Making a break from the norm with the BMW R1150R

Published: 22 April 2001

WHEN I mentioned to someone that I was about to take delivery of a new BMW, the first question they asked was: " Which one? A three-series? "

The reaction is understandable. BMW cars have a strong, sexy image built on the sporting performance of models like the M3 and M5 and distinctive roadsters such as the Z3 and the top-of-the range, £80,000 Z8. They are promoted through big ad campaigns and backed up by race teams in various national championships and even Formula One.

In contrast, the bikes have largely been viewed as worthy-but-dull relatives. Well-engineered, well-built, but somewhat lacking in style and performance. The sort of Volvo of biking, if you like, chosen by grey-bearded techy types and Sam Browne belt-wearing advanced riding instructors, who witter on about ABS, heated grips and luggage systems.

To be honest, that was pretty much my view as well. So what changed my opinion and why am I now a fully paid-up member of the BMW club?

Well, first there was an off-road accident that left me hobbling for the best part of last year. This didn’t blunt my desire to run a sports bike on the road, but when I was fit enough to start riding again, the wife laid down a few helpful ground rules, which excluded off-road bikes, superbikes and supersport 600s – for the time being, at least.

With that decision kindly made for me, I decided to make a complete break from the kind of machines I’ve ridden and owned in the past – bikes like a Honda VFR750, Yamaha YZF750, Kawasaki ZX-9R and Triumph Sprint RS. Instead, I thought I would go for something more sedate, and a retro-styled roadster appealed.

Well, they might look sedate, but most of them, like the Triumph Speed Triple, Ducati Monster and BMW R1150R, have pretty meaty motors, offering decent performance.

I love Dukes, but they sounded a bit too sporty for the wife’s liking. So that was out of the equation. And having run Triumphs before I thought I’d give the BMW a look, particularly as the £6795 price tag seemed pretty reasonable.

Now, the R1150R looks good in pictures, but I was knocked off my feet when

I saw it in the metal.

The bike is gorgeous, from the wide and imposing front to the tapered waist and slim rear end. The engine looks tasty, too. Nothing plastic-wrapped here. Two chunky cylinders and plenty of bare metal.

I’ll be saying it was like my old man’s bikes soon – and actually it is, apart from the single-sided swingarm, shaft-drive, Telelever front end and classy alloy wheels… They don’t make them like they used to, thank God.

There’s no haggling to be had on the cost, though. The sticker price is what you pay at the moment. That comes as a bit of a shock to the system, particularly as we’ve all got used to knocking down the price, whether it be for a new bike, TV or fridge. Calls to dealers reveal there is strong demand for the new-look R. And I’m actually quite lucky to get my hands on one.

On the up side, the bike would probably sell for within £300-£400 of the list price if I dropped it into MCN Bikemart next week with the 1100 miles it has on the clock. Even a dealer reckoned he would give me £6000 for it.

The other ray of sunshine was the cost of insurance. I managed to get fully-comp cover for £221. Try getting anything near that figure for a superbike. And it would have been even lower, at £190, if I hadn’t wanted to use it for commuting to work.

On the road, the bike doesn’t disappoint. OK, 85bhp isn’t going to frighten a FireBlade or R1 owner, but the 1150 has bags of grunt. Run it through the gears and it pulls strongly from around 3000rpm right round to the 7500rpm red line. The motor spins up easily and there’s none of the nasty vibration you might expect from a Boxer twin.

The only thing I’ve had to get used to is gearchanges with the shaft-drive. I’ve had to work at being precise and smooth with the clutch and gearshift lever. Otherwise you get a slight judder through the bike as the gear engages.

Handling is sweet and the Dunlop Sportmax tyres provide enough grip and feedback to make life entertaining on bends and roundabouts. I’m still coming to terms with the Telelever front end – it’s just odd to see a " rear shock " nestling under the headlight. You can certainly feel it at work under heavy braking, though. I’ve really grabbed a handful on a few occasions now and the front end has stayed rock-solid every time.

Wind protection is surprisingly good, too, despite the fact that the bike is about as far removed from BMW’s plastic-encased tourers as you can get.

The tank cowls push the air around your legs and waist while the wind blast on my shoulders is only really noticeable at motorway speeds. If you want more protection, BMW does a small screen for the bike, but it isn’t available until next month.

I’ve invested in some other creature comforts, though. Heated grips – yes I have got a beard, but it’s not grey yet – and a power point for my heated vest.

Well, it proved its worth on the run back from the British Superbike round at Silverstone a couple of weeks ago. The weather got really chilly late in the afternoon, but I was fine, thanks very much.

Fuel consumption wasn’t a major factor in my decision to choose a BMW, but it seems steady at around 40mpg, which is saving me a few bob on the 50-mile round trip to work every day. And with the price of petrol likely to go up again, I’ll probably be even more glad of that relatively frugal appetite.

Right now, all I need is for the weather to perk up and then I’ve got a few long-distance trips planned, which will mean fitting a pannier kit. Perhaps there are a few grey hairs starting to appear in my beard.

And I’ll tell you what, I’m becoming more and more fascinated by ABS and those Sam Browne belts