July 17, 2009

1506 words 8 mins read

Ride Friday: Test ride BMW R1200RT

I’ve been researching and looking at touring bikes for a while now. Ever since I’ve had to return John’s bike, I’ve been keeping my eye out for used bikes and doing more digging from time to time. After my first long ride, which I’ve talked about previously, I knew what I wanted from a touring bike. I wanted a touring bike that wasn’t a luxury bike (like the Honda Gold Wing or the BMW K1200LT — even though its a nice bike), but at the same time, I wanted to avoid the sport touring bikes that were a bit heavy on the sport. Oh, and before you ask, no I didn’t want a cruiser.

This is all just personal preference.

The main problem is that while I can spend weeks researching, it doesn’t mean anything if the bike is too tall for me, or I don’t find it comfortable. The topic of height is really what narrowed down my selections. The only motorcycles I had been on previously were cruisers (which are known for being low) and since I’m height impaired (translation: short) I wasn’t sure I could even ride any of the touring bikes (all of which tend to be a bit on the higher side). So off I went.

While I went to a BMW dealership first, they didn’t have the lowered

R1200RT, so I got the address of another dealership that did. Before I got there I stopped at the local “power sports” dealer who had a plethora of different bikes and things, where I sat on and checked out 3 bikes:

2009 Kawasaki Concours 14 — They title this bike a “Supersport touring” and that was immediately apparent to me the moment I stepped onto the bike. Basically, every time I got on or off the bike, I kicked the tail end of it. The tail is significantly higher and sloped much like a sport bike. The sales rep told me that the Concours series is basically just a few years removed directly from whichever sport bike it came from, and has kept most of its sport bike heritage. To me it was just a sport bike with bags and a few extras. I don’t like sport bikes, and I don’t need a motorcycle that can go that fast. Seat height — 32.1”

2009 Honda ST1300 — Of the 3 bikes I sat on in this shop, I liked the ST the most. It was a decent bike which wasn’t too high for me, but after a riding a while it probably would have been higher than I’d have enjoyed. The bike looks nice over all, though a bit dated, especially when it comes to the instrument cluster. For some reason I got the feeling that the designers just stopped working on the bike sometime in the late 80s, and since then have been making only piecemeal upgrades (like smoothing the lines). While the bike is fairly cheap (in comparison to something like the BMWs), it lacks upgrades. The factory upgrades are next to non-existent which leaves you completely in the hands of aftermarket parts, which might not be a bad thing… but made me a be leery. Additionally, one of the features I really wanted was electronic cruise control (mechanical cruise just sounds like a bad idea to me). Seat height — 31.1” (+/- 0.6”)

2009 Yamaha FJR1300 — I’d say that this bike was #2 on the list (I really didn’t like the Concours). The FJR wasn’t a bad bike; it definitely has some sport heritage to it, but doesn’t show it as much as the Concours. Even still it is just a little too sporty for my taste. The seat wasn’t as low as the Honda, but was tolerable. Again, I could have ridden it, but I don’t think I’d enjoy having that little of my foot be able to touch the ground. All in all, I do like the look of the FJR, and I know they have an automatic version which is a bit silly and awesome at the same time. Seat height — 31.7” or 32.5”

If I had to buy one of the previous three, I would go with the Honda, mainly since it was an actual touring bike and of course it fit me the best. Though I hope it doesn’t come to that because my next stop was BMW and there was much joy to be had.

This dealership had a showroom R1200RT that was lowered so I got a chance to sit down on it and give it a feel (Seat height — 30.7”). I had enough of my foot on the ground to be comfortable with and I could push it around with little issue (which is important). I wasn’t able to flatfoot it without a little bit of lean, but that really wasn’t a big deal to me. I found that when riding John’s Suzuki (that I can easily flat foot), I still stand on the balls of my feet. Unfortunately, the dealership didn’t have a demo R1200RT that was lowered, but that didn’t stop me from taking a test ride on a regular R1200RT with the seat in the lowest position. Since I didn’t crash or drop the bike, I don’t need the lowered suspension, but it would definitely be nice for the comfort factor.

The ride itself wasn’t very long, sadly. I caught them right at the end of the day, and normally they wouldn’t have let me go at all, but the sales guy felt bad given how far I had come. Basically, I got to go “around the block” (it was a few blocks, but I digress) a few times and fiddle around for about 20 minutes. I’ll admit that I killed the bike twice trying to get it onto the road, which is a bit embarrassing, but it required a bit more on the throttle that I was used to. The engine didn’t seem to have as much starting torque, but I don’t have much to compare it against.

Once I truly got underway there were no more issues. I wasn’t riding more than 15 seconds before I realized, “Ho damn, this is a nice bike”. I don’t think there was any one factor that stood out; it was the combination of factors, including style, comfort, smooth ride, and precision — they just all hit me at once. Granted I’m not ultra experienced with motorcycles, but I knew instantly that it was a damn nice bike. During my first “around the block” I took it easy, just getting used to the bike and playing with the features (like the electronically adjustable windshield which is just so damn cool). The second time around I “played” a bit, swerving back and forth across the road (don’t worry, I was on an empty road), I also pulled off into a cul-de-sac to try a low speed U-turn. I managed a turn that was as small if not smaller than when I was on the Suzuki, and did it with reasonable confidence. Again, I needed to give it a little more throttle than I was used to, but I didn’t kill it, so I was getting the hang of it. About then, I realized how the cops managed to do all those crazy small turns in the competition videos I’ve seen. The third “around the block” was more random testing of features, i.e. ABS.

Sadly, I had to return the bike to the dealership. The main thing I realized on the test ride is that I was more comfortable on the R12RT after a 20 minute ride than I was on the Suzuki after a thousand miles. I think the ergonomics of the bike just worked really well for me, and just overall it felt “right”, though it wasn’t a very fair test of the bike, since I didn’t get to do more than go around in a circle on some city streets. I really need to go back in and have a longer test ride, one that involves getting on the freeway. I’ve actually considered renting the bike for a day or two and taking it for a bit of a trip (say to Tahoe and back). Unfortunately, I’ve been busy as of late with work, business trips, and an upcoming vacation.

Will I buy one?

Trust me, I want to. I can’t afford it at the moment, unless I sell my car. That idea isn’t completely without merit and I have seriously been considering it. Though as of right now I’m keeping any crazy plans like that on hold. I’m looking into used R1150’s and R1200’s in the mean time. Truth be told though, I’ve yet to see a single one for sale with the lowered suspension which means to me that people buy them and are keeping them. Oh, how I want one though…

What do you think? Should I sell my car to get this bike? Would you sell your car to get a bike?