2021 BMW R 1250 RT: Your Dad's bike just got cool
Here's a review in which I try to convince you it's not a Dad bike. But then my Dad bought one. Sigh
Unless you're an open-minded biker, there's a fair chance you think the BMW RT is the preserve of two groups of people: retired men with beer guts and an annoying amount of free time with which to explore Europe on two wheels, or the rozzers.
Neither group really screams 'sexy biking', but both demographics have something in common: they need bikes that will carry them and stuff long distances in comfort. Which, if you've ever let me talk to you about motorbike roadtrips for more than 10 seconds, you'll know is actually a pretty cool thing to do. Biking roadtrips rule.
So, before you roll your eyes and think this is going to be a review of a dull-as-ditchwater two-wheeled conveyance, think about what a motorbike can be. Because the RT can be almost all of the things you want it to be.
It's utterly brilliant – and unless you park your prejudices and ride one, you'll be missing one of the best-kept secrets in biking.
What is it?
It's a big ol' full-fat touring bike, complete with an electrically adjustable screen that will entirely shield you from the wind if you're below 6'3". I'm 6'3" and the wind still catches my head. But hey – most people will find complete solace from the elements behind that big ol' sheet of clear plastic.
It's powered by a 136hp boxer twin (as seen in the World's Most Popular Big Bike, the GS), with a stonking 143Nm of torque at a measly 6,250rpm.
So far, so motorbike. But what sets the RT apart from the competition is its mix of technology and… dynamism. No, that wasn't a typo.
The elephant in the room
Given the RT's somewhat intimidating bulk, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's happiest cruising on the motorway with the screen up and podcasts yacking away in your helmet. And it does do that very well. The wind protection, comfy seat, relaxed riding position, radar-controlled cruise control and supple suspension make motorway miles simply melt onto the odometer.
But – and you may have seen this coming – it's surprisingly brilliant on twisty roads. It's eager to drop into a corner, with the only real limiting factor being your mind telling you that such a big bike shouldn't lean like that. But lean it does, and it's actually hugely entertaining to throw around. It's as nimble as you like. Sure, in the softest suspension mode it can get a bit out of shape if you're choppy with the throttle at high speeds in sweeping bends… but it's still impressively capable.
How's that engine feel?
The 1,254cc ShiftCam engine puts on a star turn too, punching hard enough to encourage the front wheel to make a bid for the sky in second gear. It's seriously pokey, and the performance isn't dimmed much by the bike's substantial 279kg wet, ready-to-ride weight.
The RT comes with panniers as standard – the chromed exhaust is part of the comfort pack (for some reason)
That weight, for what it's worth, is carried low in the bike and you'll still be comfortable tottering around in first gear without fear of dropping it. Hell, the up-and-down quickshifter is even buttery smooth from first to second at low revs – that's pretty rare, but BMW's absolutely nailed it here.
Tell me about the tech
Let's start with the obvious. The 2021 R 1250 RT has a whopping 10.25-inch digital dashboard, which sounds huge for a bike but it looks just the right size nestled under the RT's windscreen. You can link your phone to the bike by BlueTooth and a BMW mobile app to beam sat-nav maps to it – something we didn't get working, but that's almost certainly user error.
You can also plug your phone in to a USB socket in a lockable phone-sized cubbyhole under the right-hand handlebar. Sadly this cubby was too small for my iPhone 12 Pro Max, at least with its case on.
You very quickly get used to the huge, clear screen - and suddenly other bikes' displays feel a bit feeble by comparison
Speaking of lockables, there's another cubby under the left-hand handlebar, which – like the phone one – can be locked with the key blade but also remotely using the bike's central locking – which also locks both panniers – it's like a car. Central locking is part of the £1,400 comfort package, which also adds keyless ignition, seat heating, that phone tray and – for some reason – a chromed exhaust. Hard panniers come as standard (the left-hand one can hold a full-face helmet), and there are two sizes of top box on the options list.
Enough about boxes – the big news for 2021 is the RT's new face, which incorporates a new full LED headlight, which can automatically point into corners for you (with an option box ticked, at any rate). Tucked under the headlight is the black face of the radar unit for the cruise control. It works well, adjusting your speed to keep you a set distance from traffic in front.
BMW's done a great job of sharpening up the looks – you can just about make out the black rectangle that hides the cruise-control radar
We did find it tends to err on the side of caution and slow down despite the slowing car ahead moving fully out of our lane. But as on the Ducati Multistrada V4, it's a really, really useful system, especially if you're planning big trips.
What else do I need to know?
There's very little to grumble about on the new RT. You might think it looks a bit dowdy, but once you've ridden one for a couple of hours there's a fair chance you'll find yourself making space in the garage for one. It's a bike that just nails the real-world stuff and brings a host of useful tech to the party. It's an astonishingly complete bike.
And yes, it may have a bit of a Dad vibe to it… and after showing him my video review further up this page, my own father's just ordered one. Sorry BMW, I'm not helping you with the image problem, am I?