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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.