by Victor Wanchena
All motorcycles have a natural state of being. A place that is not only a perfect fit but helps define the purpose of that motorcycle. Sport bikes belong on twisty sections of two-lane roads, a cruiser is truly at home on the wide-open prairie, a dual-sport won’t hit its stride until the pavement ends. For the K1200LT its natural state is moving you from one end of this country to the other with a minimum of effort. BMW’s luxury touring bike has reinvented the class and is gathering a strong and loyal following.
BMW, like most manufacturers, throws a long set of numbers and letters at you to describe their bikes. So here is a little primer as to what they mean on current bikes. First, there is the one of three letters that starts out any model designation. They are R, K, or F. This letter denotes the engine type, R is for the flat two cylinder opposed air-cooled bikes a.k.a. boxers or oil-heads. K is for the water-cooled flat four (and older three) cylinder motors known as “flying bricks”. The last and newest motor style is the F, a vertical single cylinder which has no nickname I know of yet. Next comes a set of numbers, which is simply denoting the engine size in cubic centimeters. The last set of letters is an indication of what type of bike it is, i.e. the C in R1200C stands for cruiser, GS is German translation of land/street, or RT is rally/tourer.
This brings us to this month’s test ride the K1200LT. As you can see from its model designation hidden beneath all that bodywork lies the newest version of BMW’s venerable K motor. Developed in the early eighties, the K motor has seen continued to be one of the main stays in the BMW line. Enlarged to 1173cc and reworked to produce 100 horsepower at the crank, this newest version of the K is a wonderful motor that balances power with fuel economy while being ultra smooth. The K12 motor has 4 valves per cylinder and dual overhead cams. Then combine fuel injection, a catalytic converter and Bosch Mototronic engine management and you have a powerplant that runs clean, smooth and strong. Like to run a lot of gadgets or want the absolute biggest driving lights money can afford? The LT come with a 60 amp alternator that puts out 840 watts. For those fuzzy on what number like that mean, my first car had only a 30-amp alternator and many modern cars use 60-amp alternators. The gearbox is a 5-speed unit and the clutch is a very European single-plate dry-clutch and hydraulically actuated. The final drive is a shaft the runs through BMW’s patented Paralever rear suspension. The Paralever is a single sided swingarm that has been designed to eliminate the jacking effect of shaft drives. I’m not really clear how the geometry works but I can say this, it works. The rear of the bike stays steady regardless of what I do with the throttle.
The chassis for the LT is a large cast aluminum piece with the motor hanging below it as a stressed member of the frame. Interestingly the LT shares it frame with its sport touring brother the K1200RS. The fact that the LT shares so much with the RS reveals how sporty the engineers really wanted the LT to be. The front suspension is the BMW Telelever which does not use conventional forks. Instead the fork tubes are given only one job, hold the front wheel. A V shaped swingarm that runs from a brace hidden by the front fender back to the frame and is held up by a conventional mono-shock handles the suspension duties. It may sound a bit complicated but in practice it works like as charm. Under heavy braking the front end does not dive at all. The front wheel tracks well over pavement ripples and the shock soaks up all but the sharpest bumps. The lack of front-end dive has added benefits as well. While braking hard the suspension continues to soak up and bumps you encounter keeping the front wheel planted. Also the front end doesn’t get that heavy steering feel during braking giving you greater control especially during emergency maneuvers.
The brakes are a pair of 12 inch rotors pinched by 4 piston Brembo calipers up front and a single disc in back. The brakes are strong and linear but their greatest asset lies in the fact that they are controlled by BMW’s second generation ABS. This feature should be standard on all motorcycles not just the high end machines. The confidence the Anti-Lock gives when stopping in all conditions is wonderful. In an emergency you simply hit the brakes as hard as you can, no need to think about over braking and losing control. The ABS works seamlessly, I have been unable to get anything more than a chirp out of the tires while slamming on the brakes and it has never been intrusive. You really forget it’s there until needed.
The K12 comes with an impressive list of standard features and a nice list of options. On the base model you get the electronically adjustable windshield that can be moved on the fly, it sounds silly but the idea is being copied by other brands. A nice set of fully integrated luggage that with proper packing can hold enough gear for most any trip. A single key operates the ignition and locks on all the bags. The ABS brakes are standard as well as updated switch controls and adjustable levers and a two-position driver seat. Power accessory sockets for any added electronics or for charging the battery. A full set of gauges including fuel and coolant temperature gauges, a digital clock and assorted warning lights. My favorites are the heated grips and electronic cruise control. A very nice sound system using 8 speakers in four locations is standard as well. The radio is an AM/FM and has a Weather-band feature that can be a lifesaver. A cassette player is also included but the optional 6-disc CD player would get more use.
The next step up from the base model is the Custom, which gives you the following options. Chrome highlights scattered around the bike. The aforementioned CD player and heated seats (no bun warmer jokes please), an alarm, a third brake light and luggage rack mounted on the top case. It also gets the very useful driving computer that features gives you air temp, fuel economy, fuel range till empty and average speed. All are very useful especially for you rally types or those of you who just like be continually fooling with a gadget.
The top of the line and price heap is the Elite model, which includes all the goodies previously mentioned, and also adds the integrated communication system and CB radio. The com system is a very nice feature, which allow rider to passenger communication as well as the ability to hook a cell phone or two-way radio radar detector into the com system. The CB is also a great tool on the road and is often the standard form of bike to bike communication. The Elite also adds BMW’s newest feature a GPS receiver made for BMW by Garmin. For those who have never used a GPS, it is a very useful tool that make navigating on the fly easy and makes getting truly lost next to impossible. For those acquainted with GPS I need not say anymore.
Enough about all the bells and whistles. How does the K stack up against the other players in the touring market. The K12 was aimed straight at the Goldwing 1500 and has done a fantastic job of raising the bar. Enough so that Honda hurried the 1800 Wing to market. The power of the 1800 may be greater than the K12 but you pay for that in decreased fuel economy and marginal range. And when the interstate ends and the twisties begin you’ll want on the LT. The combination of great suspension, brakes and cornering clearance makes the LT the winner on anything other than a straight line. We recently had the chance to run the LT around a real race track and found that despite it huge size and weight it was fun bike to throw around a track and blasting out banjo music through the stereo keeps the corner workers and competition guessing. The LT is rather top heavy and while this makes it unwieldy at time in parking lots once you open the throttle the weight just disappears.
On the open road the LT gobbles up miles like me at a Chinese buffet. 1000 mile days are very easily knocked down. This all thanks to a very comfortable neutral riding position. Even after back to back 1000+ mile days I was always looking forward to getting back on the bike. The is the first machine I’ve ridden where I wished for even greater fuel range because I just didn’t want to get off. Therein lays the LT greatest charm, you just want to keep riding. All the goodies and options that seem unnecessary become very appreciated and eliminate many of the distractions that take away from your ride.
The best compliment I can pay the LT is that it makes me want to ride more. Any bike that does that is number one in my book. If you are in the market for a touring bike the K1200LT certainly deserves your consideration.
by Sev Pearman
What makes 100 horsepower, weighs 834 pounds and hauls better than it has a right to? What pampers you with an electrically adjustable windshield, yet corners harder and deeper than many sport-touring platforms? The correct answer is BMW’s flagship K1200LT
BMW is a small player in the US, steadily holding 3 to 4 per cent of the motorcycle market. While they are found everywhere, they aren’t seen every day, unless you work for Senior Editor Wanchena. For those who aren’t familiar with their products, the K refers to the inline 4-cylinder, 4-valve/cylinder motor family; the 1200 alludes to the new, larger (duh) displacement, and the LT stands for “Luxury Touring.”
The LT evolves from the 4-valve K-bike family. Initially offered in standard, sport and sport-touring varieties, they have proven to be solid machines. Riders demanded a touring platform to equal that of the mighty Goldwing, and no doubt BMW craved a slice of the lucrative touring bike pie. The result? The awkward and frumpy K1100LT.
Even though the touring K1100LT was introduced just before the sport-touring K1100RS in 1993, both bikes were developed on the same platform. The factory took their excellent sport-touring K1100RS platform and saddled it with touring amenities. While a good bike on its own, it didn’t have the refinement of the then-new 1500-6 Goldwing. Wing riders weren’t swayed by the BMW’s performance, and BMW riders didn’t appreciate the added weight and expense of the touring equipment. In addition, the stereo sucked. Sales of the K11LT were lukewarm.
Back to the drawing board and BMW set out to make the best touring bike, period. The K1200LT is that bike. Released in 1999, the LT has rocked the motorcycle world. American riders have cautiously accepted the new uber-tourer. The LT has the touring amenities to keep Mr. and Ms. Americade happy, and still delivers riding performance to please the BMW faithful.
How does she stack up to the 1500-6 Wing, BMW’s obvious target? The LT comes ready-to-tour with the following goodies: reverse-assist to aid parking; an 840(!) Watt alternator with enough juice to power his and her electric clothing, auxiliary lights, the CD changer and a coffee maker; and a seat that adjusts to either 31.5″ or a bootscraping 30.3″
You cannot miss the electrically adjustable windshield that accommodates most any rider. Raise it on the fly for high-speed comfort, and lower it when entering towns for airflow and visibility. Operation is via an intuitive left thumbswitch. Simple and efficient. BMW has always made excellent, well-integrated bikes, and this feature does them proud.
BMW heated handgrips come standard, along with a power socket that can be used to both power accessories and charge the battery while garaged. Best of all is the real time cruise control, operated by a left thumb control. Once speed is set, the engine brain compensates for hills and load. Like BMW sedans, simply bump the switch forward to increase speed by one mile per hour, tap it toward you to tweak it back down. This feature works, and is flawless.
Of course, all locks are keyed to match the ignition. One key does it all here. Both clutch and front brake levers are adjustable. The LT has one-button 4-way hazards, and MMM asks again, “Why don’t all motorcycles come with this cheap and practical feature?” A 6+ gallon tank coupled with 43-odd mpg gives a respectable 250+ mile range, including reserve.
All LTs come with an AM/FM cassette stereo. It is controlled, like all of the features on this bike, by glove-sized weatherproof buttons. A second set is provided for the passenger. Nothing keeps the peace on a tour like giving the passenger DJ duties. The audio can be further upgraded by adding the 6 CD changer (lives in the right saddlebag) and/or a factory CB radio (hides under tank cover.)
Best of all, it stomps the 1500-6 Goldwing in performance. BMWs new LT had faster acceleration and a higher top speed. You got an extra 100 miles of fuel range and a whopping 488-pound carrying capacity, all features that touring riders had been screaming for.
The K1200LT was an immediate hit. The American moto press praised it highly, earning laurels from touring-based Rider magazine and “Best Touring Bike” from Motorcycle Consumer News. Hell, our Senior Editor sold off the old horse and promptly bought one. American Honda was stunned, and pushed an early release of the rumored 1800-6 Goldwing. When a small manufacturer forces the largest player in the US market to react to a product, you know they have a success.
OK, the touring set likes it, but what is it like to ride? BMW didn’t leave performance out of the recipe. The K12 comes with an aluminum frame, triple disc brakes with 2nd generation Anti-Lock (ABS II), 4.5″ of ground clearance and Z-rated rubber. The motor puts out 100 horsepower and is both injected and made pure through dual catalytic converters.
This new motor rocks. It is torque heavy, so all you need do in any gear is roll on the throttle. Add a downshift, and the thrust will surprise you. The 1200 LT hides its honest 834 wet pounds well. It is almost flickable. Steering is light and predictable and it is easy to ‘slalom’ between highway dashed lines at 65 mph (closed course, professional rider, kids; don’t try this at home, blah blah blah) One oddity is the tiller-like handlebars. I felt as if I were riding an antique flat-tanker. I’m not sure if they are a styling decision or a leverage call, but an owner would soon grow accustomed to their feel.
There are ridiculous amounts of cornering clearance. I was never able to find bottom even with my 240 pounds and the installed footpeg-lowering option. This bike has the capability to take corners that would have “more qualified” sport-tourers dropping the anchors. Take that turn too slowly? No matter. Simply activate the 100-horse thrusters, Mr. Sulu
The styling, while unified, is somewhat alien. It certainly is unmistakable. Some riders liked that the integrated luggage “didn’t look tacked on,” and that the fairing provided “decent coverage.” Others felt it all looked “swoopy” or “plastic-ky”
The fairing is simply excellent. Engineers have created a generous air bubble with extensive computer modeling and/or wind tunnel testing. By tracing my hand around the edge of the fairing as I rode, I was able to find an additional fistful of quiet air around the edge.
The dash is complete and legible. The large analog speedo and tach are complemented by accurate fuel and coolant temp gauges. Also included are a digital clock and the ‘BC’ window. With this feature (Bavarian Computer?) you can cycle through air temp, remaining range, average speed and fuel mileage functions.
Two tankfulls was hardly enough to explore both the touring capability and performance envelope of this remarkable machine. It is arguably the finest touring platform available today, as well as a surprisingly capable sport-tourer. If you are in the market to replace your ST1100, Concours or BMW RS/RT, test ride this motorcycle. If you are looking at an FLH Ultra or the new 1800-6 Wing, check out the K1200 LT. You may come away with a different motorcycle
- Hides weight well
- 24-hour riding comfort
- Civilized refinement, sir
- Goofy bars are an acquired taste
- Greater range please
- das Stijling
Wife’s First Reaction:
- “Wow. It’s a big, SPACE-ship bike…”
- BMW R1150 RT
- Harley Davidson FLH Ultra and Road Glide
- Honda Goldwing and Valkyrie Interstate
- Kawasaki Concours
- Triumph Trophy 1200
- Yamaha Venture
SPECIFICATIONS: BMW K1200LT
|Warranty||3 years, miles 36,000|
|Engine||liq.-cooled 4-stroke in-line 4-cylinder|
|Bore x Stroke||70.5mm x 75mm|
|Claimed power||100 hp @ 6,750 rpm|
|Claimed torque||85 lb.-ft @ 4750 rpm|
|Fuel System||fuel injection w/ Bosch Mototronic engine management|
|Service intervals||12,000 miles|
|Final Drive||Shaft drive|
|Charging system||14V 60 Amp Alternator 840 watts|
|Front suspension||Telelever, with leading link pivoted centrally on main frame w / gas filled shock|
|Front brakes||Twin 12 inch rotors; 4-piston Brembo calipers w/ BMW ABS II|
|Front tire||120/70 – 17 Metzler 880 Marathon|
|Front wheel||3.5 x 17 cast light alloy|
|Rear suspension||Patented BMW Paralever swingarm & shaft drive w / gas filled shock|
|Rear brake||11.2 inch rotor 4-piston Brembo caliper w/ BMW ABS II|
|Rear tire||160/70 – 17 Metzler 880 Marathon|
|Rear wheel||5.0 x 17 cast light alloy|
|Weight: (wet)||834 lbs (claimed)|
|Fuel capacity||6.2 gallons, inc. 1 gallon reserve|
|Seat height||30.3 / 31.5 inches|