Andrew English rides: BMW R 1250 RT

‘Death list’ is how one respected motorcycle industry journal described the cull in older bike designs falling victim to new European emissions rules.

7w ago

A version of this article was first published on YesAuto UK.

Motorcycles aren’t exempt from the clean-air legislator’s scythe, nor should they be and, since the rest of the world tends to take its lead from Europe, that’s effectively a world ban.

So, farewell to Honda’s much-loved V4 engines, which failed to make the cut and also Yamaha’s FJR1300A and Triumph’s Tiger Sport, also withdrawn. As a Honda VFR owner this causes me great consternation and also a degree of difficulty finding a replacement agile sports tourer. Ducati’s Multistrada springs to mind but it, like BMW’s GS, is also a trail machine and I don’t want one of them.

BMW’s similarly engined R1250RT partly fits the bill, though it’s an expensive piece of kit starting at £15,820 and can an enormous thing like this really give you a thrilling ride?

Renewed last year, the RT comes with a new version of the flat-twin motor, which meets the latest Euro V emissions standards which came in January last year. These amount to an improvement in carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon and oxides of nitrogen emissions of about one third over the previous Euro IV standard. Euro V also has a new requirement; to emit no more than 68mg/km of non-methane hydrocarbons.

Bikes have particular problems with emissions standards, partly because of their high revving engines, which means more valve overlap to increase volumetric efficiency, but a commensurate increase in emissions. The heat of combustion can increase NOx and there are packaging and appearance issues; there’s not much room on a motorcycle and most of the mechanical bits are on display. Also, the market is pretty price sensitive.

Most of the solutions have their issues including larger exhaust catalysts (weight, cost and appearance), variable valve timing (cost and complication) and turbochargers (heat management, cost and complication). In this case BMW has fitted a switchable camshaft to the heads on its engine, which change to a more aggressive camshaft when you are at high revs or crack the throttle open.

Part-throttle running is more efficient and environmental as a result and while the 134bhp/106lb ft power and torque figures are impressive enough on their own, it’s the way this is delivered which is so impressive.

The standard spec includes: linked brakes equipped with cornering anti-lock circuitry, switchable riding modes including dynamic, eco and rain, an electronic windscreen, large panniers and a rear luggage rack, cruise control and LED headlamps and a 10.25-inch screen in place of analogue dials.

My goodness it’s easy to rack up the extras, though. Keyless starting for example is part of the £1,400 Comfort package along with central locking. Electronically adjustable damping is an extra £850. Our by no means over-draped machine had radar-controlled cruise control, wireless phone charging, electronic suspension, heated seats and central locking and the total price came to just over £19,105 and that was without a radio or satellite navigation for which you need to download and connect an app – life’s too short.

At least my Tom Tom Ride sat nav suckered to the big screen. Dally long enough on the options list and you can easily spend well into the lower 20s for this machine. “You could get a nice car for that,” said a profoundly unimpressed neighbour.

It certainly looks the part, though. Where the old model looked impressive, with its new front appearance, this one is track stopping.

While the luggage capacity is impressive, the panniers aren’t uniformly square so you need to cram soft bags in there, which isn’t the most dignified process. The central locking makes opening the panniers and the especially the front storage compartments a bit hit and miss, which also isn’t a good look as you vainly prod the button in front of a gathering crowd.

Climb on and it feels slightly smaller than it appears, with a reasonable seat height (825mm, though a lowering kit to 805mm is available at no cost). You are acutely aware of the 279kg weight, however, especially if you try to manoeuvre it with the engine off or paddle it in reverse. Refuelling requires you crank the machine on the centre stand, though the stand-folding geometry is pretty easy for even smaller light people to master.

After size and weight, second impressions are of complexity, a lot of facia and screen, and copious handlebar controls and switches – you Absolutely Will Need To Read The Manual.

You might imagine that a motor cycle needs a flat screen display like a seal needs a wet suit, but it somehow suits the big Beemer, although the lack of a permanently visible fuel gauge seems almost an almost wilful exception even with the 59.5mpg claimed fuel consumption (we got an average of 45mpg) and an estimated ‘safe’ 250-mile range. Getting to the required screen is also a bit of a chore as you have to scroll through every possible incarnation to get where you want. Yet it makes the system simple, straightforward and safe as you don’t have to look down to scroll through all 14 functions but it’s long winded.

One thing which does require a downward head movement are the mirrors, which are mounted lower than the bars on the fairing. In traffic where you are acutely aware of the width of the big panniers (requiring the mirrors to judge), but also the need to look ahead for traffic emerging or squeezing you, this doesn’t feel particularly safe.

Telelever front suspension is a pair of wishbone-like links between the forks and the frame with a separate spring inboard. It’s complex and not particularly pretty, but this well-proven system helps to reduce unsprung weight, separates some of the suspension movement from the bike’s steering, reduces the ‘stiction’ of conventional forks and dive under braking and gives a superbly smooth and predictable steering. Paralever at the back reduces the jacking effect of torque on the shaft driven rear wheel.

BMW has been working on these systems for many years and the result here is a superbly stable and refined motorcycle with an excellent ride quality and comfort. If at first it feels like a big tourer, the first A-road bend assuages all doubt that this is a very competent machine indeed.

ESA electronic damping control is a semi active £850 option on lesser models and standard on the top models. It takes readings off the machine’s vertical and horizontal acceleration (suspension compression, acceleration and braking) and adjusts the dampers to keep the machine as near stable as possible.

It’s very good, especially if you occasionally load up the panniers and/or carry a pillion (guilty), but I’m not convinced its reactions are entirely consistent on faster corners.

There’s a feeling of mass, particularly at low speed, especially when you turn into a slow, sharp bend, but after that this big tourer is a revelation. It turns neatly and predictably into a corner, picks up the apex like a much smaller lighter bike and squirts out with the front wheel just teasing to come off the tarmac. Yet at the same time it covers miles like few others. I rode it over 300 miles just stopping for fuel and a coffee and my ex-infantry man’s knees were in the pink when I arrived in the West Country.

The following day was a five-hour jaunt to North Wales and that, too, was accomplished with aplomb and a low quotient of numb bum. The electronic screen is quite useful, but doesn’t entirely eliminate rattly swirl round my Arai and isn’t a patch on the similar adjustable screen on the late and much lamented Honda Pan European.

The brakes are quite lovely, with a steady build-up of powerful stopping without and dive or that sickening washing-out, run-wide feeling you get when you really need to stop fast in a corner with tele forks.

And so, to the engine, which is a thing of wonder. And while the gearbox struggles to consistently engage at low speeds and low revs, there’s certainly plenty of go from very low revs and around town, especially with a pillion that helps makes the big BMW easy to control and ride.

Speed up and you’ll wonder where the scenery went. It’s entirely conceivable that you could complete a brisk and economical journey never venturing beyond 5,000rpm and be entirely unaware of just how quick this thing is. Twist the throttle some more why don’t you? The 0-62mph interval can be covered in a light-shift 3.6sec, but it’s the way you can just twist the throttle from virtually any speed, shift cam does it stuff and you are hurtling out of the path of the on-coming Scania, or just down the road (for your own amusement of course).

It might look like a grand piano and cost as much as a family hatchback, but what a way to travel. And no, don’t go thinking you can replace the hatchback with one of these. Winter rain, snow, frost (despite heated bars and seats and special traction control programs) are God’s way of telling you why he invented cars, but for everything else, every single journey is going to be special on this rather amazing BMW.

BMW R1250RT specifications

Price: from £15,820, as tested £19,105. On sale now

Engine/transmission: 1,254cc, water cooled DOHC flat twin with shift cam system, six speed manual transmission with shaft drive

Weight: 279kg

Suspension: front, Telelever with single non-adjustable spring. Rear, Paralever, with single adjustable spring

Brakes: twin discs with four-piston radial calipers front/single disc with two-piston caliper rear

Power/torque: 134bhp/106lb ft

0-62mph: estimated 3.6sec

Top speed: 140mph

Fuel tank/range: about 250 miles

Fuel economy: claimed 59.5mph, on test 45mpg

VED £96 per annum

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