First test of new BMW R1150RS

Published: 05 August 2001

New images added at 5pm, Wednesday

The R1150RS is beyond competent. It is genuinely, spirit-lifting fun… whatever the weather.

The changes over the old R1100RS are few and far between. Essentially, the R1150RS becomes the last of the Boxers to get the new larger capacity flat-twin motor and a new and much-improved six-speed box. It completes a cycle of revamps and new bikes which means that the R1200C cruiser is now BMW's oldest bike. Yes, that came as a shock to me, too.

The R1150RS also has new, lighter and altogether sassier five-spoke wheels, white front indicator lenses, servo-assisted brakes and the £750 option of a remarkably smooth ABS system.

And it's all considerably cheaper than the bike it replaces, at just £7995 ("Hurrah!" I hear thousands of non-R1100RS owners cry).

Those servo-assisted brakes have one small downside, which I discovered the moment I bumped the R1150RS off its centre-stand on a slight decline. The bike started to roll away from me, despite a tug on the front brake lever. Until the key is turned to "on" you have no servo. But when they are working they are nothing short of sensational. They stop hard, with brilliant feel inspiring the confidence to use them firmly and effectively on the wettest of roads. Which proved handy on more than one occasion on our rain-cloaked journey west.

Firing up (once you've recalled how BMW labels its switches) sets the bike going in the familiar Boxer twin wiggle as it chug-a-chuggers into life with pistons firing across the frame.

The seat height is relatively tall but easily handled by anyone of average height. The riding position is natural with the bars and pegs sensibly distributed. The mirrors look a bit weedy mounted on the bars but they work very well and are rarely disturbed by vibration.

Ride off and the weight melts away. The display in front of you reveals a digital fuel gauge (which moves remarkably slowly, this being a bike capable of well over 50mpg), and gear selected as well as the usual rpm, speed and trip meters. The screen, which is now 8cm taller and 6cm wider than on the R1100RS, is manually adjustable. And you can tweak the height while on the move. Settled behind it on a wide and comfortable seat, you could happily cover 400-plus miles a day without cause to call a travelling masseuse.

Twist the throttle and you soon discover that the meat of the power happens in the mid-range so there's little point to revving out this sports-tourer. Zip through the box and the fat wads of torque will pull you through most traffic situations.

There's around 5bhp extra and a few extra foot-pounds of torque. And that means you can leave it in fourth all day and still tackle tight corners, if you're feeling lazy. Fifth is the real top gear with an upward prod into sixth revealing an "E" for economy overdrive on the gear selector display.

In all the "proper" gears it pulls hard just when you need it; Out of corners or when overtaking cars.

The user-friendly power delivery combines well with BMW's now familiar Telelever monoshock front suspension system. Where once many complained Telelever delivered a vagueness of feel to the rider, there is less cause for complaint on today's Beemers. Perhaps improved tyre technology has helped (the R1150RS comes on Metzeler MEZ4s). The system itself has no doubt been tweaked since I last rode with it.

It helps to keep the weight evenly distributed between the front and rear wheels whatever your input. Power out of a corner and it's perfectly happy. Try abusing it by rolling off the throttle all the way into and round a corner and it stoically ignores you.

It all adds up to making a bike that handles as well as the majority of us is ever going to need. And it does it with such a lack of drama that it tempts you into riding just that little bit harder… and then a little harder still. And this was where the grinning really began.

As we snaked our way past Worcester the skies brightened and the roads dried. And those roads rose and fell, twisted and turned like a bronco with a cat tied to its tail. Second gear was often enough for the tighter bends, sometimes, as they horse-shoed and clambered under forested canopies, first gear seemed more sensible, though it would have pulled in third.

And then the road opens out and there's traffic to deal with and the need to summon all of those new horses as you rip through the gears, bouncing off the occasional rev-limiter until you finally get the message that short-shifting is what is required for rapid progress.

As the revs climb it growls like a Second World War fighter and seems to cover ground almost as rapidly and smoothly. The suspension deals well with the rapid compressions of fast riding on country lanes.

Call on those servo-assisted brakes and everything is balanced and controlled as you get to the peel-in point for that next left-hander. Roll on the throttle like the textbook tells you or jerk it open like a loon, it makes little odds to the fuel-injection or the weight bias.

In short; enjoy yourself.

The R1150RS is about as hardcore a BMW as you can get. It's just the kind of bike life-long BMW admirers love, you know, those older blokes with a penchant for pipe tobacco. And these are the people the company expects to be forming an orderly queue at dealers throughout the UK when it goes on sale on September 1.

But what I want to know is: Why should they have all the fun?