BMW R I250 R T & GS: Swift and Shift
Singles, parallel twins, V-twins, triples, inline fours, flat fours, V-fours and sixes are as diverse as they are great but, as far as instant brand association goes, none are as recognisable as BMW’s boxer.
Sure, niche maker Ural uses the horizontally opposed twin layout and history shows others have too but, really, the boxer belongs to BMW, and has so for almost 100 years.
From ‘airheads’ and ‘oilheads’ to the more recent water-cooled version, the iconic engine has changed enormously in capacity, character and sophistication, while maintaining its own appeal and core characteristics. And to think BMW was allegedly going to scrap it altogether when production ceased for a few months back in 1986.
Now we have the R 1250 range, headlined by a displacement increase (from 1170 to 1254cc) and a simply clever variable valve timing system, dubbed ShiftCam (see breakout on how it works), which is rolling out to other models starting with the allnew S 1000 RR sportsbike (launch report in the next edition).
While power increases by nine per cent, from 92kW (125hp) to 100kW (136hp) at the same 7750rpm, torque jumps a healthy 14 per cent, from 125Nm at 6500rpm to 143Nm at 6250rpm, via a bigger bore and stroke. The torquing point here (sorry, not sorry) is the fact that there’s more than 110Nm on tap at just 2000rpm. But those gains feel like much more in the real world and only tell part of the story of the new engine.
Of course, a boxer’s winning punch has traditionally been its torque delivery, not its top-end power, which encourages grabbing gears early and slingshotting out of corners or effortlessly tractoring along off-road in the lower rev range. There’s never been a need to rev them for that reason and, like a diesel, there’s little on offer much beyond 6000rpm or so anyway. Until now.
The latest boxer happily revs out and – shock, horror – actually keeps pulling to around 8000rpm, adding a further dimension to its character. This will be especially apparent to owners of previous boxers, and it no longer feels like you’re being unsympathetic.
The newfound flexibility and urgency is appreciated during quick overtaking manoeuvres at bigger speeds or when there’s a whiff of red mist. That unassuming sense of speed is still very much there, too. Really, though, most of us will continue to torque it up and keep pulling gears early, which means you’re unlikely to notice the ShiftCam in effect. The transition goes completely undetected anyway because it doesn’t ‘kicking in’ like, say, the VTEC system on Honda’s VFR800, at a particular engine speed, but rather in just five milliseconds anywhere between 4000 and 5500rpm depending on variables such as available traction and the ferocity of throttle input, according to BMW.
So, yes, there’s more grunt and more tech, but more money is involved too. Pricing of the R 1250 range has risen by as much as $4200, or 18 per cent, in the case of the R 1250 RS Sport and R 1250 R HP. Other models go up an average of almost $1500, or around six per cent. Some models come down, however, including entrylevel versions of the R 1250 R naked bike (down $1250 to $21,240) and the noticeably sharper-looking R 1250 RS sportstourer (down $950 to $22,540). The giant-selling GS, meanwhile, now from $23,525, is up by as much as $2200 in the case of the off-road focussed R 1250 GS Rallye X.
Our four-day launch involved a day each aboard the R 1250 RT, F 850 GS Adventure, R 1250 GS Adventure and R 1250 GS Rallye X (the R 1250 R and RS are on their way).
Our route took in lots of dry, super-skatey fire trails; technical terrain; brilliant, twisty tarmac and plenty of iconic destinations while zig-zagging through national parks between Canberra and Merimbula then throughout the Victorian High Country to Albury. Here are our impressions of those models...
R 1250 RT
Sophisticated touring gets some red-blooded rascal If there’s one thing
BMW unquestionably excels in, it’s building top tourers – something it’s been doing for decades. With their cocooning bodywork and upright riding position, these things eat big miles for breakfast. Even the older versions. No wonder Roothy couldn’t pass up a mint R100LT recently.
Things started to change in 2014 for the ‘Riese Tourer’, or Travel Tourer, which brought about partial liquid cooling while being sportier, smarter and safer than its predecessors.
Going from the traditional air-/oilcooling to part liquid for the 1170cc boxer allowed for more precision engine temperature control and closer tolerances, thus better fuel economy and increased performance. Specifically, livelier low- and mid-range response.
But let’s call a spade a spade. The swollen RT still has a strong whiff of pipe and slippers or cop bike about it (high-spec Spezial edition possibly being the exception), none of which is likely to go away any time soon. But that’s until you ride one. Far.
A motorcycle this hefty has no right to accelerate and handle like this, but that’s been a long-standing hallmark of the RT (and entire R-series range for that matter). And that’s despite being 5kg heavier at 279kg wet (the final air-/oilcooled RT weighed 259kg).
Typical of any boxer-powered model, however, the weight disappears with momentum. The horizontally opposed engine layout naturally offers a low centre of gravity and neutral handling, which provides plenty of cornering confidence and easy direction changes despite the visual top-heaviness. The RT’s Metzeler Roadtec Z8 tyres take care of the rest.
Now, once through the apex, the biggest boxer’s muscle and new sense of immediacy come on strong thanks to its 143Nm, catapulting it towards the next corner. Or horizon. In boxers past, you’d normally go up a gear or two but, now with the ShiftCam, you can keep cracking the throttle as the lobes switch over, whipping it into previously uncharted territory, higher in the rev range. Of course, you can just stick to what you know and short-shift your way via the slick two-way quickshifter.
Similar to its predecessor, the RT differs from the GS with slightly higher gearing for more relaxed high-speed cruising and a heavier alternator and crankshaft for smoother running at low revs. It’s so damn comfortable, too – whatever the speed – with excellent wind protection, slightly revised ergonomics (including a wider electrically adjustable windscreen and low-set ’pegs) and a plush, supportive seat.
Now priced from $32,365 (plus on-road costs), the R 1250 RT’s extensive list of standard equipment has increased to offset the price rise (increases are model dependent). This includes cornering ABS and the company’s electronic damping system, dubbed Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment), which automatically adjusts to the road and weight onboard via four presets (Rain, Road, Dynamic and Dynamic Pro). The system can be selected at the press of a button while on the move, which is handy when the road surface suddenly turns poor.
The latest RT essentially looks the same as the old model and, from the rider’s position, there’s a sense that the digital/ analogue dash and the generational difference in connectivity in particular is now starting to look outdated against the smarter, sexier TFT screens of the GS models.
That aside, there’s no denying BMW has made one of the world’s best luxury touring motorcycles even better.
F 850 GS Adventure
"The F 850 GS Adventure is as far as we go in terms of off-road performance”
Hot on the heels of launching the all new F 750 and 850 GS models, BMW now brings us the F 850 GS Adventure with a larger-capacity fuel tank for offroad- oriented riders who go further off the beaten track. A 23-litre tank (up from 15L and back in the conventional position, not behind the seat) for a 550km theoretical range, paired with a 21-inch front wheel and plenty of suspension travel sees to that.
There’s no ShiftCam technology for the F 850 to speak of or any mechanical changes for the super-new 853cc parallel twin, which delivers 70kW (95hp) at 8250rpm and 92Nm at 6250rpm.
Its engine might be manufactured in China by Loncin Motor (not Rotax of Austria), but there’s plenty to love about it, especially if you take the bike out into its natural habitat.
Now with a 270-degree firing interval (instead of a 360) for a visceral V-twin sound and two counterbalance shafts for smoothness, the meaty torque off idle allows the 850 to happily tractor over obstacles with occasional feathering of the light slip-assist clutch to work with the tallish gearing (first to third ratios are shorter).
As we reported late last year (MT #342), the F 850 GS is touted as the most off-road focussed GS ever built, including the 1250 and, within the current range, there’s no arguments there. The Adventure does the same with the ability to go further.
In fact, riding the F 850 GS Adventure, or ‘GSA’, and R 1250 GSs back to back, the mid-size machine does everything noticeably easier through tricky terrain thanks to its proper off-road-oriented wheel sizes (21- and 18-inch items front and rear).
The downside is that, at 244kg wet, the GSA is 15kg heavier than the regular F 850 GS, or just 5kg shy of the R 1250 GS (249kg wet). And with the F 850 GS still fresh in mind, the GSA’s extra weight with a full tank is certainly noticeable, but that vanished as our day wore on with less fuel and more familiarity.
The bike’s suspension, though still erring on the softer side befitting of its dirt-going role, is much more planted and communicative than the old F 800 GS’s while springs rates up front for the GSA are firmer to support the weight of extra fuel.
The fact that the GSA felt at one with this average off-road rider through some pretty tricky terrain is testament to its benign ability. Like a big trailbike, it’s simply a case of point, squirt and conquer.
Two things especially stand out about the new F machines: no longer can these be seen as a poor man’s 1250, and the F 850 GS in particular doesn’t feel like an 853cc but rather a lighter, faster and more agile 1000. By the seat of the pants, certainly more so than an Africa Twin.
For the first time, too, they offer a technological parity with their bigger, boxer-powered brothers. That means all the tech and equipment from the R 1250 GS is there on the new upper-spec Rallye X and Tour models, including electronically adjustable suspension, LED lighting, extra ride modes, a two-way quickshifter and cornering ABS to name a few. All five variants (including a low suspension model) of the F 850 GS Adventure also get a taller, height-adjustable screen, which was especially welcome during a sudden cold snap at high speed, as well as engine crash bars and a stainless steel luggage rack.
Hmm, 850 or 1250? Good thing BMW helps you answer that at its nationwide ‘GS Experience’ test-ride program in the Wilderness.
R 1250 GS
The Swiss Army knife is even sharper
Just when you thought the smart money is on the F 850 GS, you take the R 1250 GS for a good gallop and your decisionmaking process goes back to square one. Especially when you’re talking about the off-road-focussed – and lavishly equipped – Rallye X hero model (from $30,240 plus on-road costs). Dammit.
The R 1250 GS fits like a glove, and it feels good. Even if it’s 5kg heavier than its predecessor (now 249kg wet). The ergonomics, seated or standing, are spot-on for big days, whatever the terrain. The bigger boxer and its new dual personality mightn’t take top honours in the horsepower race, but you’re never left feeling shortchanged let alone cursing it to get going.
With 143Nm of Bavarian brawn and a willingness to now rev out (should you choose), it pulls harder for longer with even more flexibility than before – not that the old model ever felt lacking. In two words: effortless and versatile.
But there’s a downside to this. Despite the fulfilment of reaching your destination at the end of a big day’s ride, you’re also left with a sense of disappointment. The bike’s comfort – and the confidence it inspires – leaves you feeling fresh, enthusiastic and yearning for more.
It’s easy to see why these things are so popular – they just do everything well. One moment, we’re tearing up brilliant High Country bitumen with the gusto to dust off a well-ridden sportsbike. The next, we’re ploughing through dirt roads and crossing rocky rivers that demand concentration, a steady, constant throttle and good clutch control (I praise the virtues of trials bikes yet again). Then we’re back onto ribbon-like tarmac, and the bumps go completely unnoticed.
Getting the best from the day’s surface changes meant switching between the revamped rider modes which, unlike some manufacturers, can be done while on the move with ease. Road and Dynamic modes, with their reduced traction control intervention, pin-sharp throttle responses and, most importantly, tauter suspension settings (via Dynamic ESA), were spot-on for the twisty, heavenly run between Jindabyne and Khancoban on the NSWVictorian border.
On the dirt and rocky river, meanwhile, Enduro mode’s more linear throttle and further refined traction control and ABS now activate more progressively, helping this rider feel less Jarvis Cocker, more Graham Jarvis.
The systems have become so good in fact that even the advanced off-road riders were leaving them on. If you’re ambitious and talented enough, you can always opt for the Enduro Pro mode, which allows you to disengage the systems altogether. But there’s rarely a need to when the regular Enduro mode is this good, helped by the Metzeler Karoo 3 dual-sport tyres, which proved a good match for the mixed terrain. That was, until the motley crew of hardriding journos got the better of them.
Besides the new engine, everything else about the GS is pretty much exactly the same. Had it not been for the fresh liveries, you’d be hard-pressed to spot the difference. Lean a little closer, however, past the ‘1250’ graphics, and you’ll see a flash 6.5-inch full-colour TFT screen that’s now standard and first seen in last year’s R 1200 GS Adventure and optional on the F 750/850 GS and GSA. The menu system (operated via the brilliant multi-jog dial thingy on the end of the left-hand grip) is super-intuitive, and the screen itself is clearly legible from outer space even when hit by direct sunlight and covered in dust.
Yep, the king of versatility just became better. <.p>
R 1250 GS Adventure
Big Bertha bangs harder for those who like to go further
It almost seems cruel to put the least-experienced off-road rider of the group on the biggest bike for the longest, sketchiest day of the launch. But I wasn’t worried. I had my trusty sidekick: the R 1250 GS Adventure.
Starting in Merimbula, our 470km off-road route crossed the historic McKillops Bridge (“the most hazardous and dangerous roads to drive on in the country”, according to DangerousRoads.org) and the Snowy River to link up with the beautiful Barry Way.
Dry and dusty conditions paved the way for skatey surfaces and reduced visibility if travelling too close on cliff-edge roads that double-back onto themselves. There were plenty of booby traps to keep you alert, too, especially as fatigue crept in.
There was a sense of deja vu for me, having ridden many the same iconic roads in similar conditions the same time last year aboard an R 1200 GS Adventure en route to the 2018 GS Safari.
You’d think these big berthas, with their 30-litre fuel tanks and associated weight, just wouldn’t work in such terrain but, when ridden accordingly and lots of ’peg weighting, they never cease to amaze.
Similar to the F 850 GSA, you only get a sense of its extra size and mass when you’re riding off the beaten track with a full tank. The rest of the time, it mostly feels like a regular GS so it pays to avoid filling it to the brim if your route allows it.
Tipping the scales at 268kg wet (up 8kg), does the GSA’s added weight blunt the bigger boxer’s increased performance? Nup. The extra dollop of torque and the fact that there’s more than 110Nm on tap at just 2000rpm compensates more than a middle-aged man with a sportscar and bag of rocket pills.
There were times where I was just a passenger as the 1250 Adventure just uses its predictable, diesel-like grunt to truck up, down, over or through whatever was in front of us.
Sitting on the bike can quickly feel foreign, just like its siblings. In the standing position, the big GS makes sense, and the ergos feel almost more natural. On faster, open-road sections such as highways, it sure is nice to relax behind the big screen that easily adjusts in height via a rotary knob. That knob really should be on the left-hand side, though.
Similar to the regular R 1250 GS, the Adventure gets a few subtle updates including a new intake snorkel cover (which I’m pleased to say I did not put to the test); a redesigned engine guard and fuel tank protection bracket; and an LED headlight as standard to toast nocturnal wildlife.
I’ve racked up plenty of kays on the GSA, and we get on well. I like it. Problem is, I also get on with the R 1250 GS as well as the mid-size F 850 GS and Adventure for when the terrain turns technical. If you have the cash and can’t decide, what a great problem to have.