Review: BMW R 1200 R

Review: BMW R 1200 R

Getting back to basics — that’s always been much of the naked bike’s appeal. Stripping away all the unnecessary trinkets that come with touring, cruising or racing leaves a motorcycle with nothing but the necessary. And what’s necessary on a bike? Apart from an engine and rolling chassis, a seat and some controls? Nothing.

Because it needs to be street-legal, we’ll allow for mirrors, lights and a number plate, but that’s it. Motorcycling in its purest form. Bikes such as these are usually found at the cheaper end of the spectrum, middleweights such as the sub-R100 000 Honda CB600 Hornet or Suzuki GSR750. If you like the recipe but fancy a bit more, then there are plenty of interesting options with a 1-litre motor. The Z1000 from Kawasaki and Honda’s equivalent, the CB1000, contend for this valuable part of the market with Triumph’s Speed Triple.

All are entertaining bikes, with the Triumph offering the best mix of abilities overall, much as it has done for a decade or more. Its three-cylinder engine is better suited to powering a sporting naked bike than the Japanese four. A gutsier delivery and a better soundtrack see to that. There are more capable, racier naked bikes that offer superbike levels of performance, but they’re expensive. Blame electronics: all these nearly R200 000 super-nakeds are dripping with the stuff, and that much computing power doesn’t come cheap.

Keep it simple, keep the price down. 90kW or so in any naked package is plenty quick enough for most, certainly for me, and as Honda, Kawasaki and Triumph have so ably proved, it can be done properly for around R140 000. Or not, if you decide to garnish this very simple recipe with a load of fancy extra ingredients. Pizzas should not be drizzled with the jus of a roasted kiwi, or served on a bed of flaming taramasalata.

Naked bikes that aren’t racetrack refugees shouldn’t feature enough electronic gizmos to confuse an astronaut. BMW already has one of the finest naked sport bikes on the planet in the shape of the electronically-blessed S1000R. It is pretty much the pinnacle of what such a machine can be, and you’ll pay a not unreasonable R178 000 for it. The R 1200 R features the unmistakable 1 200cc Boxer twin, 25kW down on the S 1000’s smaller capacity four-cylinder engine. But that’s okay, this is a characterful torque unit that makes perfect sense in a naked bike.

Well, it would make sense if BMW had stuck to the original, straightforward recipe. But someone got carried away and dumped an entire larder of extras into the mix. The R 1200 R looks like a perfect pizza supper, but turns out to be a bit of a dog’s dinner. This should be a simple bike, easy to get on and ride fast. A two-wheel partner that’s happy threading the commuting needle every day, or carving the perfect line through your favourite set of corners. That bike is there, but it’s hidden behind a veil of electronic interference that irritates with its constant enticement to fiddle, faff and fritter away your time on pointless decisions about everything from the dynamic-ness of your suspension to the luggage-ness of your passenger.

And BMW wants R175 000 for the pleasure of winding you up like this, and R184 000 if you opt for the GPS unit that comes with its own set of inane questions, though in colour this time. Riding modes, electronic suspension, remote tyre pressure monitoring, adjustable traction control, sat-nav and ABS all have their place, but it is not here. These are the kind of tools I’d expect to see on a touring bike, but who buys a bike designed without any wind protection to go touring? Underneath all the electronic bling is a bike more than capable of taking business away from the Speed Triple, Z1000 and CB1000.

The latest water-cooled version of the Boxer twin is punchy, smooth and burbles and pops on the overrun. It sounds cheeky and alive, which is exactly how you’ll be feeling as you exploit what is an agile bike, given its size. The underlying ingredients for traditional naked bike fun are still there, hiding in an overcomplicated menu that demands, every time the ignition’s turned, that you first dither around picking out all the stuff you don’t want. Imagine if every time you sat down for a face-full of your favourite pizza, you found it covered in extra- salty anchovies. Exactly, you’d just end up not bothering with the pizza, and that’s a fate that should not befall BMW’s R 1200 R.

At R175 000, it’s priced too close to KTM’s Super Duke R, Aprilia’s Tuono and even its own cousin, the S 1000 R. Order one without all the electronics; in this case, less is most definitely more. Less hassle, more fun. Less money, more sense. And no anchovies at all.

The Facts: BMW R 1200 R
Engine: 1170cc Boxer 2
Power: 92kW at 7 750rpm
Torque: 125Nm at 6 500rpm
Gearbox: Six-speed
Weight: 231kg (full tank)
Fuel Tank: 19l
Price: R175 000
Rating: ★★★★

Mat Durrans