BMW's K1200GT - a Motorcycle for the Pyrenees?
Text and photos by Bob Stokstad
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All K1200GT photos

Ready to ride, at BMW Munich
Ready to ride, at BMW Munich
The K1200GT, BMW's sport touring flagship, was first introduced in Europe and in the US three months later. Just a casual glance says this is one fast but comfortable motorcycle. It is big, fully-faired, with a long wheelbase and low-to-the ground look. You might well ask, would I have picked the GT out of a BMW line-up for this ride in the Pyrenees? Well, to be honest, probably not. Thus it was with some apprehension that, two hours after landing in Munich, I climbed on the K1200 at BMW's VIP depot. A week and one thousand miles later I would feel differently. But at that moment it seemed prudent to do a few figure eights and try out the brakes in the parking lot before venturing into Munich traffic.

First impressions, like in the parking lot, can be deceptive. But at these low speeds this heavy, 630 lb. bike inevitably showed its weight in slow, tight corners. A little later, out on the autobahn, the GT came into its own. Like the duck designed for water, the GT is at home on a smooth, fast, no-speed-limit highway. At 110 mph it was just starting to stretch its legs. Snapping the throttle at this point still produced a healthy kick, but my helmet was starting to float on my head due to the air rushing over the top and I decided I didn't need to find out just how fast this creature could run. I rolled back to an indicated 80 mph, where at 5000 rpm the motor was loafing at half its redline and most of the K1200GT's claimed 152 horsepower was waiting in reserve. The defining characteristic of this bike, however, is not top speed (which can hardly ever be used) but acceleration. Zero to 100 km/h is listed in the brochure as 3.1 seconds. I have no idea if it's actually 3.3 or 3.5 seconds, but passing is a pleasure, not to mention safer because of the available acceleration. On Europe's freeways and toll roads as well as on ours, one often needs to accelerate in order to keep free space around the motorcycle. It's a sneaky pleasure when doing this to look briefly at the driver on your right, catch an eye and then gently gas it and see him disappear in your rearview mirror. Oh, the feeling of utter superiority, capped by the smugness of knowing that you're nowhere near this machine's limits when pulling away, even starting at 90 mph. But these temptations are irrelevant in the Pyrenees where the most enjoyable roads are the least conducive to high speed.

Fully loaded, in the Pyrenees
Fully loaded, in the Pyrenees
The handling characteristics of the K1200GT, I soon learned, were up to the challenges of narrow roads, tight curves, and mountain-pass grades. So long as I was moving over about 15 mph, steering was light and behavior in corners neutral. Light handling in corners is favored by the comfortable width of the handle bars; the 28 inches between the outer edges of the rubber hand grips provide leverage to get the bike leaned over with little effort. The long wheel-base favors straight line stability at the expense of maneuverability, but the net effect of these opposing tendencies is a well-chosen compromise. After one day in the mountains, I stopped thinking about a smaller bike and fully enjoyed the sporting side of this tourer.

Handling is also affected by suspension, and here BMW has come in with some very nice features for adjusting same (optional, installed at the factory). The preload has three levels that are set with a switch with the motor running and the bike at rest: solo, solo with baggage, and two-up with baggage. A manual preload adjustment determines the central point about which the adjustment (solo vs. two-up) is made. The feature I found most useful, however, was the ability to adjust the rear damping while riding. Here again three settings were available: sport (stiff damping), normal (moderate damping), and comfort (least damping). On an irregular road you can immediately sense the difference in the bike's handling for each of these settings. When the road got bumpy, or we had to ride through a construction area with rough-packed dirt, switching to "comfort" made all the difference in the world. My first thought - that this adjustment might just be a gimmick - was dispelled. I used this capability frequently.

Sleeker, without the top case.
The brakes have three major features. First is ABS, which needs no discussion here (nor did I need it on the trip). Second is hydraulic power assist. Just enough assist is provided to bring this heavy bike to a quick and safe stop. Too much assist could be dangerous, as the rider looses the feel of braking. (Although this situation isn't supposed to happen, if the engine is off and you need to brake, you will immediately realize how much assist the hydraulic unit provides.) The third feature is "partial" integral braking. While the rear brake pedal activates only the rear brake, the front lever activates both front and rear calipers. The relative amount of braking power sent for and aft is determined by the hydraulic sensing system built into the ABS brake system. This all works very well.
Wide bars for easy handling. Modest design in the cockpit - nothing modest about the numbers.

The ergonomics are excellent. I'm 6' 7'' tall and was comfortable in the saddle. If I was 6' 8" or 6' 9" it would have been different as then my knees would bang on the fairing nacelle instead of resting comfortably against it. The seat was comfortable for the whole day - no saddle soreness or monkey butt from this baby. The handle bars can be raised or lowered at the point they attach to the top of the steering system, which uses the same front fork system as on the K1200S. The electrically powered windshield can be adjusted while riding, permitting a fine tuning so that wind noise can be minimized at any speed. As well as heated grips, there were heated seats. Did I say "seat" with an "s" at the end? Yes, and the pilot and passenger seats are supplied with separate heaters and temperature selecti
The K1200GT and the R1200RT: try both before you buy
on. Long distance fatigue in the right wrist can be minimized through the use of a cruise control. Useless in the Pyrenees, I can imagine situations (crossing Iowa comes to mind) where cruise control would be welcomed. The optional on-board computer does all sorts of stuff that little computers are good at doing, and which you may or may not feel you need on your personal K1200GT. The air temperature measurement is quite accurate, as judged by comparing the control panel reading with the temperature readings on bank signs. Finally, this Black Beauty lifts effortlessly onto its center stand. BMW has positioned the center stand perfectly to achieve balance between front and rear.

The last word is saved for styling. It is a beautiful motorcycle - no two ways about it. Sleek, clean lines, fully-faired, with a luggage system that looks like it belongs on the bike in the same way a fender or headlight does. The beauty of the K1200GT can be appreciated even more intensely by positioning it next to a R1200RT. The R bike looks good by itself, but with the K1200GT next to it, its styling would have to be called plump, given all the protuberances and bulges there, which are thankfully not present on the K1200GT. That's being a bit unfair to the RT, I know, so let's just say that anyone considering buying an R1200RT should have a look at the K1200GT before handing the check to the dealer. The K1200GT has done very well in the moto-journal comparisons of comparable sport tourers. I now know why. Being able to discover this in the Pyrenees doubled the pleasure and the fun.

All K1200GT photos