K1200rs W/13,500 miles on it about 3 weeks ago. Sold the Harley after 30 years and haven’t doubted the decision for a second. I love this bike. agree with your comments, at 5’7″ I would love a little closer handle bars , have the short aftermarket risers on it already. Enjoyed your blog.

  6. Gregg says:

    What a great write up. I just bought my first bike and am sitting here in NY awaiting delivery from FL. It’s gonna be about a week and I am stoked! At 44, a Dad of 2 and husband of a now very cranky wife, I can’t wait to get out there. I have never even driven the bike. I just love the look and what I have read. I have owned BMW cars as a poor guy and am now adding 2 wheels to the family.

    Ride strong and safe.