Latest in a series of award-winning touring bikes, the BMW R1200RT offers sport-touring excellence with class-leading fuel economy.
Harry Clark – CleanMPG
– September 2, 2009
2009 BMW R 1200 RT - $16,800 to start with a FE rating of 43 mpg city/63 mpg highway.
CleanMPG’s Wayne Gerdes arranged with BMW Motorrad USA to do an evaluation of their new 2009 F 800 GS model and I was lucky to have him invite me along to review the 2009 R 1200 RT. I grew up on Long Island plus live in New York State with North East States Motorcycle touring experience. Subsequently, I was elected “Tour guide” as we traversed New Jersey, New York up to the Canadian border, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, NY City, Long Island and back to New Jersey. Thus our “Tour of the Northeast States” was on!
Besides leaving work behind for a few days, having the opportunity to ride what can best be described as one of the best Touring bikes on the planet was simply too good an offer to refuse and I gladly accepted
I personally ride a 2003 BMW R 1150 RT which I bought new. My evaluation will focus on a comparison of the two models and how the bike has changed since 2003. It will also serve as an evaluation of the R 1200 RT’s ride, handling and fuel economy capability.
A brief history of BMW Motorrad
1923 BMW R23
The first BMW motorcycle was the 1923 R32 with the now signature BMW opposed twin engine layout and shaft drive. This was a logical design which provided for excellent engine cooling, and a low center of gravity which helped the motorcycle handle well. The engine displacement was 486 cc, with 8.5 horsepower and fuel consumption of an amazing for its day, 78 mpg!
The current R 1200 RT can be described as the evolution of this early machine. A major milestone along this time line was the appearance in 1977 of the R 100 RS, the first motorcycle with a factory-installed fairing produced in quantity. This bike was followed in 1978 by the R 100 RT, the original RT of which the R 1200 RT is the latest version. “RT” is short for “Reise-Tourer” which in German means travel-tourer, or long distance tourer. The “R” in front of any BMW motorcycle model indicates the opposed twin “boxer” engine layout.
BMW installed the first telescopic forks on motorcycles and was the first to design and install Anti-lock brakes (ABS) for bikes beginning with the K 100 RS and K1 motorcycles from the mid-80’s. BMW is also one of the first to include full functioning emissions controls including catalytic converters and O2 sensors.
Other recent innovations include the “telelever” front suspension, where conventional forks are replaced by sliders with a wishbone shaped arm, spring and shock, which helps reduce dive under braking and helps handling. A similar innovation is found in BMW’s “paralever” arrangement for the rear suspension, with single-sided swing arm containing the shaft drive and a parallel arm to control “shaft jacking” under power application, with shock and spring for suspension travel. Both of these systems are included on the R 1200 RT.
A link to BMW’s past is also a guidepost to its future.
2009 BMW R 1200 RT - Price, Instrumentation and Specifications
The bike's full specifications can be viewed at the following: 2009 BMW R 1200 RT
The R 1200 RT is loaded with standard features including anti-lock brakes, electrically adjustable windscreen, telelever front suspension, paralever rear suspension, adjustable rider seat with two height positions, light-sensitive instrument lighting, an accessory socket and hard bags. Our R 1200 RT was equipped with the Premium package equipment and Radio/CD with a price as tested of $20,455.
Variants and awards for BMW’s RT series
The BMW R 1200 RT is available in a police version which is one of the most popular police bikes worldwide. The California Highway Patrol uses this as their staple police bike.
BMW R 1200 RT-P – Police Variant
Cycle World selected the R 1100 RT the Best Liter-Class Sport Tourer in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999. Motorcyclist Magazine in its December 2000 issue named the R 1100 RT the “Best Tourer.” In August of 2005, Cycle World names the R 1200 RT “the year’s Best Touring Bike.” Motorcyclist Magazine names the R 1200 RT the Best Touring Bike of 2005 and of 2006. The most recent award was Motorcycle.com’s “Best Of” with the R 1200 RT named Best Touring Bike for 2009.
Comparison - 2003 R 1150 RT vs. 2009 R 1200 RT
2003 BMW R 1150 RT
My overall experience with the 2003 R1150RT has been very favorable, with no problems, and I was eager to try out BMW’s latest version of their popular and award-winning RT.
One compelling reason I chose an R 1150 RT for my own ride was for the 3-way adjustable rider’s seat. While many people have issues with their feet reaching the ground on a bike, I have the opposite issue, finding a bike with adequate leg room. Not only do I have the seat on my RT all the way up and back, in the highest position, I’ve also modified it with “seat jacks,” which are shims under the adjustment mechanism that further raise the front of the seat and matching spacers to raise the back of the seat a similar amount. In effect, I’ve given myself a fourth, even higher seat position and it works very well.
My 1150 RT experiences “surging” under certain circumstances where the bike has a tendency to alternately slow and speed up a slight amount. This usually occurs when coasting through a town under very light engine loading at around 3K rpm’s. A valve adjustment and throttle body balancing reduces this tendency but it is always there to some degree. The surging experienced on the R 1150 RT has been eliminated on the R 1200 RT.
I do not have problems shifting with my older bike, but BMW claims improved shifting in their latest gearbox for the R 1200 RT. My experience riding the new model over 4 days supports their claim. Shifting is lighter and easier. Both the old and new RT’s have six gears and a digital gear indicator on the instrument panel, a nice touch.
The new balance shaft in the opposed twin motor of the R 1200 RT definitely makes its presence known. On my older R 1150 RT, I tend to look for opportunities to get it into top gear because the bike smoothes out noticeably in sixth. On the new R 1200 RT, the bike is so smooth in all gears from barely above idle to at least 4,500 RPM (the maximum RPM’s I rode too) that I found myself quite often in too low a gear.
With our relaxed riding regiment, I did not have many chances to sample the higher horsepower of the new R 1200 RT. My 2003 model is rated at 95 horsepower and I am more than satisfied with the level of available power. The R 1200 RT is rated at 110 horsepower; an increase of more than 15 percent, and with lower weight, merging onto an Interstate or accelerating out of a tricky spot in traffic is absolutely effortless. The new model easily wins the horsepower race which may be important to some buyers.
Another welcome improvement in the new RT is the lack of a “choke” lever. My 2003 RT has a “choke” lever which is actually an idle speed adjustment lever, not a true choke, as it bumps up the idle throttle setting. A problem with this is that if you forget to return the lever to the normal position after the bike travels about a third of a mile, your idle speed will be too high which can cause an awkward moment when you expect to slow down but do not. With the new R 1200 RT, simply turn the ignition key to on, punch the starter and the bike is running at the correct idle speed from initial cold start to warm.
BMW ABS at work
The brakes on my 2003 RT are power assisted anti-lock and fully linked. Press down on the rear brake, and you’ll get some front brake. Grab the front brake and you’ll get some rear brake.
For the new R 1200 RT, the brakes are anti-lock but not servo assisted, and linked front to back, but not back to front. BMW addressed an issue raised by some RT riders who had issues with the rear brake. If the rear brake on an ’03 RT is mashed down too hard in a parking lot maneuver, the front brake can kick in and the bike decelerate too quickly causing some low-speed handling issues. BMW has changed it in the newer RT and application of the rear brake will no longer activate the front brake. The complaint was that the rear brake on the older RT was too touchy.
This actually caused me an issue with the new R 1200 RT at first because when slowing down at a rest area, I wasn’t getting enough stopping power from the rear brake on the new RT. It felt like BMW overdid it when responding to customer complaints about the old RT’s rear brake. As with any motorcycle, the rider has to adapt to the motorcycle, learn its behavior and master it. I quickly got used to the new RT’s less responsive rear brake and adapted to it. When I got back on my old RT at home, I then had the opposite problem, stepping too hard on the rear brake, and had to adapt back to my bike’s behavior.
My overall impression of the brakes on the R 1200 RT is that they are world-class with excellent stopping power and provide the peace of mind that only a good anti-lock braking system gives you. Also, I noticed that the brake lines on the new RT have been changed over to braided steel lines for improved performance and feel while braking. This is yet another improvement on the new model.
I want to mention the horn on the R 1200 RT. First, the horn on my 2003 RT is amazingly good. It features dual Fiamm two-tone horns that are louder than any horn in any car I have ever owned. One time at a bike gathering, some guy tooted the horn on his Harley. Ha, that’s not a horn: here’s a real horn, and I let ‘er rip with the stock RT horns. No one could believe those super-loud horns were OEM. The horns were orders of magnitude louder than any other motorcycle in the lot. In contrast, the OEM horn on the R 1200 RT is a feeble beeper that would barely make it on a moped. I’m sure this has been brought to BMW’s attention, but I am going to point it out again. Any serious touring bike needs an authoritative horn that will help in doing battle with careless lane-changers on the Interstate. BMW had it right on the 2003 RT and needs to bring this same level of auditory authority back to the R 1200 RT.
The hard bags on my 2003 RT require a key to open or remove the bags from the bike. This is not a bad system but owners asked BMW to remove the requirement that a key be used. On the 2009 R 1200 RT, you can lock the bags closed with a key or secure the bags closed but leave the cases unlocked. This is a nice addition for the following reason. With a duffle bag fastened on the back of the bike, I realized that I no longer needed to use the key for access to the right hard bag, where I keep things I may need, like a water bottle or camera. On the new system, you push down where the key goes, which pops a lever up, and then you pull up a bit more on the lever to open the hard bag without having to manipulate the duffle on top.
2009 BMW R 1200 RT – Competitive Comparisons
Ever since the first “R bike” (the 1923 R23) BMW bikes have followed a philosophy of light weight and a minimalist design principle. People look at the R 1200 RT and think of it as a heavy touring bike. This is an inaccurate impression. Below is list of comparable touring bikes.
|Model||Disp. cc||HP||Lbs. Wet||Fuel Cap.||MPG||Price ($USD) w/ABS*|
|Honda Gold Wing||1832||118||910||6.6||38 - note 1||$25,699|
|Honda ST 1300||1261||125||791||7.7||43 - note 2||$17,199|
|Kawasaki Concours 14||1352||156||679||5.8||36||$14,299|
|Harley Davidson Road King||1573||68||812||6||54/35||$17,794|
|Yamaha FJR 1300||1298||145||641||6.6||39||$14,490|
|BMW R 1200RT||1170||110||571||7.1||65/43||$16,800|
|BMW K 1300GT||1293||160||635||6.3||47||$18,800|
*Lowest priced model with anti-lock brakes
note 1 - Honda specifications do not give a MPG rating. Number shown is from Goldwing review
note 2 - Honda specifications do not give a MPG rating. Numbers shown are from ST1300 article
It is readily apparent that the R1200RT is the lightest motorcycle of the group with the smallest displacement engine. Light weight helps with handling -- more nimble and fun to ride -- and fuel economy.
2009 BMW R 1200 RT – Impressions
With the assistance of a Thomas Plucinsky, BMW USA - Product Communications Manager, I was shown the features of the R 1200 RT including the seat height adjustment (set to its highest position), ESA (set to “normal”). We then proceeded to load the bikes with our gear. Since the F 800 GS lacked the optional side bags, we fit gear enough for two into the hard bags of the RT and into a duffle bag strapped on the luggage rack. We suited up and were ready to roll!
The first thing I noticed about the new R 1200 RT is the more extensive list of available options than was available on my 2003.
My next impression relates to ergonomics. Motorcycles are designed for average height people. It wouldn’t make sense to do otherwise. Being 6’4” tall with a 36” inseam, about the only people to the right of me on the bell curve distribution of inseam length are NBA players. I found the location and layout of the shift lever was a bit tight.
While the R 1200 RT now has two seat positions available, along with a “low seat” option, I would mod the seat the same way I did on my R 1150 RT to gain additional leg room. It is important to note that people towards the middle of the inseam bell curve distribution (riders of average height) can discount this issue entirely. I quickly got used to the slightly different ergonomics of the R 1200 RT and had no problems shifting afterwards. Any time you switch to a different bike, there will always be some differences in how items are adjusted and how they “feel”.
Most other motorcycles do not offer adjustable seat heights thus will not work well for someone of my height. For a touring bike, it is imperative that a motorcycle offer ergonomics that are comfortable for long days in the saddle. With many BMW models offering adjustable seats including high and low seat options, more riders will “fit” vs. other makes that lack this capability.
Day 1 - Let’s ride
Because this ride was a leisurely fuel economy ride, there would be few all-out accelerations to test of 0-60 mph times or far above the speed limit runs down open Interstate. This was a good thing for a bike with barely more than 600 miles on the clock and still very much in break-in mode. Having carefully broken in my own RT, I had every intention of giving this new RT the same level of care. Our lower speeds helped with this.
Within a mile or two after leaving BMW’s NA headquarters, I was comfortable and confident on the new RT and begun to enjoy the adventure. Our plan was to visit a friend in Schenectady the first night, and then ride up to Lake George the next morning and sample SR 9N along the west side of the lake, stop at Fort Ticonderoga, then proceed to Lake Placid and on to the Canadian border at Rouses Point. After a stay in northern Vermont, we would then take US 7 down through Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and stay with another friend on Long Island. After a side trip to Jones Beach and Fire Island the next morning, we would return the bikes to BMW NA headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ. Obviously, this would be no 15-minute test ride, but a lengthy tour with plenty of time and miles to discover the true nature of the bike.
The R 1200 RT is designed as a long distance Tourer and as expected, the riding position is upright with a slight lean forward. This works very well for long days on the road.
Our initial ride to Schenectady went very well with good weather and nice scenery on the Taconic Parkway. It was when we reached Schenectady that I realized that I had not thought about the seat at all. This amounts to a ringing endorsement of the R 1200 RT’s seat comfort!
I found the stock electrically adjustable windscreen to be very good. I also prefer BMW’s philosophy that the rider’s head should be above the windshield, to be able to look over and be in “clean” air, without turbulence or buffeting. I found this to be the case with the R 1200 RT just as I experience daily with my own RT.
The onboard computer available on the R 1200 RT has useful features including outside temperature, clock, running average fuel economy, miles left to empty, average speed, and so on. Our testing showed that the indicated average mpg was accurate within 1 mpg as was the miles left to empty. We were assured at BMW NA that there were a few extra miles left besides what was indicated by the display but I’m not the type to push that issue! It was enough for me to know that the figures coming out of the onboard computer were accurate enough to be useful. Even something as simple as a good temperature gauge helps in deciding what to wear when heading out in the morning. I would rate the onboard computer as part of the Standard and Premium package upgrades on the R 1200 RT outstanding!
- The R 1200 RT with the F 800 GS and Lake George in the background.
We headed up to Lake George by way of Saratoga Springs. Lake George is a beautiful lake, and the ride up the west side on SR 9N is scenic. There is a section that climbs and then returns back towards the lake, and offers some excellent riding with plenty of curves. The new RT put a big smile on my face on this section
What a nice ride, both the bike and the road.
From there, we visited Fort Ticonderoga briefly, and then traveled to Lake Placid. Weather was threatening, and the high peaks were hidden in the clouds. A ride up Whiteface on the toll road would only put us in fog so we skipped it. SR 86 has some nice curves as we headed NE, now in heavy rain almost the entire way to the Canadian border. A brief stop to view the border and we headed east into Vermont. As we turned south, the strong side/headwinds and heavy downpour began anew. We stopped in Colchester, VT for a well deserved rest.
– A beautiful sunny morning welcomed us as we rode US 7 from northern Vermont to southern Connecticut. We enjoyed plenty of nice scenery and saw many other motorcyclists enjoying the wonderful summer day. We got on the Merritt Parkway in southern Connecticut, then the Hutchinson River Parkway to cross the Throgs Neck Bridge to Long Island. Our destination was Hicksville to stay with a friend.
BMW has been using fuel injection on most of their motorcycles for quite some time now. On this day we rode the most miles and through more speed ranges including small town stop light to stop lights and wide open Interstate then any other day of the ride. Through it all, the R 1200 RT exhibited no flat spots or hesitation anywhere in the band and is set up for a very smooth and linear power delivery. You can get Touring bikes with bigger engines and more horsepower but what the new RT does not have you really do not need. 110 horsepower on a relatively light bike is more than plenty.
- The next morning we rode further out on Long Island to Jones Beach and out to Fire Island before heading back to NJ and BMW NA.
BMW R 1200 RT parked near the beach.--------------------------------------
Fire Island Lighthouse on Long Island.
The R1200RT has 4-way flashers standard, which I used in the dark tunnel approaches to the George Washington Bridge. Just press both turn signals at once to activate them. And as far as the BMW switchgear, I won’t criticize the layout, as most reviewers do. I find the left turn signal near the left handgrip, right turn signal near the right handgrip to be natural and easy to use. Signal right and prepare to counter steer with your right hand makes complete sense to me. Cancel either turn signal by bumping your right thumb up, sound the horn by bumping your left thumb up. I like that system. Please do not change it, BMW Motorrad.
Leaving Long Island for New Jersey, we got stuck in an awful traffic tie-up on the Long Island Expressway. A 2-hour stop and crawl ensued on a sunny afternoon with temperatures in the upper 80’s. This was a real torture test for the R 1200 RT and for me. Clutch pull on the RT is relatively easy with a hydraulically actuated single-plate dry clutch. My left hand was able to cope with the traffic jam without incident. Additionally, the temperature gauge never rose above the midpoint thanks to the R 1200 RT’s included oil cooler with thermostatically controlled oil flow.
This brings up another issue, heat management. On a motorcycle, engine heat can become a problem. Search the Internet and you will find descriptions of heat management problems with the ST 1300 and FJR 1300 bikes. The 09 R 1200 RT is one of the best bikes with regards to heat management. Those big jugs sticking way out sideways allow quite a bit of heat to escape without affecting the rider and the body work on the R 1200 RT channels excess heat under the rider rather than send it onto his legs or up at his torso like other bikes do. I’d rate heat management as excellent on the R 1200 RT.
Valve inspection/adjustments are scheduled for 6,000 mile intervals on the R 1200 RT. While this is more frequent than other bikes, the valves are very easy to access and the procedure easy enough for most do-it-yourself owners. I adjust the valves on my 2003 R 1150 RT and synchronize the throttle bodies with a Morgan Carbtune II gauge. While other bikes feature longer adjustment/inspection intervals, some require much more effort accessing the valves. Some even require removal of camshafts to replace shims. This would make valve inspection/adjustment more difficult, more time consuming, and less likely to be done by an owner creating additional expense for this somewhat minor maintenance item.
2009 BMW R 1200 RT - What makes for a good Touring bike?
Comfort, power to pass and merge with traffic, weather protection, reliability, superior anti-lock brakes, good handling for curvy roads and stability at any speed comes to mind. The new R 1200 RT exceeded expectations for each attribute considered.
This new RT is extremely well behaved on the road with no quirky handling issues. With its excellent ground clearance allowing higher lean angles, the R 1200 RT can be persuaded to act like a Sport bike in the twisties and transition back to its primary role, a comfortable and enjoyable Tourer on the next straightaway.
Heated handgrips are essential while a heated seat is probably not. During the hours of riding in the rain, the warm grips were a very welcome addition.
Vibration levels should be low and the '09 R 1200 RT is superlative in this regard. Few if any bikes offer a more relaxed and enjoyable long distance ride.
Space to pack gear is important. The hard bags can be easily removed from the RT and used as suit cases. In any event, the standard side bags were used extensively. A rear bag would have added even more utility but with the large duffle, the R 1200 RT was turned into a pack mule without losing its easy to ride nature.
2009 BMW R 1200 RT – A few words on fuel economy
First, I have to admit I’ve never really given much thought about fuel economy on my motorcycles. I always felt that choosing a fuel efficient vehicle was the main thing, and that’s what I did by riding motorcycles. I have not really tried to hypermile a bike.
Towards the end of our Touring adventure, I started putting more effort into hypermiling and an increased focus on keeping the rpm’s down which helped my results. Every time we were on a downhill section, I would shift up a gear to get the rpm’s down and my fuel economy improved.
I am still not comfortable shutting off the engine at lights once boxed in although I have done that in the past when stopped by a flagman on a construction project. When it was obvious it would be a prolonged stop but only after a vehicle was stopped behind me and providing some protection, I shut it down.
My results through the weekend were a solid 50 + mpg at all times. It appears that BMW’s estimate of 65 mpg at 55 mph is overly optimistic. My actual results over an entire tank were 50.7 mpg, 50.3 mpg. After I started putting more effort into hypermiling, 55.3 mpg was achieved on our last segment. We did ride through many small towns, so these weren’t entirely “highway” miles, but a bit of a combined mileage. It is possible that further break-in of the R 1200 RT would give better numbers, and I have seen higher results from other R 1200 RT owners.
These results indicate that the R 1200 RT is a fuel-efficient vehicle, and with some added effort, the fuel economy can be raised to excellent levels. Wayne rode the R 1200 RT while I jumped on his F 800 GS for about 20 minutes and he pulled 62 mpg. How’d he do that? He’s Wayne, as we all know…
Compare these results to the table showing other motorcycles. The numbers are manufacturer’s suggested fuel economy ratings. While gathering information on comparing motorcycle fuel economy, I found that some manufacturers did not offer fuel economy ratings for their motorcycles. I also found that methods of rating motorcycle fuel economy are not the same as for cars, and can lead to some questionable numbers: Motorcycle emissions limits and fuel economy estimates
It is apparent that the only touring motorcycle that gets fuel economy comparable to the BMW R 1200 RT is the Harley Davidson Road King and similar HD models. I would guess that the RT would edge the Harley out in real-world mpg results due a weight advantage of 241 fewer lbs. and better aerodynamics. The claimed city mpg figures appear to support that. And although the Harley Davidson Road King may compete with the BMW R 1200 RT in fuel economy, this BMW/Harley police bike comparison
shows that when the police versions are compared, the BMW has better braking, acceleration, and handling.
Final top off to top off fill – 73 miles on 1.319 gallons = 55.34 mpgUS actual.
2009 BMW 1200 RT - FE Data
|FE Rating Origin||FE Rating||CleanMPG Observed FE|
|US||43 mpgUS city/65 mpgUS highway||50.994 mpgUS|
|British Imperial||51.6 mpgIMP city/78 mpgIMP||61.19 mpgIMP|
|European Metric||5.470 L/100 km/3.618 L/100 km||4.612 L/100 km|
Review MPG data: 654 miles on 12.825 gallons = 50.994 mpgUS.
2009 BMW R 1200 RT - Conclusion
Comparing the 2009 R 1200 RT with my own 2003 R 1150 RT shows BMW Motorrad’s continuing efforts at improving their R-bike Sport-Tourer is a success. The R 1200 RT is easily the better bike. It is smoother, more powerful, and lighter than the ’03 model, and no longer has any issues with surging. It also has available cruise control, a useful onboard computer, as well as other new options, like ESA, tire-pressure monitoring system and traction control to limit rear wheel spin. When I got home and rode my older RT, I have to admit it felt a bit primitive compared to the 2009 R 1200 RT.
I enjoyed the ride on the R 1200 RT and was always eager to mount up and head out on the bike. If you are in the market for a Touring bike, you should consider not just performance and handling aspects at which the R 1200 RT excelled but also the fuel economy in your final decision. The R 1200 RT offers it all including better fuel economy than most. If you like Touring and want a capable touring bike, then BMW's latest R 1200 RT should be on your short list as it is certainly on mine.
Individuals behind the scenes
I would like to thank Thomas Plucinsky, BMW Product Communications Manager for the initial walk around, Roy Oliemuller, BMW Motorcycle Communications Manager for setting the gears in motion so that I could take out this fantastic bike and Laurence Kuykendall, BMW Motorrad USA communications manager for presenting the details of the mighty R 1200 RT.
Roy Oliemuller - BMW Motorcycle Communications Manager taking possession after our ride.
A slideshow of the entire grouping of BMW R 1200 RT pics can be seen in the following gallery: BMW R 1200 RT
I have to thank Wayne Gerdes for all his efforts in arranging for this bike review, his hard work in helping compose the layout and his time and effort editing this article. Thank you, Wayne!