By Victor Wanchena with Gus Breiland and Sev Pearman
Motorcycling publications often get away with murder. We test a bike for a handful of miles, write a few words about our impression, and then move on. Even MMM, with its high journalistic standard (cough) has committed this sin.
Sure, we hang on to the bikes we test from time to time. The Kymco People 250 scooter we torture tested for 24 hours impressed us enough to buy it, but more often the test bikes are like buses, we just hop from one to the next. But one bike has hung around the MMM stables in one form or another, the BMW K1200LT.
We first tested the big LT in 2002 and were impressed, so much so that we tested the revised model in 2005. Since then members of the MMM extended family have owned an impressive six K12’s, and I have personally racked up close to 200,000 miles on K12’s. That’s a level of faithfulness to one bike never seen in a group that changes bikes like dirty socks.
So to answer the question were our reviews accurate we looked back at our old reviews. Did our impressions hold true? In an attempt to offer a fact check of our own work, we bring you a review of our reviews. We will show what we wrote then and what we think now. We got plenty right and some stuff wrong, but still love the big LT. Although no longer in production and growing older by the day, they represent a tremendous value in a touring motorcycle.
Then: Pearman said, “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.”
Now: Looking back through hindsight, the first generation of K1200LT redefined touring for BMW. It may not have drawn in many from the Goldwing crowd, but certainly fired a big shot across Honda’s bow.
This has remained true over the years. For the most part BMW riders have remained so and Goldwing riders have done the same. There has been some cross-over both directions, but each bike appeals to a particular type of rider. Honda answered BMW’s warning shot with the 1800 Wing, which is still in production, while the LT was only around from ‘99-‘09 and was superseded by the K1600GTL a vastly different machine.
Then: Wanchena wrote, “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 combines fuel injection, a catalytic converter and Bosch Mototronic engine management and you have a power plant 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 numbers like that mean, my first car had only a 30-amp alternator and many modern cars use 60-amp alternators. “
Now: The original configuration K motor is no more. BMW has moved on to newer designs, which inherited the K designation. It had a good run of 25 years in production, which is KLR like in its longevity. The K12 version did receive a decent power boost in 2005, but otherwise remained unchanged.
They have continually proven themselves to be very long-lived machines. 150,000 miles is nothing to get out of one, though I was never able to keep my LT’s uncrushed to that mile mark. Their power delivery and smoothness are comparable to any modern machines and their only failing was being heavy. Routine maintenance is all they ever seem to need. If buying a used machine, don’t be nervous about high-miles.
Then: Wanchena said, “The LT is replete with enough gadgets to satisfy even Batman. The list of standard and optional equipment is tremendous. Standard equipment includes: electronic cruise control, a driving computer, heated grips, a full gauge package, a stereo with weather band and CD player, a hydraulically deployed center stand, reverse gear and the list goes on. The optional equipment list is just as full with a six-disc CD changer, a GPS navigation system, heated seats and an intercom to name a few.
The gauge and radio display were redesigned for 05 and integrated together in a very attractive package. I only wish the speedo was marked more precisely. BMW seems to think we only travel in multiples of 20 mph. The intercom system adds the capability to pipe in all other devices to the bike, including: cell phone, CB, FRS or Ham radio, for the uber connected geeks in the crowd.”
Now: Even today the LT continues to be one of the better-equipped machines on the market. I really wanted to hate the power center stand on my current LT, but the damn thing is very convenient and actually helps the cornering clearance by eliminating the low hanging arm.
None of the standard or optional equipment is needed, but it all helps make your ride more comfortable and pleasant. There is a reason why the LT is so easy to do big miles on and this is part of it. A buyer of an LT today will have less choices for aftermarket accessories, but most of the common pieces are still out there.
Then: Pearman said, “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.”
Now: I still couldn’t agree more. A single key, adjustable levers, standard easy to use hazards are simple equipment that makes any motorcycle easier to use and safer. Fuel range is another point we still agree on. Small tanks are no fun. The LT provides excellent range with a reasonable size tank. Traveling by bike is always simpler when fuel range isn’t a concern. The LT has that nice blend of performance and economy that can be lacking modern mega-touring machines.
Then: Breiland mused, “With a hand full of brake I was now being introduced to the servo assist brakes. Full braking power is only available with the key in the “Run” position or while the bike is running. Limited braking power is available without the key on but I was in need of full power and under my circumstances partial was not enough. There lies a K12LT. My ego is bruised, my neighbor is concerned and the bike is scratched. Crap. Luckily BMW engineers in their wisdom actually placed cheap parts in the tip over zone rather than stainless steel this and carbon fiber that.
While the ABS servo assist brakes are a wonderful thing, it also is my only real complaint about the bike. I want brakes if the engine is on or off, period. The tip-over lesson was informative in the sense that I was able to test the lifting of this massive bike from a tip-over position. While it is large, I was able to lock the bars to the left and plant my butt up against the seat. Grabbing the bars and the saddlebag handle, I walked the bike to its preferred upright position. While difficult, it is nice to know it can be done.”
Now: We’re sticking to our guns on this one. The servo brakes have continued to be a love hate affair for me. They have several quirks, like the minimal braking when powered off, and the braking isn’t very linear. The original version of them was very grabby taking minimal lever travel to go from off to ABS engaged.
They do work to haul the big LT down from speed in a hurry and they do that well. But the weird delivery of the braking power doesn’t promote good feel or inspire fine braking control. Stopping quickly is all they do well. The early LT’s (99-01) didn’t have the servo brakes and the revised 05 and later bikes servo units were more linear than the early models. We weren’t sad to see this feature disappear on the newer models.
The ABS does work wonderfully and we continue to have zero complaints about it. We were amazed to see this first hand in an Experienced Riders course, which had us working the ABS hard during quick stops. It performed perfectly even with the bike leaned way over and nailing the servo brakes from hell. No full lock ups, no dropped bikes.
Handling and Ride
Then: Wanchena said, “The riding manners of the LT are quite nice for a bike of this size. Weighing in at 850 pounds ready to ride, it is not a small bike. The center of gravity is rather high and that is felt at slow speeds. Once up to speed, any ponderous feelings disappear. Nimble is not a word usually used in the same sentence as touring but it applies here. The nickname “Light Truck” is very un-deserved. The LT is not a sport bike by any stretch of the imagination, but it will satisfy the sporting urges of all but the hard-edged road racers. The suspension is fantastic with the patented Tele-Lever front end and more fancy geometry giving a very stable ride. It has a natural anti-dive characteristic that is really appreciated under hard braking.”
Then: Breiland wrote, “I know that road yacht is a silly term and jokingly this is a sedan with only 2 wheels. Realistically, the K12LT is a comfortable, extra large touring bike with all the county crossing amenities that one would want while winding through the alphabet roads of south west Wisconsin or bee-lining across Nebraska. The BMW designers even gave you 40 degrees of lean angle to keep up with your friends on Sunday afternoon rides. Of course your bike will be playing Bluegrass music, while theirs just turn.”
Now: I still enjoy the handling of the LT once it’s moving. Maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s that I have tasted the forbidden fruit, but the massive weight of the LT can be annoying. The weight of the LT does lessen once moving over 15 mph, but below that it’s readily apparent and at 853 lbs before luggage or riders it can be a handful. Coming to a stop requires more forethought than I’m used to or care for. Some riders don’t mind, as the extra girth makes the LT track straight and true like a locomotive even in a strong cross wind. Frankly, I’d love the LT more if it shed 150 pounds, which BMW did when they designed its replacement the K1600GTL. We got this one wrong back then. As good as the handling is, it still weighs a ton.
Then: Wanchena wrote, “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.”
Then: Pearman said, “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.”
Now: We still feel the same way. Sure the LT is heavy and the servo brakes are goofy, but they aren’t the whole picture. The LT does what it was designed to do really well; run cross-country with comfort and performance in one package. My thoughts back then still hold true, the LT makes me want to ride more. We could nit pick away at it or wander down internet thread rabbit holes about perceived flaws, but the reality for us is we like riding the old fella.
Now: Dang it, we still like it. At a time when I love to talk myself into a newer different machine, I still keep coming back to the LT. It offers tremendous value on the market right now. Especially true ever since it’s replacement, the K1600GTL, is showing up on the used market.
Clean examples of the LT routinely show up for $4-5,000. Expect to pay more for the revised ‘05 and newer or fully optioned models. That’s a hell of a deal when compared to the equivalent new machines which start north $20K.
Despite it’s age the LT holds it’s own with bikes two generations newer. It has aged well and that’s a testament to how well it was originally designed.