When your everyday ride is a Vespa almost everything seems big. I’ll confess a prejudice towards large motorcycles and share my reactions as I tried out the BMW. The BMW R1200 RT fits neatly into my big motorcycle category with descriptors like heavy, lumbering, cumbersome, overpowered, and expensive. All of them negative and a reflection of my own riding preferences. Even Craig Kissell recognized my bias when he offered me the motorcycle beginning with, “I know this isn’t your style.” That’s the baggage I brought along on this ride.
I tell myself I’m going to be open and fair towards this BMW when I roll it out of my garage on a clear, 40 degree morning (back in early May). After placing my camera, notebook, and map in one of the side cases and checking the bike over I decided to leave my cold weather riding jacket and gloves at home and surrender myself to the protection of this touring machine.
My feelings about big bikes might color my riding expectations, but it does not affect my familiarization routine with a new machine. In a parking area at the end of the street I sit quietly examining the controls, feeling the switches with my thumb, and raising my boots off the ground to experiment with the motorcycle’s balance. It’s what I do. It makes me feel better that I won’t be making that call, “Hey Craig, you know that BMW I’m riding….”
There’s a riding plan in my head but before heading down the road I force myself to practice a few slow speed maneuvers and some braking tests. Nothing dramatic, just enough to feel how the BMW responds.
I plan is to ride north on main roads. Fast, without stops. No meandering down back roads looking for pictures. This time I am going to be a real rider. No frequent stops, just a fast direct route to breakfast 50 miles away.
The R1200 RT is designed to travel. If I had to ride to Montana tomorrow and didn’t have a lot of time this is the kind of motorcycle I would choose to make it a pleasant, comfortable trip. Pleasant and comfortable — new descriptors.
It’s cold outside. On the Vespa I would have several layers under my cold weather riding jacket, electric gloves, and overpants. At 70mph on a 40 degree morning a person would get pretty cold without protection from the wind. But here I am with a sweater and t-shirt under my mesh summer riding jacket, summer gloves, jeans and boots. The power windshield and cowling keeps me out of the windblast. The heated grips keep my hands toasty and the heated seat, well, let’s just say it’s nice. By the time the thermometer reaches 55 I have shed the sweater. I could see riding this motorcycle until the snow flies.
I make the 50-mile trip to breakfast in record time with only one stop to take a picture. The BMW is smooth and the faster you go the smoother is seems to get. It feels luxurious. I add smooth and luxurious to my list.
No one passed me and when I joined the four-lane section of US 220 BMW traveled at speeds my Vespa could only dream about.
Did I mention the R1200 RT has cruise control?
The BMW does a bit of deception when it comes to speed. The wind protection, power, and smooth ride give the impression that you aren’t traveling as fast as your actually are. On a stretch of US 15 I glanced at the speedometer and saw 80mph. I would have sworn to the State Police that I was going 60. No wonder I was passing everyone.
On the high points of US 15 just south of Mansfield I hit some heavy crosswinds. The bike’s big profile would seem to make it a perfect target for some serious buffeting but the R1200 RT tracked along well after scrubbing off some speed. Pretty impressive considering how badly some other bikes I have ridden performed in crosswinds. I add stable to my list. I don’t want to add impressive yet.
I think about the motorcycle during a stop to stretch my legs and make a few pictures. I’m beginning to understand what a touring bike is about and why someone would want one. Everything works smoothly to deliver a great ride on the highway. It’s got plenty of power, lots of storage and storage potential, and plenty of features to extend a rider’s comfort range. Things like electronic suspension adjustment and integrated ABS brakes. What do I love? The big display that tells me what gear I am in. Now you know where I’m coming from technically.
After a stop for fuel along US 6 (I didn’t check the fuel economy) I headed into Wellsboro for a quick look around. Thirty-six years ago I regularly traveled through this area in a 1970 VW Beetle as I made routine trips from State College to northern Tioga County. The BMW is a far better way to travel than that old bug.
Just a few hours on this motorcycle and I had to reevaluate my early expectations. It doesn’t seem large and I was impressed at how easy it was to handle. It wasn’t cumbersome though you do have to pay attention to what you are doing, especially doing very slow maneuvers or pushing the bike around for parking. If something stupid is going to happen that’s where I’ll place my bet. Several times I caught myself saying, “This BMW is pretty nimble.” I’m not adding nimble to the list.
I make a stop for water and chocolate at the Pierce General Store in Morris, Pennsylvania. It’s nice to go into a place that doesn’t have dozens of other stores just like it. Standing outside I was considering routes home. There’s always a choice in Pennsylvania – the simple direct route and the rider route that is twice as far and four times as scenic.
I choose the latter and turn off PA 287 onto PA 414 towards Blackwell and many miles of narrow, twisting road along Pine Creek.
When asked “Why do you ride?” I think about places like this. Lightly traveled roads through the forests and mountains of north central Pennsylvania where my spirit and thoughts are free to wander unencumbered by the more serious nature of work and responsibility. And there is so much to see. My desire to see the landscape is, in part, why larger motorcycles don’t fit easily into my riding world.
With more powerful motorcycles I find I ride faster more often and I just see less. Over 30mph and you just miss the details of a place. Traveling fast requires a lot of attention to the road because things happen so fast. You just can’t pay attention to the landscape around you as well. And I’m much less inclined to stop and inspect things because of the work involved making U-turns, parking and getting on and off a big bike. But that’s me.
The road is narrow, high crowned with almost no shoulder. I feel as if the bike isn’t tracking well through the broken, uneven curves and turns. This is no place to cross the center line or drop off the side of the road. I ratchet up my attention and think again of the need to practice on a new motorcycle. It’s the first time my lack of experience with the bike is apparent.
I’m stopping a lot now to look around and take pictures. This time as I cross Pine Creek. I’m feeling the lack of flexibility in my legs and hips as I swing my leg up and over the side cases and seat of the BMW for the 20th time. While the bike is designed for comfort it was never intended for the stop, start, and stop again riding routine I can get into.
Just to make sure you understand what I’m talking about, I may stop 6 times in one mile and spend 20 minutes looking around. It’s a wonder I ever get anywhere at all.
This is the first BMW I’ve ridden with a boxer style engine. It seems to have great low and medium speed torque and power and shifts as smoothly as anything I’ve ridden. It’s easy to understand why the BMW has developed a mystic among its riding community.
At another bridge I’ve been on and off the bike for over four hours and aside from the soreness related to swinging my leg over the bike I am remarkably relaxed and comfortable. Had I been heading to Montana I would be approaching the Ohio-Indiana border with plenty of energy to ride on to Chicago and beyond before bedtime.
On one stretch of road along the creek it was nice having a windshield as I plowed through swarms of insects. I was nice not having to stop and clean off my face shield.
With the bike sitting in the driveway I imagined the kinds of rides I could make. Long day rides, weekend rides, or extended tours. The BMW R1200 RT would be ready for any of them. For my choppy, start and stop, pictures first, riding second style it would not be the best bet. But for many riders this motorcycle would be heaven.