The Luxury Cruiser is Born
BMW Debuts the R1200CL
by Neale Bayly
With the road glistening from a recent cloud burst, and the soft, layered mountains shrouded in mist, I watched the line of motorcycles ahead of me twisting and snaking along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sitting comfortably behind the large protective faring with a Steely Dan CD playing, I was enjoying the last few miles of a day in the saddle on BMW’s new luxury cruiser, the R1200CL.
Introduced to America’s press at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, located on the grounds of the picturesque Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, BMW could not have picked a more fitting location. Comfortable, luxurious and elegant, the new BMW R1200 CL was totally at home in these magnificent surrounds. It also provided everyone present the opportunity to test ride the new cruiser along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and through the beautiful countryside to the south of the Smokey Mountain National Park. This allowed a great variety of riding, from tight twisting mountainous two lane, to some fast moving four lane travel with glorious sunshine and heavy rain thrown in for added diversity.
For me, the first few miles were a little unsettling. I ride a lot of bikes and generally adapt very quickly to new machines. I believe every motorcycle has its own individual “sweet spot.” A feeling that occurs when the motorcycle, for want of a better word, feels “happy.” Ride a sport bike too slow, and it is irritable and grumpy in the way it responds. Ride a touring bike too fast, and it starts scraping metal and refusing to brake in time for the next corner, which makes for a very un-relaxed ride.
Twisting through the peaceful North Carolina forest, I found myself not arriving quickly at the “sweet spot” on the CL. I mistakenly thought because the handlebar faring looks big and heavy that the steering would require more effort than an un-faired cruiser. This meant negotiating the tight turns we first encountered was not a fluid action, as my heavy grip would not allow the bike to turn smoothly. Once I realized my mistake and eased my grip, my whole experience onboard the new BMW was transformed. The revised telelever front end actually possesses a very light steering action and the bike handles extremely well, even at extreme lean angles.
By this time I was also feeling more at home in general. I had been hitting my boot on the cylinder head looking for the rear brake lever and had been experimenting with the heel toe shifter during the first few miles before getting it right. We were now making our way south along the Blue Ridge Parkway and, twisting hard on the throttle and cranking through the bend as we transitioned onto route 74 to Waynesville, the CL and I were moving in perfect harmony. Accelerating up to around 75 mph, the 1200 cc twin made steady haste as I joined the traffic flow on the smooth, open four-lane highway.
Now power-cruiser the CL is not, and BMW’s Tim Hirst spent some time explaining this to us the night before the ride. With most of the other manufacturers engaged in some sort of horsepower war at the moment, BMW has stayed with their tried and tested R259 twin. Displacing 1170cc, it puts out 61 horsepower and 72 lb-ft of torque at a lowly 3,000 rpm and has been the heart of their highly successful R1200C since 1997. Silky smooth, the fuel injected twin uses the Motronic MA 2.4 engine management system that eliminates the need for a choke and helps minimize emissions. As BMWs second most popular model, 8,000 C’s have currently been sold here in the US, with people being drawn to the “unique appearance and innovative technology.”
Building on that success, the R1200 CL is not just the same bike with a faring and luggage bolted on. Although based on the R1200C, the CL has undergone numerous chassis as well as cosmetic changes. The new bike has a chunky 150/80 16-inch front tire wrapped around an all-new double-spoke wheel and a huge 170/80-15 out back. The front telelever has wider fork tubes to accommodate the new wheel and has been further reworked for a more raked appearance. This in turn increases straight-line stability while relaxing the steering response. The unit uses the same front shock, although it has been re-angled with altered spring and damping rates to accommodate all the changes.
Out back, the CL’s Monolever rear suspension has also undergone some surgery. It has been reinforced and uses a new shock, similar to the one found on the R1150 GS Adventure, to allow a 20 mm increase in suspension travel. This gives a total of 4.72 inches and mighty plush the ride is, too. The rear subframe is also new, as it now has to house a permanently mounted luggage system. The BMW press literature likens it to the K1200LT’s; so long distance travelers are going to be well catered for here. It opens and closes with remarkable ease. I get confused easily on this type of operation, but not on the BMW. Just press the button and the handle pops out to greet you. The large top box is just as easy to use and held my backpack, rain gear and camera equipment with plenty of room to spare.
When the CL hits the market it is going to have a few options available and one of these is the height of the windshield. The M-shaped shield allows you to look through the gap in the middle when the conditions are less than ideal. I rode with the low and the high option and much preferred the lower screen. I found the taller version a little unsettling in the tighter turns. I was not quite tall enough to look over and the bend of the shield reflected light back at me, which I found distracting. I am just under six foot and am sure taller riders would not have this problem, as the shorter screen was perfect for me. Heading east out of Highlands on state road 64, under a soft green canopy of leaves, the heavens opened up. I was wearing a leather jacket and jeans and after a few minutes of pouring rain was most surprised to find myself still comparatively dry. Sure, some rain was making its way behind the faring and my feet were picking up a bit of spray but amazingly my jeans were almost bone dry. My hands were the only area that got a little wet, even though they sit behind the integrated mirrors in the faring. A few miles later we stopped to pull on our waterproof suits and I noticed Susan Buck, who writes for City Cycle magazine, looking soaked to the skin. She was riding a standard R1200C: Full marks CL.
This conveniently brings me to the front faring. Confusing more than a few Harley riders into waving, it is both functional as well as stylish. Designed to offer “maximum wind protection with a minimum of buffeting” there are small clear extensions on the lower edges to facilitate parking lot maneuvers. The unique looking side fairings are solidly mounted to the frame and look as if they are part of the upper faring until you get close and realize they are separate. They are specially sculptured to direct the rain away from the rider and, as mentioned earlier, do a great job keeping the elements at bay. Up front, the BMW R1200CL uses some pretty trick looking headlights and, while I never got to test them at night, the high beams are borrowed from their GS line and have enough candlepower to dry a wet road. The lights are interestingly set up, with the main beams stacked vertically and the larger dip beams horizontally placed to the outside. With the turn signals integrated into the mirrors that attach to the side of the faring the BMW certainly has a distinctive look “coming at yah.”
Reading the list of standard equipment that comes with the CL shows just what a sophisticated machine you are buying when you purchase a BMW. Two power accessory sockets, heated grips, cruise control, single key locking system…… the list goes on.
To further accessorize your CL, BMW is offering a radio and CD package. The standard bike comes prepped and ready with both soft touch and heated seats. This, if I took my notes correctly, will also all come standard on a model called the CLC. With many other great features like the latest generation ABS braking system, a 3-year/36,000 mile limited warranty and during this period access to the BMW Motorcycle Roadside Assistance plan, life with your new BMW is going to be as smooth and trouble free as it gets.
Other quality touches that do not affect reliability or performance, but sure look good on the eyes, are the many chrome highlights around the CL. The valve covers, saddlebag bumpers, tank panel, gas cap, bar end mirrors and front engine cover give you plenty of places to check you hair before booking into your hotel for the night. Along with a full chrome exhaust system, brake lever, gearshift and accented floorboards, the CL with its deep luster paint draws plenty of admiring glances. BMW lists the three-color choices available as: Pearl Silver, Mojave Brown and Capri Blue all coming in a metallic finish.
Climbing on board, the 29.3-inch seat height allowed me to put my feet firmly on the floor. The wide bars make the bike a cinch to pick up off the side stand and put you in a nice upright riding position. The view forward is clean and uncluttered, with the dashboard consisting of a simple, round, speedometer to the left and tachometer to the right. Between them sit the warning lights with a small clock sitting on the top in the center, flanked by the turn signal lights. Below the clock console the simple controls for the radio and CD player sit between the handlebar clamps. The dials to adjust the volume and change channels or tracks are found on the left hand handlebar to the right of the turn signal switch and cruise control.
I did not get much chance to use this feature riding in a group, but flipped it on for a while on Highway 74 as we made our way for Dillsboro. This is a feature you will enjoy on long journeys, when it becomes necessary to use the Interstate, and, when added to the multi adjustable levers and heated handlebar grips, will arm you with everything you need to burn up the miles in total comfort.
Once under way the clutch action is light and the gearbox smooth and easy to use. The heel-toe shifter works extremely well and, for those like me, who find the concept of pushing down with their heel to change up a bit of a challenge, you can shift conventionally without any problems. The CL actually has floorboards, not foot pegs but do not worry they are sensibly placed like the standard units and work very well. The ride is plush and comfortable and the CL’s road handling is predictable and very stable. The linked brakes are awesome and require only the lightest touch to give instant and extremely powerful results. A little care is needed with the back brake though. It is not as sensitive as the R1150RT, but you will certainly need to make some small mental calibrations to modulate your foot movement if you are stepping off another brand of motorcycle. With the aforementioned telelever front suspension there is no dive under braking and, with the latest generation anti lock brakes, no fear of locking up the wheels.
Acceleration is adequate, if not mind blowing, and the big twin never has to work too hard. At around 70 mph the engine is only turning 3,000 rpm, which makes for a very relaxed ride. This is aided in part by a very tall sixth gear. It is basically an overdrive that I only used once up to speed on the open highway. The motor will spin up to 7,000 rpm with ease and will hustle right along if you twist the throttle hard and start dancing on the gear lever.
Heading back to the Biltmore, BMW’s Roy Oliemuller and I did just that, putting our bikes through their paces. Even with the roads still wet from a recent rainfall, we pushed them fairly hard through the turns and held them wide open down the straights. A few miles later, pulling over to wait for the rest of the group, the smile coming out of Roy’s helmet said it all: this bike is a blast. Comfortable, smooth, refined and coming with a host of features to back up its luxury definition, the BMW R1200 CL is getting ready to set the standard for luxury cruisers.